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Edward John Eyre - Vol 1 - Ch 5

Break up the encampment--Arrive at depot pool--Geological character of the country--Barometers out of order--Advance to reconnoitre--Ascend Termination Hill--Surprise native women--They abandon their children--Ineffectual search for water--Return towards Mount Deception--Broken character of the country--Find water--The Scott--Rejoin the party--Water all used at the depot--Embarrassing circumstances--Remove to the Scott--Reconnoitre in advance--Barren country--Table-topped elevations--Indications of the violent action of water--Meet natives--Reach Lake Torrens--The water salt--Obliged to return--Arrival at depot--Hostile demonstrations of the natives.

August 3

August 3.—Crossing very heavy sandy ridges, we passed at intervals one or two dry watercourses, and the beds of some small dry lakes among the sandy ridges, in one of which was a little rain water which appeared to be rapidly drying up. Watering the horses we moved on for Termination Hill, but the nature of the country had been so unfavourable, that the pack–horse was knocked up, and I was obliged to halt four miles short of our intended destination, and where there was but poor feed for the animals. After dinner I walked to Termination Hill and ascended it. Like all the others I had recently examined, it was composed principally of quartz, ironstone and a kind of slaty rock; the low hills in front exhibiting the grey limestone, whilst patches of gum scrub were observable in many places. From the summit of Termination Hill, Lake Torrens bore W. 20 degrees S. but the view was obstructed by intervening sand ridges, the elevated land on the opposite shore of the lake still appeared to continue, and was visibly further north than the lake itself, which, as I observed, was partially shut out by the ridges. To the north were low broken hills similar to those around me, but less elevated, and immediately under these hills to the westward, were heavy red sandy ridges, such as we had crossed during the day. To the eastward and ten degrees north of east were seen Flinders range, with which Mount Deception and Termination Hills were connected, by low long spurs thrown off to the northward. In the north–east the horizon was one unbroken, low, flat, level waste, with here and there small table–topped elevations, appearing white in the distance and seemingly exhibiting precipitous faces. Wherever I turned, or whatever way I looked, the prospect was cheerless and disheartening. Our stage had been twenty–two miles.

August 4

August 4.—After giving five gallons of water each to my own and the native boy’s horse, I sent back the man with the pack–horse and the empty kegs to the depot. We then steered E. 5 degrees S. across some very extensive barren stony plains, occasionally broken into irregular surfaces with steep white banks (of a fine freestone), forming the termination of the higher levels, fronting the hollows. These hollows or flats were covered with salsolaceous plants and samphire, and appeared once to have been salt swamps.

At twenty miles we came to a small watercourse emanating from the eastern hills, which we had now reached, and soon after to a larger one which we traced up for five miles among the front hills, which were composed of limestone, but were then obliged to encamp without water. Whilst rambling about after turning out the horses, I met with a party of native women and children, but could gain no information from them. They would not permit me to come near them, and at last fairly ran away, leaving at their fire two young children who could not escape. I then went to their camp and examined the bags and property which had been left, and amongst other things found two kangaroo skins full of water, each containing from six to eight quarts; it was quite muddy, and had evidently been taken from a puddle in the plains, and carried to the present encampment in the bed of the watercourse. Having helped ourselves to some of the water, I tied a red pocket handkerchief round one of the children, as payment for it and returned to our own camp.

August 5

August 5.—During the night I was taken very ill again, and felt quite weak when I arose this morning, but circumstances admitted of no delay, and I was obliged to go on with my exploration: I continued to trace up the creek, which I found to be large and lined with gum–trees for many miles among rocky and precipitous hills, but altogether without water, and as I knew of none of this requisite, of a permanent character, behind me, I determined to retrace my steps again to Mount Deception range. In doing so, I had to pass near the place from whence the natives had taken flight, and from curiosity called to see if the children had been taken away; to my surprise and regret I found them still remaining, they had been left by their unnatural or terrified parents without food, and exposed to the inclemency of a cold winter’s night; the fire had gone out, and the eldest of the children had scraped a hole among the ashes in which both were lying. They were alarmed when they saw me, and would take nothing I offered them. The child around whom I had tied the handkerchief, had managed to get it off and throw it to one side. I now scarcely knew what to do, as I was fearful if I left them there, and the parents did not return, the poor little children might perish, and yet I was so far away from my own party, and in such difficult circumstances, that I knew not how I could take them with me. Upon due reflection, and considering that I had not seen a single male native, it struck me that the women might have gone for the men and would probably return by the evening to see where their little ones were.

Under this impression, I put the handkerchief again round the eldest child, and tying it firmly, I left them; I had hopes too, that some of the natives were watching our movements from the hills, and in this case they would at once return, when they saw us fairly depart from the neighbourhood.

Keeping a little to the south of west, I still found the country very much broken into hollows, with high steep banks bounding them, this singular formation being apparently the result of the violent action of water; but how long ago and under what circumstances I had no means of judging. Having found a puddle of water in the plains, I halted for the night, our stage having been about twenty miles.

August 6

August 6.—We again passed many of those singular hollows fronted by the high steep banks of the upper levels, and then crossed some low ironstone ridges to a channel emanating from Mount Deception range. This I traced through the hills to the westward without finding any water, and then following down the Mount Deception range in its western slopes, I examined all the watercourses coming from it; in one, which I named The Scott, after my young friend and fellow traveller, I found a large hole of rain water among the rocks, and at this I halted to rest and feed the horses. The latitude of the water in The Scott was 30 degrees 32 minutes S. Pushing on again, late in the afternoon, I reached our camp of the 2nd August, quite tired, and the horses much fatigued, the puddle of water we had found here on our outward course was now nearly all dried up.

August 7

August 7.—Making an early start I returned to the Depot Pool, and found the party all well. They were, however, just preparing to move away, as the water was nearly all gone. The drays were packed and everything ready when I arrived; they had tried to obtain water by digging, but had failed, having been stopped by hard rock.

I was now in a very awkward dilemma. The water where we were, had been all used, and we must consequently remove at once,—but where to, was the question? If I went to the permanent water to the eastward, I gained nothing, as I only harassed my party by travelling through an almost impracticable country, over which we must return before we could move further to the north,—and if I went to the N. W. to The Scott, I went to a mere puddle of water, precarious and uncertain at the best, and at which, under any circumstances, we could not remain long:—yet move I must, as soon as the morning dawned. Many and anxious were the hours I spent in consideration and reflection.

Little indeed are the public aware of the difficulties and responsibilities attached to the command of an expedition of exploration;—the incessant toil, the sleepless hours, the anxious thoughts that necessarily fall to the share of the leader of a party under circumstances of difficulty or danger, are but imperfectly understood and less appreciated by the world at large. Accustomed to judge of undertakings only by their results, they are frequently as unjust in their censure as they are excessive in their approval. The traveller who discovers a rich and well watered district, encounters but few of the hardships, and still fewer of the anxieties, that fall to the lot of the explorer in desert regions, yet is the former lauded with praise, whilst the latter is condemned to obloquy; although the success perhaps of the one, or the failure of the other, may have arisen from circumstances over which individually neither had any control.