Edward John Eyre - Vol 1 - Ch 13

Future Plans — Reduce the Number of the Party — Send the Cutter to Adelaide — Report to the Governor — Monotonous Life at Camp — Remove to Another Locality — Geological Character of the Country — Flint Found — Again Attempt to Reach the Head of the Bight — Reach the Sand Hills, and Bury Flour — Friendly Natives — Exhausted State of the Horses — Get The Dray to the Plain — Bury Water — Send Back Dray — Proceed with Pack-Horse — Oppressive Heat — Send Back Pack-HORSE— Reach the Head of the Bight — Surprise Some Natives — Their Kind Behaviour — Yeer-Kumban Kauee — Their Account of the Interior.

January 7

January 7. — Having concealed some water, provisions, and the pack-saddle at the camp, I sent the man back with the pack-horse to encamp at the undulating plains, where nine gallons of water had been left for him and his horse, and the following day he was to rejoin the overseer at the sand hills.

To the latter I sent a note, requesting him to send two fresh horses to meet me at the plains on the 15th of January, for, from the weak condition of the animals we had with us, and from the almost total absence of grass for them, I could not but dread lest we might be obliged to abandon them too, and in this case, if we did not succeed in finding water, we should perhaps have great difficulty in returning ourselves.

As soon as the man was gone, we once more moved on to the north-west, through the same barren region of heavy sandy ridges, entirely destitute of grass or timber. After travelling through this for ten miles, we came upon a native pathway, and following it under the hummocks of the coast for eight miles, lost it at some bare sand-drifts, close to the head of the Great Bight, where we had at last arrived, after our many former ineffectual attempts.

Following the general direction the native pathway had taken, we ascended the sand-drifts, and finding the recent tracks of natives, we followed them from one sand-hill to another, until we suddenly came upon four persons encamped by a hole dug for water in the sand. We had so completely taken them by surprise, that they were a good deal alarmed, and seizing their spears, assumed an offensive attitude. Finding that we did not wish to injure them, they became friendly in their manner, and offered us some fruit, of which they had a few quarts on a piece of bark. This fruit grows upon a low brambly-looking bush, upon the sand-hills or in the flats, where the soil is of a saline nature. It is found also in the plains bordering upon the lower parts of the Murrumbidgee, but in much greater abundance along the whole line of coast to the westward. The berry is oblong, about the shape and size of an English sloe, is very pulpy and juicy, and has a small pyramidal stone in the centre, which is very hard and somewhat indented. When ripe it is a dark purple, a clear red, or a bright yellow, for there are varieties. The purple is the best flavoured, but all are somewhat saline in taste. To the natives these berries are an important article of food at this season of the year, and to obtain them and the fruit of the mesembryanthemum, they go to a great distance, and far away from water. In eating the berries, the natives make use of them whole, never taking the trouble to get rid of the stones, nor do they seem to experience any ill results from so doing.

Having unsaddled the horses, we set to work to dig holes to water them; the sand, however, was very loose, and hindered us greatly. The natives, who were sitting at no great distance, observed the difficulty under which we were labouring, and one of them who appeared the most influential among them, said something to two of the others, upon which they got up and came towards us, making signs to us to get out of the hole, and let them in; having done so, one of them jumped in, and dug, in an incredibly short time, a deep narrow hole with his hands; then sitting so as to prevent the sand running in, he ladled out the water with a pint pot, emptying it into our bucket, which was held by the other native. As our horses drank a great deal, and the position of the man in the hole was a very cramped one, the two natives kept changing places with each other, until we had got all the water we required.

In this instance we were indebted solely to the good nature and kindness of these children of the wilds for the means of watering our horses: unsolicited they had offered us their aid, without which we never could have accomplished our purpose. Having given the principal native a knife as a reward for the assistance afforded us, we offered the others a portion of our food, being the only way in which we could shew our gratitude to them; they seemed pleased with this attention, and though they could not value the gift, they appeared to appreciate the motives which induced it.

Having rested for a time, and enjoyed a little tea, we inquired of the natives for grass for our horses, as there was none to be seen anywhere. They told us that there was none at all where we were, but they would take us to some further along the coast, where we could also procure water, without difficulty, as the sand was firm and hard, and the water at no great depth. Guided by our new friends, we crossed the sand-hills to the beach, and following round the head of the Great Bight for five miles, we arrived at some more high drifts of white sand; turning in among these, they took us to a flat where some small holes were dug in the sand, which was hard and firm; none of them were two feet deep, and the water was excellent and abundant: the name of the place was Yeer-kumban-kauwe.

Whilst I was employed in digging a large square hole, to enable us to dip the bucket when watering the horses, the native boy went, accompanied by one of the natives as a guide, to look for grass. Upon his return, he said he had been taken to a small plain about a mile away, behind the sand hills, where there was plenty of grass, though of a dry character; to this we sent the horses for the night. In returning, a few sea fowl were shot as a present for our friends, with whom we encamped, gratified that we had at last surmounted the difficulty of rounding the Great Bight, and that once more we had a point where grass and water could be procured, and from which we might again make another push still further to the westward.

In the evening, we made many inquiries of the natives, as to the nature of the country inland, the existence of timber, rocks, water, etc. and though we were far from being able to understand all that they said, or to acquire half the information that they wished to convey to us, we still comprehended them sufficiently to gather many useful and important particulars. In the interior, they assured us, most positively, there was no water, either fresh or salt, nor anything like a sea or lake of any description.

They did not misunderstand us, nor did we misapprehend them upon this point, for to our repeated inquiries for salt water, they invariably pointed to a salt lake, some distance behind the sand-hills, as the only one they knew of, and which at this time we had not seen.

With respect to hills or timber, they said, that neither existed inland, but that further along the coast to the westward, we should find trees of a larger growth, and among the branches of which lived a large animal, which by their description, I readily recognized as being the Sloth of New South Wales; an animal whose habits exactly agreed with their description, and which I knew to be an inhabitant of a barren country, where the scrub was of a larger growth than ordinary. One of the natives had a belt round his waist, made of the fur of the animal they described, and on inspecting it, the colour and length of the hair bore out my previous impression.

The next water along the coast we were informed, was ten days journey from Yeerkumban kauwe, and was situated among sand-drifts, similar to those we were at, but beyond the termination of the line of cliffs, extending westward from the head of the Bight, and which were distinctly visible from the shore near our camp. These cliffs they called, “Bundah,” and at two days’ journey from their commencement, they told us were procured the specimens of flints (Jula) we had seen upon their weapons, and of which one or two small pieces had been picked up by us among the sand-drifts, having probably been dropped there by the natives.

January 8

January 8. — To-day we remained in camp to recruit the horses, and the natives remained with us; soon after breakfast one of them lit a signal fire upon a sand-hill, and not long afterwards we were joined by three more of the tribe, but the women kept out of sight. I now sent the native boy out with one to shoot birds for them, but he came back with only a single crow, and I was obliged to go myself, to try whether I could not succeed better. Being lucky enough to procure four, I gave them to the natives, and returning to the camp we all dined, and afterwards lay down to rest for an hour.

Upon getting up, I missed a knife I had been using, and which had been lying beside me. One of the strange natives who had come to the camp this morning, had been sitting near me, and I at once suspected him to be the thief, but he was now gone, and I had no prospect of recovering the lost article. In the afternoon, the stranger came up to the camp again, and I at once taxed him with the theft; this he vehemently denied, telling me it was lost in the sand, and pretending to look anxiously for it; he appeared, however, restless and uneasy, and soon after taking up his spears went away with two others. My own native boy happened to be coming over the sand-hills at the time, but unobserved by them, and as they crossed the ridge he saw the man I had accused stop to pick something up, and immediately called out to me; upon this I took my gun, and ascending the hill, saw the native throw down the knife, which my own boy then picked up; the other natives had now come up, and seemed very anxious to prevent any hostilities, and to the chief of those who had been so friendly with us, I explained as well as I could the nature of the misunderstanding, and requested him to order the dishonest native away, upon which he spoke to them in his own language, and all took up their spears and went away, except himself and one other. These two men remained with us until dark, but as the evening appeared likely to be wet, they left us also, when we lay down for the night.

January 9

January 9. — The morning set in cold, dark and rainy, and as much wet had fallen during the night, we had been thoroughly drenched through, our fire had been extinguished, and it was long before we could get it lit again, and even then we could hardly keep it in; the few bushes among the sand hills were generally small, and being for the most part green as well as wet, it required our utmost efforts to prevent the fire from going out; so far indeed were we from being either cheered or warmed by the few sparks we were able to keep together, that the chill and comfortless aspect of its feeble rays, made us only shiver the more, as the rain fell coldly and heavily upon our already saturated garments. About noon the weather cleared up a little, and after getting up and watering the horses, we collected a large quantity of firewood and made waterproof huts for ourselves. The rain, however, was over, and we no longer required them.