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Edward John Eyre - Vol 1 - Ch 9

Boy Speared by the Natives — Anomalous State of Our Relations with the Aborigines — Mr. Scott Sails for Adelaide — Dog Bought — Mr. Scott’s Return — Cutter Waterwitch Sent to Co-Operate — Send Her to Streaky Bay — Leave Port Lincoln with the Dray — Level Sandy Country Clothed with Brush and Shrubs — Salt Lakes — Mount Hope — Lake Hamilton — Stony Country — Lose a Dog — Better Country — Wedge-Hill — Lake Newland — A Boat Harbour — Mount Hall — Rejoin Party at Streaky Bay — Singular Spring — Character of Country — Beds of Oysters.

October 30

On the 30th we remained stationary to rest the horses, and to try and recover the lost dog, but after a long and fruitless search, we were obliged to give up the attempt.

October 31

On the 31st, after crossing a ridge under which we were encamped, we passed through a very pretty grassy and park-like country, and what was very unusual, not stony on the surface. There were in places a great many wombat holes, but these were now all occupied by their tenants, and the whole aspect of the country was more encouraging and cheerful; the extent of good country was, however, very limited. Towards the coast was a low scrubby-looking region with salt lakes, and to the east it was bounded by a dense brush, beyond which were extensive plains of a barren and scrubby appearance. In the midst of these plains were large fields of a coarse wiry-kind of grass, growing in enormous tufts, five or six feet high, and indicating the places where swamps exist in wet seasons; these were now quite dry, but we had always found the same coarse-tufted grass growing around the margins of the salt lakes, and in those places also where we had found water. This description of country seemed to extend to the base of Wedge Hill, which I intended to have ascended, but the weather was too cloudy to obtain a view from it. The character of the country to the north and north-east was equally low and unpromising, with the exception of two peaks seen at considerable distances apart.

Our stage to-day was sixteen miles to Lake Newland, [Note 17: Named after my friend R. F. Newland, Esq.] a large salt-water lake, with numerous fine and strong springs of excellent water, bubbling up almost in the midst of the salt. In one place one of these springs was surrounded by a narrow strip of soil, and the stream emanating from it took its winding course through the skirts of the salt-water lake itself, inclosed by a very narrow bank of earth, on either side; this slight barrier being the only division between the salt and the fresh water. From the abundance of fresh water at Lake Newland, and the many patches of tolerably grassy country around, a very fair station might be formed, either for sheep or cattle.

November 1

November 1. — Leaving Lake Newland we passed through a scrubby country, which extended close under the coast hummocks for five miles, and then ascended a high barren range. The view from this was extensive, but only over a mass of low and desolate scrub, with the exception of one or two elevations to the north and north-east. Towards the coast, amidst the waste around, was a large sheet of salt water, with here and there a few openings near it, studded with casuarinae, to this we bent our steps, and at twelve miles from our last night’s camp took up our position in lat. 33 degrees 14 minutes 36 seconds S. upon the lagoon seen by Flinders from the masthead.

The traces of natives and their beaten pathways were here very numerous (of the latter of which there could not be less than thirty) all leading to a large deep hole, sunk about eight feet, principally through a soft limestone rock. This was carefully blocked up with large stones and mud, but upon clearing it out the water came bubbling up rapidly, and we got an abundant supply. The entrance from seawards to the sheet of water, or lagoon, is between two heads, (one of them being a high bluff) little more than a mile apart. There appeared to be a reef off the entrance outside, but our being without a boat prevented us from ascertaining how far this inlet was adapted for a harbour. Inside, the water is shallow towards the south, but deeper in the northern half of the inlet.

November 2

November 2. — Tracing round the shores, we passed several other holes dug by the natives in the sand, to procure water; these, however, did not appear of so permanent a character as the first, for many had fallen in, and others contained but very little water. The huts of the natives were numerous, and of a large and substantial description; but we saw none of their owners.

After leaving the inlet we pushed on through the scrub to a high bluff of granitic formation, distant about sixteen miles N. 35 degrees W., and named by me Mount Hall. [Note 18: After G. Hall, Esq. the Governor’s Private Secretary.] The road being very heavy, it was late when we arrived there, and both our horses and sheep were much fatigued. We got a little water from holes in the sheets of granite, and had very good grass in an opening under the hill.

From the summit of Mount Hall the view was extensive, and I obtained many angles. The surrounding country was low, level, and barren, and densely covered with scrub, among which, to the north-west were seen many salt-water lakes. At intervals a few elevations were seen amidst this low waste, apparently similar to the hill we were upon, among them were one or two very distant at a little N. of E., and nearer, one at E. 16 degrees N.; the latter I named Mount Cooper. [Note 19: After Charles Cooper, Esq. the Judge of the colony.] At a bearing of S. 35 degrees W. another saltwater inlet was seen apparently communicating with the sea; but this we could not satisfactorily ascertain from its great distance. The latitude of Mount Hall, deduced from observations of a Lyrae and a Aquilae, was 33 degrees 2 minutes 40 seconds S. Several native fires were seen to the east and south-east in the scrub.

November 3

November 3. — After seeing the party ready tomove on, I left Mr. Scott to conduct the dray, whilst I rode forward in advance to the depot near Streaky Bay, where I arrived early in the afternoon, and was delighted to find the party all well, and everything going on prosperously. They had expected me some time before and were looking out very anxiously for my arrival. The Waterwitch had arrived on the 29th of October, but the master did not communicate with my party before the 31st; so that until the last three days they had been quite ignorant of our movements, and uneasy at our so greatly exceeding the time originally fixed for rejoining them. Having sent back a man, and two fresh and strong horses to assist the dray, I reconnoitred once more our depot of 1839. Situated in the middle of some extensive grassy openings among the scrub, is a solid sheet of limestone of a very hard texture: in the centre of this rock is a small oblong opening, a foot deep and only just large enough to admit of a pint pot being dipped in it. This curious little hole contained water from five to seven inches in depth, the level of which was maintained as rapidly as a person could bale it out; this was our sole supply for ourselves and horses, but it was a never-failing one.

[Note 20: The water had not a pleasant flavour, as it was of a chalybeate nature; but in a country where water was scarce, it was invaluable. When I was here in 1839, it had even then this disagreeable taste, but now it was much worse, in consequence, probably, of the contaminating substance being washed off more abundantly than formerly from the rocks enclosing the reservoir by the rapid flow of water necessary to replace the large consumption of my party.]

The spring is situated in latitude 32 degrees 49 minutes 0 seconds S. and about three miles south-east from the most southerly bight of Streaky Bay. About one mile and a half to the west is another small hole of better flavoured water, but not so abundant in its supply.

I found all the horses in excellent condition, and one, a very fine mare of my own, had foaled about six weeks before. Around the camp were immense piles of oyster shells, pretty plainly indicating the feasting my men had enjoyed during my absence, whilst their strong and healthy appearance shewed how well such fare had agreed with them. The oysters were procured from the most southerly bight of Streaky Bay, on some mud banks about two or three hundred yards below low water mark, where they are found in immense numbers and of different sizes. The flavour of these oysters was excellent, and the smaller ones were of great delicacy. The men were in the habit of taking a cart down to the beach frequently, where, by wading up to their knees in the sea at low water, they were enabled to fill it. This supply lasted for two or three days.

Many drays might easily be loaded, one after the other, from these oyster beds. The natives of the district do not appear to eat them, for I never could find a single shell at any of their encampments. It is difficult to account for the taste or prejudice of the native, which guides him in his selection or rejection of particular kinds of food. What is eaten readily by the natives in one part of Australia is left untouched by them in another, thus the oyster is eaten at Sydney, and I believe King George’s Sound, but not at Streaky Bay. The unio or freshwater muscle is eaten in great numbers by all the natives of New South Wales and South Australia; but Captain Grey found that a Perth native, who accompanied him on one of his expeditions, would not touch this kind of food even when almost starving. Snakes are eaten by some tribes, but not by others; and so with many other kinds of food which they make use of.

About three o’clock, Mr. Scott arrived with the dray, after a long and harassing stage of twenty miles over a low, stony, and scrubby tract of country, between Mount Hall and Streaky Bay, and which extended beyond our track to the coast hummocks to the west. These latter appeared somewhat high, and under them we had seen many salt-water lakes from the summit of Mount Hall.

My party were now once more all assembled together, after having been separated for nearly seven weeks; during which, neither division knew what had befallen the other, and both were necessarily anxious to be reunited again, since, in the event of any mischance occurring to either, the other would have been placed in circumstances of much difficulty, if not of danger; and the whole object of the undertaking would have been frustrated.

The great delay caused by my having been obliged to send over from Port Lincoln to Adelaide for supplies, had thrown us very late in the season; the summer was rapidly advancing, the weather even now, being frequently intensely hot, whilst the grass was gradually drying up and losing its nourishment. Our sending to Adelaide had, however, obtained for us the valuable services of the Waterwitch to assist us in tracing round the desert line of coast to the north-west, and had enabled us to procure a larger and more varied supply of stores, than we could possibly have brought up from Port Lincoln in a single dray. We were now amply furnished with conveniences of every kind; and both men and horses were in good plight and ready to enter upon the task before them.