Heads of the Isaacs — The Suttor — Flint–Rock — Indications of Water — Dinner of the Natives Appropriated by US— Easter Sunday — Alarm of an Old Woman — Natives Speaking a Language Entirely Unknown to Charley and Brown — A Barter with Them — Mount M’Connel.
I was detained at this place from the 1st to the 4th March, from a severe attack of lumbago, which I had brought on by incautiously and, perhaps, unnecessarily exposing myself to the weather, in my botanical and other pursuits. On the 4th March. I had sufficiently recovered to mount my horse and accompany my party to Roper’s water-holes. Basalt cropped out on the plains; the slight ridges of “devil-devil” land are covered with quartz pebbles, and the hills and bed of the river, are of sandstone formation.
A yellow, and a pink Hibiscus, were frequent along the river.
My calculations gave the longitude of 148 degrees 56 minutes for Skull Creek; my bearings however make it more to the westward; its latitude was supposed to be 21 degrees 42 minutes: the cloudy nights prevented my taking any observation.
March 5. — I sent Mr. Gilbert and Charley up the river, which, according to Mr. Roper’s account, came through a narrow mountain gully, the passage of which was very much obstructed by tea-trees. They passed the mountain gorge, and, in about eight miles north, came to the heads of the Isaacs, and to those of another system of waters, which collected in a creek that flowed considerably to the westward. The range through which the Isaacs passes is composed of sandstone, and strikes from north-west to south-east. In its rocky caves, wallabies, with long smooth tails, had been seen by Brown; they were quite new to him, and, as he expressed himself, “looked more like monkeys than like wallabies.” Mr. Gilbert and Charley came on two flocks of emus, and killed two young ones; and Charley and John Murphy hunted down another; Charley fell, however, with his horse, and broke a double-barrelled gun, which was a very serious loss to us, and the more so, as he had had the misfortune to break a single-barrelled one before this.
The weather continued showery; loose scud passed over from the east and south-east, with occasional breaks of hot sunshine. The Corypha palm is frequent under the range; the Ebenaceous tree, with compound pinnate leaves and unequilateral leaflets, is of a middle size, about thirty feet high, with a shady and rather spreading crown.
We have travelled about seventy miles along the Isaacs. If we consider the extent of its Bastard-box and narrow-leaved Ironbark flats, and the silver-leaved Ironbark ridges on its left bank, and the fine open country between the two ranges through which it breaks, we shall not probably find a country better adapted for pastoral pursuits. There was a great want of surface water at the season we passed through it; and which we afterwards found was a remarkably dry one all over the colony: the wells of the natives, however, and the luxuriant growth of reeds in many parts of the river, showed that even shallow wells would give a large supply to the squatter in cases of necessity; and those chains of large water-holes which we frequently met along and within the scrubs, when once filled, will retain their water for a long time. The extent of the neighbouring scrubs will, however, always form a serious drawback to the squatter, as it will be the lurking place and a refuge of the hostile natives, and a hiding place for the cattle, which would always retire to it in the heat of the day, or in the morning and evening, at which time the flies are most troublesome.
March 7. — I moved my camp through the mountain gorge, the passage of which was rather difficult, in consequence of large boulders of sandstone, and of thickets of narrow-leaved tea-trees growing in the bed of the river. To the northward, it opens into fine gentle Ironbark slopes and ridges, which form the heads of the Isaacs. They seem to be the favourite haunts of emus; for three broods of them were seen, of ten, thirteen, and even sixteen birds. About four miles from the gorge, we came to the heads of another creek, which I called “Suttor Creek” after — Suttor, Esq., who had made me a present of four bullocks when I started on this expedition; four or five miles farther down we found it well supplied with fine water-holes. Here, however, patches of scrub again appeared. The ridges were covered with iron-coloured quartz pebbles, which rendered our bullocks footsore. The marjoram was abundant, particularly near the scrubs, and filled the air with a most exquisite odour. A mountain range was seen to the right; and, where the ranges of the head of the Isaacs abruptly terminated, detached hills and ridges formed the south-western and southern barrier of the waters of Suttor Creek.
March 8. — As we followed the creek about nine miles farther down, it became broader, and the Casuarinas were more frequent. Its bed was sandy, occasionally filled with reeds, and contained numerous water-holes, particularly where the sandstone rock formed more retentive basins.
During the last two days we had drizzling rain, which cleared up a little about noon and at night. The weather was delightfully cool; the wind was very strong from the eastward. I sent Mr. Roper forward to look for water, of which he found a sufficient supply. He stated that the country to the westward opened into fine plains, of a rich black soil; but it was very dry. The bluff terminations of the left range bore E. by S., and that on the right E.N.E.
March 9. — We moved to the water-holes found yesterday by Mr. Roper. On our way we crossed a large scrub creek, coming from the northward and joining Suttor Creek, which turned to the westward, and even W. by S. and W.S.W.
Mr. Gilbert and Charley made an excursion to the westward, in which direction Mr. Roper had seen a distant range, at the foot of which I expected to find a large watercourse. Wind continued from the east and south-east; about the middle of last night we had some rain.
A slender snake, about five feet long, of a greyish brown on the back, and of a bright yellow on the belly, was seen nimbly climbing a tree. The head was so much crushed in killing it that I could not examine its teeth.
Mr. Roper and John Murphy succeeded in shooting eight cockatoos, which gave us an excellent soup. I found in their stomachs a fruit resembling grains of rice, which was slightly sweet, and would doubtless afford an excellent dish, if obtained in sufficient quantity and boiled.
March 10. — We had slight drizzling showers towards sunset; the night very cloudy till about ten a.m., when it cleared up. The variety of grasses is very great; the most remarkable and succulent were two species of Anthistiria, the grass of the Isaacs, and a new one with articulate ears and rounded glumes. A pink Convolvulus, with showy blossoms, is very common. Portulaca, with terete leaves, grows sparingly on the mild rich soil.
Were a superficial observer suddenly transported from one of the reedy ponds of Europe to this water-hole in Suttor Creek, he would not be able to detect the change of his locality, except by the presence of Casuarinas and the white trunks of the majestic flooded-gum. Reeds, similar to those of Europe, and Polygonums almost identical as to species, surround the water, the surface of which is covered with the broad leaves of Villarsia, exactly resembling those of Nymphaea alba, and with several species of Potomogeton. Small grey birds, like the warblers of the reeds, flit from stem to stem; hosts of brilliant gyrinus play on the water; notonectes and beetles, resembling the hydrophili, live within it — now rising to respire, now swiftly diving. Limnaea, similar to those of Europe, creep along the surface of the water; small Planorbis live on the water-plants, to which also adhere Ancylus; and Paludina, Cyclas, and Unio, furrow its muddy bottom. The spell, however, must not be broken by the noisy call of a laughing jackass (Dacelo gigantea); the screams of the white cockatoo; or by the hollow sound of the thirsty emu. The latitude of this spot was 21 degrees 23 minutes S.
I examined the country northward for about five miles, crossing some small undulating or hilly downs of a rich black soil, where the Phonolith frequently cropped out. There were occasional tracts of “devil-devil” land, and patches of scrub, which, at no great distance, united into one mass of Bricklow. Tracing a little creek to its head, I crossed ridges with open forest. Mr. Gilbert and Charley returned, after having found, as I anticipated, a considerable watercourse at the foot of the westerly range. Suttor Creek was afterwards found to join this watercourse, and, as it was its principal tributary, the name was continued to the main stream.
March 12. — In travelling to Mr. Gilbert’s discovery, we crossed large plains, and, at the end of six miles, entered into thick scrub, which continued with little interruption until we reached the dry channel of the Suttor. This scrub, like those already mentioned, varies in density and in its composition; the Bricklow acacia predominates; but, in more open parts, tufts of Bauhinia covered with white blossoms, and patches of the bright green Fusanus and silvery Bricklow, formed a very pleasing picture. The bed of the Suttor was rather shallow, sandy, and irregular, with occasional patches of reeds; its left bank was covered with scrub; but well grassed flats, with Bastard-box and Ironbark, were on its right. We encamped near a fine reedy water-hole, nearly half a mile long, in lat. 21 degrees 21 minutes 36 seconds. We had travelled about fifteen miles west by north from our last camp. Throughout the day the weather was cloudy and rainy, which rendered the tedious passage through the scrub more bearable.
March 13. — We proceeded six or seven miles down the river, in a S.S.W. course. The flats continued on its right side, but rose at a short distance into low ridges, covered either with scrub or with a very stunted silver-leaved Ironbark. On one of the flats we met with a brood of young emus, and killed three of them. The morning was bright; cumuli gathered about noon, and the afternoon was cloudy. The wind was from the eastward. The Suttor is joined, in lat. 21 degrees 25 minutes, by a large creek from the N.W. From the ridges on the left bank of the creek I obtained an extensive view. The bluff termination of the ranges on the head of the Isaacs bore N. 55 degrees E. Many high ranges were seen towards the north and north-east. Towards the south the horizon was broken only by some very distant isolated mountains. Peak Range was not visible. A group of three mountains appeared towards the north-west; one of them had a flat top. The whole country to the westward was formed of low ridges, among which the Suttor seemed to shape its winding course. The hills on which we stood, as well as the banks of the creek, were composed of flint-rock. Pebbles and blocks of Pegmatite covered the bed of the creek. This rock also cropped out along the river. This was the first time since leaving Moreton Bay that we met with primitive rocks, and I invite the attention of geologists to the close connection of the flint rock with granitic rocks; which I had many opportunities of observing in almost every part of the northern and western falls of the table land of New England.
A Melaleuca with very small decussate leaves, a tree about twenty-five feet high, was growing on the scrubby ridges. Flooded-gums of most majestic size, and Casuarinas, grew along the river; in which there were many large reedy water-holes. The season must be more than usually dry, some of the largest holes containing only shallow pools, which were crowded with small fishes, seemingly gasping for rain. A Ruellia, with large white and blue flowers, adorned the grassy flats along the Suttor. The latitude of this spot was 21 degrees 26 minutes 36 seconds.
March 14. — We removed down the river about eight miles S. S. W. to good water-holes, which had been seen by my companions the day before. Here the scrub approached the river, leaving only a narrow belt of open forest, which was occasionally interrupted by low ridges of stunted silver-leaved Ironbark. Pegmatite and Porphyry (with a very few small crystals of felspar) and Gneiss? were observed in situ. On our way we passed a fine lagoon. A dry but not hot wind blew from the S. S. W.; the night and morning were bright; cumuli with sharp margins hung about after eleven o’clock.
A pelican was seen flying down the river, and two native companions and an ibis were at the water-holes. Crows, cockatoos, and ducks were frequent. From the remains of mussels about these water-holes, the natives have enjoyed many recent meals.
I sent Mr. Roper and Charley down the river, who informed me, on their return late at night, that they had found water at different distances; the farthest they reached was distant about seventeen miles, in a water-hole near the scrub; but the bed of the river was dry. As they rode, one on the right and the other on the left side of the river, a Blackfellow hailed Charley and approached him, but when he saw Mr. Roper — who crossed over upon being called — he immediately climbed a tree, and his gin, who was far advanced in pregnancy, ascended another. As Mr. Roper moved round the base of the tree, in order to look the Blackfellow in the face, and to speak with him, the latter studiously avoided looking at Mr. Roper, by shifting round and round the trunk like an iguana. At last, however, he answered to the inquiry for water, by pointing to the W. N. W. The woman also kept her face averted from the white man. Proceeding farther down the river they saw natives encamped at a water-hole, who, as soon as they became aware of the approach of the two horsemen, withdrew with the greatest haste into the scrub; the men driving the shrieking women and children before them. Upon Mr. Roper galloping after them, one athletic fellow turned round and threatened to throw his bommerang, at this sign of hostility Mr. Roper prudently retired. Kangaroo and other nets made of some plant and not of bark, koolimans, bommerangs, waddies, and a fine opossum cloak were found at the camp, but were left untouched by our companions.
March 15. — Our party moved to the water-holes, where Mr. Roper had seen the natives; the latter had removed their property, and were not afterwards heard or seen by any of us. The general course of the river was about south-west, and is joined by several scrub creeks; its bed is broad and shallow, with numerous channels, separated by bergues; and the river itself is split into several anabranches. The scrub is generally an open Vitex; a fine drooping tea-tree lines the banks of the river; Casuarina disappears; the flooded-gum is frequent, but of smaller size. The Mackenzie-bean and several other papilionaceous plants, with some new grasses, grow in it. The most interesting plant, however, is a species of Datura, from one to two feet high, which genus has not previously been observed in Australia. I also found species of Heliotropium of a most fragrant odour.
Sandstone cropped out in several places, and red quartz pebbles were very abundant in some parts of the river; the sands of its bed are so triturated that no one would ever surmise the existence of granitic rocks, at sixteen or twenty miles higher up. The whole country was flat; no hill was visible, but, towards the end of our day’s journey, we crossed a few slight undulations.
During the night of the 14th, southerly winds were followed by a gale from the eastward, with scud and drizzling rain. The morning of the 15th was cloudy with a little rain; wind southerly. Early in the night, a strong east-wind with drizzling long rain set in, but cleared up at midnight. The morning of the 16th was cloudy, with a southerly wind. Our lat. was 21 degrees 39 minutes 58 seconds.
March 17. — Mr. Gilbert and Brown went forward in search of water, supposing that they would find it at a convenient distance, but were unsuccessful, and, as they had taken neither guns nor provisions, they were obliged to return. Keeping, however, a little more to the left, on their return, they came to two fine water-holes at the foot of some ironstone ridges, where they passed the night, and reached the camp the following day, having had nothing to eat for twenty-four hours. The camp was then moved to these water-holes, about nine miles off, in a due west course. Fine water-holes were passed at a short half-mile from our camp; and, after crossing the northern anabranch of the river, we again found water.
The detection of isolated water-holes in a wooded country, where there is nothing visible to indicate its presence, is quite a matter of chance. We have often unconsciously passed well-filled water-holes, at less than a hundred yards distant, whilst we were suffering severely from thirst. Our horses and bullocks never showed that instinctive faculty of detecting water, so often mentioned by other travellers; and I remember instances, in which the bullocks have remained the whole night, not fifty yards from water-holes, without finding them; and, indeed, whenever we came to small water-holes, we had to drive the cattle down to them, or they would have strayed off to find water elsewhere. On several occasions I followed their tracks, and observed they were influenced entirely by their sight when in search of it; at times attracted by a distant patch of deeper verdure, at others following down a hollow or a watercourse, but I do not recollect a single instance where they found water for themselves. The horses, however, were naturally more restless and impatient, and, when we approached a creek or a watercourse after a long journey, would descend into the bed and follow it for long distances to find water; giving great trouble to those who had to bring them back to the line of march. Whenever they saw me halt at the place where I intended to encamp, they not only quickened their pace, but often galloped towards me, well knowing that I had found water, and that they were to be relieved of their loads. In looking for water, my search was first made in the neighbourhood of hills, ridges, and ranges, which from their extent and elevation were most likely to lead me to it, either in beds of creeks, or rivers, or in water-holes, parallel to them. In an open country, there are many indications which a practised eye will readily seize: a cluster of trees of a greener foliage, hollows with luxuriant grass, eagles circling in the air, crows, cockatoos, pigeons (especially before sunset), and the call of Grallina Australis and flocks of little finches, would always attract our attention. The margins of scrubs were generally provided with chains of holes. But a flat country, openly timbered, without any break of the surface or of the forest, was by no means encouraging; and I have frequently travelled more than twenty-five miles in a straight line without obtaining my object, In coming on creeks, it required some experience in the country, to know whether to travel up or down the bed: some being well provided with water immediately at the foot of the range, and others being entirely dry at their upper part, but forming large puddled holes, lower down, in a flat country. From daily experience, we acquired a sort of instinctive feeling as to the course we should adopt, and were seldom wrong in our decisions.
The ridges, near the water-holes on which we were encamped, are composed of an igneous rock containing much iron, with which the water was impregnated to such a degree, that our tea turned quite black and inky. The natives were very numerous in these parts, and their tracks were everywhere visible. They had even followed the tracks of Mr. Gilbert’s and Brown’s horses of the preceding day.
The night was bright; the day cloudy, and the wind easterly. I went with Charley, in the afternoon of the 17th, to examine the extent of the scrubby country, of which Mr. Gilbert had given us so poor an account. The channel of the river became narrow and deep, with steep banks, as it enters the scrub, and there the flooded gums entirely disappeared. The scrub is about eight miles long, and from two to three miles broad, and is tolerably open. The Bricklow is here a real tree, but of stunted growth, with regularly fissured bark, like that of the Ironbark (Eucalyptus resinifera). It has long broad falcate phyllodia, whilst another species of the same size has an irregular scaly bark, with small phyllodia, but of a greyer colour than those of the common Bricklow. Both species grow promiscuously together. Where the river left the scrub, it entered into a wild water-worn box flat, and cut up into several irregular channels, lined by a dense thicket of narrow-leaved Melaleucas of stunted growth and irregular shapes. The Box-tree itself is here a different species, the bark has deeper fissures, and the young wood is very yellow. I shall distinguish it by the name of “Water-box,” as it grows exclusively near creeks, or on the neighbouring flats. I first observed it at the Mackenzie; its bark strips freely, but the stem is too short and irregular to be of any use.
In passing a low hill, at the foot of which the box-flat commenced, we came on a very distinct path of the natives, which led us to a deep water-hole, covered with luxuriant grass; containing but a small quantity of water. Farther on we came to a second hole better supplied, and to a third; and at last Charley cried out, “Look there, Sir! what big water!” and a long broad sheet of water stretched in sweeps through a dense Bauhinia and Bricklow scrub, which covered its steep banks. It is a singular character of this remarkable country, that extremes so often meet; the most miserable scrub, with the open plain and fine forest land; and the most paralysing dryness, with the finest supply of water.
Swarms of ducks covered the margin of the lake; pelicans, beyond the reach of shot, floated on its bosom; land-turties plunged into its waters; and shags started from dead trees lying half immersed, as we trod the well-beaten path of the natives along its banks. The inhabitants of this part of the country, doubtless, visit this spot frequently, judging from the numerous heaps of muscle-shells. This fine piece of water, probably in the main channel of the Suttor, is three miles long, and is surrounded with one mass of scrub, which opens a little at its north-western extremity.
March 10. — I continued my ride, ten or twelve miles down the river; the scrub continued, but the immediate neighbourhood became a little more open; several trees were observed, that had been recently cut by the natives in search of honey or opossums. Emus were very numerous; sometimes a solitary bird, and at others two, three, four, and up to thirteen together, were seen trotting off in long file, and now and then stopping to stare at us. We caught a bandicoot with two young ones, which gave us an excellent luncheon. When we left the lake, Charley thought he could distinguish a plain to the northward; and, riding in that direction, I was agreeably surprised to find that the scrub did not extend more than a mile and a-half from the river; and that, beyond it, plains and open forest extended far to the northward; and fine ridges with most excellent feed, to the southward. The traveller who is merely following the course of a river, is unable to form a correct idea of the country farther off, unless hills are near, from which he may obtain extensive views. At the water-worn banks of the Mackenzie, I little expected that we were in the vicinity of a country like that of Peak Range; and I am consequently inclined to believe that much more available land exists along the banks of the Suttor, where its valley is covered with scrub, than we know anything about.
March 19. — The camp was removed to the lake of the Suttor, about twelve miles and a-half N. 80 degrees W. We chased a flock of emus, but without success; four of my companions went duck-shooting, but got very few; the others angled, but nothing would bite.
The day was cloudy; some drizzling rain fell in the morning; the night was clear. Lat. 21 degrees 37 minutes 31 minutes.
During my absence, my companions found a quantity of implements and ornaments of the natives, in the neighbourhood of our last camp.
On the plains I found two new species of Sida; and, on the tea-trees, a new form of Loranthus, with flowers in threes on a broad leafy bract, scarcely distinguishable from the real leaves.
March 20. — We travelled down to the water-holes, at which I had turned back. Sandstone rock cropped out on several spots, and pieces of broken quartz were strewed over the ground. All the water-holes along the low ridges and within the bed of the river, were full of water; and the district seemed to be one of those which, from their peculiar conformation of surface, are more frequently favoured by thunder-storms. Native companions flew down the river, and flights of ducks held their course in the same direction. With the hope of finding a good supply of water lower down, we continued our journey on the 21st March. The creek frequently divided into channels, forming large islands of a mile and a mile and a-half in length, covered with scrub, and over which freshes had swept. All at once, the water disappeared; the deepest holes were dry; the Melaleucas were not to be found; the flooded-gums became very rare, and the rich green grass was replaced by a scanty wiry grass. The whole river seemed to divide into chains of dry water-holes, scarcely connected by hollows. Two miles farther we came to a fine large water-hole, surrounded by Polygonums and young water-grass, and, at two miles farther, to another, and in about the same distance to a third. Recent camps of the natives were on each of them, and a beaten path led from one to the other. One of these holes was crossed by a weir made of sticks for catching fish. Bones of large fish, turtle shells, and heaps of muscles, were strewed round the fire places.
The whole day was bright and very hot; the wind in the afternoon from E.S.E. The latitude of our last camp was 21 degrees 31 minutes 16 seconds, being about eighteen miles W.N.W. from the lake.
Mr. Roper and Brown rode about seven miles down the river, and found that it again formed a large regular bed well supplied with water; and that the country was of a more open character. They came suddenly upon two women cooking mussels, who ran off, leaving their dinners to their unwelcome visitors, who quickly dispatched the agreeable repast; farther on they saw four men, who were too shy to approach. Charley also, whilst bringing in the horses on the morning of the 22nd, passed a numerous camp, who quietly rose and gazed at him, but did not utter a single word.
I travelled with my party to the water-holes found by Mr. Roper; on approaching them, we crossed an extensive box-flat, near that part of the river where it is split into collateral chains of holes. Talc-schiste cropped out at the latter part of the journey; its strata were perpendicular, and their direction from north-west to south-east; its character was the same as that of Moreton Bay and New England; numerous veins of quartz intersected the rock.
The water-holes were surrounded by high Polygonums; blue Nymphaeas were observed in several of them; and ducks were very numerous.
The forenoon was cloudless and hot; cirrhous clouds formed in the afternoon; with a breeze from the E.S.E. Our lat. was 21 degrees 25 minutes.
Mr. Gilbert and Charley, when on a reconnoitring ride, met another party of natives; among them two gins were so horror-struck at the unwonted sight, that they immediately fled into the scrub; the men commenced talking to them, but occasionally interrupted their speeches by spitting and uttering a noise like pooh! pooh! apparently expressive of their disgust.
March 23. — The party moved on about ten miles to the north-east, and encamped at the junction of a large creek which comes from the S.S.E. Its character is similar to that of the Suttor; and I should not be surprised if it should prove to be the northern anabranch of that creek, and which we crossed on the 17th of March, the day before we arrived at the lake.
The country opens into lightly-timbered ridges, which are composed of a hard rock, the sharp pieces of which covered the ground, and made our animals foot-sore. It seems to me to be a clayey sandstone (Psammite) penetrated by silica. A coarse-grained sandstone and quartzite cropped out in that part of the river situated between the two camps. The melon-holes of the box-flats were frequently over-grown with the polygonaceous plant, mentioned at a former occasion; and the small scrub plains were covered with a grey chenopodiaceous plant from three to four feet high. The stiff-leaved Cymbidium was still very common, and two or three plants of it were frequently observed on the same tree; its stem is eatable, but glutinous and insipid.
The morning of Easter Sunday was very clear and hot; the wind from E.N.E. As soon as we had celebrated the day with a luncheon of fat damper and sweetened tea, I rode with Charley about seven or eight miles down the river, and found abundance of water, not only in the bed of the river, but in lines of lagoons parallel to it. Charley shot several ducks, which were very numerous upon the water. Whilst riding along the bank of the river, we saw an old woman before us, walking slowly and thoughtfully through the forest, supporting her slender and apparently exhausted frame with one of those long sticks which the women use for digging roots; a child was running before her. Fearing she would be much alarmed if we came too suddenly upon her — as neither our voices in conversation, nor the footfall of our horses, attracted her attention — I cooeed gently; after repeating the call two or three times, she turned her head; in sudden fright she lifted her arms, and began to beat the air, as if to take wing — then seizing the child, and shrieking most pitifully, she rapidly crossed the creek, and escaped to the opposite ridges. What could she think; but that we were some of those imaginary beings, with legends of which the wise men of her people frighten the children into obedience, and whose strange forms and stranger doings are the favourite topics of conversation amongst the natives at night when seated round their fires?
I observed a fine sienite on several spots; it is of a whitish colour, and contains hornblende and mica in almost equal quantities; granite was also seen, and both rocks probably belong to each other, the presence of hornblende being local. A very hard pudding-stone crops out about nine miles down the river. From the ridges, hills were seen to the N.N.E. and to the westward. Vitex scrub is met with in patches of small extent. A white crane, and the whistling duck, were seen. Black ducks and teal were most common, and Charley shot eight of them. On the banks of the more or less dry water-holes grows an annual leguminous plant, which shoots up into a simple stem, often to the height of twelve feet; its neck and root are covered with a spongy tissue; its leaves are pinnate, a foot or more in length, with small leaflets; it bears mottled yellow flowers, in axillary racemes; and long rough, articulate pods, containing small, bright, olive-green seeds. I first saw this plant at Limestone, near Moreton Bay, and afterwards at the water-holes of Comet River. It was extremely abundant in the bed of the Burdekin, and was last seen on the west side of the gulf of Carpentaria; I could, however, easily distinguish three species of this plant. [They belong probably to the two genera, Aeschynomene and Sesbania.]
Last evening, clouds gathered in the west, but cleared off after sunset; the night again cloudy, the forenoon equally so; in the afternoon the clouds were dissipated by a north-east wind.
March 24. — We travelled about nine miles N. 60 degrees W. along the river; a small creek joined from the westward. At night we had a heavy thunder-storm from the S.W.
March 25. — Weather very hot; clouds formed during the afternoon. We continued our journey along the river to lat. 21 degrees 3 minutes; the river winds considerably. We passed several hills at the latter part of the stage. I ascended one of them, on the right bank of the river, and obtained an extensive view of the country, which has a very uniform character. There were ridges and low ranges to the westward, one of which stretched from N. by W. far to the westward. The hill on which I stood was composed of limestone rock; it was flat-topped, with steep slopes at each end.
In lat. about 21 degrees 6 minutes, we crossed a large creek, densely lined with dropping tea trees, coming from the westward. It was here we first met with Careya arborea (Roxb.), a small tree from fifteen to twenty feet high, with elliptical leaves of soft texture, four inches long, and two in breadth; its fruit was about two inches long, contained many seeds, and resembled that of the Guava. Its leaves, however, had neither the vernation nor the pellucid dots of Myrtaceous trees. At the junction of the creek, a great number of small Corypha palms were growing, and my companions observed the dead stems of some very high ones, whose tops had been cut off by the natives, probably to obtain the young shoot. We passed hills of baked sandstone, before reaching the creek, and afterwards crossed a fine sandy flat, with poplar-gum. The river has a broad bed, at times dividing into several channels, lined with stately Melaleucas and flooded-gum, and again uniting into one deep channel, with long reaches of water surrounded by Polygonums, and overgrown with blue Nymphaeas, Damasoniums, and Utricularias, and inhabited by large flights of ducks. Rock occasionally enters into the bed of the river. The collateral lines of water-holes are rarely interrupted, and the ridges appear to be open on both sides of the river.
March 26. — We travelled along the river to lat. 20 degrees 53 minutes 42 seconds. Its course is almost due north. Yesterday, being out duck shooting, we came suddenly upon a camp of natives, who were not a little frightened by the report of our guns: they followed our tracks, however, with wailing cries, and afterwards all of them sat down on the rocky banks of the river, when we returned to our camp. To-day we passed the place of their encampment with our whole train, and it was remarkable that they neither heard nor saw us until we were close to them, though we had seen them from a great distance. All the young ones ran away. Dismounting from my horse, I walked up to an old man who had remained, and who was soon after rejoined by another man. We had a long unintelligible conversation, for neither Brown nor Charley could make out a single word of their language. They were much surprised by the different appearance of Charley’s black skin and my own. Phillips wished to exchange his jacket for one of their opossum cloaks, so I desired him to put it on the ground, and then taking the cloak and placing it near the jacket, I pointed to Phillips, and, taking both articles up, handed the cloak to Phillips and the jacket to our old friend, who perfectly understood my meaning. After some time he expressed a wish to have the cloak back, and to keep the jacket, with which we had dressed him; but I gave him to understand that he might have his cloak, provided he returned the jacket; which arrangement satisfied him. A basket (dilli), which I examined, was made of a species of grass which, according to Charley, is found only on the sea coast.
We saw a Tabiroo (Mycteria) and a rifle bird. The morning was cloudy, but very hot. Numerous heavy cumuli formed during the afternoon.
March 27. — We travelled to lat. 20 degrees 47 minutes 34 seconds. The country along the river is undulating and hilly, and openly timbered. The rock is of sandstone, and the ground is covered with quartz pebbles. In lat. about 20 degrees 49 minutes, the Suttor is joined by a river as large as itself, coming from the S.W. by W., and which changes the course of the Suttor to the N.E. Just before the junction, the large bed of the Suttor contracts into one deep channel, filled in its whole extent by a fine sheet of water, on which Charley shot a pelican. I mention this singular contraction, because a similar peculiarity was observed to occur at almost every junction of considerable channels, as that of the Suttor and Burdekin, and of the Lynd and the Mitchell. I named the river, which here joins the Suttor, after Mr. Cape, the obliging commander of the Shamrock steamer. The bed of the united rivers is very broad, with several channels separated by high sandy bergues. The country back from the river is formed by flats alternating with undulations, and is lightly timbered with silver-leaved Ironbark, rusty gum, Moreton Bay ash, and water box. The trees are generally stunted, and unfit for building; but the drooping tea trees and the flooded-gum will supply sufficient timber for such a purpose.
At our camp, at the bed of the river, granite crops out, and the sands sparkle with leaflets of gold-coloured mica. The morning was clear and hot; the afternoon cloudy; a thunder-storm to the north-east. We have observed nothing of the sea-breeze of the Mackenzie and of Peak Range, along the Suttor; but a light breeze generally sets in about nine o’clock P.M.
Charley met with a flock of twenty emus, and hunted down one of them.
March 28. — We travelled down the river to latitude 20 degrees 41 minutes 35 seconds. The country was improving, beautifully grassed, openly timbered, flat, or ridgy, or hilly; the ridges were covered with pebbles, the hills rocky. The rocks were baked sandstone, decomposed granite, and a dark, very hard conglomerate: the latter cropped out in the bed of the river where we encamped. Pebbles of felspathic porphyry were found in the river’s bed. At some old camping places of the natives, we found the seed-vessels of Pandanus, a plant which I had never seen far from the sea coast; and also the empty shells of the seeds of a Cycas. Mr. Calvert, John Murphy, and Brown, whom I had sent to collect marjoram, told me, at their return, that they had seen whole groves of Pandanus trees; and brought home the seed-vessel of a new Proteaceous tree. I went to examine the locality, and found, on a sandy and rather rotten soil, the Pandanus abundant, growing from sixteen to twenty feet high, either with a simple stem and crown, or with a few branches at the top. The Proteaceous tree was small, from twelve to fifteen feet high, of stunted and irregular habit, with dark, fissured bark, and large medullary rays in its red wood: its leaves were of a silvery colour, about two inches and a half long, and three-quarters broad; its seed-vessels woody and orbicular, like the single seed-vessels of the Banksia conchifera; the seeds were surrounded by a broad transparent membrane. This tree, which I afterwards found every where in the neighbourhood of the gulf of Carpentaria, was in blossom from the middle of May to that of June. The poplar-gum, the bloodwood, the melaleuca of Mt. Stewart, the Moreton Bay ash, the little Severn tree, and a second species of the same genus with smooth leaves, were growing on the same soil. The grasses were very various, particularly in the hollows: and the fine bearded grass of the Isaacs grew from nine to twelve feet in height. Charley brought me a branch of a Cassia with a thyrse of showy yellow blossoms, which he said he had plucked from a shrub about fifteen feet high.
We encamped about two miles from the foot of a mountain bearing about N.E. from us; I called it Mount McConnel, after Fred. McConnel, Esq., who had most kindly contributed to my expedition. The Suttor winds round its western base, and, at four or five miles beyond it, in a northerly direction, and in latitude 20 degrees 37 minutes 13 seconds joins a river, the bed of which, at the junction, is fully a mile broad. Narrow and uninterrupted belts of small trees were growing within the bed of the latter, and separated broad masses of sand, through which a stream ten yards broad and from two to three feet deep, was meandering; but which at times swells into large sheets of water, occasionally occupying the whole width of the river. Charley reported that he had seen some black swans, and large flights of ducks and pelicans. This was the most northern point at which the black swan was observed on our expedition.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57