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Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia — Volume 2 online

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swell they caused, turned the boat from her course, and prevented us
from making an inch of way. The men were quite exhausted, and, as they
had conducted themselves so well, and had been so patient, I felt
myself obliged to grant them every indulgence consistent with our
safety. However precarious our situation, it would have been vain, with
our exhausted strength, to have contended against the elements. We,
therefore, pulled in to the left bank of the river, and pitched our
tents on a little rising ground beyond the reeds that lined it.


I had been suffering very much front tooth-ache for the last three or
four days, and this day felt the most violent pain from the wind. I was
not, therefore, sorry to get under even the poor shelter our tents
afforded. M'Leay, observing that I was in considerable pain, undertook
to wind up the chronometer; but, not understanding or knowing the
instrument, he unfortunately broke the spring. I shall not forget the
anxiety he expressed, and the regret he felt on the occasion; nor do I
think M'Leay recovered the shock this unlucky accident gave him for two
or three days, or until the novelty of other scenes drove it from his

We landed close to the haunt of a small tribe of natives, who came to
us with the most perfect confidence, and assisted the men in their
occupations. They were cleaner and more healthy than any tribe we had
seen; and were extremely cheerful, although reserved in some respects.
As a mark of more than usual cleanliness, the women had mats of oval
shape, upon which they sat, made, apparently, of rushes. There was a
young girl among them of a most cheerful disposition. She was about
eighteen, was well made, and really pretty. This girl was married to an
elderly man who had broken his leg, which having united in a bent
shape, the limb was almost useless. I really believe the girl thought
we could cure her husband, from her importunate manner to us. I
regretted that I could do nothing for the man, but to show that I was
not inattentive to her entreaties, I gave him a pair of trousers, and
desired Fraser to put them upon him; but the poor fellow cut so awkward
an appearance in them, that his wife became quite distressed, and
Fraser was obliged speedily to disencumber him from them again.

We could not gain any satisfactory information, as to the termination
of the river, from these people. It was evident that some change was at
hand; but what it was we could not ascertain.


On the morning of the 9th, we left our fair friend and her lame
husband, and proceeded down the river. The wind had moderated, although
it still blew fresh. We ascended every height as we went along, but
could not see any new feature in the country. Our view to the eastward
was very confined; to the westward the interior was low and dark, and
was backed in the distance by lofty ranges, parallel to which we had
been running for some days. The right bank of the valley was
beautifully undulated, but the left was bleak and bare. The valley had
a breadth of from three to four miles, and the flats were more
extensive under the former than under the latter. They were scarcely
two feet above the level of the water, and were densely covered with
reeds. As there was no mark upon the reeds to indicate the height to
which the floods rose, I cannot think that these flats are ever wholly
laid under water; if they are, it cannot be to any depth: at all events
a few small drains would effectually prevent inundation. The soil upon
the hills continued to be much mixed with sand, and the prevailing
trees were cypress and box. Among the minor shrubs and grass, many
common to the east coasts were noticed; and although the bold cliffs
had ceased, the basis of the country still continued of the fossil
formation. At a turn of the stream hereabouts, however, a solitary rock
of coarse red granite rose above the waters, and formed an island in
its centre; but only in this one place was it visible. The rock was
composed principally of quartz and feldspar.

A little below it, we found a large tribe anxiously awaiting our
arrival. They crowded to the margin of the river with great eagerness,
and evinced more surprise at our appearance than any tribe we had seen
during the journey; but we left them very soon, notwithstanding that
they importuned us much to stay.

After pulling a mile or two, we found a clear horizon before us to the
south. The hills still continued upon our left, but we could not see
any elevation over the expanse of reeds to our right. The river
inclined to the left, and swept the base of the hills that still
continued on that side. I consequently landed once more to survey the


I still retained a strong impression on my mind that some change was at
hand, and on this occasion, I was not disappointed; but the view was
one for which I was not altogether prepared. We had, at length, arrived
at the termination of the Murray. Immediately below me was a beautiful
lake, which appeared to be a fitting reservoir for the noble stream
that had led us to it; and which was now ruffled by the breeze that
swept over it. The ranges were more distinctly visible, stretching from
south to north, and were certainly distant forty miles. They had a
regular unbroken outline; declining gradually to the south, but
terminating abruptly at a lofty mountain northerly. I had no doubt on
my mind of this being the Mount Lofty of Captain Flinders; or that the
range was that immediately to the eastward of St. Vincent's Gulf - Since
the accident to the chronometer, we had not made any westing, so that
we knew our position as nearly as possible. Between us and the ranges a
beautiful promontory shot into the lake, being a continuation of the
right bank of the Murray. Over this promontory the waters stretched to
the base of the ranges, and formed an extensive bay. To the N.W. the
country was exceedingly low, but distant peaks were just visible over
it. To the S.W. a bold headland showed itself; beyond which, to the
westward, there was a clear and open sea visible, through a strait
formed by this headland and a point projecting from the opposite shore.
To the E. and S.E. the country was low, excepting the left shore of the
lake, which was backed by some minor elevations, crowned with
cypresses. Even while gazing on this fine scene, I could not but regret
that the Murray had thus terminated; for I immediately foresaw that, in
all probability, we should be disappointed in finding any practicable
communication between the lake and the ocean, as it was evident that
the former was not much influenced by tides. The wind had again
increased; it still blew fresh from the S.W. and a heavy sea was
rolling direct into the mouth of the river. I hoped, notwithstanding,
that we should have been enabled to make sail, for which reason we
entered the lake about 2 p.m. The natives had kindled a large fire on a
distant point between us and the further headland, and to gain this
point our efforts were now directed. The waves were, however, too
strong, and we were obliged to make for the eastern shore, until such
time as the weather should moderate. We pitched our tents on a low
track of land that stretched away seemingly for many miles directly
behind us to the eastward. It was of the richest soil, being a black
vegetable deposit, and although now high above the influence, the lake
had, it was evident, once formed a part of its bed. The appearance of
the country altogether encouraged M'Leay and myself to walk out, in
order to examine it from some hills a little to the S.E. of the camp.
From them we observed that the flat extended over about fifty miles,
and was bounded by the elevations that continued easterly from the left
bank of the Murray to the north, and by a line of rising-ground to the
south. The whole was lightly wooded, and covered with grass. The season
must have been unusually dry, judging from the general appearance of
the vegetation, and from the circumstance of the lagoons in the
interior being wholly exhausted.

Thirty-three days had now passed over our heads since we left the depot
upon the Morumbidgee, twenty-six of which had been passed upon the
Murray. We had, at length, arrived at the grand reservoir of those
waters whose course and fate had previously been involved in such
obscurity. It remained for us to ascertain whether the extensive sheet
of water upon whose bosom we had embarked, had any practicable
communication with the ocean, and whether the country in the
neighbourhood of the coast corresponded with that immediately behind
our camp, or kept up its sandy and sterile character to the very verge
of the sea. As I have already said, my hopes on the first of these
points were considerably damped, but I could not help anticipating a
favourable change in the latter, since its features had so entirely


The greatest difficulty against which we had at present to contend was
the wind; and I dreaded the exertion it would call for, to make head
against it; for the men were so much reduced that I felt convinced they
were inadequate to any violent or prolonged effort. It still blew fresh
at 8 p.m., but at that time it began to moderate. It may be imagined
that I listened to its subdued gusts with extreme anxiety. It did not
wholly abate until after 2 a.m., when it gradually declined, and about
3 a light breeze sprung up from the N. E.

We had again placed sticks to ascertain with more precision the rise of
tide, and found it to be the same as in the river. In the stillness of
the night too we thought we heard the roaring of the sea, but I was
myself uncertain upon the point, as the wind might have caused the

From the top of the hill from which we had obtained our first view of
the lake, I observed the waves breaking upon the distant headland, and
enveloping the cliff in spray; so that, independent of the clearness of
the horizon beyond it, I was further led to conclude that there existed
a great expanse of water to the S.W.; and, as that had been the
direction taken by the river, I thought it probable that by steering at
once to the S.W. down the lake, I should hit the outlet. I,
consequently, resolved to gain the southern extremity of the lake, as
that at which it was natural to expect a communication with the ocean
would be found.


At 4 we had a moderate breeze, and it promised to strengthen; we lost
no time therefore in embarking, and with a flowing sheet stretched over
to the W.S.W., and ran along the promontory formed by the right bank of
the Murray. We passed close under its extreme point at nine. The hills
had gradually declined, and we found the point to be a flat, elevated
about thirty feet above the lake. It was separated from the promontory
by a small channel that was choked up with reeds, so that it is more
than probable that the point is insulated at certain periods; whilst in
its stratification it resembled the first cliffs I have described that
were passed below the Darling. It is a remarkable fact in the geology
of the Murray, that such should be the case; and that the formation at
each extremity of the great bank or bed of fossils should be the same.
Thus far, the waters of the lake had continued sweet; but on filling a
can when we were abreast of this point, it was found that they were
quite unpalatable, to say the least of them. The transition from fresh
to salt water was almost immediate, and it was fortunate we made the
discovery in sufficient time to prevent our losing ground. But, as it
was, we filled our casks, and stood on, without for a moment altering
our course.


It is difficult to give a just description of our passage across the
lake. The boisterous weather we had had seemed to have blown over. A
cool and refreshing breeze was carrying us on at between four and five
knots an hour, and the heavens above us were without a cloud. It almost
appeared as if nature had resisted us in order to try our perseverance,
and that she had yielded in pity to our efforts. The men, relieved for
a time from the oar, stretched themselves at their length in the boat,
and commented on the scenery around them, or ventured their opinions as
to that which was before them. Up to this moment their conduct had been
most exemplary; not a murmur had escaped from them, and they filled the
water-casks with the utmost cheerfulness, even whilst tasting the
disagreeable beverage they would most probably have to subsist on for
the next three or four days.

As soon as we had well opened the point, we had a full view of the
splendid bay that, commencing at the western most of the central
points, swept in a beautiful curve under the ranges. No land was
visible to the W.N.W. or to the S.S.W.: in both these quarters the lake
was as open as the ocean. It appeared, therefore, that the land
intermediate was an island. To the north the country was extremely low,
and as we increased our distance from it we lost sight of it
altogether. At noon we were nearly abreast of the eastern headland, or
in the centre of the strait to which I have alluded. At this time there
was an open sea from W.N.W. to N. by E. A meridian altitude gave our
latitude 35 degrees 25 minutes. The land to our left was bold and
precipitous; that to the right was low and wooded; and there was
evidently a considerable space between the shores of the lake and the
base of the ranges. The country to the eastward was hidden from us by
the line of cliffs, beyond which from E.S.E. to W.S.W. there was an
open sea. We had kept the lead going from the first, and I was
surprised at the extreme shallowness of the lake in every part, as we
never had six feet upon the line. Its bottom was one of black mud, and
weeds of enormous length were floating on its surface, detached by the
late gales, and which, from the shallowness of the lake, got constantly
entangled with our rudder.

We tried to land on the eastern point, but found the water too shallow,
and were obliged to try the western shore. In passing close under the
head, we observed several natives upon it, who kindled a large fire as
soon as they saw they were noticed, which was answered from every
point; for, in less than ten minutes afterwards, we counted no fewer
than fourteen different fires, the greater number of which were on the
side of the ranges.


As we were standing across from one shore to the other, our attention
was drawn to a most singular object. It started suddenly up, as above
the waters to the south, and strikingly resembled an isolated castle.
Behind it, a dense column of smoke rose into the sky, and the effect
was most remarkable. On a nearer approach, the phantom disappeared and
a clear and open sea again presented itself to our view. The fact was,
that the refractive power upon the coast had elevated the sand-hillocks
above their true position, since we satisfactorily ascertained that
they alone separated the lake from the ocean, and that they alone could
have produced the semblance we noticed. It is a singular fact, that
this very hillock was the one which Capt. Barker ascended whilst
carrying on the survey of the south coast, and immediately previous to
his tragical death.

It was not without difficulty that we succeeded in landing on the
western shore; but we did, at length, succeed, and prepared our
dinners. The shore was low, but above the reach of all floods; the soil
was rich, and superficially sandy. It was covered with high grasses,
and abounded in kangaroos; within the space of a few yards we found
five or six, but they were immediately lost to us and to the dogs in
the luxuriance of the vegetation amidst which they were feeding.

As soon as we had finished our meal, we once more embarked, and stood
along the shore to the S.W., but the lake was so shoal, that I was
every moment apprehensive we should ground. I ran across, therefore, to
the south, towards a low flat that had just appeared above the line of
the horizon, in hope that, in sounding, we should have found the
channel, but there either was none, or else it was so narrow that we
passed over it between the heaves of the lead. At this time, the
western shore was quite distinct, and the scenery was beautiful.

The flat we were approaching was a mud-flat, and, from its appearance,
the tide was certainly at the ebb. We observed some cradles, or wicker
frames, placed far below high water-mark, that were each guarded by two
natives, who threatened us violently as we approached. In running along
the land, the stench from them plainly indicated what they were which
these poor creatures were so anxiously watching.

We steered a S.W. course, towards some low and wooded hills, passing a
rocky island, and found that we had struck the mouth of a channel
running to the W.S.W. It was about half-a-mile wide, was bounded to the
right by some open flat ground, and to the left by a line of hills of
about sixty or seventy feet in elevation, partly open and partly
covered with beefwood.


Upon the first of these hills, we observed a large body of natives, who
set up the most terrific yells as we approached. They were fully
equipped for battle and, as we neared the shore, came down to meet us
with the most violent threats. I wished much to communicate with them,
and, not without hopes of quieting them, stood right in with the
intention of landing. I observed, however, that if I did so, I should
have to protect myself. I hauled a little off, and endeavoured, by
holding up a branch and a tomahawk, to gain their confidence, but they
were not to be won over by my show of pacification. An elderly man
walked close to the water's edge unarmed, and, evidently, directed the
others. He was followed by seven or eight of the most daring, who crept
into the reeds, with their spears shipped to throw at us. I, therefore,
took up my gun to return their salute. It then appeared that they were
perfectly aware of the weapon I carried, for the moment they saw it,
they dashed out of their hiding place and retreated to the main body;
but the old man, after saying something to them, walked steadily on,
and I, on my part, laid my firelock down again.


It was now near sunset; and one of the most lovely evenings I had ever
seen. The sun's radiance was yet upon the mountains, but all lower
objects were in shade. The banks of the channel, with the trees and the
rocks, were reflected in the tranquil waters, whose surface was
unruffled save by the thousands of wild fowl that rose before us, and
made a noise as of a multitude clapping hands, in their clumsy efforts
to rise from the waters. Not one of them allowed us to get within shot.

We proceeded about a mile below the hill on which the natives were
posted; some few still following us with violent threats. We landed,
however, on a flat, bounded all round by the continuation of the hills.
It was an admirable position, for, in the centre of it, we could not be
taken by surprise, and, on the other hand, we gave the natives an
opportunity of communicating with us if they would. The full moon rose
as we were forming the camp, and, notwithstanding our vicinity to so
noisy a host, the silence of death was around us, or the stillness of
the night was only broken by the roar of the ocean, now too near to be
mistaken for wind, or by the silvery and melancholy note of the black
swans as they passed over us, to seek for food, no doubt, among the
slimy weeds at the head of the lake. We had been quite delighted with
the beauty of the channel, which was rather more than half-a-mile in
width. Numberless mounds, that seemed to invite civilised man to erect
his dwelling upon them, presented themselves to our view. The country
round them was open, yet ornamentally wooded, and rocks and trees hung
or drooped over the waters.


We had in one day gained a position I once feared it would have cost us
infinite labour to have measured. Indeed, had we been obliged to pull
across the lake, unless during a calm, I am convinced the men would
have been wholly exhausted. We had to thank a kind Providence that such
was not the case, since it had extended its mercy to us at so critical
a moment. We had indeed need of all the little strength we had
remaining, and could ill have thrown it away on such an effort as this
would have required. I calculated that we could not have run less than
forty-five miles during the day, a distance that, together with the
eight miles we had advanced the evening previously, would give the
length of the lake at fifty-three miles.

We had approached to within twelve miles of the ranges, but had not
gained their southern extremity. From the camp, Mount Barker bore
nearly north. The ranges appeared to run north and south to our
position, and then to bend away to the S.S.W., gradually declining to
that point, which I doubted not terminated in Cape Jervis. The natives
kept aloof during the night, nor did the dogs by a single growl
intimate that any had ventured to approach us. The sound of the surf
came gratefully to our ears, for it told us we were near the goal for
which we had so anxiously pushed, and we all of us promised ourselves a
view of the boundless ocean on the morrow.


As the morning dawned, we saw that the natives had thrown an out-post
of sixteen men across the channel, who were watching our motions; but
none showed themselves on the hills behind us, or on any part of the
south shore. We embarked as soon as we had breakfasted, A fresh breeze
was blowing from the N.E. which took us rapidly down the channel, and
our prospects appeared to be as cheering as the day, for just as we
were about to push from the shore, a seal rose close to the boat, which
we all regarded as a favourable omen. We were, however, shortly stopped
by shoals; it was in vain that we beat across the channel from one side
to the other; it was a continued shoal, and the deepest water appeared
to be under the left bank. The tide, however, had fallen, and exposed
broad flats, over which it was hopeless, under existing circumstances,
to haul the boat. We again landed on the south side of the channel,
patiently to await the high water.

M'Leay, myself, and Fraser, ascended the hills, and went to the
opposite side to ascertain the course of the channel, for immediately
above us it turned south round the hills. We there found that we were
on a narrow tongue of land. The channel was immediately below us, and
continued to the E.S.E. as far as we could trace it. The hills we were
upon, were the sandy hills that always bound a coast that is low, and
were covered with banksias, casuarina and the grass-tree.

To the south of the channel there was a flat, backed by a range of
sand-hummocks, that were covered with low shrubs; and beyond them the
sea was distinctly visible. We could not have been more than two and a
half miles from the beach where we stood.

Notwithstanding the sandy nature of the soil, the fossil formation
again showed itself, not only on these hills, but also on the rocks
that were in the channel.

A little before high water we again embarked. A seal had been observed
playing about, and we augured well from such an omen. The blacks had
been watching us from the opposite shore, and as soon as we moved, rose
to keep abreast of us. With all our efforts we could not avoid the
shoals. We walked up to our knees in mud and water, to find the least
variation in the depth of the water so as to facilitate our exertions,
but it was to no purpose. We were ultimately obliged to drag the boat
over the flats; there were some of them a quarter of a mile in breadth,
knee-deep in mud; but at length got her into deep water again. The turn
of the channel was now before us, and we had a good run for about four
or five miles. We had completed the bend, and the channel now stretched
to the E.S.E. At about nine miles from us there was a bright sand-hill
visible, near which the channel seemed to turn again to the south; and
I doubted not that it terminated there. It was to no purpose, however,
that we tried to gain it. Shoals again closed in upon us on every side.
We dragged the boat over several, and at last got amongst quicksands.
I, therefore, directed our efforts to hauling the boat over to the
south side of the channel, as that on which we could most
satisfactorily ascertain our position. After great labour we succeeded,

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Online LibraryCharles SturtTwo Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia — Volume 2 → online text (page 11 of 18)