John McDouall Stuart - Fourth Expedition


Monday, 9th April, The Hugh Gum Creek.

Monday, 9th April, The Hugh Gum Creek. Started for the highest point of the James range. At four miles arrived on the top, through a very thick scrub of mulga; the range is composed of soft red sandstone, long blocks of it lying on the side. To the east, apparently red sand hills, beyond which are seen the tops of other hills to the north-east. On the north-west the view is intercepted by a high, broken range, with two very remarkable bluffs about the centre. I shall direct my course to the east bluff, which is apparently the higher of the two. In the intermediate country are three lower ranges, between which are flats of green grass, and red sand hills. To the west are grassy flats next to the creek; beyond these are seen the tops of distant ranges and broken hills; at about six miles the Hugh seems to turn more to the north, towards a very rough range of red sandstone. We then descended into a grassy flat with a few gum-trees. We have had a very great difficulty in crossing the range, and now I am again stopped by another low range of the same description, which is nearly perpendicular--huge masses of red sandstone on its side, and in the valley a number of old native camps. After following the range three miles, we at last found out a place to cross it. Although this is not half the height of James range, we encountered far more difficulty; the scrub was very dense, a great quantity having withered and fallen down: we could scarcely get the horses to face it. Our course was also intercepted by deep, perpendicular ravines, which we were obliged to round after a great deal of trouble, having our saddlebags torn to pieces, and our skin and clothes in the same predicament. We arrived at the foot nearly naked, and got into open sandy rises and valleys, with mulga and plenty of grass, among which there is some spinifex growing. At sundown, after having gone about eight miles further, we made a large gum creek, in which we found some water; it is very broad, with a sand and gravel bottom. Camped, both men and horses being very tired.

Tuesday, 10th April, Gum Creek, Bend of the Hugh.

Tuesday, 10th April, Gum Creek, Bend of the Hugh. I find our saddle-bags and harness are so much torn and broken that I cannot proceed until they are repaired. I am compelled with great reluctance to remain here to-day. This creek is running to the west. On ascending a sand hill this morning, I find that it is the Hugh (which seems to drain the sand hills) that we saw to the east from the top of James range. There is another branch between us and the high ranges. At about four miles west it seems to break through the rough range and join the Hugh. A large number of native encampments here, and rushes are growing in and about the creek: there is plenty of water.

Wednesday, 11th April, Bend of the Hugh.

Wednesday, 11th April, Bend of the Hugh. Got the things put pretty well to rights, and started towards the high bluff. I find that my poor little mare, Polly, has got staked in the fetlock-joint, and is nearly dead lame; but I must proceed. At six miles and a half we again crossed the Hugh, and at another mile found it coming through the range, which is a double one. The south range is red sandstone, the next is hard white stone, and also red sandstone, with a few hills of ironstone; a well-grassed valley lying between. The two gorges are rocky, and in some places perpendicular, with some gum-trees growing on the sides. The cucumber plant thrives here in great quantities, and water is abundant. At twelve miles we got through both the gorges of the range, which I have named the Waterhouse Range, after the Honourable the Colonial Secretary. The country between last night's camp and the range is a red sandy soil, with a few sand hills, on which is growing the spinifex, but the valleys between are broad and beautifully grassed. At fifteen miles again crossed the Hugh, coming from the east, with splendid gum-trees of every size lining the banks. The pine was also met with here for the first time. There is a magnificent hole of water here, long and deep, with rushes growing round it. I think it is a spring; the water seems to come from below a large bed of conglomerate quartz. I should say it was permanent. Black cockatoos and other birds abound here, and there are numbers of native tracks all about. I hoped to-day to have gained the top of the bluff, which is still seven or eight miles off, and appears to be so very rough that I anticipate a deal of difficulty in crossing it. I am forced to halt at this bend of the creek, in consequence of the little mare becoming so lame that she is unable to proceed further to-day. Our hands are very bad from being torn by the scrub, and the flies are a perfect torment. Indications of scurvy are beginning to show themselves upon us. Wind west; cool night.

Thursday 12th April, The Hugh. Started for the bluff.

Thursday 12th April, The Hugh. Started for the bluff. At eight miles we again struck the creek coming from the west, and several other gum creeks coming from the range and joining it. We have now entered the lower hills of the range. Again have we travelled through a splendid country for grass, but as we approached the creek it became a little stony. At twelve miles we found a number of springs in the range. Here I obtained an observation of the sun. As we approached near the bluff, our route became very difficult; we could not get up the creek for precipices, and were obliged to turn in every direction. About two miles from where I obtained the observation, we arrived with great difficulty at the foot of the bluff; it has taken us all the afternoon. I expected to have gone to the top of it to-night, but it is too late. It will take half a day, it is so high and rough. We are camped at a good spring, where I have found a very remarkable palm-tree, with light-green fronds ten feet long, having small leaves a quarter of an inch in breadth, and about eight inches in length, and a quarter of an inch apart, growing from each side, and coming to a sharp point. They spread out like the top of the grass-tree, and the fruit has a large kernel about the size of an egg, with a hard shell; the inside has the taste of a cocoa-nut, but when roasted is like a potato. Here we have also the india-rubber tree, the cork-tree, and several new plants. This is the only real range that I have met with since leaving the Flinders range. I have named it the McDonnell Range, after his Excellency the Governor-in-Chief of South Australia, as a token of my gratitude for his kindness to me on many occasions. The east bluff I have named Brinkley Bluff, after Captain Brinkley, of Adelaide, and the west one I have named Hanson Bluff, after the Honourable R. Hanson, of Adelaide. The range is composed of gneiss rock and quartz.

Friday, 13th April, Brinkley Bluff, McDonnell Range.

Friday, 13th April, Brinkley Bluff, McDonnell Range. At sunrise I ascended the bluff, which is the most difficult hill I have ever climbed; it took me an hour and a half to reach the top. It is very high, and is composed principally of igneous rock, with a little ironstone, much the same as the ranges down the country. On reaching the top, I was disappointed; the view was not so good as I expected, in consequence of the morning being so very hazy. I have, however, been enabled to decide what course to take. To the south-west the Waterhouse and James ranges seem to join. At west-south-west they are hidden by one of the spurs of the McDonnell range. To the north-west the view is intercepted by another point of this range, on which is a high peak, which I have named Mount Hay, after the Honourable Alexander Hay, the Commissioner of Crown Lands. About five miles to the north are numerous small spurs, beyond which there is an extensive wooded or scrubby plain; and beyond that, in the far distance, is another range, broken by a high conical hill, bearing about west-north-west, to which I will go, after getting through the range. To the north-east is the end of another range coming from the south. On this, which I have named Strangway Range, after the Honourable the Attorney-General, is another high hill. Beyond is a luminous, hazy appearance, as if it proceeded from a large body of water. A little more to the east there are three high hills; the middle one, which I should think is upwards of thirty miles from us, is the highest, and is bluff at both ends; it seems to be connected with Strangway range. To the east is a complete mass of ranges, with the same luminous appearance behind them. I had a terrible job in getting down the bluff; one false step and I should have been dashed to pieces in the abyss below; I was thankful when I arrived safely at the foot. I find that I have taken the wrong creek to get through the bluff. The Hugh still comes in that way, but more to the westward. Started at 10 o'clock; the hills very bad to get over; wind easterly. Camped at sundown on the creek; there is an abundance of water, which apparently is permanent, from the number of rushes growing all about it. The feed is splendid. There are a number of fresh native tracks.