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Edward John Eyre - Vol 1 - Ch 3

Spring hill--An aged native deserted by his tribe--Rich and extensive plains--Surprise a party of natives--Rocky river--crystal brook--Flinders range--The deep spring--Myall ponds--Rocky water holes--Dry watercourse--Reach the depot near mount arden--Prepare for leaving the party--Black swans pass to the north--Arrival of the waterwitch

June 27

June 27.—During the night the frost had been so severe, that we were obliged to wait a little this morning for the sun to thaw the tent and tarpaulins before they would bend to fold up. After starting, we proceeded across a high barren open country, for about three miles on a W. N. W. course, passing close under a peak connected with Campbell’s range, which I named Spring Hill, from the circumstance of a fine spring of water being found about half way up it.

Not far from the spring I discovered a poor emaciated native, entirely alone, without either food or fire, and evidently left by his tribe to perish there; he was a very aged man, and from hardship and want was reduced to a mere skeleton, how long he had been on the spot where we found him I had no means of ascertaining, but probably for some time, as life appeared to be fast ebbing away; he seemed almost unconscious of our presence, and stared upon us with a vacant unmeaning gaze. The pleasures or sorrows of life were for ever over with him: his case was far beyond the reach of human aid, and the probability is that he died a very few hours after we left him.

Such is the fate of the aged and helpless in savage life, nor can we wonder that it should be so, since self–preservation is the first law of nature, and the wandering native who has to travel always over a great extent of ground to seek for his daily food, could not obtain enough to support his existence, if obliged to remain with the old or the sick, or if impeded by the incumbrance of carrying them with him; still I felt grieved for the poor old man we had left behind us, and it was long before I could drive away his image from my mind, or repress the melancholy train of thoughts that the circumstance had called forth.

From the summit of Spring Hill, I observed extensive plains to the N. W. skirted both on their eastern and western sides, by open hills, whilst to the N. W. and N. E. the ranges were high, and apparently terminated in both directions by peaked summits on their eastern extremes; a little south of west the waters of Spencer’s Gulf were distinctly visible, and the smokes ascending from the fires of the natives, were seen in many directions among the hills. After passing Spring Hill, we crossed some rich and extensive plains, stretching far away to the northward, and taking a nearly north and south direction under Campbell’s range; in the upper part of these plains is the deep bed of a watercourse with water in it all the year round, and opposite to which, in lat. 33 degrees 14 minutes S, is a practicable pass for drays through Campbell’s range, to the grassy country to the eastward.

In crossing the southern extremity of these large plains, we came suddenly upon a small party of natives engaged in digging yams of which the plains were full; they were so intent upon their occupation that we were close to them before they were aware of our presence; when they saw us they appeared to be surprised and alarmed, and endeavoured to steal off as rapidly as they could without fairly taking to their heels, for they were evidently either unwilling or afraid to run; finding that we did not molest them they halted, and informed us by signs that we should soon come to water, in the direction we were going. This I knew to be true, and about three o’clock we were in front of a water–course, I had on a former journey named the “Rocky river,” from the ragged character of its bed where we struck it.

We had been travelling for some distance upon a high level open country, and now came to a sudden gorge of several hundred feet below us, through which the Rocky river wound its course. It was a most singular and wild looking place, and was not inaptly named by the men, the “Devil’s Glen;” looking down from the table land we were upon, the valley beneath appeared occupied by a hundred little hills of steep ascent and rounded summits, whilst through their pretty glens, flowed the winding stream, shaded by many a tree and shrub—the whole forming a most interesting and picturesque scene.

The bed of the watercourse was over an earthy slate, and the water had a sweetish taste. Like most of the Australian rivers, it consisted only of ponds connected by a running stream, and even that ceased to flow a little beyond where we struck it, being lost in the deep sandy channel which it then assumed, and which exhibited in many places traces of very high floods. Below our camp the banks were 50 to 60 feet high, and the width from 60 to 100 yards, its course lay through plains to the south–west, over which patches of scrub were scattered at intervals, and the land in its vicinity was of an inferior description, with much prickly grass growing upon it.

Upwards, the Rocky river, after emerging from the gorges in which we found it, descended through very extensive plains from the north–north–east; there was plenty of water in its bed, and abundance of grass over the plains, so that in its upper parts it offers fine and extensive runs for either cattle or sheep, and will, I have no doubt, ere many years be past, be fully occupied for pastoral purposes.

From our present encampment a very high and pointed hill was visible far to the N.N. W. this from the lofty way in which it towered above the surrounding hills, I named Mount Remarkable. Our latitude at noon was 33 degrees 25 minutes 26 seconds S.

A very beautiful shrub was found this afternoon upon the Rocky river, in full flower: it was a tall slender stalked bush, about six or eight feet high, growing almost in the bed of the river, with leaves like a geranium, and fine delicate lilac flowers about an inch and a half in diameter; here, too, we found the first gum–trees seen upon any of the watercourses for many miles, as all those we had recently crossed, traversed open plains which were quite without either trees or shrubs of any kind.

June 28

June 28.—This morning we passed through a country of an inferior description, making a short stage to a watercourse, named by me the “Crystal Brook;” it was a pretty stream emanating from the hills to the north–east, and marked in its whole course through the plains to the northward and westward by lines of gum–trees. The pure bright water ran over a bed of clear pebbles, with a stream nine feet wide, rippling and murmuring like the rivulets of England—a circumstance so unusual in the character of Australian watercourses, that it interested and pleased the whole party far more than a larger river would have done; this characteristic did not, however, long continue, for like all the streams we had lately crossed, the water ceased to flow a short distance beyond our crossing place.

The country below us, like that through which the Rocky river took its course, was open and of an inferior description, but I have no doubt that by tracing the stream upwards, towards its source among the ranges, a good and well watered country would be found; I ascertained the latitude by a meridian altitude at Crystal brook to be 33 degrees 18 minutes 7 seconds S.

The hills on the opposite side of Spencer’s Gulf were now plainly visible, and one which appeared to be inland, I took to be the middle Back mountain of Flinders; between our camp and the eastern shores of the gulf, the land was generally low, with a good deal of scrub upon it, and nearer the shores appeared to be swampy, and subject to inundation by the tides.

June 29

June 29.—Upon moving from our camp this morning we commenced following under Flinders range. From Crystal brook, the hills rise gradually in elevation as they trend to the northward, still keeping their western slopes almost precipitous to the plains, out of which they appear to rise abruptly. Our course was much embarrassed by the gullies and gorges emanating from the hills, in some of which the crossing place was not very good, and in all the horses got much shaken, so that when we arrived at a large watercourse defined by gum trees, and in which was a round hole of water that had been on a former occasion called by me “The Deep Spring,” I halted the party for the night and found that the horses were a good deal fatigued. Fortunately there was excellent food for them, and plenty of water. The place at which we encamped was upon one of the numerous watercourses, proceeding from the gorges of Flinders range. It had a wide gravelly bed, divided into two or three separate channels, but without a drop of water below the base of the hills, excepting where we bivouacked, at this point, there was a considerable extent of rich black alluvial soil, and in the midst of it a mound of jet black earth, surrounded by a few reeds. In the centre of the mound was a circular deep hole containing water, and apparently a spring: the last time I was here, in 1839 it was full to overflowing, but now, though in the depth of winter, I was surprised and chagrined to see the water so much lower than I had known it before. It was covered up too so carefully with bushes and boughs, that it was evident the natives sometimes contemplated its being quite dried up, [Note 3: In October 1842, I again passed this way, in command of a party of Police sent overland to Port Lincoln, to search for Mr. C. C. Dutton: the spring was then dried up completely.] and had taken this means as the best they could adopt for shading and protecting the water. On the other hand the numerous well beaten tracks leading to this solitary pool appeared to indicate that there was no other water in the neighbourhood. We saw kangaroos, pigeons and birds of various descriptions, going to it in considerable number. At night too after dark we found that a party of natives were watching also for an opportunity to participate in so indispensable a necessary, which having secured, they departed, and we saw nothing more of them. I observed the latitude at this camp to be 33 degrees 7 minutes 14 seconds S. and the variation 8 degrees 53 minutes E.

June 30

June 30.—Our road to day was much better, and less interrupted by gullies, though we still kept close under Flinders range. We traversed a great extent of plain land which was generally stony, but grassy, and tolerably well adapted for sheep runs. Several watercourses take their rise from this range, with a westerly direction towards the gulf, these were all dry when we crossed them, but their course was indicated by gum trees, and as some of the channels were wide and large, and had strong traces of occasional high floods, I rode for many miles down one of the most promising, but without being able to find a drop of water. At noon our latitude was 32 degrees 59 minutes 8 seconds, S.

Late in the afternoon we reached a watercourse, which I had previously named “Myall Ponds,” [Note 4: Myall is in some parts of New Holland, the native name for the Acacia pendula.] from the many and beautiful Acacia pendula trees that grew upon its banks. There I knew we could get water, and at once halted the party for the night. Upon going to examine the supply I was again disappointed at finding it so much less than when I had been here in 1839. This did not augur well for our future prospects, and gave me considerable anxiety relative to our future movements.

For some days past the whole party had fully entered upon their respective duties, each knew exactly what he had to do, and was beginning to get accustomed to its performance, so that every thing went on smoothly and prosperously. My own time, when not personally engaged in conducting the party, was occupied in keeping the journals and charts, etc. in taking and working observations—in the daily register of the barometer, thermometer, winds, and weather, and in collecting specimens of flowers, or minerals. My young friend, Mr. Scott, was kept equally busy; for in many of these duties he assisted me, and in some relieved me altogether; the regular entry of the meteorological observations, and the collecting of flowers or shrubs generally fell to his share; independently of which he was the only sportsman in the party, and upon his gun we were dependant for supplies of wallabies, pigeons, ducks, or other game, to vary our bill of fare, and make the few sheep we had with us hold out as long as possible. As a companion I could not have made a better selection—young, active, and cheerful, I found him ever ready to render me all the assistance in his power. At our present encampment, several of a species of wallabie, very much resembling a hare in flavour, were shot by Mr. Scott, but hitherto we had not succeeded in getting a kangaroo.

July 1

July 1.—To–day we travelled through a similar country to that we were in yesterday, consisting of open plains and occasionally low scrub. Kangaroos abounded in every direction. Our stage was eighteen miles to a watercourse called by me the “Reedy water holes,” from the circumstance of reeds growing around the margin of the water. Upon arriving at this place I was surprised to find a strongly running stream, where formerly there had only been a reedy pond, although the two last watercourses we had encamped at had been much reduced and dried up. When I had been here in 1839, they were the running streams, and this only a pool, whilst singularly enough there did not appear to have been more rain at one place than the other.

We were now in full view of Spencer’s gulf, but as yet could observe no signs of the WATERWITCH, which was to meet us at the head of the gulf with additional stores. At night I observed the latitude by altitude of a Bootis to be 32 degrees 41 minutes 28 seconds S.