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

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The Morumbidgee appeared, on examination, to have increased in breadth,
and continued to rise gradually. It is certainly a noble stream, very
different from those I had already traced to their termination. The old
black informed me that there was another large river flowing to the
southward of west, to which the Morumbidgee was as a creek, and that we
could gain it in four days. He stated that its waters were good, but
that its banks were not peopled. That such a feature existed where he
laid it down, I thought extremely probable, because it was only natural
to expect that other streams descended from the mountains in the S.E.
of the island, as well as that on which we were travelling. The
question was, whether either of them held on an uninterrupted course to
some reservoir, or whether they fell short of the coast and exhausted
themselves in marshes. Considering the concave direction of the
mountains to the S.E., I even at this time hoped that the rivers
falling into the interior would unite sooner or later, and contribute
to the formation of an important and navigable stream. Of the fate of
the Morumbidgee, the old black could give no account. It seemed
probable, therefore, that we were far from its termination.

I had hitherto been rather severe upon the animals, for although our
journey had not exceeded from twelve to fifteen miles a day, it had
been without intermission. I determined, therefore, to give both men
and animals a day of rest, as soon as I should find a convenient place.
We started on the 11th with this intention, but we managed to creep
over eight or ten miles of ground before we halted. The country was
slightly undulated, and much intersected by creeks, few of which had
water in them. The whole tract was, however, well adapted either for
agriculture, or for grazing, and, in spite of the drought that had
evidently long hung over it, was well covered with vegetation. We had
passed all high lands, and the interior to the westward presented an
unbroken level to the eye. The Morumbidgee appeared to hold a more
northerly course than I had anticipated. Still low ranges continued
upon our right, and the cypress ridges became more frequent and denser;
but the timber on the more open grounds generally consisted of box and
flooded-gum. Of minor trees, the acacia pendula was the most prevalent,
with a shrub bearing a round nut, enclosed in a scarlet capsule, and an
interesting species of stenochylus. I had observed as yet, few of the
plants of the more northern interior.


In this neighbourhood, the dogs killed an emu and a kangaroo, which
came in very conveniently for some natives whom we fell in with on one
of the river flats. They were, without exception, the worst featured of
any I had ever seen. It is scarcely possible to conceive that human
beings could be so hideous and loathsome. The old black, who was rather
good-looking, told me they were the last we should see for some time,
and I felt that if these were samples of the natives on the lowlands, I
cared very little how few of I them we should meet.


The country on the opposite side of the river had all the features of
that to the north of it, but a plain of such extent suddenly opened
upon us to the southward, that I halted at once in order to examine it,
and by availing myself of a day of rest, to fix our position more truly
than we could otherwise have done. We accordingly pitched our tents
under some lofty gum-trees, opposite to the plain, and close upon the
edge of the sandy beach of the river. Before they were turned out, the
animals were carefully examined, and the pack-saddles overhauled, that
they might undergo any necessary repairs. The river fell considerably
during the night, but it poured along a vast body of water, possessing
a strong current. The only change I remarked in it was that it now had
a bed of sand, and was generally deeper on one side than on the other.
It kept a very uniform breadth of from 150 to 170 feet - and a depth of
from 4 to 20. Its channel, though occasionally much encumbered with
fallen timber, was large enough to contain twice the volume of water
then in it, but it had outer and more distant banks, the boundaries of
the alluvial flats, to confine it within certain limits, during the
most violent floods, and to prevent its inundating the country.


With a view to examine the plain opposite to us, I directed our horses
to be taken across the river early in the morning, and after breakfast,
M'Leay and I swam across after them. We found the current strong, and
could not keep a direct line over the channel, but were carried below
the place at which we plunged in. We proceeded afterwards in a
direction W.S.W. across the plain for five or six miles, before we saw
trees on the opposite extremity, at a still greater distance. We thus
found ourselves in the centre of an area of from 26 to 30 miles. It
appeared to be perfectly level, though not really so. The soil upon it
was good, excepting in isolated spots, where it was sandy. Vegetation
was scanty upon it, but, on the whole, I should conclude that it was
fitter for agriculture than for grazing. For I think it very probable,
that those lands which lie hardening and bare in a state of nature,
would produce abundantly if broken up by the plough. I called this
Hamilton's plains, in remembrance of the surgeon of my regiment. The
Morumbidgee forms its N.E. boundary, and a creek rising on it, cuts off
a third part on the western side, and runs away from the river in a
southerly direction. This creek, even before it gets to the outskirts
of the plains, assumes a considerable size. Such a fact would argue
that heavy rains fall in this part of the interior, to cut out such a
watercourse, or that the soil is extremely loose; but I should think
the former the most probable, since the soil of this plain had a
substratum of clay. I place our encampment on the river in latitude 34
degrees 41 minutes 45 seconds S., and in East longitude 146 degrees 50
minutes, the variation of the compass being 6 degrees 10 minutes E.


On our return to the camp we found several natives with our people, and
among them one of the tallest I had ever seen. Their women were with
them, and they appeared to have lost all apprehension of any danger
occurring from us. The animals were benefited greatly by this day of
rest. We left the plain, therefore, on the 13th with renewed spirits,
and passed over a country very similar to that by which we had
approached it, one well adapted for grazing, but intersected by
numerous creeks, at two of which we found natives, some of whom joined
our party. Our old friend left us in quest of some blacks, who, as he
informed Hopkinson, had seen the tracks of our horses on the Darling. I
was truly puzzled at such a statement, which was, however, further
corroborated by the circumstance of one of the natives having a
tire-nail affixed to a spear, which he said was picked up, by the man
who gave it to him, on one of our encampments. I could not think it
likely that this story was true, and rather imagined they must have
picked up the nail near the located districts, and I was anxious to
have the point cleared up. When we halted we had a large assemblage of
natives with us, amounting in all to twenty-seven, but I awaited in
vain the return of the old man. The night passed away without our
seeing him, nor did he again join us.

We started in the morning with our new acquaintances, and kept on a
south-westerly course during the day, over an excellent grazing, and,
in many places, an agricultural country, still intersected by creeks,
that were too deep for the water to have dried in them. The country
more remote from the river, however, began to assume more and more the
character and appearance of the northern interior. I rode into several
plains, the soil of which was either a red sandy loam, bare of
vegetation, or a rotten and blistered earth, producing nothing but
rhagodiae, salsolae, and misembrianthemum.

We fell in with another tribe of blacks during the journey, to whom we
were literally consigned by those who had been previously with us, and
who now turned back, while our new friends took the lead of the drays.
They were two fine young men, but had very ugly wives, and were for a
long time extremely diffident. I found that I could obtain but little
information through my black boy, - whether from his not understanding
me, or because he was too cunning, is uncertain. One of these young
men, however, clearly stated that he had seen the tracks of bullocks
and horses, a long time ago, to the N.N.W. in the direction of some
detached hills, that were visible from 20 to 25 miles distant. He
remembered them, he said, as a boy, and added that the white men were
without water. It was, therefore, clear that he alluded to Mr. Oxley's
excursion, northerly from the Lachlan, and I had no doubt on my mind,
that he had been on one of that officer's encampments, and that the
hills to the north of us were those to the opposite base of which he
had penetrated. I was determined, therefore, if practicable, to reach
these hills, deeming it a matter of great importance to connect the
surveys, but I deferred my journey for a day or two, in hopes, from the
continued northerly course of the river, that we should have approached
them nearer.

In the evening we fell in with some more blacks, among whom were two
brothers, of those who were acting as our guides. One had a very pretty
girl as a wife, and all the four brothers were very good-looking young
men. There cannot, I should think, be a numerous population on the
banks of the Morumbidgee, from the fact of our having seen not more
than fifty in an extent of more than 180 miles. They are apparently
scattered along it in families. I was rather surprised that my boy
understood their language well, since it certainly differed from that
of the Macquarie tribes, but nevertheless as these people do not wander
far, our information as to what was before us was very gradually
arrived at, and only as we fell in with the successive families.
Moreover, as my boy was very young, it may be that he was more eager in
communicating to those who had no idea of them, the wonders he had
seen, than in making inquiries on points that were indifferent to him.


We passed a very large plain in the course of the day, which was
bounded by forests of box, cypress, and the acacia pendula, of red
sandy soil and parched appearance. The Morumbidgee evidently overflows
a part of the lands we crossed, to a greater extent than heretofore,
though the alluvial deposits beyond its influence were still both rich
and extensive. The crested pigeon made its appearance on the acacias,
which I took to be a sure sign of our approach to a country more than
ordinarily subject to overflow; since on the Macquarie and the Darling,
those birds were found only to inhabit the regions of marshes, or
spaces covered by the acacia pendula, or the polygonum. We had not,
however, yet seen any of the latter plant, although we were shortly
destined to be almost lost amidst fields of it.


We were now approaching that parallel of longitude in which the other
known rivers of New Holland had been found to exhaust themselves; the
least change therefore, for the worse was sufficient to raise my
apprehensions; yet, although the Morumbidgee had received no tributary
from the Dumot downwards, and was leading us into an apparently endless
level, I saw no indication of its decreasing in size, or in the
rapidity of its current. Certainly, however, I had, from the character
of the country around us, an anticipation that a change was about to
take place in it, and this anticipation was verified in the course of
the following day. The alluvial flats gradually decreased in breadth,
and we journeyed mostly over extensive and barren plains, which in many
places approached so near the river as to form a part of its bank. They
were covered with the salsolaceous class of plants, so common in the
interior, in a red sandy soil, and were as even as a bowling green. The
alluvial spaces near the river became covered with reeds, and, though
subject to overflow at every partial rise of it, were so extremely
small as scarcely to afford food for our cattle. Flooded-gum trees of
lofty size grew on these reedy spaces, and marked the line of the
river, but the timber of the interior appeared stunted and useless.


We found this part of the Morumbidgee much more populous than its upper
branches. When we halted, we had no fewer than forty-one natives with
us, of whom the young men were the least numerous. They allowed us to
choose a place for ourselves before they formed their own camp, and
studiously avoided encroaching on our ground so as to appear
troublesome. Their manners were those of a quiet and inoffensive
people, and their appearance in some measure prepossessing. The old men
had lofty foreheads, and stood exceedingly erect. The young men were
cleaner is their persons and were better featured than any we had seen,
some of them having smooth hair and an almost Asiatic cast of
countenance. On the other hand, the women and children were disgusting
objects. The latter were much subject to diseases, and were dreadfully
emaciated. It is evident that numbers of them die in their infancy for
want of care and nourishment. We remarked none at the age of incipient
puberty, but the most of them under six. In stating that the men were
more prepossessing than any we had seen, I would not be understood to
mean that they differed in any material point either from the natives
of the coast, or of the most distant interior to which I had been, for
they were decidedly the same race, and had the same leading features
and customs, as far as the latter could be observed. The sunken eye and
overhanging eyebrow, the high cheek-bone and thick lip, distended
nostrils, the nose either short or acquiline, together with a stout
bust and slender extremities, and both curled and smooth hair, marked
the natives of the Morumbidgee as well as those of the Darling. They
were evidently sprung from one common stock, the savage and scattered
inhabitants of a rude and inhospitable land. In customs they differed
in no material point from the coast natives, and still less from the
tribes on the Darling and the Castlereagh. They extract the front
tooth, lacerate their bodies, to raise the flesh, cicatrices being
their chief ornament; procure food by the same means, paint in the same
manner, and use the same weapons, as far as the productions of the
country will allow them. But as the grass-tree is not found westward of
the mountains, they make a light spear of a reed, similar to that of
which the natives of the southern islands form their arrows. These they
use for distant combat, and not only carry in numbers, but throw with
the boomerang to a great distance and with unerring precision, making
them to all intents and purposes as efficient as the bow and arrow.
They have a ponderous spear for close fight, and others of different
sizes for the chase. With regard to their laws, I believe they are
universally the same all over the known parts of New South Wales. The
old men have alone the privilege of eating the emu; and so submissive
are the young men to this regulation, that if, from absolute hunger or
under other pressing circumstances, one of them breaks through it,
either during a hunting excursion, or whilst absent from his tribe, he
returns under a feeling of conscious guilt, and by his manner betrays
his guilt, sitting apart from the men, and confessing his misdemeanour
to the chief at the first interrogation, upon which he is obliged to
undergo a slight punishment. This evidently is a law of policy and
necessity, for if the emus were allowed to be indiscriminately
slaughtered, they would soon become extinct. Civilised nations may
learn a wholesome lesson even from savages, as in this instance of
their forebearance. For somewhat similar reasons, perhaps, married
people alone are here permitted to eat ducks. They hold their
corrobories, (midnight ceremonies), and sing the same melancholy ditty
that breaks the stillness of night on the shores of Jervis' Bay, or on
the banks of the Macquarie; and during the ceremony imitate the several
birds and beasts with which they are acquainted. If these inland tribes
differ in anything from those on the coast, it is in the mode of
burying their dead, and, partially, in their language. Like all
savages, they consider their women as secondary objects, oblige them to
procure their own food, or throw to them over their shoulders the bones
they have already picked, with a nonchalance that is extremely amusing;
and, on the march, make them beasts of burden to carry their very
weapons. The population of the Morumbidgee, as far as we had descended
it at this time, did not exceed from ninety to a hundred souls. I am
persuaded that disease and accidents consign many of them to a
premature grave.


From this camp, one family only accompanied us. We journeyed due west
over plains of great extent. The soil upon them was soft and yielding,
in some places being a kind of light earth covered with rhagodiae, in
others a red tenacious clay, overrun by the misembrianthemum and
salsolae. Nothing could exceed the apparent barrenness of these plains,
or the cheerlessness of the landscape. We had left all high lands
behind us, and were now on an extensive plain, bounded in the distance
by low trees or by dark lines of cypresses. The lofty gum-trees on the
river followed its windings, and, as we opened the points, they
appeared, from the peculiar effect of a mirage, as bold promontories
jutting into the ocean, having literally the blue tint of distance.
This mirage floated in a light tremulous vapour on the ground, and not
only deceived us with regard to the extent of the plains, and the
appearance of objects, but hid the trees, in fact, from our view
altogether; so that, in moving, as we imagined, upon the very point or
angle of the river, we found as we neared it, that the trees stretched
much further into the plain, and were obliged to alter our course to
round them. The heated state of the atmosphere, and the sandy nature of
the country could alone have caused a mirage so striking in its
effects, as this, - exceeding considerably similar appearances noticed
during the first expedition. The travelling was so heavy, that I was
obliged to make a short day's journey, and when we struck the river for
the purpose of halting, it had fallen off very much in appearance, and
was evidently much contracted, with low banks and a sandy bed. It was
difficult to account for this sudden change, but when I gazed on the
extent of level country before me, I began to dread that this hitherto
beautiful stream would ultimately disappoint us.


I had deferred my intended excursion to the hills under which I
imagined Mr. Oxley had encamped, until we were out of sight of them,
and I now feared that it was almost too late to undertake it, but I was
still anxious to determine a point in which I felt considerable
interest. I was the more desirous of surveying the country to the
northward, because of the apparent eagerness with which the natives had
caught at the word Colare, which I recollected having heard a black on
the Macquarie make use of in speaking of the Lachlan. They pointed to
the N.N.W., and making a sweep with the arm raised towards the sky,
seemed to intimate that a large sheet of water existed in that
direction; and added that it communicated with the Morumbidgee more to
the westward. This information confirmed still more my impressions with
regard to Mr. Oxley's line of route; and, as I found a ready volunteer
in M'Leay, I gave the party in charge to Harris until I should rejoin
him, and turned back towards the hills, with the intention of reaching
them if possible. No doubt we should have done so had it not been for
the nature of the ground over which we travelled, and the impossibility
of our exceeding a walk. We rode to a distance of 18 miles, but still
found ourselves far short of the hills, and therefore gave up the
point. I considered, however, that we were about the same distance to
the south, as Mr. Oxley had been to the north of them, and in taking
bearings of the highest points, I afterwards found that they exactly
tallied with his bearings, supposing him to have taken them from his


On our way to the river, we Passed through some dense bushes of
casuarinae and cypresses, to the outskirts of the plains through which
the Morumbidgee winds. We reached the camp two or three hours after
sunset, and found it crowded with natives to the number of 60. They
were extremely quiet and inoffensive in their demeanour, and asked us
to point out where they might sleep, before they ventured to kindle
their fires. One old man, we remarked, had a club foot, and another was
blind, but, as far as we could judge from the glare of the fires, the
generality of them were fine young men, and supported themselves in a
very erect posture when standing or walking. There were many children
with the women, among whom colds seemed to prevail. It blew heavily
from the N.W. during the night, and a little rain fell in the early
part of the morning. Our route during the day, was over as melancholy a
tract as ever was travelled. The plains to the N. and N.W. bounded the
horizon; not a tree of any kind was visible upon them. It was equally
open to the S., and it appeared as if the river was decoying us into a
desert, there to leave us in difficulty and in distress. The very
mirage had the effect of boundlessness in it, by blending objects in
one general hue; or, playing on the ground, it cheated us with an
appearance of water, and on arriving at the spot, we found a
continuation of the same scorching plain, over which we were moving,
instead of the stream we had hoped for.

The cattle about this time began to suffer, and, anxious as I was to
push on, I was obliged to shorten my journeys, according to
circumstances. Amidst the desolation around us, the river kept alive
our hopes. If it traversed deserts, it might reach fertile lands, and
it was to the issue of the journey that we had to look for success. It
here, however, evidently overflowed its banks more extensively than
heretofore, and broad belts of reeds were visible on either side of it,
on which the animals exclusively subsisted. Most of the natives had
followed us, and their patience and abstinence surprised me
exceedingly. Some of them had been more than twenty-four hours without
food, and yet seemed as little disposed to seek it as ever. I really
thought they expected me to supply their wants, but as I could not act
so liberal a scale, George M'Leay undeceived them; after which they
betook themselves to the river, and got a supply of muscles. I rather
think their going so frequently into the water engenders a catarrh, or
renders them more liable to it than they otherwise would be. In the
afternoon the wind shifted to the S.W. It blew a hurricane; and the
temperature of the air was extremely low. The natives felt the cold
beyond belief and kindled large fires. In the morning, when we moved
away, the most of them started with fire-sticks to keep themselves
warm; but they dropped off one by one, and at noon we found ourselves
totally deserted.


It is impossible for me to describe the kind of country we were now
traversing, or the dreariness of the view it presented. The plains were
still open to the horizon, but here and there a stunted gum-tree, or a
gloomy cypress, seemed placed by nature as mourners over the
surrounding desolation. Neither beast nor bird inhabited these lonely
and inhospitable regions, over which the silence of the grave seemed to
reign. We had not, for days past, seen a blade of grass, so that the
animals could not have been in very good condition. We pushed on,
however, sixteen miles, in consequence of the coolness of the weather.
We observed little change in the river in that distance, excepting that
it had taken up a muddy bottom, and lost all the sand that used to fill
it. The soil and productions on the plains continued unchanged in every
respect. From this time to the 22nd, the country presented the same

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Online LibraryCharles SturtTwo Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia — Volume 2 → online text (page 4 of 18)