Systematic Grass Burnings of the Natives — Native Carving — Audacity of the Natives Overawed — The Albert, or Maet Suyker — Native Mode of Making Sure of a Dead Emu — Bullock Bogged; Obliged to Kill It — Native Device for Taking Emus — Beames’s Brook — The Nicholson — Reconnoitre by Night — Smith’s Creek — The Marlow.
August 1. — We travelled about seven miles west by north. Silver-leaved Ironbark ridges, of a dreary aspect, and covered with small shining brown iron pebbles, alternating with small plains and box-flats, extended generally to the northward. Some of the hills were open at their summits, timbered with apple-gum, and covered with white ant-hills; their bases were surrounded with thickets of the Severn tree. We encamped at a fine Nymphaea lagoon, in the rich shade of a white drooping gum tree. A large but dry creek was near us to the westward. The grass was excellent.
August 2. — We travelled twelve miles west-north-west, over a fine box-flat, crossed a good sized creek, about five miles from the camp, and, to the westward of it, passed over seven miles of Ironbark ridges. We descended from them into the valley of a creek fringed with the white-gum tree, and followed it down for about three miles before we found water. We encamped at a good water-hole, at the foot of the ridges, in latitude 18 degrees 0 minutes 42 seconds. Brown and Charley, who had gone two miles lower down, told me that they had found salt-water, and deposits of very fine salt. Many lagoons were on the flats, surrounded by Polygonums, and frequented by ducks, spoonbills, and various aquatic birds. They had shot, however, only one teal and a spoonbill. In travelling down the creek, we frequently started wallabies. Geophaps plumifera was very frequent on the Ironbark ridges. A cormorant with white breast and belly, and the rose cockatoo were shot; the former tasted as well as a duck. Brown collected a good quantity of the gum of Terminalia, and the seeds of the river bean, which made an excellent coffee. The native bee was very abundant.
The natives seemed to have burned the grass systematically along every watercourse, and round every water-hole, in order to have them surrounded with young grass as soon as the rain sets in. These burnings were not connected with camping places, where the fire is liable to spread from the fire-places, and would clear the neighbouring ground. Long strips of lately burnt grass were frequently observed extending for many miles along the creeks. The banks of small isolated water-holes in the forest, were equally attended to, although water had not been in either for a considerable time. It is no doubt connected with a systematic management of their runs, to attract game to particular spots, in the same way that stockholders burn parts of theirs in proper seasons; at least those who are not influenced by the erroneous notion, that burning the grass injures the richness and density of the natural turf. The natives, however, frequently burn the high and stiff grass, particularly along shady creeks, with the intention of driving the concealed game out of it; and we have frequently seen them watching anxiously, even for lizards, when other game was wanting.
August 3. — We travelled, for the first two miles, N. 60 degrees W. over scrubby ironstone ridges, and then entered upon a fine plain, from which smoke was seen to the west and north-west. I chose the latter direction, and passed over ironstone ridges covered with stunted silver-leaved Ironbark; and a species of Terminalia, a small tree, with long spathulate glaucous leaves, slightly winged seed-vessels, and with an abundance of fine transparent eatable gum; of which John and Brown gathered a great quantity. Some of the ridges were openly timbered with a rather stunted white-gum tree, and were well grassed; but the grass was wiry and stiff. At the end of our stage, about sixteen miles distant from our last camp, we crossed some rusty-gum forest; and encamped at a fine water-hole in the bed of a rocky creek, shaded by the white drooping gum, which seemed to have taken the place of the flooded gum. Groves of Pandanus spiralis grew along the creek, which ran to the north by east. All the small watercourses we passed, inclined to the eastward. Charley found the shell of a Cytherea on an old camping-place of the natives, which indicated our approach to the salt water.
A native had carved a representation of the foot of an emu in the bark of a gum-tree; and he had performed it with all the exactness of a good observer. It was the first specimen of the fine arts we had witnessed in our journey.
August 4. — We travelled about ten miles west-north-west, over scrubby ridges, plains, and box-flats. In a patch of rusty-gum forest we found Acacia equisetifolia, and the dwarf Grevillea of the upper Lynd in blossom; the thyrsi of scarlet flowers of the latter were particularly beautiful. As we entered into the plains, Binoe’s Trichinium and Salicornia re-appeared.
I steered towards the smoke of a Blackfellow’s fire, which we saw rising on the plains; the fire was attended to by a gin. Charley went forward to examine a belt of trees visible in the distance; and John Murphy followed a hollow in the plain, and succeeded in finding a fine lagoon, about half a mile long, partly rocky and partly muddy, surrounded by Polygonums, and fields of Salicornia. A few gum trees, and raspberry-jam trees grew straggling around it; but no dry timber was to be found, and we had to make a fire with a broken down half dried raspberry-jam tree. Our meat bags were now empty, and it was necessary to kill another bullock, although the spot was by no means favourable for the purpose. Natives were around us, and we saw them climbing the neighbouring trees to observe our proceedings. When Charley joined us, he stated that a fine broad salt-water river was scarcely a quarter of a mile from the lagoon; that he had seen a tribe of natives fishing, who had been polite enough to make a sign that the water was not drinkable, when he stooped down to taste it, but that freshwater was to be found in the direction of the lagoon, at which we were encamped. No time was to be lost, and, as the afternoon had advanced, we commenced operations immediately. Though the bullock was young, and in excellent working condition, the incessant travelling round the gulf had taken nearly all the fat out of him, and there was scarcely enough left to fry his liver. At sunset, we saw the natives approaching our camp, with loud vociferations, swinging their spears, and poising and putting them into their wommalas. We immediately saddled and mounted two of our horses, and discharged a pistol. The latter stopped their noise at once; and some cowered down to the ground. John and Charley rode slowly towards them; at first they tried to face, and then to surround the horsemen; but John and Charley separated, and threatened to cut them off from the river. As soon as they saw their supposed danger, they ran to the river, plunged in, and crossed it. We were very watchful during the night, but were not disturbed. Next morning, natives passed at some distance, but showed no inclination to molest us.
August 5. — We cut our meat into slices, and, although we were reduced in number, we had become so expert, that we had finished a full sized bullock by half past eleven, A. M. The process occupied four of us about four hours and a half; John and Brown were employed in putting it out on the kangaroo net to dry. The strong sea breeze dried it beautifully; but it attracted much moisture again in the night, and was very moist when we packed it into the bags at starting.
The sea breeze set in on the 4th at 11 o’clock, became very strong during the afternoon, lessened at sunset, and died away about 9 o’clock, P. M. when it became thick and foggy. This was the case on the 5th, 6th, and 7th, and was very regular.
August 6. — We left the large lagoon, which, as I was prevented from making an observation, I supposed to be in latitude 17 degrees 47 minutes v. 48 minutes, and followed the winding course of the river up to latitude 17 degrees 57 minutes. The river, I am inclined to think, is the Albert of Captain Stokes, and the Maet Suyker of the Dutch Navigators, and its general course is from south-south-west, to north-north-east. Plains, forest country, open scrub frequently broken by gullies, alternated with each other. Several large and deep basins parallel to the river, were dry. The rough-leaved fig tree, the white cedar, and a stiff-leaved Ipomoea with pink blossoms, grew on its sandy banks; and some low straggling mangroves at the water’s edge. The day was far advanced, and I became very anxious about our moist meat; and feared that we should have to encamp without water. We saw burnt grass every where, and logs were even still burning; and fresh water could not be very far off, but yet we were unable to detect it. At last, I observed some trees, of a fresher appearance than usual, beyond a small rise; and, riding up to it, found a small water-hole surrounded by Polygonums: on examination, it was found to contain only a very small quantity of water, yet what remained was good. Charley, who returned afterwards, said that he had been before at this water-hole, and had found a tribe of natives encamped on it, one of whom lifted his spear against him, but his courage forsook him upon observing Charley still riding towards him, when he and the whole camp took to their heels, leaving a good supply of Convolvulus roots, and of Terminalia gum behind them. We found shells of Cymbium and Cytherea, an enormous waddie, which could have been wielded only by a powerful arm, nets and various instruments for fishing, in their deserted camp.
August 7. — I thought it advisable to stop here, and give our meat a fair drying. The natives were not seen again. Charley and John took a ride to procure some game, and came to a salt-water creek, which joined the river about three miles from our camp; the river flowed in a very winding course from the eastward. They found some good fresh water-holes, at the head of the salt-water.
August 8. — We travelled about seven miles E.S.E. over plains and Ironbark ridges. The approaches of the creek, broken by watercourses and gullies, were covered with thickets of raspberry-jam trees. The rock cropped out frequently in the creek, which was said to be very rocky lower down. The salt-water Hibiscus, a species of Paritium, Adr. Juss. (Hibiscus tiliaceus? Linn. D.C. Prodr. I. p. 454) grew round the water-holes. We found the same little tree at the salt-water rivers on the west coast of the gulf, and at Port Essington. I had formerly seen it at the sea coast of Moreton Bay; its bark is tough and fibrous, and the heart-wood is brown with a velvety lustre.
August 9. — When Charley returned with the horses, he told us, that, when he was sitting down to drink at a water-hole about three miles up the creek, ten emus came to the other side of the water; keeping himself quiet, he took a careful aim, and shot one dead; then mounting his horse immediately, he pursued the others, and approaching them very near, succeeded in shooting another. He broke the wings of both and concealed them under water. It is a singular custom of the natives, that of breaking the wings upon killing an emu; as the wings could only slightly assist the animal in making its escape, should it revive. But in conversation with Brown as to the possibility of one of the emus having escaped, he said very seriously: “Blackfellow knows better than white fellow; he never leaves the emu without breaking a wing. Blackfellows killed an emu once, and went off intending to call their friends to help them to eat, and when they came back, they looked about, looked about, but there was no emu; the emu was gone — therefore the Blackfellows always broke the wings of the emus they killed afterwards.” This was, however, very probably one of Brown’s yarns, made up for the occasion.
I sent Mr. Calvert and Charley to fetch the game, whilst we loaded the bullocks, and by the time they returned, we were ready to start. The emus were fine large birds, but not fat; this season seemed to be unfavourable for them. When we came out into the plain, we saw the smoke of the natives to the southward, and I steered for it, supposing that they were either near the river, or at all events not far from fresh water. After two miles travelling, we crossed another creek with fine Polygonum water-holes, and, emerging from it into a second plain, we saw a flock of emus in the distance. Chase was given to them, and with the assistance of Spring, one was caught. Loaded with three emus, we travelled over a succession of plains, separated by narrow belts of timber, mostly of-box, bloodwood, and tea-tree. The plains were broken by irregular melon-holes, which rendered our progress slow and fatiguing. We came to Ironbark ridges, and to the very spot where the natives had been burning the grass, but no watercourse, nor lagoon was seen. Brown rode farther to the southward, and observed the tracks of the natives in that direction, but found nothing but box-tree flats. I sent Charley forward to the westward, and followed slowly in the same direction; night overtook us, when we were crossing a large plain, but Charley had lighted a large fire, which guided us, and made us believe that he had found water. He was indeed at the steep banks of the river Albert, but it was still salt. We hobbled and tethered all the horses, and watched the bullocks. Fortunately we had provided ourselves with some water, which allowed half a pint to every man, so that we felt the inconvenience of a waterless camp less than formerly. Besides, we had fresh meat, which made a great difference in our desire for water. It was a beautiful night, and even the dew was wanting, which had been such a hindrance to drying our meat during the previous nights. During my watch, I seated myself on one of the prominences of the steep banks, and watched the loud splashings of numerous large fish which momentarily disturbed the tranquillity of the mirror-like surface of the water. Brown had found a bar across the river, and, on examination it proved perfectly dry during low water, and allowed us to cross, after having brought our bullocks and horses down the steep banks, which, however, was not effected without great difficulty. We had most fortunately hit the very spot where such a crossing was possible. Brown saw a great number of fine fish in the river, which he called “Taylors.” The natives had been here frequently: the grass had been recently burnt, and fish bones indicated this as one of their habitual camping places. We could not, however, discover where they quenched their thirst. I sent Charley forward in a north-west direction to look for water. When we came out into the plains which stretched along both sides of the river as far as the eye could reach, we saw smoke very near us on the right. I went towards it, until I found that it rose on the opposite side of the river we had just crossed; Brown, however, detected a pool of slightly brackish water in a deep creek at a short distance from its junction with the river. It was too boggy for our cattle to approach, but it allowed us to quench our own thirst. We now re-entered the plains, and followed the track of Charley, who soon returned with the pleasing intelligence that he had found some fine water-holes. These were in the bed of a creek, surrounded by a band of forest composed of box, raspberry-jam trees, and the broad-leaved Terminalia, the fruit of which was eaten by the black cockatoo. The slopes of the water-holes were steep and boggy, and one of our bullocks was so exhausted that he slipped on the steep banks, rolled into the water, and got so severely bogged, that we were compelled to kill him, after trying everything in our power to extricate him. On the 12th August we cut him up. The night, however, was very foggy with heavy dew, which prevented the meat from drying. The miserably exhausted state of the animal had rendered the meat very flabby and moist, and it not only dried badly, but was liable to taint and to get fly-blown.
August 13. — We had a fine sea-breeze from the northward, which dried the outside of the meat well enough, but not the inside, so that it became in many parts so putrid that I had to throw them away, although we saved a good deal by splitting the puffed pieces, and exposing the inside to the air.
The natives had surrounded the water-hole on which we encamped with a barricade or hedge of dry sticks, leaving only one opening to allow the emus to approach the water. Near this the natives probably kept themselves concealed and waited for the emus; which in these parts were remarkably numerous. On the 11th, John, Charley, and Brown, rode down three birds, and, on the 14th, they obtained four more, two of which were killed by John Murphy, who rode the fleetest horse and was the lightest weight. The possibility of riding emus down, clearly showed in what excellent condition our horses were. Even our bullocks although foot-weary upon arriving at the camp, recovered wonderfully, and played about like young steers in the grassy shady bed of the creek, lifting their tails, scratching the ground with their fore feet, and shaking their horns at us, as if to say, we’ll have a run before you catch us.
The latitude of these water-holes was 18 degrees 4 minutes 27 seconds, and they were about nine miles from the crossing place of the river, which I calculated to be in longitude 139 degrees 20 minutes (appr.). The plains were covered with flocks of small white cockatoos, (Cocatua sanguinea, Gould.) which Mr. Gilbert had mentioned as having been found in Port Essington: their cry was rather plaintive, and less unmelodious than the scream of the large cockatoo; nor were they so shy and wary, particularly when approaching the water.
August 15. — Our beasts were so heavily laden with the meat of two bullocks, that I found it rather difficult to carry the additional meat of the emus. We, however, divided every emu into four parts — the chest, the rump, and the two thighs — and suspended each of the latter to one of the four hooks of a packsaddle; the remaining parts were carried on our horses.
We travelled about eight miles north-north-west, over a succession of plains, interrupted by some watercourses, and a good sized creek. At the end of the day’s stage, we found a small pool of water in a little creek which we had followed down. According to Charley’s account, salt-water existed a mile lower down. Though our arrival at the camp was very late, we set immediately to work, and cut up the four emus, which I put on ropes and branches to dry. Fortunately, a cold dry south-east wind set in, which very much assisted us in the operation of drying. The sea breeze was strong, as usual, during the day; clouds gathered very suddenly about 11 o’clock, P. M. to the southward and south-east, and rose very quickly with a strong south-east wind; they passed as quickly as they came; when the wind ceased. Another mass of clouds formed, and rose quite as suddenly, and, having passed, the sky became quite clear, and a cold strong wind set in from the south-east, which lasted for the next two days, and rendered the nights of the 16th and 17th August cold, dry, and dewless.
We had forgotten to drive our bullocks to the water, which they had passed not five yards off, and in sight of which they had been unloaded; the poor brutes, however, had not the instinct to find it, and they strayed back. Charley started after them the same night, and went at once to our old camp, supposing that the bullocks had taken that direction; but they had not done so; they had wandered about seven miles from the camp, without having found water.
August 16. — We travelled about twelve miles west-north-west, first over plains, but afterwards, and for the greater part of the stage, over openly timbered well-grassed box-flats, which seemed to bound the plains to the southward; they were drained by no watercourse, but contained many melon-holes. I changed my westerly course a little more to the northward, and again crossed a succession of plains, separated by hollows. These hollows were covered with thickets of small trees, principally raspberry-jam trees; and contained many dry water-holes, either in regular chains or scattered. They, no doubt, formed the heads of creeks; as we invariably came on decided watercourses whenever we followed hollows of this character down to the northward. After sunset, we came to a dry creek, and were compelled to encamp without water. We took care, however, to watch our bullocks, and hobble and tether our horses, which enabled us to start early in the morning of the 17th, when we followed the creek about seven miles north-east, and there found some very fine water-holes within its bed, in latitude 17 degrees 51 minutes, at which we encamped, to allow our cattle to recover; for they had had very little water during the two last days. Smoke was seen to the north-west, north, and north-east. Charley shot two more emus, and I felt the loss of our bullock very much, as it became difficult to carry the additional meat, which, however, was too valuable to be wasted or thrown away. Although we had followed the creek for seven miles, we did not find it joined by any of those hollows we had crossed the day before; and it would appear that the intervening plains extended far to the north-ward, and that the hollows and creeks converged only very gradually towards each other.
August 18. — Last night we were busily employed in cutting up and drying our two emus, in which operation we were favoured by a slight breeze from the south-east. As we had no fat nor emu oil to fry the meat with, I allowed a sufficient quantity of meat to be left on the bones, which made it worth while to grill them; and we enjoyed a most beautiful moonlight night over a well grilled emu bone with so much satisfaction, that a frequenter of the Restaurants of the Palais Royal would have been doubtful whether to pity or envy us.
We travelled to the north-west, because, whenever I kept a westerly course, I had almost always to follow creeks down to the northward to obtain water; and, notwithstanding a north-west course, had, on previous occasions, generally brought us to salt-water.
For the first three miles, we passed several plains, and crossed a creek in which we recognised a Casuarina, which tree we had not seen since we left the Mitchell. We then came to a river from thirty to forty yards broad, and apparently very deep; the water was very soft, but not brackish, although affected by the tide, which caused it to rise about two feet. A narrow belt of brush, with drooping tea-trees, the Corypha palm, the Pandanus, and Sarcocephalus, grew along the water’s edge. The box, the broad-leaved Terminalia, and the Inga moniliformis (articulate podded Acacia), covered the gullies which came down from the plains, and the flats along the river. We proceeded four or five miles up the river, in a south-west direction, in order to find a crossing place. Large plains occupied both sides, on which numerous patches of grass had been lately burnt; which indicated the presence of natives. Fish were very plentiful, and Charley said he had seen a crocodile. The plains and banks of the river were well grassed, and adapted for cattle and horses. We encamped in latitude 17 degrees 57 minutes. [This cannot possibly be 17 degrees 57 minutes — it is about 17 degrees 52 minutes —(Note by Mr. Arrowsmith.)]
August 19. — The river was joined by a running creek from south-south-west, which we had to follow up about five miles, where it formed a very narrow channel between thickets of palm trees, drooping tea-trees, Sarcocephalus, and particularly Pandanus, which crowded round the tiny stream. We again travelled north-west, over several plains, separated by belts of timber, and, at the end of about five miles, came to a fine brook, whose pure limpid waters flowed rapidly in its deep but rather narrow channel, over a bed of rich green long-leaved water plants. Magnificent tea-trees, Casuarinas, and Terminalias, gave a refreshing shade, and Pandanus and Corypha palms added to the beauty of the spot.
The plains were well-grassed, but full of melon-holes. I observed on them a few small trees, belonging to the Sapindaceae, with pinnate and rather drooping leaves, with a light grey bark, exuding a good eatable gum.
I called the brook “Beames’s Brook,” in acknowledgment of the liberal support I received from Walter Beames, Esq. of Sydney.
We again enjoyed here the young shoots of the Corypha palm.
August 20. — We crossed Beames’s brook without difficulty, and travelled about two miles north-west, over a plain, when we came to a river with a broad sandy bed and steep banks, overgrown with large drooping tea-trees. Its stream was five or six yards broad and very shallow. Parallel lines of deep lagoons covered with Nymphaeas and Villarsias were on its west side. The bergue between the river and the lagoons was covered with bloodwood and leguminous Ironbark; and fine box flats were beyond the lagoons.
I called this river the “Nicholson,” after Dr. William Alleyne Nicholson, of Bristol, whose generous friendship had not only enabled me to devote my time to the study of the natural sciences, but to come out to Australia. The longitude of the Nicholson was 138 degrees 55 minutes (approx.)
After passing the box flats along-the river, we entered into a country covered with thickets and scrub, rarely interrupted by small patches of open forest, and travelled about fourteen miles north-west from the river, when the setting sun compelled us to encamp, without having been able to find water. Just on entering the scrub, we saw four emus walking gravely through a thicket of the little Severn tree, picking its bitter fruit, and throwing occasionally a wondering but distrustful glance at our approaching train. Charley and Brown, accompanied by Spring, gave chase to them, and killed one, which was in most excellent condition. When we came to the camp, we secured the horses, and watched the bullocks, as was usual on such occasions, and fried and enjoyed our fresh meat as well as we could. To satisfy my companions I determined to reconnoitre the country in advance by moonlight; and allowed them to return to the lagoons of the Nicholson, should I not have returned by 10 o’clock next morning. Accordingly, I started with Charley when the moon was high enough to give me a fair view of the country, and followed the star Vega as it declined to the westward. As we advanced, the country improved and became more open. It was about midnight when Charley, in passing a patch of thick scrub, noticed a slight watercourse, which increased rapidly into large water-holes. These were dry, and covered with withered grass, but, on resuming our westerly course, we came in a very short time to a creek with a succession of rocky basins. It was unaccountable how these deep holes could have become so soon dry, as every one of them must have been full immediately after the rainy season. After following the creek for about two hours, Charley remarked that the cracked mud of one of the large water-holes was moist, and, on digging about a foot deep, a supply of water collected, abundantly sufficient for ourselves and for our horses. The channel divided several times, and Charley examined one branch, and I took the other. Thus separated from my companion, I caught the cheerful glance of a fire before me, and, as I approached, a great number of them became visible, belonging to a camp of the natives. Though I wished to ascertain whether they were encamped near a water-hole, or near wells, several of which we had observed higher up the creek, I thought it prudent, unarmed as I was, to wait for Charley. I cooeed, which disturbed the dogs of the camp; but the cold wind blew so strong from the east, that I feared Charley would either not hear my cooee, or I not his. The discharge of his gun, however, showed me where he was, and we were soon together again. We passed the camp; the fires sparkled most comfortably in the cold night. We examined the creek, but saw neither natives nor water. Two miles lower down, however, we came to fine water-holes with a good supply. We stopt here for an hour, to make a pot of tea, and to allow our horses to feed. We had followed the creek so far to the north-east and east, that we were, according to my calculation, about ten miles N.N.E. from our camp. Trusting in Charley’s almost instinctive powers, I allowed him to take the lead, but he, being drowsy in consequence of a sleepless night, kept too much to the right, and missed our tracks. As the appointed time for my return had elapsed, and I was sure that my companions had gone back, I changed my course to go at once to the lagoons of the Nicholson; and came on the tracks of the returning party, which we followed to the lagoons, where my companions had already safely arrived. We had been on the saddle from 10 o’clock at night, to 6 o’clock in the afternoon of the next day, and, with the exception of one hour, had ridden the whole time through the most dreary and scrubby country, and were, of course, extremely fatigued. Most annoying, however, was the idea that all our fatigues had been to no purpose, except to show to my companions that I was right in my supposition, that a good day’s journey parallel to the coast would invariably bring us to water.
August 22. — We travelled about eighteen miles N.N.W., to those water-holes we had found on our reconnoitring ride. Their latitude was 17 degrees 39 minutes. The country was so very scrubby and difficult, that we travelled from morning until long after sunset before we reached the place. The long journey had both tired and galled our bullocks and horses, and our packs had been torn into pieces by the scrub. This induced me to stay a day at this creek (which I called Moonlight Creek, as it had been found and explored during moonlight), to allow some rest both to my bullocks and myself, whom the long riding had much exhausted, and also to re-arrange our packs.
The composition of the scrub depended on the nature of the soil. The narrow-leaved tea-tree, in shrubs from five to seven feet high, and the broad-leaved tea-tree from twenty to twenty-five feet high, grew on a sandy loam, with many ant-hills between them; the little Severn tree and the glaucous Terminalia preferred the light sandy soil with small ironstone pebbles, on which the ant-hills were rare, or entirely wanting; the raspberry-jam tree crowded round water-holes, which were frequently rocky; and the bloodwood, the leguminous Iron-bark, the box, and apple-gum, formed patches of open forest.
We collected a great quantity of Terminalia gum, and prepared it in different ways to render it more palatable. The natives, whose tracks we saw everywhere in the scrub, with frequent marks where they had collected gum — seemed to roast it. It dissolved with difficulty in water: added to gelatine soup, it was a great improvement; a little ginger, which John had still kept, and a little salt, would improve it very much. But it acted as a good lenient purgative on all of us.
We found the days, when travelling in the scrub, excessively hot, for the surrounding vegetation prevented us from feeling the sea-breeze; very cold easterly and south-easterly winds prevailed during the night.
August 24. — Mr. Calvert and Brown, whom I had sent to reconnoitre the country, returned with the sad intelligence that they had found no water. They had crossed a great number of creeks of different sizes, with fine rocky water-holes, which seemed all to rise in scrubby ironstone hills, and had a course from S. W. to N. E. and E. N. E.; but towards their heads they were dry, and lower down they contained salt water. The two explorers had unfortunately forgotten their bag of provisions, and were consequently compelled to return before they could accomplish their object. As I anticipated a very long stage, and perhaps a camp without water, I had some wallabi skins softened and tied over our quart pots filled with water, which enabled us to carry about eight quarts with us.
August 25. — We accordingly started early, and travelled for several miles through a pretty open broad-leaved tea-tree forest, formed by small trees from twenty to thirty feet high. This changed, however, into dense scrub, which we could only avoid by keeping more to the westward, in which direction the tea-tree forest seemed to extend to a great distance. Here we passed several tea-tree swamps, dry at this time, level, like a table, and covered with small trees, and surrounded by a belt of fine box-trees and drooping water-gum trees. In order to come to a watercourse, I again crossed the thick scrub which covered the undulations of iron-stone to the northward, and came to a fine rocky creek, which Brown recognised as one of those he had seen, but which contained only salt water lower down. We consequently continued our journey to the north-west, through tea-tree forest, and over some very large tea-tree swamps, and came at last to a creek and to a small river, along which we travelled until darkness compelled us to encamp. It had fine water-holes, and was densely shaded with drooping tea-trees; but the holes were dry, with some few exceptions of small wells of the natives. The latitude of our camp was 17 degrees 25 minutes.
We had seen a great number of pigeons and white cockatoos, and we were sure that a greater supply of water was near, as many patches of burnt grass showed that the natives had been here very lately. Next morning, the 26th, when Charley returned with the horses, he told us that we had passed a fine lagoon, not a mile and a half off, at the left bank of the river, which the night had prevented us from seeing, and which the horses had found when returning on their tracks. We moved our camp to this lagoon, which was covered with Villarsia leaves, and contained a reddish water coloured by very minute floating bodies of that colour. The natives had surrounded it with dry sticks, leaving an opening on one side, for the purpose of taking emus, as before described. These birds were very numerous, and lived exclusively on the fruit of the little Severn tree, which was excessively bitter and imparted its quality to the meat; Charley and Brown, assisted by the dog, killed one of them. A cockatoo was shot, which in form and colours resembled the large white cockatoo, but was rather smaller, and the feathers of the breast were tipped with red. We saw the bones of a Jew fish, and a broken shell of Cymbium, in an old camp of the natives near the lagoon.
The apple-gum, the box, and the Moreton Bay ash composed a very open well-grassed forest, between the lagoon and the river; the latter had an E. N. E. and almost easterly course. I called this river or large creek, “Smith’s Creek,” after Mr. Smith, a gentleman who had shown us the greatest kindness and attention when we were staying at Darling Downs.
Our journey round the head of the gulf had shown that the “Plains of Promise” of Capt. Stokes extended from Big Plain River to the Nicholson, and that they extended farthest to the southward, along two large salt water rivers in the apex of the gulf, the more westerly of which was no doubt the Albert of Capt. Stokes, and the Maet Suyker of the Dutch navigators. These plains were bounded to the southward by box-flats, and drained by numerous creeks, which in their lower course were tolerably supplied with water. The most interesting fact, and which had already been observed by Capt. Stokes, was the moderate temperature of this part of the country. If my readers compare my observations on the weather from lat. 15 degrees 55 minutes at the east coast, to lat. 17 degrees 39 minutes on the west coast of the gulf, they will be struck by the general complaint of “cold nights.” If they compare the direction of the winds, they will find that at the east coast the southerly and south-south-westerly winds were very cold, and that they became southerly and south-easterly at the apex, and turned still more to the eastward, at the west coast. In comparing these directions of the wind, I was led to the conclusion, that the large plains were the origin and the cause of these winds.
The bracing nature of the winds and of the cold nights, had a very beneficial influence on our bodies; we were all well, with the exception of Mr. Roper, who still suffered from the wound in his loins, and from a distressing diarrhoea. I am not aware of the season in which Capt. Stokes explored this part of the country; but it must not be forgotten, that the same causes which would produce cold winds in the winter, might be the cause of hot winds in the summer.
August 27. — We travelled about seventeen miles N. N. W. to lat. 17 degrees 11 minutes 9 seconds, through an uninterrupted scrub and broad-leaved tea-tree forest. Half way we crossed a broad watercourse, with long tracks of burnt grass. The Pandanus and the bloodwood grew on its limited flats. At the end of our stage, we came to a rocky watercourse, which we followed down, and in which a native dog betrayed to us a deep pool of water, covered with Villarsia leaves, and surrounded by Polygonums. Many of the dry water-holes we had passed were surrounded by emu traps; the tracks of these birds were exceedingly numerous, A grove of Pandanus was near the water on the sandy banks of the creek.
August 28. — We travelled about eleven miles N. N. W. to lat. 17 degrees 2 minutes 12 seconds, through the bleakest scrubby country we had ever met: nothing but tea-tree scrub, and that not even cheered by the occasional appearance of a gum tree, or of the blood-wood. After ten miles, we came to a salt water creek, rocky, with detached pools of water and deposits of salt. Following it up, we came to a well beaten foot-path of the natives, which brought us in a short time to a good supply of drinkable, though very brackish water. The sandstone hills before us and to the northward, were covered with low shrubs and the broad-leaved tea-tree, with wiry and stiff grasses, and looked very unpropitious. The rock was composed of quartz pebbles of different colours, imbedded in a red clayey paste.
We have commenced to carry with us not only our quart pots, but also our two gallon pot full of water.
August 29. — We travelled to lat. 16 degrees 58 minutes 27 seconds long. 138 degrees 25 minutes; a distance of about eight miles N.N.W. and N.W. over a more open country, with occasional patches of thick scrub. We crossed several watercourses and creeks; and came to a small river which flowed to the N. by E. and which I called the “Marlow,” after Capt. Marlow of the Royal Engineers, who had kindly assisted me in the outfit of my expedition. We went down the river about two or three miles, and came to a plentiful supply of water, which was indicated, a long time before we arrived at it, by the call of the red-breasted cockatoos, noticed a few days since; but which was probably only a variety of the common species.
A low shrubby Acacia with sigmoid phyllodia was frequent on the hills. A little fly-catcher (Givagone brevirostris?) charmed us with its pretty note at our last camps. Bronze-winged pigeons were very numerous, and I saw a pair of Geophaps plumifera rising from under a shady rock, as I was riding down a rocky creek. Two black ducks and three cockatoos were shot; the long reaches of water down the river were covered with water-fowl, and Charley and Brown were so desirous of procuring some messes of black ducks, that they did their best to persuade me to stop; but, being anxious to escape from this scrubby country, I did not yield to their solicitations.
The crops of the large cockatoos were filled with the young red shoots of the Haemodorum, which were almost as pungent as chillis, but more aromatic; the plant abounded on the sandy soil. The small cockatoo of the plains, which we saw again in great numbers, seems to feed on a white root and on the honey of the whole seed-vessel, or the flower-bud, of the drooping tea-tree.
The first part of the night was clear, but it became foggy and cloudy after midnight. In the morning, the dew was dropping from the trees, but the grass and our things were not at all wet.
August 30. — We travelled about ten miles N. 60 degrees W. over a scrubby though a little more open country, full of enormous massive ant-hills, surpassing even those of Big Ant–Hill Creek, in height and circumference, and came, at the distance of eight miles from our camp, to a low scrub on sandy soil with shallow watercourses. Salicornia grew in abundance; and emu tracks were very frequent. Coming on a broad foot-path of the natives, I followed it to the south-west, and came to some fine fresh water-holes in the bed of a creek, surrounded by high drooping tea trees, which were in blossom and covered with swarms of white cockatoos. These water-holes were in lat. 16 degrees 55 degrees, and situated to the south-west of some low scrubby hills. We encamped in a grove of Pandanus. The natives had just left, and the tea-tree bark was still smoking from the fire which had spread from their camp.
Large flights of the small white cockatoo came to the water. The flying-fox visited the blossoms of the tea-tree at night, and made an incessant screeching noise. Charley shot one of them, which was very fat, particularly between the shoulders and on the rump, and proved to be most delicate eating.
August 31. — It rained the whole day; in consequence of which I gave my cattle a rest. The rain came from the westward, but continued with a southerly wind; it ceased with wind from the S.E. and E.S.E. Lightning was observed to the south-west. We erected our tents for the first time since Mr. Gilbert’s death; using tarpaulings and blankets for the purpose. Our shots amused themselves by shooting Blue Mountainers for the pot; and a strange mess was made of cockatoo, Blue Mountainers, an eagle hawk, and dried emu. I served out our last gelatine for Sunday luncheon; it was as good as when we started: the heat had, however, frequently softened it, and made it stick to the bag and to the things with which it was covered.
The fire places of the natives were here arranged in a straight line, and sheltered from the cold wind by dry branches: they were circular, the circumference was slightly raised, and the centre depressed and filled with pebbles, which the natives heat to cook their victuals.
The bell which one of our horses carried, was unaccountably broken at our last camp; and it was quite a misery to hear its dull jarring sound, instead of the former cheerful tinkling. One of our horses had separated from the rest, and had gone so far up the creek, that Charley did not return with it until very late in the afternoon of the 1st September, which compelled us to stop at our camp.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52