Edward John Eyre - Vol 2 - Ch 3

Heavy Road — A Young Kangaroo Shot — Grassy Country — Point Malcolm — Traces of Its Having Been Visited by Europeans — Grass Trees Met with — A Kangaroo Killed — Catch Fish — Get Another Kangaroo — Crab Hunting — Renew the Journey — Casuarinae Met with — Cross the Level Bank — Low Country Behind It — Cape Arid — Salt Water Creek — Xamia Seen — Cabbage Tree of the Sound — Fresh Water Lake — More Salt Streams — Opossums Caught — Flag Reeds Found — Fresh Water Streams — Boats Seen — Meet with a Whaler.

June 2. — As we had made a shorter stage yesterday than I intended to have done, and the quantity of flour we had now remaining was very small, I did not dare to make use of any this morning, and we commenced our journey without breakfast. Being now near Thistle Cove, where I intended to halt for some time, and kill the little foal for food, whilst the other horses were recruiting, and as I hoped to get there early this afternoon, I was anxious to husband our little stock of flour in the hope, that at the little fresh-water lake described by Flinders, as existing there, we should find abundance of the flag-reed for our support. Keeping a little behind the shore for the first hour, we crossed over the sandy ridge bounding it, and upon looking towards the sea, I thought I discovered a boat sailing in the bay. Upon pointing this object out to Wylie, he was of the same opinion with myself, and we at once descended towards the shore, but on our arrival were greatly disappointed at not being able again to see the object of our search. In the course of half an hour, however, whilst resting ourselves and watching the surface of the ocean, it again became visible, and soon after a second appeared. It was now evident that both these were boats, and that we had noticed them only when standing off shore, and the light shone upon their sails, and had lost them when upon the opposite tack. It was equally apparent they were standing out from the main land for the islands. I imagined them to be sealers, who having entered the bay to procure water or firewood, were again steering towards the islands to fish. Having hastily made a fire upon one of the sand-hills, we fired shots, shouted, waved handkerchiefs, and made every signal we could to attract attention, but in vain. They were too far away to see, or too busy to look towards us. The hopes we had entertained were as suddenly disappointed as they had been excited, and we stood silently and sullenly gazing after the boats as they gradually receded from our view.

Whilst thus occupied and brooding over our disappointment, we were surprised to see both boats suddenly lower their sails, and apparently commence fishing. Watching them steadily we now perceived that they were whale boats, and once more our hearts beat with hope, for I felt sure that they must belong to some vessel whaling in the neighbourhood. We now anxiously scanned the horizon in every direction, and at last were delighted beyond measure to perceive to the westward the masts of a large ship, peeping above a rocky island which had heretofore concealed her from our view. She was apparently about six miles from us, and as far as we could judge from so great a distance, seemed to be at anchor near the shore.

Poor Wylie’s joy now knew no bounds, and he leapt and skipped about with delight as he congratulated me once more upon the prospect of getting plenty to eat. I was not less pleased than he was, and almost as absurd, for although the vessel was quietly at anchor so near us, with no sails loose and her boats away, I could not help fearing that she might disappear before we could get to her, or attract the notice of those on board. To prevent such a calamity, I mounted one of the strongest horses and pushed on by myself as rapidly as the heavy nature of the sands would allow, leaving Wylie at his own especial request to bring on the other horses. In a short time I arrived upon the summit of a rocky cliff, opposite to a fine large barque lying at anchor in a well sheltered bay, (which I subsequently named Rossiter Bay, after the captain of the whaler,) immediately east of Lucky Bay, and at less than a quarter of a mile distant from the shore. The people on board appeared to be busily engaged in clearing their cables which were foul, and did not observe me at all. I tied up my horse, therefore, to a bush, and waited for Wylie, who was not long in coming after me, having driven the poor horses at a pace they had not been accustomed to for many a long day. I now made a smoke on the rock where I was, and hailed the vessel, upon which a boat instantly put off, and in a few moments I had the inexpressible pleasure of being again among civilized beings, and of shaking hands with a fellow-countryman in the person of Captain Rossiter, commanding the French Whaler “Mississippi.”

Our story was soon told, and we were received with the greatest kindness and hospitality by the captain.

June 1. — Upon getting up this morning I found myself very stiff and sore from the bruises I had received yesterday, yet I felt thankful that I had escaped so well; had any of my limbs been broken, I should have been in a dreadful position, and in all probability must have perished. After Wylie had dug up some of the flag-roots for breakfast, and a few to take with us, we proceeded on our journey. I was anxious to have made a long stage, and if possible, to have reached Thistle Cove by night; but the country we had to pass over was heavy and sandy, and after travelling fifteen miles, the horses became so jaded, that I was obliged to turn in among some sand-drifts near the coast, and halt for the night. The course we had been steering for the last few days towards Lucky Bay, had gradually brought us close to the coast again, and during a part of our journey this afternoon we were travelling upon the sea-shore. At ten miles after starting, we crossed a strong stream of fresh water running through some sandy flats into the sea; a mile and a half beyond this we crossed a second stream; and half a mile further a third, all running strongly, with narrow channels, into the sea, and quite fresh. Fresh water was also laying about every where on our road in large pools; a proof of the very heavy rains that had lately fallen. We were, therefore, enjoying the advantages of a wet season without having been subject to its inclemency, and which, in our present weak, unprotected state, we could hardly have endured. The country to the back was sandy and undulating, covered principally with low shrubs, and rising inland; there were also several granite bluffs at intervals, from among which, the streams I had crossed, probably took their rise; but there were no trees to be seen any where, except a few of the tea of cabbage-trees. I do not think that any of the three fresh-water streams we had crossed would be permanent, their present current being owing entirely to the recent rains; but when they are running, and the weather is moderately fair, they afford an admirable opportunity of watering a vessel with very little trouble, the water being clear and pure to its very junction with the sea.

At night we made our supper of the flag-roots we had brought with us, and a spoonful of flour a-piece, boiled into a paste. The night was very cold and windy, and having neither shelter nor fire-wood at the sand-drifts where we were, we spent it miserably.

May 31. — The morning showery, and bitterly cold, so that, for the first two hours after starting, we suffered considerably, After travelling for seven miles and a half, through an undulating and bare country, we came to a salt-water river, with some patches of good land about it. Having crossed the river a little way up where it became narrower, we again proceeded for five miles farther, through the same character of country, and were then stopped by another salt stream, which gave us a great deal of trouble to effect a crossing. We had traced it up to where the channel was narrow, but the bed was very deep, and the water running strongly between banks of rich black soil. Our horses would not face this at first, and in forcing them over we were nearly losing two of them. After travelling only a quarter of a mile beyond this stream I was chagrined to find we had crossed it just above the junction of two branches, and that we had still one of them to get over; the second was even more difficult to pass than the first, and whilst I was on the far side, holding one of the horses by a rope, with Wylie behind driving him on, the animal made a sudden and violent leap, and coming full upon me, knocked me down and bruised me considerably. One of his fore legs struck me on the thigh, and I narrowly escaped having it broken, whilst a hind leg caught me on the shin, and cut me severely.

As soon as we were fairly over I halted for the night, to rest myself and give Wylie an opportunity of looking for food. The water in both branches of this river was only brackish where we crossed, and at that which we encamped upon but slightly so.

There were many grass-trees in the vicinity, and as several of these had been broken down and were dead they were full of the white grubs of which the natives are so fond. From these Wylie enjoyed a plentiful, and to him, luxurious supper. I could not bring myself to try them, preferring the root of the broad flag-reed, which, for the first time, we met with at this stream, and which is an excellent and nutritious article of food. This root being dug up, and roasted in hot ashes, yields a great quantity of a mealy farinaceous powder interspersed among the fibres; it is of an agreeable flavour, wholesome, and satisfying to the appetite. In all parts of Australia, even where other food abounds, the root of this reed is a favourite and staple article of diet among the aborigines. The proper season of the year for procuring it in full perfection, is after the floods have receded, and the leaves have died away and been burnt off. It is that species of reed of which the leaves are used by coopers for closing up crevices between the staves of their casks.

May 30. — In commencing our journey this morning, our route took us over undulating hills, devoid of timber, but having occasionally small patches of very rich land in the valleys and upon some of the slopes. This continued to a salt-water river, broad, and apparently deep near the sea. As I was doubtful whether it would have a bar-mouth to seawards, I thought it more prudent to trace it upwards, for the purpose of crossing. At no very great distance it contracted sufficiently to enable me to get over to the other side. But in doing so the ground proved soft and boggy, and I nearly lost one of the horses. Four miles beyond this river we came to another channel of salt water, but not so large as the last. In valleys sloping down to this watercourse we met, for the first time, clumps of a tree called by the residents of King George’s Sound the cabbage-tree, and not far from which were native wells of fresh water; there were also several patches of rich land bordering upon the watercourse.

Travelling for two miles further, we came to a very pretty fresh-water lake, of moderate size, and surrounded by clumps of tea-tree. It was the first permanent fresh water we had found on the surface since we commenced our journey from Fowler’s Bay — a distance of nearly seven hundred miles. I would gladly have encamped here for the night, but the country surrounding the lake was sandy and barren, and destitute of grass. We had only made good a distance of eleven miles from our last camp, and I felt anxious to get on to Lucky Bay as quickly as I could, in order that I might again give our horses a rest for a few days, which they now began to require. From Captain Flinders’ account of Lucky Bay I knew we should find fresh water and wood in abundance. I hoped there would also be grass, and in this case I had made up my mind to remain a week or ten days, during which I intended to have killed the foal we had with us, now about nine months old, could we procure food in no other way. After leaving Lucky Bay, as we should only be about three hundred miles from the Sound, and our horses would be in comparatively fresh condition, I anticipated we should be able to progress more rapidly. Indeed I fully expected it would be absolutely necessary for us to do so, through a region which, from Flinders’ description as seen from sea, and from his having named three different hills in it Mount Barrens, we should find neither very practicable nor fertile.

Six miles beyond the fresh-water lake we came to another salt-water stream, and finding, upon following up a little way, that it was only brackish, we crossed and halted for the night. Wylie went out to search for food, but got nothing, whilst I unharnessed and attended to the horses, which were a good deal fagged, and then prepared the camp and made the fires for the night: I could get nothing but grass-tree for this purpose, but it was both abundant and dry. Owing to its very resinous nature, this tree burns with great heat and brilliancy, emitting a grateful aromatic odour. It is easily lit up, makes a most cheerful fire, and notwithstanding the fervency with which it burns, does not often require renewing, if the tree be large. Our whole journey to-day had been over undulations of about three hundred feet in elevation; the country rose a little inland, and a few occasional bluffs of granite were observed in the distance, but no timber was seen any where. At night the flies and mosquitoes were very troublesome to us.

May 29. — After breakfasting upon a spoonful of flour a-piece, mixed with a little water and boiled into a paste, we again proceeded. At ten miles we came to a small salt water stream, running seawards; in passing up it to look for a crossing place, Wylie caught two opossums, in the tops of some tea-trees, which grew on the banks. As I hoped more might be procured, and perhaps fresh water, by tracing it higher up, I took the first opportunity of crossing to the opposite side, and there encamped; Wylie now went out to search for opossums, and I traced the stream upwards. In my route I passed several very rich patches of land in the valleys, and on the slopes of the hills enclosing the watercourse. These were very grassy and verdant, but I could find no fresh water, nor did I observe any timber except the tea-tree. After tracing the stream until it had ceased running, and merely became a chain of ponds of salt water, I returned to the camp a good deal fatigued; Wylie came in soon after, but had got nothing but a few yams. The general character of the country on either side the watercourse, was undulating, of moderate elevation, and affording a considerable extent of sheep pasturage. The cockatoos of King George’s Sound, (without the yellow crest) were here in great numbers. Kangaroos also abounded; but the country had not brush enough to enable us to get sufficiently near to shoot them.

During the day Wylie had caught two opossums, and as these were entirely the fruit of his own labour and skill, I did not interfere in their disposal; I was curious, moreover, to see how far I could rely upon his kindness and generosity, should circumstances ever compel me to depend upon him for a share of what he might procure. At night, therefore, I sat philosophically watching him whilst he proceeded to get supper ready, as yet ignorant whether I was to partake of it or not. After selecting the largest of the two animals, he prepared and cooked it, and then put away the other where he intended to sleep. I now saw that he had not the remotest intention of giving any to me, and asked him what he intended to do with the other one. He replied that he should be hungry in the morning, and meant to keep it until then. Upon hearing this I told him that his arrangements were very good, and that for the future I would follow the same system also; and that each should depend upon his own exertions in procuring food; hinting to him that as he was so much more skilful than I was, and as we had so very little flour left, I should be obliged to reserve this entirely for myself, but that I hoped he would have no difficulty in procuring as much food as he required. I was then about to open the flour-bag and take a little out for my supper, when he became alarmed at the idea of getting no more, and stopped me, offering the other opossum, and volunteering to cook it properly for me. Trifling as this little occurrence was, it read me a lesson of caution, and taught me what value was to be placed upon the assistance or kindness of my companion, should circumstances ever place me in a situation to be dependent upon him; I felt a little hurt too, at experiencing so little consideration from one whom I had treated with the greatest kindness, and who had been clothed and fed upon my bounty, for the last fifteen months.