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Chapter IV.

Change the route to trace the course of the Gwydir—A native village of bowers— Effect of sudden moisture on the wheels—Tortuous course of the Gwydir— Lines of irrigation across the plains—Heavy rain—Crested pigeon—The party impeded by the soft state of the surface—Lagoons near the river —Excursion northward—Reach a broad sheet of water—Position of the party—The common course of the river, and the situation of the range considered—Nondescript tree and fruit—Plains of rich soil, beautifully wooded—Small branches of the Gwydir—Much frequented by the natives— Laughable interview of Dawkins with a tribe—Again reach the Gwydir— A new cucumber—Cross the river and proceed northward—A night without water—Man lost—Continue northward—Water discovered by my horse— Native wears for catching fish—Arrive at a large and rapid river—Send back for the party on the Gwydir—Abundance of three kinds of fish—Preparations for crossing the river—Natives approach in the night—View from one tree fastened to another—Mr. White arrives with the party and lost man—detained by natives—Mr. White crosses the river—Marks of floods on trees—Man lost in the woods—Natives' method of fishing—Native dog— Mr. White's account of the river.

THE line of our route to this river, described no great detour, and the trees being marked, as also the ground, by the cart wheels, Mr. Finch could have no difficulty in following our track thus far. We were now, however, to turn from a northern, to a western course, and I accordingly explained this to Mr. Finch, in a letter which I deposited in a marked tree, as arranged with him before I set out.

Jan. 10.—This morning it rained heavily; but we left the encampment at six, to pursue the course of the Gwydir. The deep and extensive hollows formed by the floods of this river, compelled us to travel southward for several miles. In crossing one hollow, we passed among the huts of a native tribe. They were tastefully distributed amongst drooping acacias and casuarinæ; some resembled bowers under yellow fragant mimosæ; some were isolated under the deeper shades of casuarinæ; while others were placed


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more socially, three or four together, fronting to one and the same hearth. Each hut was semicircular, or circular, the roof conical, and from one side a flat roof stood forward like a portico, supported by two sticks. Most of them were close to the trunk of a tree, and they were covered, not as in other parts, by sheets of bark, but with a variety of materials, such as reeds, grass, and boughs. The interior of each looked clean, and to us passing in the rain, gave some idea, not only of shelter, but even of comfort and happiness. They afforded a favourable specimen of the taste of the gins, whose business it usually is to construct the huts. This village of bowers also occupied more space than the encampments of native tribes in general; choice shady spots seemed to have been an object, and had been selected with care.

We had at length been able to turn westward, keeping the river trees in view, when the rain continuing, we began to experience the effects of moisture on the felloes of the wheels. The heat and contraction had lately obliged us to tighten and wedge them to such a degree, that now, when the ground had become wet, the expansion of the whole broke the tirering of the wheel. Having no forge, we could only attempt the necessary repairs with a common fire, and for this purpose I left three men with Mr. White; and I resumed the journey with the rest of the party. The rain continuing, the soft ground so clogged the wheels, that the draught was very distressing to the bullocks. We pursued a westerly direction for five miles, over ground thinly wooded, with patches of open plain. Changing our course to 60° west of north, we traversed a very extensive tract of clear ground, until, after crossing four miles and a half of it, we reached a bend of the river, and at three P.M. encamped on an open spot, a quarter of a mile from it. At five o'clock the other cart came up, having been substantially repaired, by taking off the ring, shortening the felloes, closing them on the spokes, and then re-placing the ring again, by drilling two holes through it.




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Jan. 11.—Pursuing a westerly course, I found the river on my right at five miles. At a mile further, it crossed my intended line of route, and obliged me to turn south-south-west, in which direction we intercepted the junction of the dry river, named Kareen, which we crossed on the 8th instant. The bed above the junction was narrow but deep, and the permanent character of its banks gave, to this channel, the appearance of a considerable tributary, which it probably may be at some seasons, although then dry. In a section of the bank near the junction, I observed a bed of calcareous tuff. The passage of this channel was easiest for the carts, at the spot where it joined that of the Gwydir. We travelled, after crossing, along the north-western skirts of extensive open plains, and thus reached, at five miles further, another line of trees, enclosing a chain of ponds, on which we encamped, after a journey of twelve miles.

Jan. 12.—I continued the westerly course, through woods, until at three miles we fell in with the river, and on turning to the left, in order to avoid its immediate banks, a large lagoon also obstructed our progress. The tortuous course of the river was such, that it was only by pursuing a direction, parallel to the general course, we could hope to make sufficient progress. But in exploring the general course only of rivers, the traveller must still grope his way occasionally; for here, after turning the lagoon, we again encountered the river, taking such a bend southward, that we were compelled to travel towards the east, and even northward of east, to avoid the furrowed ground on its immediate bank.

At length we reached an open tract, across which we travelled in a south-west direction about eight miles, when we arrived at one of those water-courses or chains of ponds, which always have the appearance of being on the highest parts of the plains. As the general course of this, as far as it could be seen, was nearly east and west, I thought it might be the same as the channel, which I had named Wheel Ponds on the 7th instant; but the range of these chains of


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ponds, not being confined by any hills of note, I could not be certain as to the identity, or whether such channels did not separate into different branches, on that level country. The ponds they contained, even during the dry season, and the permanent character of their banks, each lined with a single row of trees, throughout a meandering course over naked plains, bespoke a providential arrangement for the support of life in these melancholy wastes, which, indeed, redeemed them from the character of deserts. We encamped on this chain of ponds, having first crossed the channel, that we might have no impediment before us, in the morning; experience having taught us that the cattle could overcome a difficulty of this kind better when warmed to their work, than at first starting from their feeding place.

Some very heavy thunder showers fell, but the sky became clear in the evening, so that we ascertained the latitude to be 29° 39′ 49″ S. We also obtained the bearing of Mount Riddell, and other points of the Nundawàr range, making our latitude 146° 37′ 30″ E.

On these ponds we first saw the beautiful crested pigeon, mentioned by Mr. Oxley, as frequenting the neighbourhood of the marshes of the Macquarie.

Jan. 13.—We packed up our tents to proceed on our journey, as usual, the weather being beautiful; but after three hours of excessive toil, the bullocks had not advanced two miles, because the stiff clay so clogged the wheels, that it could not be easily removed. Seeing the cattle so distressed, I was compelled to encamp, and await the effect of the sunshine and the


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breeze on the clammy surface. In the mean time, I rode northward towards the river, accompanied by Mr. White, and, at about a mile from the tents, we found one of the lagoons, which are supplied by its floods. The margin was thickly imprinted with the marks of small naked feet, in all probability, those of the gins and children, whose most constant food, in these parts, appeared to be a large, fresh-water muscle. We next traced the course of the river westward for about five miles, being guided by the line of river trees. When we arrived, we found within them a still lagoon of deep water, the banks thereof being steep like a river, and enclosing the water within a very tortuous canal, or channel, which I had no doubt belonged to the river. To the southward, the whole country was clear of wood, and presented one general slope towards the line of the river.

From our camp on the plain, Mount Riddell bore 123° 30′ E.

Jan. 14.—After an unusually hot night, the morning broke amid thunder-clouds, which threatened, by another shower, to destroy our hopes of advancing this day and the next at least. Nevertheless, we lost no time in yoking the cattle, and proceeding: for the heat and drought of the previous day had already formed a crust upon which the animals could travel. Meanwhile, the thunder roared, and heavy showers were to be seen falling in two directions. One rain-cloud in the north-east, whence the wind blew strong, nearly overtook us; while another in the south-west, exhausted itself on the Nundawàr range. But, as the wind increased, the storm-clouds sank rapidly towards the part of the horizon whence it came, until the beams of the ascending sun at length overwhelmed them with a glorious flood of light, and introduced a day of brilliant sunshine.

We traversed, as rapidly as we could, these precarious plains, keeping the woods, which enveloped the Gwydir, on our right: and thus, at the end of twelve miles, we arrived on the banks of a lagoon, apparently a continuation of the


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line of ponds or river, which had proved such a providential relief to us, after our severe suffering from want of water under Mount Frazer. Here, however, we found a broad and extensive lagoon, nearly level with its banks, and covered with ducks. It had the winding character, and uniformity of width of a river, but no current. I thought, this reach might also contain some surplus water of the Nammoy, which could not be far distant, for we had now reached those low levels, to which we had previously traced the course of that river. We travelled along the bank of this fine piece of water for two miles, and found its breadth to be very uniform. An arm trending northward then lay in our way. The country was full of holes, and deep rents or cracks, but the soil was loose, and bare as a new-ploughed field. I, therefore, withdrew the carts to where we first came on the lagoon; not only for the sake of grass, but that we might continue our route over the firmer ground, which appeared to the eastward.

I had now on my map the Nundawàr range, with the courses of the Nammoy on one side, and the Gwydir on the other. I was between these two rivers, and at no great distance from either; Mount Riddell, the nearest point of the range bore 21½° S. of E., being distant 42 miles. The opposite bearing or 20° N. of W., might, therefore, be considered to express the common direction of these waters. In a country so liable to inundation, as the district between these rivers appeared to be, it was a primary object with us to travel along the highest or driest part, and we could only look for this advantage, in the above direction, or parallel to, and midway between, the rivers. We could, in this manner, trace out their junction with more certainty, and so terminate thus far, the survey of both, by the determination of a point so important in geography. The soil of these level open tracts consisted of a rich, dark coloured clay. The lagoon was marked by a row of stunted trees, which grew along its edge, on each side, so that the line could be distinguished from a


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great distance eastward, and appeared to be connected with the ponds of “Gorolei.”

Among the trees growing along the margin of this lagoon, were several which were new to me; particularly one which bore clusters of a fruit resembling a small russet apple, and about an inch in diameter. The skin was rough, the pulp of a rich crimson colour, not unlike that of the prickly pear, and it had an agreeable acid flavour. This pulp covered a large rough stone, containing several seeds, and it was evidently eaten by the natives, as great numbers of the bare stones lay about. The foliage of the tree very much resembled the white cedar of the colonists, and milk exuded from the stalk or leaves when broken.




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A great variety of ducks and other water-fowl covered this fine piece of water. We made the latitude of the camp 29° 49′ S. the longitude 149° 28′ E.

Jan. 15.—The country to the northward seemed so low, and the course of the Gwydir, amid so many lagoons, so doubtful, that I considered it advisable to ride in that direction, before we ventured to advance with our carts. I, therefore, set out this morning, accompanied by Mr. White, in the direction already mentioned, of 20° west of north—so that, in returning, the cone of Mount Riddell might guide us to the camp, without any necessity for continuing the use of the compass, which occasions much delay. In such cases, a hill, a star, or the unerring skill of a native, is very convenient, as obviating the necessity for repeatedly observing the compass, in returning through pathless woods towards any point, which might easily be missed without such precautions.

We found in the course of a ride of twenty miles from the camp, a much better country for travelling over, than that in the immediate vicinity of the lagoon. We crossed, at eleven miles, a line of ponds in a deep channel, whereof the bank seemed the highest ground; and, beyond them, was a rich plain, with a few clumps of trees; where the grass also was remarkably good. At twenty miles, the length of our ride, we fell in with a second chain of ponds, beyond which we saw another plain. We were delighted with the prospect of so favourable a country for extending our journey, and, not less so, with the apparent turn of the Gwydir, as indicated by its non-appearance in our ride thus far. It was obvious, that the more this river turned northward, the greater would be the probability that it might lead to a channel unconnected with that of the Darling—and terminate in some still greater water, or open out a field of useful discovery. The direction of the channels we had already crossed, however, was somewhat to the south of west—and it was difficult to account for their waters otherwise—than by supposing that they came from the Gwydir. We could trace their course to


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a remote distance by the smoke of the fires of the native population. The numerous marks of feet in the banks, with the abundant remains of muscles, and bones of aquatic birds, proved, that human existence was limited to these channels; not only on account of water, but of those animals, birds, and fishes also, which are man's natural prey.

In returning, we explored the western termination of the lagoon on which we had encamped, and thus ascertained that it was not part of any channel of flooded waters. Beyond the lagoon was a plain, apparently subject to inundation, and bounded at the distance of some miles by a line of trees, which, in all probability, defined the course of the Nammoy.

Jan. 16.—The party proceeded along the course I had traced the day before. The country, as far as the first chain of ponds, was full of holes, which evidently were at certain seasons filled with water; and the height to which the inundations rose, was marked on the trunks of the trees, by a dark stain, which, to a certain height, seemed universal. Considering these proofs of extensive flooding, and the soft nature of the soil, we were then crossing, it was obvious, that a rainy season would render our return impracticable, at least with the carts. For the first time, and with great reluctance, we left the high ground behind us, to traverse a region subject to inundation, without the prospect of a single hill, to which we might repair in case of necessity. It was nevertheless indispensable, that we should find the river Gwydir, and cross it, before we could hope to travel under more favourable circumstances. Beyond the first channel we traversed an open plain of rich soil, similar to that of the plains near Mount Riddell.

We reached the second channel, at a higher part than that attained by me previously, so that the distance traversed by the party was only seventeen and a half miles, as determined by the latitude; and this journey, although very distressing to the cattle, was accomplished by half-past two. Thermometer 96°. Here the ponds opened into a large lagoon


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covered with ducks. It was surrounded with the remains of numerous fires of natives, besides which lay heaps of muscle shells (unio), mixed with bones of the pelican and kangaroo. Lat. 29° 43′ 3″ S.

Jan. 17.—Leaving our encampment at six A.M., we first crossed a small plain, then some forest land, and beyond that entered on an open plain still more extensive, but bounded by a scrub, at which we arrived after travelling seven miles. The soil of this last plain was very fine, trees grew upon it, in beautiful groups—the acacia pendula again appearing. The grass, of a delicate green colour, resembled a field of young wheat. The scrub beyond was close, and consisted of a variety of dark-leaved shrubs, among which the eucalypti were almost the only trees to which I was not a stranger. Here I halted the carts, while I penetrated three miles into this scrub, accompanied by Mr. White, in hopes of finding either the Nammoy or the Gwydir—but without success. Continuing the journey in the direction of 37° W. of N., we entered an open alley, which had the appearance of being sometimes the bed of a water-course. It terminated, however, in higher ground, where bulrushes grew, and which seemed very strange, because we then approached a much more open and elevated country. Most of the ground was covered with hibiscusnote (with red stalk and small flower) which grew to the height of twenty inches, and alternated with patches of luxuriant grass, acacia pendula, and eucalyptus. At eleven miles, we encountered a channel, in which were many ponds, its direction being, like that of the others we had crossed, to the southward of west. Here we encamped, the bullocks having been much fatigued, and also cut in the necks by the yokes. The bed of these ponds was soft, and it required some search before a good place could be found for the passage of our carts: when this was


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accomplished, and the camp selected, I rode forward in a north-west direction, anxious to know more of the country before us. I perceived the fires of the natives at no great distance from our camp, and Dawkins went forward taking with him a tomahawk and a small loaf. He soon came upon a tribe of about thirty men, women, and children, seated by the ponds, with half a kangaroo and some cray-fish cooked before them, and also a large vessel of bark containing water. Now, Dawkins must have been, in appearance, so different to all the ideas these poor people had of their fellow-men, that on the first sight of such an apparition, it was not surprising that, after a moment's stare, they precipitately took to the pond, floundering through it, some up to the neck, to the opposite bank. He was a tall, spare figure, in a close white dress, surmounted by a broad brimmed straw hat, the tout-ensemble somewhat resembling a mushroom; and these dwellers by the waters might well have believed, from his silent and unceremonious intrusion, that he had risen from the earth in the same manner. The curiosity of the natives, who had vanished as fast as they could, at length overcame their terrors so far as to induce them to peep from behind the trees at their mysterious visitor. Dawkins, not in the least disconcerted, made himself at home at the fires, and on seeing them on the other side, began his usual speech, “What for you jerran budgery white fellow?”note &c. He next drew forth his little loaf, endeavouring to explain its meaning and use by eating it; and he then began to chop a tree by way of shewing off the tomahawk; but the possession of a peculiar food of his own, astounded them still more. His final experiment was attended with no better effect; for when he sat down by their fire, by way of being friendly, and began to taste their kangaroo, they set up a shout which induced him to make his exit with the same silent celerity, which no doubt had rendered his debût outrageously opposed to their ideas of


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etiquette, which imperatively required that loud “cooys,”note should have announced his approach, before he came within a mile of their fires. Dawkins had been cautioned as to the necessity for using this method of salutation, but he was an old tar, and Jack likes his own way of proceeding on shore; besides, in this case, Dawkins came unawares upon them, according to his own account; and it was only by subsequent experience, that we learnt the danger of thus approaching the  aboriginal next hit inhabitants. Some of this party carried spears on their shoulders, or trailing in their hands, and the natives are never more likely to use such weapons, than when under the impulse of sudden terror.

I continued my ride for six miles in a north-west direction, without discovering any indication of either river; on the contrary, the country was chiefly open, being beautifully variegated with clumps of picturesque trees. The weather was very hot, until a thunder-shower fell and cooled the air in some degree. During the night the musquitoes were very troublesome; and the men rolled about in the grass unable to find rest.

Jan. 18.—At half-past six, we proceeded in a north-west direction, until at seven miles a thick scrub of acacias, obliged us to turn a little to the northward. When we had advanced ten miles, a burnt forest, with numerous columns of smoke arising from different parts of the country before us, proved almost beyond doubt, that we were at length approaching the river. Satisfied that the dense line of wood whence these columns of smoke arose, was the river, I turned westward, for the purpose, in the first place, of proceeding along the skirts of it in the opener ground; secondly, that the natives, whose voices resounded within the woods, might have time to see us; and, thirdly, that we might make out a day's journey before we approached the river bank.




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From west, I at length bent our course north-west, and finally northward, thus arriving on the banks of the Gwydir, after a journey of fifteen miles. But here, the river was so much altered in its character, that we could never have been induced by mere appearance, to believe this stream was the same river, which we came upon, about a degree further to the eastward. The banks were low and water-worn, the southern or left bank being in general the steepest, its height about 14 feet, the breadth was insignificant, not more than 12 or 14 feet; the current slow but constant; and the water of a whitish colour. I at first supposed, it might be only a branch of the river, we had seen above, until I ascertained, by sending Mr. White to examine it upwards, and a man on horseback downwards, that it preserved the same attenuated character in both directions. The course appeared to be very tortuous, and it flowed through a soft absorbent soil, in which no rock of any kind could be seen. In the rich soil near the water, we found a species of cucumber of about the size of a plum, the flower being of a purple colour. In taste it resembled a cucumber, but that it was also very bitter. Mr. White and I peppered it, and washed the slices with vinegar, and then chewed it, but neither of us had the courage to swallow it. The character of the spiders was very strange; and it seemed as if we had arrived in a new world of entomology. They resembled an enamelled decoration, the body consisting of a hard shelly coat of dark blue colour, symmetrically spotted with white, and it was nearly circular, being armed with six sharp projecting points.note The latitude of this camp was 29° 28′ 34″ S.

The general course of the Gwydir, appeared to be nearly westward, between the first and last points thus ascertained by us; and this direction being also in continuation of the river seen so much further to the eastward by Mr. Cunningham, we could entertain no doubt as to the identity. The


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channels we had crossed before we came to the running stream at our present encampment, could only be accounted for, as separate ducts for the swollen waters of the river, when no longer confined by any immediate high ground to one great channel; and hence the attenuated state, (as we inferred) of the actual bed of the stream. This I resolved to trace through one day's journey, and then to cross, if we found no change, and so proceed northward.

Jan. 19.—We travelled, as the dense line of river-wood permitted for eleven miles; the ground outside this belt being in general open and firmer than that nearer the river, which was distinguished by certain inequalities, and was besides rather thickly wooded. We found that on a bearing of 20° south of west, we just cleared the southern bends of the stream. We heard the natives in the woods, during our journey, but none approached the party. In order to encamp, we directed our course northward, and making the river bank, after travelling one mile, we encamped upon it. I then sent Mr. White due north, in order to ascertain if any other channel existed, but he found, on the contrary, that the ground rose gradually beyond the river, which convinced me that this, in which the water flowed, was the most northerly channel. The latitude was 29° 31′ 49″ S.

Jan. 20.—I gave the party a day's repose, that I might put my map together, and duly consider the general course of the waters, as they appeared thereon, and also the actual character of the stream, on which we were encamped. The banks consisted of soft earth, having a uniform slope, and they were marked with various horizontal lines, probably denoting the height which the water had attained during different floods. The river had a peculiar uniformity of width, and would, therefore, but for the tortuous course, have resembled a canal. The width was small in proportion to the depth, and both were greatest at the sharp bends of the channel. The water was of a white clay colour. The ground to the


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distance of half a mile from each bank, was broken and furrowed into grassy hollows, resembling old channels; so that the slightest appearance of such inequality was a sure indication of the river being near, while we travelled parallel to its course. The whole of the country beyond was so level, that the slightest appearance of a hollow was a most welcome sight, as it relieved us from any despair of finding water.

At four o'clock this day, the thermometer stood at 97°, the clouds were cumulostratus and cirrus, and there was a good breeze from the north-east.

Jan. 24.—The cattle being much fatigued by incessant travelling during great heat, I left most of them at this camp with Mr. White and half the men of the party, and I crossed the river, with the other portion, and some pack-animals carrying a small supply of provisions, some blankets, &c. The river was accessible to the cattle at only one place, the muddy bank by the water's edge being so soft, that they were everywhere else in danger of sinking; the men were, therefore, obliged to carry the packages across, and load the animals on the opposite bank. This work was completed by ten A.M., and we proceeded due north, from the depôt camp. We soon saw a flock of eight emus. The country consisted of open forest, which, growing gradually thinner, at length left intervals of open plain. The ground seemed to rise for the first mile, and then to slope northward towards a wooded flat, which was likely to contain water, although we found none there. Penetrating next through a narrow strip of casuarinæ scrub, we found the remains of native huts; and beyond this scrub, we crossed a beautiful plain; covered with shining verdure, and ornamented with trees, which, although “dropt in nature's careless haste,” gave the country the appearance of an extensive park. We next entered a brush of the acacia pendula, which grew higher and more abundant than I had seen it elsewhere.

After twelve, the day became excessively warm, and although no water could be found, we were compelled to encamp


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about two P.M., one of the party (Burnett), having become seriously ill. As the country appeared to decline towards some wooded hollows, I hoped that one of these might be found to contain a pool, especially as the wood appeared to consist of that species of casuarina which, in the colony, is termed swamp-oak, and which usually grows in moist situations. Subsequent experience, however, proved quite the reverse; for on exploring the deepest hollows, and densest thickets about our camp, not a hollow containing the least moisture could be found. Thus, the cattle were compelled to endure this privation, once more, after a hard day's work, and during an unusually hot evening. To add to our distress, “the doctor,” as Souter was termed by his comrades, having, as soon as we halted, set out in search of water, with the tea-kettle in his hand, did not return.

When the sun had nearly set, a black swan was observed high in air, slowly winging its way towards the south-west, and many smaller birds appeared to fly in the same direction. Even the sight of an aquatic bird was refreshing to us, but this one did not promise much for the country to the northward, for, at that time of the evening, we might safely conclude, that the greater body of water lay to the south-west in the direction of the swan's flight. I found the longitude of this camp to be 29° 23′ 54″ S. making our distance from the camp, on the river, about ten miles.

Jan. 22.—The non-appearance of Souter occasioned me much uneasiness; fortunately the trees were marked along our line of route, from the river, and it was probable, that he would this morning find the line, and either follow us, or retrace his steps towards the camp on the river. The men, who knew him best, thought he would prefer the latter alternative, as he had been desirous of remaining at the depôt.

This was likely, however, to occasion some inconvenience to us, as he was a useful hand, and I did not despair, even then, of finding some use for the tea-kettle. Burnett had recovered; the morning was clear, with a pleasant breeze


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from the north-east, and the irresistible attraction of a perfectly unknown region, still led us northward.

The undulations were scarcely perceptible, and the woods were disposed in narrow strips, enclosing plains, on which grew abundance of grass. They occupied the lowest parts, and umbrageous clumps of casuarinæ in such situations, often led me on unsuccessful searches for water, until I was almost convinced, that these trees only grew where none could possibly ever be.

The prospect of finding any, at length, seemed almost hopeless, but I had determined to try the result of as long a journey as could be accomplished this day, with the intention of giving, in the event of failure, the little water remaining in our cask to the animals; and then to retrace our steps during the night, and the cool part of the following day, so as to regain, if possible, the depôt camp next evening.

Meanwhile, my party, faint with heat and thirst, toiled after me. In some parts of these parched plains, numerous prints of human feet appeared, but the soil which had evidently been very soft, when these impressions were made, was now baked as hard as brick, and although we felt that

“On desert sands 'twere joy to scan
The rudest steps of fellow man,”

these made us only more sensible of the altered state of the surface at that time. Water had evidently once lodged in every hollow, and the prints of the kangaroo, when pursued by the natives, and impeded by the mud, were visible in various places.

At five miles, we entered a wood of pine trees (callitris), the first we had seen since we left the Nammoy; but on passing through it, we discovered no other change. A thick wood of acacia pendula fell next in our way, and then several patches of casuarinæ. On approaching one of these, I observed a very slight hollow, and, on following it to the right, or eastward, about a mile, (the party having in the mean time halted), I perceived a few dry leaves in a heap,


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as if gathered by water falling in that direction. Trifling as this circumstance was, it was nevertheless unusual on that level surface, and I endeavoured to trace the slope downwards, until my horse, who at other times would neigh after his companions, here pulled hard on the rein, as if to cross a slight rise before me. I laid the bridle on his neck, while he proceeded eagerly forward, over the rise, and through some wood, beyond which my eyes were once more blessed with the sight of several ponds of water, with banks of shining verdure, the whole extended in a line which resembled the bed of a considerable stream. I galloped back with the good news to the party, whose desperate thirst seemed to make them incredulous, especially as I continued our line of route northward, until it intercepted, at about a mile on, as I foresaw it would, this chain of ponds. It was still early; but we had already accomplished a good day's journey, and we could thus encamp, and turn our cattle to browse on the luxuriant verdure, which surrounded these ponds. They were wide, deep, full, and close to each other, being separated only by grassy intervals resembling dykes. Drift timber and other fluviatile relics lay high on the banks, and several wears for catching fish, worked very neatly, stood on ground quite dry and hard. Lower down, as indicated by the flood-marks, the banks were much more broken, and the channel seemed deeper, while enormous blue gum-trees (eucalypti) grew on the banks, and I was therefore of opinion that some larger river was before us at no great distance. I did not explore this channel further, being desirous to refresh my horses and rest the party for continuing our journey next morning. In the soil here, the only rock I found was a large, hard boulder, being a conglomerate of pebbles and grains of quartz, cemented by decomposed felspar or clay. Latitude 29° 9′ 51″ S.

Jan. 23.—After crossing the line of ponds and a slight elevation beyond them, we came upon a channel of considerable


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breadth, which contained several other very large ponds separated by quicksands, which afforded but a precarious passage for the pack-animals. Both banks were steep, the average width exceeding fifty yards. Beyond this river channel, the wood consisted chiefly of casuarinæ. We next penetrated through two scrubs of dwarf eucalypti; and some trees of the callitris were also seen. At six miles, the woods assumed a grander character; masses of casuarinæ enclosed open spaces covered with rich grass; and, being in some directions extensive, afforded park-like vistas, which had a pleasing effect, from the rich combination of verdure and shade, in a season of excessive heat. In one of these grassy alleys a large kangaroo was seen, the first, since we left the upper part of the Gwydir. The absence of this animal from the plains and low grounds was remarkable, and we had reason to conclude, that he seldom frequents those parts. At eight miles, our course was intercepted by a deep and rapid river, the largest that we had yet seen. I had approached within a few yards of the brink; and I was not aware of its being near, until I saw the opposite water-worn shore, and the living waters hurrying along to the westward. They were white and turbid, and the banks, consisting of clay, were nearly perpendicular at this point, and about twenty feet higher than the surface of the stream. On further examination, I found that the course was very tortuous, and the water deep. My horse was, however, got across by a man wading up to the neck. The softness of the clay near the stream at some parts, and the steep water-worn face of the banks at others, rendered the passage difficult. We were all delighted, however, to meet such an obstruction, and I chose a favourable spot for our camp, within a bend of the river; and I made arrangements for bringing forward the party left with Mr. White on the Gwydir, also for the construction of a boat, by preparing a saw-pit, and looking for wood favourable for that purpose. There was abundance


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of rich grass along the banks of this river; and here our horses at length enjoyed some days of rest.

Jan. 24.—Early this morning, I sent back a party of the men, with the freshest of the bullocks, to Mr. White, to whom I also enclosed a letter for Mr. Finch, which I requested might be concealed in a tree with certain marks. I hoped, however, that by that time Mr. Finch might have overtaken Mr. White's party. Four men remained with me, viz. two carpenters, a sawyer's man, and my own servant. The morning was cloudy, and a refreshing shower fell at nine A.M.

We soon found that this river contained fish in great abundance, and of three kinds at least: viz. first, a firm but coarse-tasted fish, having strong scales; this made a groaning noise when on the hook:note secondly, the fish we had found in the Peel, commonly called by the colonists “the cod,” although most erroneously, since it has nothing whatever to do with malacopterygious fishes:note and thirdly, the cel-fish, which we had caught at the lagoon near Tangulda.note




  ― 96 ―

After maturely considering the prospects this river opened to us then, before exploring its course, it remained questionable whether it did or did not belong to the Darling. We were nearly in the prolongation of the supposed course of that river, and still nearer to its supposed outlet on the southern coast, than we were to any part of the northern coast of Australia. No rising ground could be seen to the northward or westward, and whether we proceeded in a boat or along its bank, it was desirable to explore the course of this river downwards. The horses required rest, and it was necessary to unite the party before this could be attempted. I expected Mr. Finch to arrive with the stores, and in the meantime, the preparation of a strong boat was going forward, to be ready in case our further discoveries might lead to navigable waters. With this view it was made to take into three pieces. The bottom being nearly flat, formed one portion, and the two sides the others. They were to be united by small screw-bolts, the carpenter having brought a number of these useful articles for such purposes; and when the sides and bottom were detached they could be carried on the carts. Thus we were to proceed with a portable punt, ready for the passage of any river or water, which might be in our way.

Jan. 25.—This day, we laid down the keel and principal timbers of a boat to be strongly planked, so as to be proof against the common drift-timber in the river. For this part of the work we used blue gum (eucalyptus), the only callitris we knew of being several miles back along the route.

At night some stars appeared, whereby I ascertained the latitude of this camp to be 29° 2′ south. The thermometer at noon was 76°; and at four P.M. 82°.




  ― 97 ―

Jan. 26.—A clear morning, with a fine breeze; the thermometer which had ranged from 90° to 108° during the two last months, stood now at 64°. To breathe such refreshing air, and not move forward, was extremely irksome. The river rose this day a quarter of an inch. Thermometer at six, 64°. Wind south. At noon 86°.

In the evening the sky became overcast, with a cold and stormy wind. At ten P.M. I was called out of my tent to look at a firestick, which appeared in motion amongst the trees north-eastward of our camp. We had seen no natives, but their habit of carrying a light whenever they stir at night (which they do but seldom) is well known; and the light we then saw, moved in the direction of our horses and saw-pit. Our numbers did not admit of our keeping a watch, and although I had ordered the men to bring dogs on this ride, they had brought none; we could only, therefore, lie down and trust to Providence.

Jan. 27.—The clear cool weather continuing, I endeavoured to obtain a view of the horizon from a tree, raised by block and tackle to the top of another; but no point of high land appeared on any side, to break a woody horizon as level as the sea. At six A.M. thermometer 70°; wind south.

The natives to the number of ten or twelve, appeared on the opposite bank. Our attention was first drawn to them by the snorting and starting of the horses, which happened to be grazing by the river side. On seeing us approach they suddenly disappeared. About a dozen eggs, white, and the size of those of a blackbird, were found by one of the men in the sand, near the river-bank. Each contained a perfectly formed lacertine reptile. This morning, my attention was drawn by a noise resembling the growl of a dog, when I perceived a black insect nearly as large as a bird, carrying something like a grasshopper, alight, and disappear in a hole. On digging, it suddenly arose from amidst the dust and escaped; but we found there several large larvæ; this was the most bulky insect I ever saw. A beautiful species of stilbum frequently


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visited my tent; its buz, having two distinct notes, had a very pleasing sound. The sandy banks abounded with a species of monedula, and others of the Bembecidæ tribe. In dead trees we found the scutellera corallifera, as described in the Appendix to Captain King's voyage.

This day the river fell nearly an inch.

Jan. 28.—Mr. White arrived with the carts and the depôt party, including Souter, “the doctor,” who had wandered from our camp in search of water on the 21st instant. His story was, that on going about six miles from the camp, he lost his way, and fell in with the blacks, who detained him one day and two nights, but having at length effected his escape, while they were asleep, early on the second morning, he had made the best of his way towards the Gwydir, and thus reached the depôt camp.

This day Mr. White crossed the river and examined the country for several miles beyond it, in search of the “pine” (or callitris), which we required for the completion of our boat, but he found none in that direction. About three miles to the north of our camp, he came upon a chain of large lagoons, extending in a westerly direction, and the drift marks on trees shewed, that at some seasons, a considerable current of water flowed there to the westward, rising occasionally to the height of ten or twelve feet above the surface of these lagoons. He also saw a kangaroo, a circumstance which indicated that higher forest land was not far distant. Thermometer at six A. M. 67°. Wind N. E. high. Sky clear. At noon, thermometer 87, clear sky.

We now looked with some anxiety for Mr. Finch's arrival, and, in order to preserve our provisions as long as possible, I determined to make the abundance of fish available, by distributing fishing-hooks to the men, and to reduce their weekly ration of pork from 3½ lbs. to 2 lbs.

In fishing we were tolerably successful; but flour was the article of which we stood most in need, and for this the country afforded no substitute, although I reduced the allowance


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of that also. The only starving members of the party were our unfortunate dogs, which had become almost too weak to kill a kangaroo—had any been seen there; neither did that region contain bandicoots, which, in other situations, had been occasionally caught about dead trees, with the assistance of some of the watch-dogs. We were obliged to shoot hawks and crows, and boil them into a mess, which served, at least, to keep these poor animals alive.

Jan. 29.—The cart was sent back about twelve miles for some of the callitris trees, required for planking, none having been seen nearer to our camp.

William Woods, who had gone out in search of the spare cattle early in the morning, did not return by one P.M., and as he was a good bushman, we began to feel apprehensive that the natives had detained, or perhaps, killed him. I, therefore, proceeded in search, with four men, and scoured the forest within five miles of the camp, without discovering any traces either of the natives, or of him. On returning, however, at sunset, we had the satisfaction to find, that he had reached the camp about an hour before us, having, during the whole day, been unable to find his way back to our camp, through the trackless forest.

To-day, the river fell another inch, and this failure of the waters, as upon the Nammoy, added much to the irksomeness of the delay, necessary for the completion of a boat. In the present case, however, more than on the Nammoy, the expected arrival of Mr. Finch, and the exhausted state of our cattle, disposed me to give the party some days rest, at so convenient a point, and towards which I had indeed looked forward with this view, in the efforts we made to attain it. The characters of my men were now better known to me, and I could not help feeling some sympathy for “the doctor,” as the men called Souter. He was also what they termed “a new chum,” or one newly arrived. He left the mess of his fellow prisoners, and cooked and ate by himself. In figure he was the finest specimen of our race in the party, and as he


  ― 100 ―
lay by his solitary fire, he formed a striking foreground to the desert landscape. In his novitiate he was most willing to do any thing his fellows required, and I felt often disposed to interfere, when I overheard such words as “Doctor! go for a kettle of water, while I light a fire,” &c. Worthington, in particular, I overheard, telling him he had been “a swell at home;” but a few days afterwards, the “Doctor” came to me, stating that an immediate operation was necessary to save the life of Worthington, and demanding the dissecting instruments. On inquiry, I found that this man, alias “Five o'clock,” had a slight swelling in the groin, for which the Doctor's intended remedy, as far as I could make out, was an incision in the lower part of the abdomen. I gravely assured “Five o'clock” that if “the Doctor” thought such an operation necessary, it must take place, although I should defer lending him the instruments for a day or two. Thus, I succeeded in establishing the importance of “the Doctor's” position, and we heard no more of his having been “a swell” —or of “the swelling” of Worthington, who, on that pretext, seemed inclined to escape work.

Jan. 30.—The cart returned with some fine timber, which was soon placed on the saw-pit; meanwhile a stock-yard for the cattle, was erected on the higher ground.

No fish could be caught this day, and we supposed that the natives were busy taking them, above and below our camp, for, in their mode of fishing, few can escape. We had previously seen the osier nettings, erected by them across the various currents, and especially in the Gwydir, where some had been noticed of very neat workmanship. The frame of each trellis was as well squared as if it had been the work of a carpenter, and the twigs were inserted, at regular intervals, so as to form, by crossing each other, a strong and efficient kind of net or snare. Where these were erected, a small opening was left towards the middle of the current, probably, that some bag or netting might be applied there to receive the fish, while the natives in the river above should


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drive them towards it. The river continued still to fall during the day.

Jan. 31.—The sky overcast. A good supply of fish caught in the morning. A small black native dog, made its appearance about the camp, and was immediately run down and worried by our dogs. From the miserable mangey appearance of this animal, I conjectured that it had belonged to the natives, who were probably skulking about us, and who are very much attached to their dogs. I was, therefore, very sorry that this poor animal had been killed; and that no traces might remain of our apparent want of kindness, I ordered the body to be burnt, and gave positive instructions to prevent strange dogs being worried in future. This day, we completed the planking of the boat.

Feb. 1.—The night had been calm and close; and just before day-break, distant thunder, resembling discharges of artillery, was heard in the south-west. The sun rose clear, but was soon obscured, when the wind sprung up from the north-east. I sent Mr. White with a party of men down the river, to clear away any trees likely to obstruct the boat, and to ascertain whether any other impediments appeared in the channel. On his return, he reported that at the distance of some miles down, the channel was filled with dead trees of considerable size; and that, in another place, the bottom consisted of flat rocks, which occasioned a rapid or shallow of considerable length, over which our boat, being made of very heavy materials, could not be carried without considerable delay. This unpleasant intelligence, and the continued subsidence of the stream, determined me to explore its course with a party on horseback, until I could ascertain whether it took the desired direction, namely, north-west; and whether at any lower point, the channel improved so much as to enable us to relieve the cattle of part, at least, of their load, by carrying it in the boat. I was most desirous of leaving the cattle there, and some of the party, to await the arrival of Mr. Finch, while I continued


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our researches with the boat, if we could possibly find water sufficient for the purpose. This method of proceeding was contemplated in my original plan on leaving Sydney, when I hoped to reach a navigable stream, where the cattle might refresh for the return journey, until the party, thus enabled to extend its operations by water, might fall back on some such depôt.

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