THE MELALEUCA (’Tea-tree Gum M. Leucodendron.’)
This tree, of which there are several varieties, is very common to Northern Australia; the drooping kind (’Melaleuca Leucodendron’), occupying the beds and margins of the rivers, where its long pendant branches sweeps the stream, as does the graceful willow of Europe. Its bark is in thin paper-like layers, whilst its leaves are like that of the gum, but thinner and straighter. It is remarkable for containing an extraordinary quantity of brackish water, which pours out in a torrent, when the bark is cut through, to the extent of from a quart to a gallon. Another variety is found chiefly in flat sandy country and shallow swamps. It is much smaller than that of the rivers, and the leaves broader, stiff, and upright, its blossoms nearly the same. It is indifferently called weeping gum, tea-tree gum, and tea-tree, although it is in no way allied to the latter. It is with the upright kind that the arid levels of the Staaten are chiefly timbered.
This scrub, one of the numerous family of accacia, which together with the pandanus, gave the travellers so much annoyance on their journey, occupies a large extent of country about the Richardson range, from the Batavia to Cape York. It much resembles, and is probably identical with that which grows in the neighbourhood of Sydney, to the appearance of which, indeed, that part of the Peninsula closely resembles.
FLOCK PIGEON OF THE GULF (’Phaps Histrionica.’)
These beautiful pigeons which are alluded to by Leichhardt, are at certain seasons found in immense flocks in the plain country about the Gulf of Carpentaria. Their range is wide, as in 1846 they appeared in flocks of countless multitudes on the Murrimbidgee River, N.S.W., probably driven from their usual regions by drought. They are described and figured in Mr. Gould’s great work on the Australian birds.
This river was erroneously supposed by its first settlers to be the Lynd of Leichhardt. That such was not the case, was proved by Alexander Jardine, who traced it down for 180 miles from Carpentaria Downs, when he turned back, within about a day’s stage of its junction with the Gilbert, fully satisfied that it could not be the Lynd. Since then it has, I believe, been traced into the Gilbert, and thence to the Gulf. Its importance would lead to the supposition that it was the principal branch of the Gilbert. There is an excellent cattle country on the lower part, as described in the text which has probably ere this been occupied by our pioneers.
THE NONDA (’Parinarium Nonda. F. Mueller.’)
This tree so named by Leichhardt’s black-boys (described in Bentham’s ‘Flora Australiensis’), is very abundant north of the Einasleih, which is possibly the extreme latitude of its zone south. It formed an important accession to the food of the party, and it is highly probable that their good health may be attributable to the quantity of fruit, of which this was the principal, which they were able to procure, there being no case of scurvy during the journey, a distemper frequently engendering in settled districts, when there is no possibility of varying the diet with vegetables. The foliage of the tree is described as of a bright green, the fruit very abundant, and much eaten by the natives. It is of about the size and appearance of a yellow egg plum, and in taste like a mealy potato, with, however, a trace of that astringency so common to Australian wild fruits. The wood is well adapted for building purposes.
BURDEKIN DUCK (’Tadorna Raja’).
This beautiful species of shelldrake, though not numerous, has a wide range, extending from the richmond river to Cape York. It frequents the more open flats at the mouths of rivers and creeks.
THE NATIVE BEE.
This little insect (called Wirotheree in the Wellington dialect), the invasion of whose hoards so frequently added to the store of the travellers, and no doubt assisted largely in maintaining their health, is very different from the European bee, being in size and appearance like the common house-fly. It deposits its honey in trees and logs, without any regular comb, as in the case of the former. These deposits are familiarly known in the colony as “sugar bags,” (sugar bag meaning, aboriginice, anything sweet), and require some experience and proficiency to detect and secure the aperture by which the bees enter the trees, being undistinguishable to an unpractised eye. The quantity of honey is sometimes very large, amounting to several quarts. Enough was found on one occasion to more than satisfy the whole party. Its flavor differs from that of European honey almost as much as the bee does in appearance, being more aromatic than the latter: it is also less crystalline. As the celebrated “Narbonne honey” derives its excellence from the bees feeding on the wild thyme of the south of France, so does the Australian honey derive its superior flavour from the aromatic flowers and shrubs on which the Wirotheree feeds, and which makes it preferred by many to the European.
THE APPLE-GUM (’Angophora?’)
I have been at some pains to discover to what species this tree belongs, but further than that it is one of the almost universal family of the Eucalypti, have not been able to identify it. As mentioned in the text, it was found very valuable for forging purposes by the Brothers, who were able to bring their horse-shoes almost to a white heat by using it. It is like box in appearance, and very hard.
This formidable weapon can hardly receive too high a commendation, and to its telling efficiency is probably attributable the absence of any casualty to the party in their many encounters with the savages. Not only for its long range is it valuable, but for its superior certainty in damp or wet weather, its charge remaining uninjured after days and weeks of interval, and even after immersion in water, making it available when an ordinary piece would be useless. The effect of the conical bullet too is much more sure and complete, which, when arms ‘must’ be resorted to, is of great importance.
This shell-fish is to be found in almost all the Australian rivers and lagoons. It is in size and appearance very much like the little cray-fish or “Ecrevisses” which usually garnish the “Vol-au-vent” of Parisian cookery, and of very delicate flavor.
SPINIFEX, Spear Grass, Needle Grass, or “Saucy Jack” (’Triodia Irritans.’)
This grass, so well known to all Australian travellers, is a certain indication of a sandy sterile country. The spinifex found in the Mally scrubs of the south attains a great size, generally assuming the appearance of a large tuft or bush from one to two feet in diameter, and twelve to eighteen inches high. When old, its sharp points, like those of so many immense darning needles set on end at different angles, are especially annoying to horses, who never touch it as food, except when forced by starvation. In Northern Queensland the present species is found abundantly from Peak Downs to Cape York.
FIVE CORNERS (’Stypelia?’)
This fruit is well known and very common in the neighbourhood of Sydney, and was found in the scrubby region about the Richardson Range, which, as before mentioned, is of similar character to that description of country. It does not, so far as I am aware, exist in any other part of Queensland.
THE NATIVE PLUM (’Owenia.’)
This tree, of which there are several species, (’Owenia Cerasifera’ and ‘Owenia Vanessa’ being most common in Queensland), is found along the whole of the east coast, as far south as the Burnett, and is one of the handsomest of Australian forest trees. Its purple fruit has a pleasant acid flavor, and is probably a good anti-scorbutic. It is best eaten after having been buried in the ground for a few days, as is the custom of the natives. The stone is peculiar, having much the shape of a fluted pudding basin. The timber is handsomely grained and is of durable quality.
On the subjects of the fruits, edible plants, and roots of Queensland, Mr. Anthelme Thozet, of Rockhampton, whose name is well and deservedly known to Botanists, has been at great pains to prepare for the approaching Exhibition at Paris, a classified table of all that are known as consumed by the natives raw and prepared, and to his enthusiastic attention to the subject, we are indebted for the possession of a large and important list, a knowledge of which would enable travellers in the wilds of the colony to support themselves from their natural productions alone, in cases where their provision was exhausted.
THE CALAMUS (’Calamus Australis.)
This plant belongs to a genus of palms, the different species of which yield the rattan canes of commerce. Its form in the scrubs of the Cape York Peninsula is long and creeping, forming a net work of vines very formidable to progress.
THE PITCHER PLANT (’Nepenthes Kennedyana.’)
This interesting plant was first noticed to the north of the Batavia River, and is common to the swamps of the peninsula. It has been described and named in honor of the unfortunate Kennedy, who first noticed it.
THE FERGUSON OR STAATEN.
This stream, whose arid banks Mr. Jardine was forced to trace to the sea, in consequence of the sterility and waterless character of the levels to the northward, is nevertheless of some importance. Like most of the northern rivers, it is a torrent stream, whose bed is insufficient to carry off its waters during the flooded season, causing the formation of lagoons, back-waters, and ana-branches, and yet in the dry months, containing only a thread of water trickling along a waste of sand, sometimes three or four hundred yards wide, and at intervals losing itself and running under the surface. Should the northern branch which was seen to join amongst the ana-branches near its debouchure prove to be the larger stream, that followed by the party might still retain the name of “the Ferguson,” given to it by the Brothers, in honor of the governor of Queensland. It receives Cockburn Creek, one of importance, which, just before joining it, receives the waters of another large creek from the south, which was supposed to be Byerley Creek, but this as mentioned in the text, is unlikely, for when the Brothers were in quest of the Lynd (which they never reached at all) they left Byerley Creek trending to the south, at a point considerably to the west of the longitude of that influence. It is more probable, therefore, that Byerley Creek is a tributary of either the Einasleih or Gilbert, or that it is an independent stream altogether, running into the Gulf between the Gilbert and Staaten rivers.
It appears unlikely also that any practicable route for stock will be discovered between the coast which Mr. Jardine skirted, and the heads of the rivers Staaten, Lynd, Mitchell, and Batavia. The interval between Kennedy’s track and that of the Brothers has yet to be explored, when the best line will probably be found nearer to the former than the latter, for the country between the Staaten and Mitchell near their sources has been proven to be a barren and waterless waste, the good country only commencing beyond the Mitchell, and forming the valley of the Archer, but terminating about the Coen.
FATE OF THE MULE.
The fate of the unfortunate mule, whose loss was amongst the most severely felt of the journey, has come to light in rather an interesting manner. In a late letter from Cape York, Mr. Frank Jardine mentions that some natives had visited the Settlement at Somerset, amongst whom were seen some of the articles carried in the mule’s pack bags. On questioning them he found that they were familiar with all the incidents of the journey, many of which they described minutely. The mule had been found dead, having shared the fate of Lucifer and Deceiver, and perished from thirst, and his packs of course ransacked. They had watched the formation of the Cache, when the party abandoned the heaviest articles of the equipment, and in like manner ransacked it. These blacks must have travelled nearly 500 miles, for the Staaten is nearly 450 miles in a straight line from Somerset, and were probably amongst those who dogged the steps of the party so perseveringly to within 100 miles of Cape York, frequently attacking it as described. From their accounts it appears that the expedition owed much of its safety to their horses, of which the blacks stood in great dread. They described minutely the disasters of the poison camp on the Batavia, particularising the fact of Frank Jardine having shot one of the poisoned horses, his favourite, with his revolver, their start on foot, and other things.
From this it would appear that they closely watched and hung on to the steps of the party, though only occasionally daring to attack them; and proves that but for the unceasing and untiring vigilance of the Brothers, and their prompt action when attacked, the party would in all probability have been destroyed piece meal. The utter faithlessness, treachery, and savage nature of the northern natives is shown by their having twice attempted to surprise the settlement whilst Mr. Jardine, senior, was resident there, although they had been treated with every kindness from the first. In these encounters two of the marines were wounded, one of whom has since died from the effects, whilst others had narrow escapes, John Jardine, junr. having had a four-pronged spear whistle within two inches of his neck. Since then they have not ceased to molest the cattle, and in an encounter they wounded Mr. Scrutton. They have utilized their intercourse with the whites so far as to improve the quality of their spears by tipping them with iron, a piece of fencing wire, 18 inches long, having been found on one taken from them on a late occasion. In his last letter Frank Jardine mentions an encounter with a “friendly” native detected in the act of spearing cattle, in which he had a narrow escape of losing his life, and states that, despite their professions of friendship, they are always on the watch for mischief. It is evident therefore, that no terms can safely be held with a race who know no law but their own cowardly impulse of evil, and that an active and watchful force of bushmen well acquainted with savage warfare is necessary to secure the safety of the young settlement. For a description of the habits and the character of the Australian and Papuan races, which people the Peninsula and the adjacent islands of Torres Straits, the reader is referred to the interesting narrative of the voyage of the Rattlesnake, by Mr. John McGillivray, in which the subject is ably and exhaustively treated, and which leaves but little to add by succeeding writers.
The “villanous compound, a mixture of mangrove roots and berries,” which was presented to the explorers by the friendly natives as a peace-offering on first meeting them near Somerset, was probably what is described as the “Midamo” in Mr. Anthelme Thozet’s valuable pamphlet already alluded to above on “the roots, tubers, bulbs, and fruits used as vegetable food by the aboriginals of Northern Queensland.” The midamo is made by baking the root of the common mangrove (’Avicennia Tomentosa’), which is called Egaie by the tribes of Cleveland Bay, and Tagon-Tagon by those of Rockhampton. Its preparation is described at page 13.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10