Edward John Eyre - Vol 1 - Ch 4

Make arrangements for getting up stores from the waterwitch—Leave the party—Salt watercourse—Mount Eyre—Aspect of the country—Lake Torrens—Return towards the hills—Native female—Saline character of the country—Mount Deception—Reach the eastern hills—Large watercourses—Water hole in a rock—Grassy but hilly country—Running stream—Ascend a range—Return homewards—Decay of trees in the watercourses—Shoot a kangaroo—Arrive at the depot—Bury stores—Make preparations for leaving—Send despatches to the vessel.

July 6.—BEING anxious to pursue my explorations, and unwilling to lose another day solely for the purpose of receiving my letters, I sent down my overseer to arrange about getting our stores up from the vessel, which was about fourteen miles away, and to request the master to await my return from the north, and in the interval employ himself in surveying and sounding some salt water inlets, we had seen on the eastern shores of the gulf in our route up under Flinders range.

Having made all necessary arrangements and wished Mr. Scott good bye, I set off on horseback with the eldest of my native boys, taking a pack horse to carry our provisions, and some oats for the horses. After rounding a projecting corner of the range we passed Mount Arden, still traversing open plains of great extent, and very stony. In some of these plains we found large puddles of water much discoloured by the soil, so that it was evident there had been heavy rains in this direction, though we had none to the southward.

After travelling twenty–four miles we came to a large watercourse winding from Flinders range through the plains, with its direction distinctly marked out by the numerous gum–trees upon its banks. This was the “salt watercourse” of my former journeys so called from the large reaches of salt water in its bed a mile or two among the hills. By digging in the gravelly bed of the channel, where the natives had scooped a small hole, we got some tolerable water, and were enabled to give as much as they required to our horses, but it was a slow and tedious operation. We could get very little out at once, and had to give it to them to drink in the black boy’s duck frock, which answered the purpose of a bucket amazingly well.

There was not a blade of grass, or anything that the horses could eat near this creek, so I was obliged to tie them up for the night, after giving to each a feed of oats.

July 7.—Towards morning several showers of rain fell, and I found that I had got a severe attack of rheumatism, which proved both troublesome and painful. Pushing on for ten miles we reached the height standing out from the main range which Colonel Gawler named Mount Eyre, from its having been the limit of my first journey to the north in May 1839. This little hill is somewhat detached, of considerable elevation, and with a bold rocky overhanging summit to the southward. Having clambered to the top of it, I had an extensive view, and took several bearings.

The region before us appeared to consist of a low sandy country without either trees or shrubs, save a few stunted bushes. On the east this was backed by high rugged ranges, very barren in appearance, and extending northward as far as the eye could reach, beyond this level country to the West, and stretching far to the north–west, appeared a broad glittering stripe, looking like water, and constituting the bed of Lake Torrens. The lake appeared to be about twenty–five miles off, and of considerable breadth; but at so great distance, it was impossible to say whether there was actually any water in it or not.

Having completed my observations we descended again to the plains steering north–west for the lake. At two miles from Mount Eyre we found a puddle of water in the midst of the plains, and halted at it for the night. Our horses had good grass, but would not touch the water, which was extremely thick and muddy. Upon trying it ourselves we found it was not usable, even after it had been strained twice through a handkerchief, whilst boiling only thickened it; it was a deep red colour, from the soil, and was certainly an extraordinary and unpalatable mixture.

July 8.—Our horses having strayed this morning I sent the native boy to look for them, but as he did not return in a reasonable time, I got anxious and went after him myself, leaving the saddles and provisions at our sleeping place. In about four miles I met the boy returning with the runaways, which had rambled for several miles, though they had abundance of good feed around the camp; fortunately we found every thing safe when we got back, but if any natives had accidentally passed that way we should probably have lost everything, and been left in very awkward predicament.

This is a risk I have frequently been obliged to incur, and is one of the inconveniences resulting from so small a number as two travelling alone; it it is not always practicable from want of grass to tether the horses, and frequently when they are tethered the ropes break, and occasion the necessity of both individuals leaving the encampment to search for them at the same time.

Moving on to the N. W. by N. we passed over heavy sandy ridges, with barren red plains between, and in one of the latter we found a puddle of rain water, this upon tasting. I found to be rather saline from the nature of the soil upon which it lay, the horses, however, drank it readily, and we put some in a small keg for ourselves. The only vegetation to be seen consisted of a few small stunted trees and shrubs, and even these as we approached the vicinity of the lake disappeared altogether, and gave place to Salsolaceous plants, the country being open and barren in the extreme.

I found Lake Torrens completely girded by a steep sandy ridge, exactly like the sandy ridges bounding the sea shore, no rocks or stones were visible any where, but many saline coasts peeped out in the outer ridge, and upon descending westerly to its basin, I found the dry bed of the lake coated completely over with a crust of salt, forming one unbroken sheet of pure white, and glittering brilliantly in the sun. On stepping upon this I found that it yielded to the foot, and that below the surface the bed of the lake consisted of a soft mud, and the further we advanced to the westward the more boggy it got, so that at last it became quite impossible to proceed, and I was obliged to return to the outer margin of the lake without ascertaining whether there was water on the surface of its bed further west or not.

The extraordinary deception caused by mirage and refraction, arising from the state of the atmosphere in these regions, makes it almost impossible to believe the evidence of one’s own eyesight; but as far as I could judge under these circumstances, it appeared to me that there was water in the bed of the lake at a distance of four or five miles from where I was, and at this point Lake Torrens was about fifteen or twenty miles across, having high land bounding it to the west, seemingly a continuation of the table land at the head of Spencer’s gulf on its western side.

Foiled in the hope of reaching the water, I stood gazing on the dismal prospect before me with feelings of chagrin and gloom. I can hardly say I felt disappointed, for my expectations in this quarter had never been sanguine; but I could not view unmoved, a scene which from its character and extent, I well knew must exercise a great influence over my future plans and hopes: the vast area of the lake was before me interminable as far as the eye could see to the northward, and the country upon its shore, was desolate and forbidding.

It was evident, that I could never hope to take my party across the lake, and it was equally evident, that I should not be able to travel around its shores, from the total absence of all fresh water, grass, or wood, whilst the very saline nature of the soil in the surrounding country, made even the rain water salt, after lying for an hour or two upon the ground. My only chance of success now lay in the non–termination of Flinders range, and in the prospect it held out to me, that by continuing our course along it we might be able to procure grass and water in its recesses, until we were either taken beyond Lake Torrens, or led to some practicable opening to the north.

With a heavy heart I turned towards the mountains, and steering N. E. for ten miles, halted at dark, where there was nothing for our horses to eat or drink, and we were consequently obliged to tie them up for the night. We had still a few oats left and gave each horse three pints. A short time before encamping, I had observed that Lake Torrens was trending more to the eastward, and that when we halted, it was not at any very great distance from us.

July 9.—One of our horses having got loose last night, pulled the cork out of the keg in which was our small stock of the dirty brackish water we had found yesterday, and rolling the keg over, destroyed its contents; we were thus deprived of our breakfasts, and consequently had but little delay in starting. I intended to push on steadily for the hills, but after travelling six miles came to a puddle in the plains, with tolerable grass around, and at this I halted for the day, to rest the horses. Our latitude was 31 degrees 25 minutes S. by an altitude of Arcturus, Mount Eyre then bearing S. 7 degrees E.
July 10.—Our horses being much recruited I altered our course to–day to N. 5 degrees E. being the bearing of the most distant range to the northward, (subsequently named Mount Deception). We passed for the first ten miles through an open barren country, but found a puddle at which we watered our horses, and refilled the keg; we then entered heavy ridges of dense red sand lying nearly north and south, and having small barren plains between.

There were a few stunted bushes upon the ridges and occasionally some small straggling pines. Lake Torrens still trended easterly, being occasionally seen from, and sometimes approaching near to our track.

Emerging from the sandy ridges we again entered upon vast level plains covered with rhagodia. In the midst of these we came to the bed of a large dry watercourse, having good grass about it, but containing no water. I halted here for the day as our horses were not very thirsty.

Upon examining the bed of the watercourse, I found traces of a rather recent and high flood; much drift being still left upon the bushes where it had been swept by the torrent; I could, however, find no water anywhere.

A great many emus were seen during our ride, and I wounded one with my rifle, but did not get it. We found to–day a description of flower, which I had not seen before, white, and sweetly scented like the hawthorn, growing upon a low prickly bush near the watercourse.