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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 11

July 11.—To–day I left our course and rambled up the watercourse to examine its character and search for water, which however I could not find in its channel anywhere. Traces of natives were numerous and recent all the way as we went, till at last we came to where they had encamped the previous night, and where they had left a fire still fresh and burning.

Proceeding onwards we came upon a single native, a female, young, but miserably thin and squalid, fit emblem of the sterility of the country. We could gain no information from her, she was so much alarmed, but not long after parting with her we came to a puddle of water in the plains, and encamped for the night. Our stage had been a tortuous, but not a long one, and we halted early in the day, the latitude was 30 degrees 58 minutes S. by an altitude of the sun at noon.

After taking some refreshment, I walked to a rise about three miles off at N. 40 degrees E. from which I took several bearings, and among them I set Mount Deception at N. 25 degrees W., I then examined several of the gorges between the front hills, where the banks were broken away, and to my great dismay found in all of them salt mixed with the sand, the clay, and even the rocks; whilst in the bed of the watercourse, the salt water tea–tree was making its appearance, a shrub I had never before seen under Flinders range, and one which never grows where the soil is not of a very saline nature, and generally only where the water is too brackish for use.

The beds of the watercourses were in some places quite white and glazed with encrustations of salt, where the rains had lodged, and the water had evaporated. Some of the cliffs which I examined presented sections of 40 and 50 feet perpendicular height, in which layers of salt were embedded from the very top to the bottom.

In such a country, what accommodation could I expect, or what hopes could I entertain for the future, when the very water shed from the clouds would not be drinkable after remaining a few hours on the ground? Whichever way I turned myself, to the West, to the East, or the North, nothing but difficulties met my view.

In one direction was an impracticable lake, skirted by heavy and scrubby sand ridges; in another, a desert of bare and barren plains; and in a third, a range of inhospitable rocks. The very stones lying upon the hills looked like the scorched and withered scoria of a volcanic region; and even the natives, judging from the specimen I had seen to–day, partook of the general misery and wretchedness of the place.

My heart sank within me when I reflected upon the gradual but too obvious change that had taken place in the character of the country for the worse, and when I considered that for some days past we had been entirely dependent for our supply of water upon the little puddles that had been left on the plains by the rain, and which two or three more days would completely dry up. Under circumstances so unpropitious, I had many misgivings, and the contemplation of our future prospect became a subject of painful anxiety.

July 12

July 12.—We moved away early, steering for Mount Deception. Near its base, and emanating from it, we crossed the dry bed of a very large watercourse, more resembling that of a river in character, its channel being wide, deep, and well–defined, and lined with the salt–water tea–tree; whilst its course was marked by very large, green looking gum–trees, the bed consisted of an earthy, micaceous slate of a reddish colour, and in very minute particles, almost in some places as fine as sand, but we could find no water in it anywhere.

The range in which this watercourse has its source, is of the same slaty rock, and very rugged; it could not be less than 3,000 feet in elevation, and its summit was only attainable by winding along the steep and stony ridges that led round the deep gorges and ravines by which it was surrounded.

From the top the view was extensive and unsatisfactory. Lake Torrens appearing as large and mysterious as ever, and bearing in its most northerly extreme visible W. 22 degrees N. To the north was a low level cheerless waste, and to the east Flinders range trending more easterly, and then sweeping back to N. 28 degrees W. but its appearance seemed to be changing and its character altering; the ranges struck me as being more separated by ridges, with barren flats and valleys between, among which winding to the N. W. were many large and deep watercourses, but which when traced up, often for many miles, I found to emanate from gorges of the hills, and to have neither water nor springs in them.

I had fully calculated upon finding permanent water at this very high range, and was proportionally disappointed at not succeeding, especially after having toiled to the summit, and tired both myself and horses in tracing up its watercourses. There was now no other alternative left me, than to make back for the hills to the eastward, in the hope of being more fortunate there. I had only found permanent water once, (at Salt watercourse) since I left my party, having depended entirely upon puddles of rain water for subsistence; but it now became imperative on me to turn my attention exclusively to this subject, not only to enable me to bring up my men, but to secure the possibility of my own return, as every day that passed dried up more and more the small puddles I had found in the plains.

Descending Mount Deception, we travelled five miles upon a S. E. course, and encamped upon a small dry watercourse for the night, with good grass for our horses, but without water.

July 13

July 13.—Bending our steps backwards, to search for water in the eastern hills, we were lucky enough to fall in with a puddle in the plains, at which we watered our horses, and again proceeded.

Selecting one of the larger watercourses running out from the hills, we traced it up a considerable distance, examining all its minor branches carefully, and sparing no pains in seeking a permanent spring of water; the channel, however, gradually diminished in size, as we occasionally passed the junctions of small branches from the various gorges; the gum–trees on its course were either dead or dying; the hills, which at a distance had appeared very rugged and lofty, upon a nearer approach turned out to be mere detached eminences of moderate elevation, covered with loose stones, but without the least sign of water.

About two o’clock, P.M. we passed a little grass, and as the day appeared likely to become rainy, I halted for the night. Leaving the native boy to hobble the horses, I took my gun and ascended one of the hills near me for a view. Lake Torrens was visible to the west, and Mount Deception to the N.W. but higher hills near me, shut out the view in every other direction. In descending, I followed a little rocky gully leading to the main watercourse, and to my surprise and joy, discovered a small but deep pool of water in a hole of the rock: upon sounding the depth, I found it would last us some time, and that I might safely bring on my party thus far, until I could look for some other point for a depot still farther north; the little channel where the water was, I named Depot Pool.

Regaining the camp, I immediately set to work with the native boy to construct a bough hut, as the weather looked very threatening. We had hardly completed it before the rain came down in torrents, and water was soon laying every where in the ledges of rock in the bed of the watercourse. So little do we know what is before us, and so short a time is necessary to change the aspect of affairs, and frequently too, when we least expect it!

July 14

July 14.—Our hut not having been quite water–tight before the rain came, we got very wet during the night, and turned out early this morning to go and hunt for firewood to warm ourselves.

As the weather still continued rainy, I determined to give our horses a day’s rest, whilst I walked up the watercourse to examine it farther. I found the hills open a good deal more as I proceeded, with nice grassy valleys between; and the hills themselves, though high and steep, were rounded at the summits, and richly clothed with vegetation: among them numerous watercourses took their rise in the gorges, and generally these were well marked by gum–trees. Altogether it was a pretty and fertile spot, and though very hilly, would do well for stock, if permanent water could be found near. I was quite unsuccessful, however, in my search for this, and the native boy, whom I sent in the opposite direction, after my return, was equally unfortunate. Towards evening, one of the horses having broken his hobbles, and got alarmed, galloped off, taking the other with him. Tired and wet as I was, I was obliged to go after them, and it was some miles from the camp, before I could overtake and turn them back. Our latitude was 30 degrees 55 minutes S.

July 15

July 15.—This morning was misty and clondy, and dreadfully cold. We set off early and commenced tracing up and examining as many of the watercourses as we could; we did not, however, find permanent water.

Under one low ridge we met with what I took to be a small spring emanating from a limestone rock; but it was so small as to be quite useless to a party like mine, though the natives appeared frequently to have resorted to it. Finding the courses of the main channel become lost in its many branches, I ascended the dividing ridge, and crossed into the bed of another large watercourse, in which, after travelling but a short distance, I found a fine spring of running water among some very broken and precipitous ranges, which rose almost perpendicularly from the channel; in the latter, high ledges of a slaty rock stretched occasionally quite across its bed, making it both difficult and dangerous to get our horses along. In the vicinity of the water the grass was tolerably good, but the declivities upon which it principally grew, were steep and very stony.

Having hobbled the horses, I took my gun, and walked down the watercourse, to a place where it forms a junction with a larger one, but in neither could I find any more water. Upon my return, I found that the native boy had caught an opossum in one of the trees near, which proved a valuable addition to our scanty and unvaried fare. The latitude to–day was 30 degrees 51 minutes S.