Edward John Eyre - Vol 1 - Ch 11

Embark Stores — Party Leave Streaky Bay — Dense Scrue — Point Brown — Singular Well — Process of Change in Appearance of Country — Dig for Water — Friendly Natives — Extraordinary Rite — Native Guides — Leipoa’s Nest — Denial Bay — Beelimah Gaippe — Kangaroo Killed — More Natives — Berinyana Gaippe — Salt Lakes — Wademar Gaippe — Sandy and Scrubby Country — Mobeela Gaippe — Difficulty of Getting Water — More Natives — Genuine Hospitality — Singular Marks on the Abdomen — Natives Leave the Party — Fowler’s Bay — Excellent Whaling Station.

November 4. — To-DAY the party were occupied in sorting and packing stores, which I intended to send on board the Waterwitch to Fowler’s Bay, that by lightening the loads upon the drays, we might the more easily force a passage through the dense scrub which I knew we had to pass before we reached that point. In the afternoon the men were engaged in shearing the remainder of our sheep, washing their own clothes and preparing everything for breaking up the camp, whilst I rode down to Streaky Bay, and went on board the cutter to give orders relative to the reception of our stores tomorrow.

The harbour of Streaky Bay is extensive, but generally open to the westward. In its most southerly bight, however, is a secure well sheltered bay, for vessels of moderate draught of water; being protected by a long sandy shoal which must be rounded before a vessel can enter.

[Note 23: A plan of this harbour was made by Mr. Cannan, one of the Government assistant surveyors of South Australia, when sent by the Government in a cutter to meet my party with provisions in 1839.]

November 5. — To-day we were engaged in carting down the stores and a supply of water to the cutter, which we got safely on board, when I gave written instructions to the master to sail at once, and land a cask of water, a little higher up the bay, for the use of the horses. In the evening the drays were loaded and all got ready for our departure to-morrow.

November 6. — Having had the horses watched last night we were enabled to move away early, and about noon arrived at the place I had appointed Mr. Germain to land the cask of water: it was all ready, and we watered the horses, took luncheon and moved on again, directing Mr. Germain to proceed to Smoky Bay, and land water for us again there. The country we passed through to-day was low, level, and sandy, and covered with prickly grass, with a few tea-tree swamps, but no fresh water. The shore of Streaky Bay on its western side was bounded by high steep sandy hummocks, behind which we travelled, and at night halted on the borders of a dense scrub, nearly opposite the middle of the bay, after a stage of about eighteen miles. Our vicinity to the sea enabled Mr. Scott, myself, and the native boys to enjoy a swim, a luxury highly appreciated by a traveller after a day’s hard work, amidst heat and dust, and one which I anticipated we should frequently obtain in our course to the westward.

November 7. — Breakfasted before daylight, and moved on with the earliest dawn to encounter a scrub which I knew to be of heavier timber, and growing more closely together than any we had yet attempted. It consisted of Eucalyptus dumosa and the salt-water tea-tree, (the latter of a very large growth and very dense,) in a heavy sandy soil.

By keeping the axes constantly at work in advance of the drays, we succeeded in slowly forcing a passage through this dreadful country, emerging in about seventeen miles at an open plain behind Point Brown, and in the midst of which was a well of water. The entrance to this well was by a circular opening, through a solid sheet of limestone, about fifteen inches in diameter, but enlarging a little about a foot below the surface. The water was at a depth of ten feet, and so choked up with sand and dirt that we were obliged to clear the hole out effectually before we could get any for the horses. This was both a difficult and an unpleasant occupation, as the man engaged in it had to lower himself through the very narrow aperture at the top and work in a very cramped position amongst the dirt and wet below, with the mud dripping upon him; it was drawn up in a bag, for a bucket could not be used in so contracted a space. As a spade could not be employed a large shell left by the natives was used for scooping up the dirt, which made the operation both slow and tiresome. Our horses were dreadfully fagged and very thirsty after the severe toil they had endured in dragging the drays through so heavy a scrub, but with all our exertions we could only obtain from the spring about two buckets of water apiece for them. As this was not nearly enough to satisfy them, I was obliged to have them watched for the night to prevent their straying. The men had been kept incessantly at work from five in the morning until nearly ten at night, and the additional duty of watching the horses bore very hard upon them; but they knew it to be necessary, and did it cheerfully.

We had passed during our route through one or two of the small grassy openings so constantly met with even in the densest scrubs, and, as usual, I noticed upon these plains the remains of former scrub, where the trees were apparently of a larger growth than those now existing around. The soil too, from a loose sand, had become firmer and more united, and wherever the scrub had disappeared its place had been supplied by grass. This strongly confirmed my opinion, long ago formed, that those vast level wastes in Australia, now covered with low scrub, (and formerly, I imagine, the bed of the ocean,) are gradually undergoing a process of amelioration which may one day fit them for the purposes of pasture or agriculture. The smoke of many native fires was seen during the day behind and around us, but we did not fall in with any of the natives.

November 8. — Having given each of the horses a bucket of water from the well, we moved on again through the same dense scrub we had encountered yesterday, but, if possible, more harassing, from the increased steepness of the sandy ridges and the quantity of dead timber lying on the surface, and causing a great impediment to our progress. We forced our way through this worse than desert region, for about fourteen miles, and arrived early in the afternoon, with our horses quite exhausted, upon the shores of Smoky Bay, at a point where the natives had dug a hole in the sand hills near the beach to procure water, and from which the south end of the island of St. Peter bore W. 15 degrees S.

The Waterwitch was already here, and supplied us with a cask of water, until the men had dined and rested a little, before entering upon the task of digging for water, which proved to be a most arduous undertaking, and occupied us all the afternoon. We had to sink through a loose sand for fifteen feet, which from its nature, added to the effect of a strong wind that was blowing at the time, drifted in almost as fast as it was thrown out. We were consequently obliged to make a very large opening before we could get at the water at all; it was then very abundant, but dreadfully salt, being little better than the sea water itself; the horses and sheep however drank it greedily, as we had been able to give them but little of that received from the vessel.