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John McDouall Stuart - First Expedition

JOURNAL OF MR. STUART'S EXPEDITION TO THE NORTH-WEST. MAY TO SEPTEMBER, 1858.

Wednesday, 23rd June, Permanent Water Creek.

Wednesday, 23rd June, Permanent Water Creek. The horses had strayed so far that we did not get a start until 10 a.m. Bearing to-day, 318 degrees. At two miles crossed a tea-tree creek, in which there is water, coming from the stony rises, and running to the north of east. At six miles the sand hills again commence. To this place we have come over a stony plain, covered on the surface with fragments of limestone, quartz, and ironstone, with salt bush and grass. In a watery season it must be well covered with grass; the old grass is lying between the salt bushes. We have a view of part of the lake (Torrens) bearing north-east about fifteen or twenty miles from us; to the west again the stony rises, apparently more open. At ten miles, in the sand hills, we have again a view of Flinders range. The bearings are: Mount North-west, 78 degrees 35 minutes; Mount Deception, 107 degrees. At fourteen and a half miles we found a clay-pan of water, with beautiful green feed for the horses. As we don't know when we shall find more water, and as Forster has a damper to bake, I decide to camp for the rest of the day. Our route has lain over heavy sand hills for the last eight miles.

Thursday, 24th June, Sand Hills.

Thursday, 24th June, Sand Hills. At 8.30 we left on a course of 340 degrees, commencing with about two miles of rather heavy sand hills. At eight miles these sand hills diminished, and the valleys between them became much wider--both sand hills and valleys being well covered with grass and salt bush, with courses of lime and ironstone cropping out and running east and west. At twelve miles changed our course to 79 degrees, to examine a gum creek (Yarraout), which we ran down for water, but did not obtain it before four miles, when we found a small hole of rain water. This creek seems to be a hunting-ground of the natives, as we saw a great many summer worleys on its banks. They had evidently been here to-day, for, a little above where we first struck the creek, we saw some smoke, but on following it up, we found they had gone; most likely they had seen us and run away. The latter part of our journey to-day was over a stony plain, bounded on the west by the stony table land with the sand hills on the top. All this country seems to have been under water, and is most likely the bed of Lake Torrens, or Captain Sturt's inland sea. In travelling over the plains, one is reminded of going over a rough, gravelly beach; the stones are all rounded and smooth. Distance to-day, thirty miles.

Friday, 25th June, Yarraout Gum Creek.

Friday, 25th June, Yarraout Gum Creek. Started at 9.40 from the point where we first struck the creek last night, bearing 20 degrees for two miles, thence 61 degrees for one mile to a high sand hill, thence 39 degrees for one mile to a stony rise. My doubt of the black fellow's knowledge of the country is now confirmed; he seems to be quite lost, and knows nothing of the country, except what he has heard other blacks relate; he is quite bewildered and points all round when I ask him the direction of Wingillpin. I have determined to push into the westward, keeping a little north of west. Bearing 292 degrees for five miles, sand hills; thence 327 degrees to a table-hill nine miles. Camped without water. Our route to-day has been through sand hills, with a few miles of stones and dry reedy swamp, all well grassed, but no water. We came across some natives, who kept a long distance off. I sent our black up to them, to ask in which direction Wingillpin lay. They pointed to the course I was then steering, and said, "Five sleeps." They would not come near to us. About three-quarters of an hour afterwards I came suddenly upon another native, who was hunting in the sand hills. My attention being engaged in keeping the bearing, I did not observe him until he moved, but I pulled up at once, lest he should run away, and called to him. What he imagined I was I do not know; but when he turned round and saw me, I never beheld a finer picture of astonishment and fear. He was a fine muscular fellow, about six feet in height, and stood as if riveted to the spot, with his mouth wide open, and his eyes staring. I sent our black forward to speak with him, but omitted to tell him to dismount. The terrified native remained motionless, allowing our black to ride within a few yards of him, when, in an instant, he threw down his waddies, and jumped up into a mulga bush as high as he could, one foot being about three feet from the ground, and the other about two feet higher, and kept waving us off with his hand as we advanced. I expected every moment to see the bush break with his weight. When close under the bush, I told our black to inquire if he were a Wingillpin native. He was so frightened he could not utter a word, and trembled from head to foot. We then asked him where Wingillpin was. He mustered courage to let go one hand, and emphatically snapping his fingers in a north-west direction, again waved us off. I take this emphatic snapping of his fingers to mean a long distance. Probably this Wingillpin may be Cooper's Creek. We then left him, and proceeded on our way through the sand hills. About an hour before sunset, we came in full sight of a number of tent and table-topped hills to the north-west, the stony table land being to the south of us, and the dip of the country still towards Lake Torrens. I shall keep a little more to the west to-morrow if possible, to get the fall of the country the other way. The horses' shoes have been worn quite thin by the stones, and will not last above a day or two. Nay, some of the poor animals are already shoeless. It is most unfortunate that we did not bring another set with us. Distance to-day, twenty-four miles.

Saturday, 26th June, Edge of Plain.

Saturday, 26th June, Edge of Plain. Started at 9.30 a.m., on a bearing of 314 degrees 30 minutes, over an undulating plain, with low sand hills and wide valleys, with plenty of grass and salt bush. After ten miles the sand hills ceased, and at thirteen miles we reached the point of the stony table land. Here we saw, to the north-north-west, what was apparently a large gum creek, running north-east and south-west. Changing our bearing to 285 degrees, after seven miles of very bad stony plain, thinly covered with salt bush and grass, we came upon the creek, and found long reaches of permanent water, divided here and there by only a few yards of rocks, and bordered by reeds and rushes. The water hole, by which we camped, is from forty to fifty feet wide, and half a mile in length; the water is excellent, and I could see small fish in it about two inches long. About ten miles down the creek the country seems to be more open, and the gum-trees much larger, and in a distant bend of the creek I can perceive a large body of water. The first of the seven or eight tent-like hills that were to the east of our route to-day presents a somewhat remarkable appearance. Of a conical form, it comes to a point like a Chinaman's hat, and is encircled near the top by a black ring, while some rocks resembling a white tower crown the summit. Distance to-day, twenty miles.

Sunday, 27th June, Large Water Creek.

Sunday, 27th June, Large Water Creek. Cloudy morning, with prospect of rain. A swan visited the water hole last night, and to-day we have seen both the mountain duck and the large black duck. Having a shoe to fix upon Jersey, and my courses to map down, we did not get a start until 10 o'clock, and we were obliged to stop early in consequence of the grey mare getting so lame that we were unable to proceed. We had an old shoe or two, and Mr. Forster managed to get one on the mare. We started to-day on a bearing of 270 degrees for eight miles to a low flat-topped hill, when we changed to 220 degrees for five miles to a gum creek with rain water. About five miles to the north of our line there are flat-topped ranges, running north-east. The main creek runs on the south side of this course, and nearly parallel to it. Further to the south, at a distance of about ten miles, is still the stony table land with the sand hills. The country is fearfully stony, but improves a little in grass as we get west. It seems to be well watered. Distance to-day, about twelve miles.