Edward John Eyre - Vol 1 - Ch 2

First night's encampment with party--Reflections--Arrival at sheep station--Re-arrangements of loads--Method of carrying fire-arms--Complete the number of the party--Their names--Move onwards--Valley of the light--Extensive plains--Head of the gilbert--Scarcity of firewood--Grassy well-watered districts--The hill and hutt rivers--Indication of change going on in appearance and character of the country, traceable in the remains of timber in the plains and in the openings among scrubs--The broughton--Reedy watercourse--Campbell's range--Course of the broughton

June 26

June 26.—This morning brought a very heavy fog, through which we literally could not see 100 yards, when the party moved on to the “Hutt” chain of ponds, and then followed that watercourse up to the Broughton river, which was crossed in Lat. 33 degrees 28 minutes S. At this point the bed of the Broughton is of considerable width, and its channel is occupied by long, wide and very deep water holes, connected with one another by a strongly running stream, which seldom or never fails even in the driest seasons. The soil upon its banks however is not valuable, being generally stony and barren, and bearing a sort of prickly grass, (Spinifex). Wild fowl abound on the pools. On a former occasion, when I first discovered the Broughton, I obtained both ducks and swans from its waters, but now I had no time for sporting, being anxious to push on to the “reedy watercourse,” a halting place in my former journey, so as to get over all the rough and hilly ground before nightfall, that we might have a fair start in the morning. I generally preferred, if practicable, to lengthen the stage a little in the vicinity of watercourses or hills, in order to get the worst of the road over whilst the horses worked together and were warm, rather than leave a difficult country to be passed over the first thing in the morning, when, for want of exercise, the teams are chill and stiff, and require to be stimulated before they will work well in unison. Our journey to–day was about twenty miles, and the last five being over a rugged hilly road, it was late in the afternoon when we halted for the night.

“The reedy watercourse,” is a chain of water–holes taking its rise among some grassy and picturesque ranges to the north of us, and trending southerly to a junction with the Broughton. Among the gorges of this range, (which I had previously named Campbell’s range,)[Note 1: After R. Campbell, Esq. M. C. of Sydney.] are many springs of water, and the scenery is as picturesque as the district is fertile. Many of the hills are well rounded, very grassy, and moderately well timbered even to their summits. This is one of the prettiest and most desirable localities for either sheep or cattle, that I have yet seen in the unoccupied parts of South Australia, whilst the distance from Adelaide by land, does not at the most exceed one hundred and twenty miles. [Note 2: All this country, and for some distance to the north, is now occupied by stations.] The watercourse near our camp took its course through an open valley, between bare hills on which there was neither tree nor shrub for firewood and we were constantly obliged to go half a mile up a steep hill before we could obtain a few stunted bushes to cook with. As the watercourse approached the Broughton the country became much more abrupt and broken, and after its junction with that river, the stream wound through a succession of barren and precipitous hills, for about fifteen miles, at a general course of south–west; these hills were overrun almost everywhere with prickly grass and had patches of the Eucalyptus dumosa scattered over them at intervals.

Up to the point where it left the hills, there were ponds of water in the bed of the Broughton, but upon leaving them the river changed its direction to the northward, passing through extensive plains and retaining a deep wide gravelly channel, but without surface water, the drainage being entirely underground, and the country around comparatively poor and valueless.

June 25

June 25.—Upon starting this morning we traversed a succession of fine open and very grassy plains, from which we ascended the low ridges forming the division of the waters to the north and south. In the latter direction, we had left the heads of the “Gilbert” and “Wakefield” chains of ponds, whilst in descending in the former we came upon the “Hill,” a fine chain of ponds taking its course through a very extensive and grassy valley, but with little timber of any kind growing near it. On this account I crossed it, and passing on a little farther encamped the party on a branch of the “Hutt,” and within a mile and a half of the main course of that chain of ponds. Our whole route to–day, had been through a fine and valuable grazing district, with grass of an excellent description, and of great luxuriance.

We were now nearly opposite to the most northerly of the out stations, and after seeing the party encamp, I proceeded, accompanied by Mr. Scott, to search for the stations for the purpose of saying good bye to a few more of my friends. We had not long, however, left the encampment when it began to rain and drove us back to the tents, effectually defeating the object with which we had commenced our walk. Heavy rain was apparently falling to the westward of us, and the night set in dark and lowering.

In some parts of the large plains we had crossed in the morning, I had observed traces of the remains of timber, of a larger growth than any now found in the same vicinity, and even in places where none at present exists. Can these plains of such very great extent, and now so open and exposed, have been once clothed with timber? and if so, by what cause, or process, have they been so completely denuded, as not to leave a single tree within a range of many miles? In my various wanderings in Australia, I have frequently met with very similar appearances; and somewhat analogous to these, are the singular little grassy openings, or plains, which are constantly met with in the midst of the densest Eucalyptus scrub.

Every traveller in those dreary regions has appreciated these, (to him) comparatively speaking, oasises of the desert—for it is in them alone, that he can hope to obtain any food for his jaded horse; without, however, their affording under ordinary circumstances, the prospect of water for himself. Forcing his way through the dense, and apparently interminable scrub, formed by the Eucalyptus dumosa, (which in some situations is known to extend for fully 100 miles), the traveller suddenly emerges into an open plain, sprinkled over with a fine silky grass, varying from a few acres to many thousands in extent, but surrounded on all sides by the dreary scrub he has left.

In these plains I have constantly traced the remains of decayed scrub—generally of a larger growth than that surrounding them—and occasionally appearing to have grown very densely together. From this it would appear that the face of the country in those low level regions, occupied by the Eucalyptus dumosa, is gradually undergoing a process which is changing it for the better, and in the course of centuries perhaps those parts of Australia which are now barren and worthless, may become rich and fertile districts, for as soon as the scrub is removed grass appears to spring up spontaneously. The plains found interspersed among the dense scrubs may probably have been occasioned by fires, purposely or accidentally lighted by the natives in their wanderings, but I do not think the same explanation would apply to those richer plains where the timber has been of a large growth and the trees in all probability at some distance apart—here fires might burn down a few trees, but would not totally annihilate them over a whole district, extending for many miles in every direction.

June 24

June 24.—The horses having strayed a little this morning, and given us some trouble to get them, it was rather late when we started; we, however, crossed the low ridges at the head of the Light, and entering upon extensive plains to the north, we descended to a channel, which I took to be the head of a watercourse called the “Gilbert.”

Finding here some tolerably good water and abundance of grass, I halted the party for the night, though we were almost wholly without firewood, an inconvenience that we felt considerably, as the nights now were very cold and frosty. Our stage had been fourteen miles to–day, running at first over low barren ridges, and then crossing rich plains of a loose brown soil, but very heavy for the drays to travel over.

At our camp, a steep bank of the watercourse presented an extensive geological section, but there was nothing remarkable in it, the substrata consisting only of a kind of pipe clay.

June 23

June 23.—Having got all the party up very early, I broke up the station, and sent one man on horseback into Adelaide with despatches and letters. My overseer and another man were now added to the party, making up our complement in number. Upon re–arranging the loads of the drays yesterday, I had found it inconvenient to have the instruments and tent equipage upon the more heavily loaded drays, and I therefore decided upon taking an extra cart and another horse from the station. This completed our alterations, and the party and equipment stood thus:—

  •     Mr. Eyre.
  •     Mr. Scott, my assistant and companion.
  •     John Baxter, Overseer.
  •     Corporal Coles, R.S. and M.  John Houston, driving a three horse dray.
  •     R. M’Robert, driving a three horse dray.
  •     Neramberein and Cootachah, Aboriginal boys, to drive the sheep, track, etc.
We had with us 13 horses and 40 sheep, and our other stores were calculated for about three months; in addition to which we were to have a further supply forwarded to the head of Spencer’s Gulf by sea, in the WATERWITCH, to await our arrival in that neighbourhood. This would give us the means of remaining out nearly six months, if we found the country practicable, and in that time we might, if no obstacles intervened, easily reach the centre of the Continent and return, or if practicable, cross to Port Essington on the N. W. coast.

About eleven I moved on the party up the Light for 8 miles, and then halted after an easy stage. As the horses were fresh and the men were not yet accustomed to driving them, I was anxious to move quietly on at first, that nothing might be done in a hurry, and every one might gradually settle down to what he had to perform, and that thus by a little care and moderation at first, those evils, which my former travelling had taught me were frequently the result of haste or inexperience, might be avoided. Nothing is more common than to get the withers of horses wrung, or their shoulders and backs galled at the commencement of a journey, and nothing more difficult than to effect a cure of this mischief whilst the animals are in use. By the precaution which I adopted, I succeeded in preventing this, for the present.

As we passed up the valley of the Light, we had some rich and picturesque scenery around us—the fertile vale running nearly north and south, backed to the westward by well wooded irregular ranges grassed to their summits, and to the eastward shut in by a dark looking and more heavily timbered range, beyond which rose two peaks of more distant hills, through the centre of the valley the Light took its course, but at present it was only a chain of large ponds unconnected by any stream; and thus, I believe, it remains the greater part of the year, although occasionally swollen to a broad and rapid current.

June 22

June 22.—As we still remained in camp, the day being dark and cloudy with occasional showers, I took the opportunity of having one of the drays boarded close up, and of re–arranging the loads, oiling the fire–arms, and grinding the axes, spades, etc.; we completed our complement of tools, tents, tarpaulins, etc. from those at the station, and had everything arranged on the drays in the most convenient manner, always having in view safety in carriage and facility of access; the best place for the fire–arms I found to be at the outside of the sides, the backs, or the fronts, of those drays that were close boarded.

By nailing half a large sheepskin with the wool on in any of these positions, a soft cushion was formed for the fire–arms to rest against, they were then fixed in their places by a loop of leather for the muzzle, and a strap and buckle for the stock; whilst the other half of the sheepskin which hung loose, doubled down in front of the weapons. between them and the wheel, effectually preserving them from both dirt and wet, and at the same time keeping them in a position, where they could be got at in a moment, by simply lifting up the skin and unbuckling the strap; by this means too, all danger or risk was avoided, which usually exists when the fire–arms are put on or off the drays in a loaded state. I have myself formerly seen carbines explode more than once from the cocks catching something, in being pulled out from, or pushed in amidst the load of a dray, independently of the difficulty of getting access to them in cases of sudden emergency; a still better plan than the one I adopted, would probably be to have lockers made for the guns, to hang in similar places, and in a somewhat similar manner to that I have described, but in this case it would be necessary for the lockers to be arranged and fitted at the time the drays or carts were made.

All the time I could spare from directing or superintending the loading of the drays, I devoted to writing letters and making arrangements for the regulation of my private affairs, which from the sudden manner in which I had engaged in the exploring expedition, and from the busy and hurried life I had led since the commencement of the preparations, had fallen into some confusion. I was now, however, obliged to content myself with such a disposition of them as the time and circumstances enabled me to make.—I observed the latitude of the station to be 34 degrees 15 minutes 56 seconds S.