Edward John Eyre - Vol 2 - Ch 4

Go on Board the Mississippi — Wet Weather — Visit Lucky Bay — Interview with Natives — Wylie Understands Their Language — Get the Horses Shod — Prepare to Leave the Vessel — Kindness and Liberality of Captain Rossiter — Renew Journey to the Westward — Fossil Formation Still Continues — Salt Water Streams and Lakes — A Large Salt River — Character Of the Country.

June 23. — Our horses having rambled some distance back upon our yesterday’s tracks, it was late when they were recovered, and we did not get away until eleven. After travelling a mile and a half, we crossed a stream of most excellent water running over a bed of granite, in which were some large deep pools with reeds growing around their margins. A branch of this watercourse was crossed a little further on, but was quite dry where we passed it.

Nine miles from our last night’s camp a view of the “Rocky Islets” was obtained from a hill, and set at due south. Immediately on descending from the hill we crossed a salt chain of ponds in a bed of sandstone and ironstone, and nine miles beyond this we came to another, also of salt water; here we halted for the night as there was tolerable grass for the horses, and we were fortunate enough to discover fresh water in a granite rock.

In the course of the afternoon I obtained a view of a very distant hill bearing from us W.8 degrees S. This I took to be the east Mount Barren of Flinders; but it was still very far away, and the intervening country looked barren and unpromising. During the day our route had still been over the same character of country as before, with this exception, that it was more stony and barren, with breccia or iron-stone grit covering the surface. The streams were less frequently met with, and were of a greatly inferior character, consisting now principally of only chains of small stagnant ponds of salt water, destitute of grass, and without any good soil in the hollows through which they took their course. Many of these, and especially those we crossed in the latter part of the day, were quite dry, and appeared to be nothing more than deep gutters washed by heavy rains between the undulations of the country.

The rock formation, where it was developed, was exclusively sandstone or ironstone, with inferior granite; and even the higher levels, which had heretofore been of a sandy nature, were now rugged and stony, and more sterile than before; the grasstrees, which generally accommodate themselves to any soil, were stunted and diminutive, and by no means so abundant as before. The general elevation of the country still appeared to be the same. I estimated it at about three hundred feet.

One circumstance, which struck me as rather singular, with regard to the last forty miles of country we had traversed, was, that it did not appear to have experienced the same weather as there had been to the eastward. The little water we found deposited in the rocks, plainly indicated that the late rains had either not fallen here at all, or in a much less degree than they had, in the direction we had come from; whilst the dry and withered state of any little grass that we found, convinced me that the earlier rains had still been more partial, so great was the contrast between the rich luxuriance of the long green grass we had met with before, and the few dry withered bunches of last year’s growth, which we fell in with now.

June 22. — A very heavy dew fell in the night, and we were again condemned to wade for three hours up to our middle among the wet brush; after which the day became fine, and we got our clothes dried. Travelling for two and a half miles, we crossed another small brackish chain of ponds, and then ascending rather higher ground, obtained a view of a large lake under the sand-hills, into which the channel we encamped upon last night emptied itself. The lake appeared as if it were deep, and its dark blue colour led me to imagine there might be a junction with the sea towards the south-west, where the low appearance of the coast ridge indicated a gap or opening of some kind. At four miles from our last night’s encampment we were stopped by a large salt-water river, fully a hundred yards wide, and increasing to three or four times that size as it trended to its junction with the large lake, and which was visible from the hills above the river. This river was deep where we first struck upon it, but appeared to be much more so towards the lake, where the water was of a dark blue colour, as was that also of the lake itself. This confirmed me in my opinion that there must be a junction with the sea; but unfortunately I was obliged to trace its course upwards, for the purpose of crossing, and the circumstances under which I was travelling precluded me from delaying, or going so far back out of my way to examine its mouth. I dared not leave Wylie in charge of the camp for the time necessary for me to have gone alone; and to take the horses such a distance, and through a rough or heavy country, on the uncertainty of procuring for them either grass or water, would have been a risk which, in their condition, I did not think myself justified in incurring.

After tracing the river northerly for two miles and a half, I found it divided into two branches, and though these were still of considerable size, yet a ledge of rocks extending across the channels enabled us to effect a passage to the other side. At the place where we crossed, the stream running over the rocks was only slightly brackish, and we watered our horses there; had we traced it a little further it might possibly have been quite fresh, but we had no time for this, for Wylie having taken charge of the horses but for a few moments, whilst I had been examining the river for a crossing place, contrived to frighten them all in some way or other, and set them off at a gallop; the result was, that our baggage was greatly disturbed, and many things knocked off and damaged, whilst it took us some time again to get our horses and re-arrange the loads.

The valley through which the river took its course, was rocky, with sheets of granite extending in many places to the water’s edge. There was abundance of good grass, however, and in its upper branches, probably, there might have been some considerable extent of pasturage. The trees growing upon the margin, were the paper-barked tea-tree, and the bastard gum.

Leaving the river, and proceeding over an undulating sandy country, without timber, but covered with shrubs, we passed at six miles between two small lakes, and in three more descended to a deep valley among granite rocks; here we encamped after a stage of sixteen miles, with plenty of fresh water in pools, and very fair grass for the horses, about a mile and a half before we halted, we had obtained a view to seawards, and I set the “Rocky Islets” at a bearing of S. 25 degrees W.

The character of the country generally, through which we travelled to-day, was very similar to that we had so long been traversing. Its general elevation above the level of the sea, was about three hundred feet, and to a distant observer, it seemed to be a perfect table land, unbroken to the horizon, and destitute of all timber or trees, except occasionally a few cabbage-trees, grass-trees, or minor shrubs; it was also without grass. Upon crossing this region deep gorges or valleys are met with, through which flow brackish or salt-water streams, and shading these are found the tea-tree and the bastard gum. The steep banks which inclose the valleys, through which the streams take their course, and which until lately we had found of an oolitic limestone, now exhibited granite, quartz, sandstone or iron-stone.

June 21. — We did not get away until late, but the dew had been so heavy during the night that even then the shrubs and bushes wet us completely through, and made our journey cold and miserable. After travelling a short distance we lost all symptoms of grass, and the country was again sandy and barren, and covered with shrubs and heathy plants. In this region we passed two native women and a boy, within gun-shot of us; but as they were so intent upon their occupation of digging roots, and did not notice us, I was unwilling to alarm them, and we passed silently by. At six miles we came to a fine deep hole of excellent water about thirty yards in circumference. It was situated in a narrow, short, but steep and rocky gorge, and is, I think, permanent. Four miles beyond this we crossed a chain of salt ponds, trending seawards, towards an apparent gap in the coast-line; and six miles further another. Upon the latter we halted for the night, as there was good grass for the horses, and brackish water was procurable a little way up the stream, where it divided into branches. The constant travelling in the wet for the last few days began now to affect our limbs considerably, and upon halting at nights we found our feet always much swollen, and our legs generally stiff and cramped.

June 20. — Rain fell lightly but steadily until one P.M., making it very disagreeable travelling through the rugged and stony ridges we had to encounter, and which were a good deal covered with scrub and brush. About four miles from our camp of last night we crossed high stony ridges, and immediately beyond came to some steep sand-drifts, among the hollows of which I dug for water, but at five feet was stopped by rock. The scrubby, hilly, and rugged nature of the back country, generally about three hundred feet above the level of the sea, now compelled me to keep the beach for five miles, from which I was then again driven by the hills terminating abruptly towards the sea, and forcing me to scale a steep stony range, which for four miles and a half kept us incessantly toiling up one rugged ascent after another. We then came to an extensive hollow, being a partial break in the fossil formation, and having two large lakes and many smaller ones interspersed over its surface. Around the margins of the lakes we again found timber — the tea-tree and the bastard gum. The water in the lakes was salt, but some slight elevations of granite afforded us in their hollows an abundance of water for ourselves and horses. The traces of natives were numerous and recent, but yet we saw none. Swans, ducks, and wild fowl of various kinds were in great numbers, and kept up an unceasing noise at night whilst passing from one lake to the other. Our stage had been twelve miles and a half, but the hilly and rugged nature of the road had made it severe upon the horses, whilst the wet overhead and the wet grass under our feet made it equally harassing to ourselves. From our encampment some white drifts in the coast line bore S. 35 degrees E., and probably were the “white streak in the sand-hills” of Flinders.

June 19. — The dew was very heavy this morning, and we did not start until rather late, travelling through a very grassy country, abounding in fresh swamps of a soft peaty soil, and often with the broad flag-reed growing in them. All these places were boggy and impassable for horses. In attempting to cross one a horse sunk up to his haunches, and we had much difficulty in extricating him. At five miles from our camp we ascended some high ridges of an oolitic limestone formation, which were partially covered by drift-sand, and in the distance looked like the ridge of a sea shore. From their summit Cape le Grand bore E. 27 degrees S., the peak called by the French the “Chapeau,” E. 23 degrees S., and the head of the salt-water lake E. 10 degrees S. We had now a succession of barren, sandy and stony ridges for more than three miles, and as there was but little prospect of our finding permanent water in such a miserable region, I took the opportunity of halting at a little rain water deposited in a hole of the rocks; here we procured enough for ourselves, but could not obtain any for the horses. Our camp not being far from the coast, I walked after dinner to the sand-hills to take bearings. Several islands were visible, of which the centres were set at S. 10 degrees W., S. 26 degrees W., E. 41 degrees S., E. 44 degrees S. and S. 33 degrees E. respectively; the west point of a bay bore S. 51 degrees W. the eastern point E. 36 degrees S. Upon digging for water under the sand-hills it was found to be salt.