John Dunmore Lang.

Cooksland in north-eastern Australia: the future cottonfield of Great ... online

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Bosewood Acacia, Uie wood of which has a very agreeable violet
scent like the Myal Acacia (a. pendula) in Liverpool Plains.
The ground is dry, but several Malvaceous half-shrubby plants
which grow to four or five feet high, make a passage through the
brush very difficult The most interesting tree of this Rosewood
brush is the true Bottle Tree — a strange looking unseemly tree,
which swells slightly four to five feet high, and then tapers rapidly
into a small diameter ; the foliage is thin, the crown scanty and
irregular, the leaves lanceolate, of a greyish green ; the height
of the whole tree is about forty-five feet. Several vines of the
Asclepiadaceae are in blossom ; and some trees which I did not
meet before, paid my fatigue.

The finest mountain country I have seen in this colony is the
eastern side of the Gap, through which the road passes from the
Brisbane to the southern part of the Downs. This Gap inter-
venes between the high mountains — Mount Mitchell and Mount
Cordeaux. - Sunny ranges, covered with fine grass and open for-
est, ascend pretty rapidly to the Pass. The coast range forms
an amphitheatre of dark steep mountains ; a waterfall rushes
over a precipice 300 feet high into a rocky valley, which one
plight take for the crater of an extinct volcano, if the surround-
ing rocks warranted such a supposition. Bold isolated mountains
appear in the distance, in their various tints of blue, and during
sunset dimming through a purple mist. Both sides of the moun-
tains have some brushes, particularly the western side, in which
many of the trees of the- Bunya brushes re-appeared. This is
the most western point in which the Araucaria Cunninghami
has been found. The Seaforthia palm is frequent and high.
Both trees are remarkable for the latitude in their conditions of
life, as they do not only grow in the lower mountain brushes, and
in those which accompany rivers and creeks, but grow equally in
the brushes along the sea side. It is, however, observed by car-
penters, and men who work the wood, that the mountain pine is
by far preferable to the river pine, the grain being much closer.

How the eye is pleased at entering again into the open plains
of the Downs ! Nothing is so agreeable as to see one's way clearly
before him. Ranges of middling height, now a chain of cones,
now flat-topped mountains covered with brush, now long-backed
hills 'sharply cut at their ends — accompany on each side the



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92 COOKSLAND.

plains, two to three miles broad, and many many miles long.
The soil is black and yet mild, with many white concretions of
carbonate of lime ; the vegetation is quite different from that of
the forest-ground of the other side of the coast range ; the grasses
are more various, but they do not cover almost exclusively the
ground. They grow more sociably in small communities together,
separated by succulent herbs, particularly compositae. The
creeks are deeply cut, with steep banks covered with reeds.

13^ AprU,

I have returned from my round, and I have been tolerably
successful. Isaacs' creek abounds in fossil bones. Isaacs has
some beautiful specimens of the lower jaw bone of a gigantic kan-
garoo, of the size of a bullock. Three smaller species must have
Hved at the same time. The locality is very interesting. I think
that the aspect of the country has little changed since these giants
disappeared, as the fresh water shells, which live at present, are
imbedded with those bones in great numbers. I think it not at
all improbable to find the animal still living farther inland, and
more into the tropics. An animal of such a size, and herbivorous,
required much water ; the change of climate, which made former
lakes dry up, must have destroyed the conditions of life, and the
animal either died or retired to more favourable localities.
Large plains extend along the River Condamine, and I crossed
one of them twenty-five miles broad, and fifty miles long, a true
savannah, in the centre of which I saw the sharp line of the hori-
zon, as if I had been on the ocean. Misfortune again ! I lost
my faithful pointer-bitch, my cheerful companion, on this plain —
knocked up by want of water !

It is probable, my dear friend, that I shall not stay long in
Sydney when I come down. I have found young men willing
and able to undergo the fatigues of a private expedition, and if I
can muster sufficient resources to pay the expenses of provisions
for six men, I shall immediately set out for Port Essington.
I know that if I start with these men, whom I
know to be excellent bushmen, excellent shots, and without fear,
I am sure to succeed. Every one of us has the necessary horses,
and all that is required besides, would be six mules with harness
for carriage of flour — 100 pounds per head — tea and sugar and
ammunition. Every one of us has lived weeks and weeks to-
gether in the bush, frequently surrounded by hostile blacks,
whose character we know, and intercourse with whom we shall
always try to avoid. Believe me that one experienced and
courageous bushman is worth more than the eight soldiers Sir
Thomas intends to take with him. They will be an immense
burthen, and of no use.

I start next Monday from the Downs, and I shall proceed as
quickly as I can. In three weeks I shall have the pleasure of



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THE BRISBANE RIVER. 93

seeing you again, and I hope in eood health. I am afhiid my
body is so accustomed to the moving life, that close studies will
not agree with it. If my friend (in England) send me the moun-
tain barometer, I shall be a made man.

To these interesting extracts I shall add the follow-
ing copy of a letter addressed by Dr. Leichhardt to
Professor Owen of London, and embodied in Professor
O.'s Second Report on the Extinct Mammals of Aus-
tralia, read at the Annual Meeting of the British As-
sociation, July, 1845 :

Sydney, lO^A July, 1844.

My Dear Sir, — You have probably forgotten the German
student to whom you were so kind as to give a letter of introduc-
tion to Sir Thomas Mitchell, in Sydney. I am desirous of rivet-
ting my name more deeply into your memory ; and, in order to
do so, I take the Hberty of sending you one or two specimens of
the collection of fossil bones I made in Darling Downs. It is one
branch of the loi^'er jaw of the young gigantic pachyderm whidi
once lived near, and in the swamps and lagoons, which must
have covered these rich plains.

These plains are covered by broad shallow valleys, without
trees, covered only with grass and herbage, which grow luxu-
riantly on the rich black soil, in which concretions of carbonate
of lime are frequently found. Ranges of low hills forming long
simple lines, with sudden slopes, and flat-topped cones, accompany
these valleys, and bear an open forest, formed of various species
of rather stunted Eucalyptus.

All these hills are formed by a basaltic rock, containing fre-
quently crystals of peridot, and being often cellular, sometimes
real scoriae. The base of the rock is, however, feldspathic, and
as the peridot is frequently absent, the rock becomes uniformly
grey, forms a white globule before the blow-pipe, and is therefore
to be classed among the trachytes or pheriolithes. The plains
are filled by an alluvium of considerable depth, as wells dug 50
or 60 feet deep have been stUl within it. The plains and creeps in
which the fossil bones have been found, are Mr. Hodgson's creek,
Campbell's creek, and Oaky creek. They pass all into and
through immense plains on the west side of the Condamine, into
which they fall. The bones ai*e either found in the bed of the
creek, particularly in the mud of dried up water-holes, or in the
banks of the creeks, in a red loamy breccia, or in a bed of peb-
bles, containing many trachytic pebbles of the Coast Range, from
the west side of which these creeks descend.

In the banks of the creeks you find at first the rich black soil
of the i^in, about three feet thick ; then layers of clay and of



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94 COOKSLAND.

loam, here and there, particularly at Isaacs' creek, with marly
concretions of strange irregular forms.

The masses of these concretions are often of considerable thick-
ness, though not extending far horizontally ; the loam contains
small broken pieces of ironstone, (breccia,) and is equally local.
Below these the bed of pebbles lies ; the bones are found in the
breccia, generally near the concretions, but not with them ; or
they occur amongst the pebbles. A very interesting fact is the
presence of univalve and bivalve shells, which live still in the
neighbouring water-holes, in the same beds in which the bones
are found ; they are either intimately united with the bones by a
marly cement, or they occur independently. The greatest depth
in which bones are found is twelve feet ; at Oaky creek we find
them at the surface. Besides the bones of the gigantic animal,
there are lower jaws and different parts of the skeleton of four
other kangaroos, many of them little different from the living
ones, and probably identical with those of Wellington Valley.

It seems to me that the conditions of life can have very little
changed, as the same shells live still in similar water-holes ; the
want of food can scarcely be the cause of their disappearing, as
flocks of sheep and cattle pasture over their fossil remains. But
as such an herbivore must have required a large body of water
for his sustenance, the drainage of these uplands, or the failing
of those springs, ihe calcareous water of which formed the con-
cretions in the banks of the creeks, has been probably the cause
of their retiring to more favourable localities ; and I should not
be surprised if I found them in the tropical interior through
which I am going to find my way to Port Essington. I have
put a caudal vertebra into the little box, more in order to fill it,
than as valuable to you, as Sir Thomas Mitchell told me that he
has sent you a fine collection of almost every part of the body.
, Living here as the bird lives, who flies from tree to
tree, living on the kindness of a friend fond of my science, or on
the hospitality of the settler and squatter, with a little mare, I
travelled more than 2500 miles, zigzag, from Newcastle to Wide
Bay, being often groom and cook, washer-woman, geologist, and
botanist at the same time, and I delighted in this li^ ; but I feel
too deeply that ampler means would enable me to do more and to
do it better. When you hear next of me, it will be either that I
am lost and. dead, or that I have succeeded to penetrate thyrough
the interior to Port Essington. ^Believe me ever to be,

Mt dear Sib,

Yours most truly,

LUDWIO LSICHHABDT.



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CHAPTER IV.
A Visit to Morbton Bay.



Procedo, et parvam Trojam, simulataque magnis
Pergama, et arentem Xanthi cognomine rivum
Agnosco, Scaeaeque amplector limina portae.

ViRG. Aen. III., 35J.

A second Britain rises to my view,
And the Old World's reflected in the New f
While Fancy pictures, on that distant strand,
The streams and mountains of my native land«

Virgil Australianized.

Although I had had much epistolary communica-
tion with persons residing in the district of Moreton
Bay, for many years previous, I had never visited that
part of the territory till the month of November, 1845.
Desirous, however, of ascertaining its capabilities in per-
son, previous to my intended voyage to Europe, I em-
barked for Brisbane Town, in that month, on board the
steamboat Sovereign, Captain Cape, which was then
plying regularly between Sydney and Moreton Bay,
although since superseded by a larger vessel. We took
in a supply of coals for the outward voyage, on the
morning after our departure from Sydney, at the Port
of Newcastle, situated at the mouth of the river Hun-
ter, about seventy miles to the northward of Sydney,
coals for the return voyage being procurable at Moreton
Bay ; and after rather a long passage of six days, dur-
ing one of which we were wind-bound at Newcastle,



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96 COOKSLAND.

we reached the Flat Rock, near the southern entrance
of Moreton Bay, during the night, and cast anchor till
the turn of the tide should enable us to cross the bar
at daylight. In the morning, before we weighed anchor,
the mariners caught nearly a cart-load of excellent fish,
of various species, and many of them very large, on
which all on board both breakfasted and dined,^ the rest
being reserved as presents for the good people of Bris-
bane Town.

There is no place near Sydney where fish are in such
abundance, or of such excellent quality, as at Moreton
Bay ; and in the event of a large free immigrant popu-
lation being settled in that part of the territory, a fish-
ery could be established in the Bay with great facility,
not only for the supply of a large commercial town,
but for curing and exportation. The species of fish
that are commonest in the Bay are mullet, bream,
puddinba, (a native name, corrupted by the colonists
into pudding-ball,) kingfish, jewfish, blackfish, whiting,
catfish, (a fish with a large head, resembling a haddock
in taste,) &c., vfec. The puddinba is like a mullet in
shape, but larger, and very fat ; it is esteemed a great
delicacy. Cod and snapper are the species most fre-
quent at the Flat Rock outside the entrance.

Turtle are very numerous in their proper season, par-
ticularly at Kaneipa, the southern extremity of the Bay,
where small coasting vessels take in cedar for Sydney.
An intelligent black native whom I met with on the
Brisbane River, about the middle of December, when
asked when the turtle would come to the Bay, held up
^ve fingers in reply, saying, " that moon ;" signifying
that they would come about the middle of May. The
greatest excitement prevails in hunting the turtle, (for
it can scarcely be called fishing,) black natives being
always of the party, and uniformly the principal per-
formers. The deepest silence must prevail, and if the
slightest noise is made by any European of the party,
the natives, who assume the direction of affairs, frown
the offender into silence. They are constantly looking
all around them for the game, and their keen eye de-



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A VISIT TO MORETON BAT. 97

tects the turtle in the deep water, when invisible to
Europeans. Suddenly, and without any intimation of
any kind, one of them leaps over the gunwale of the
boat, and dives down in the deep water between the
oars, and perhaps, after an interval of three minutes,
reappears on the surface with a large turtle. As soon
as he appears with his prey, three or four other black-
fellows leap overboard to his assistance, and the help-
less creature is immediately transferred into the boat.
A black-fellow has in this way not unfrequently brought
up a turtle weighing five hundred weight. Great per-
sonal courage, as well as great agility, is required in this
hazardous employment, the black-fellows being fre-
quently wounded by the powerful stroke of the animal's
flippers.

Large crabs, frequently of three pounds' weight, are
plentiful in the Bay. They are of a flatter form than
the European species, and have an additional forceps.
Shrimps are also found in great numbers.

But the fish, or rather sea-monster, peculiar to More-
ton Bay, and the East coast to the northward, is a spe-
cies of sea-cow or manatee, called by the black natives
yungan. It frequently weighs from twelve to fourteen
hundred weight, and the skeleton of one of them that
was lately forwarded to Europe, measured eleven feet
in length. The yungan has a very thick skin, like that
of the hog with the hair off. It resembles bacon in ap-
pearance very much, (for 1 happened to see a flitch of
it myself in the hands of a black native, although I did
not taste it, which I rather regretted afterwards,) and
while some parts of the flesh taste like beef, other parts
of it are more like pork. The natives are immoderately
fond of it ; it is their greatest delicacy ; and when a
yungan is caught on the coast, there is a general invit-
ation sent to the neighbouring tribes to come and eat.
The man who first spears the yungan is entitled to per-
form the ceremony of cutting him up, which is esteemed
an office of honour ; and the party, whatever be their
number, never leave the carcase till it is all gone, eating
and disgorging successively till the whole is consumed,
a

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98 COOKSLAND.

The yuDgan is supposed to feed on the marine vege^
tation in the bay ; which, considering the great extent
of the latter, and the quantity of alluvial deposit spread
over its bottom, must be very abundant. They are taken
in nets, formed with very wide meshes, of very strong
cord, and when fairly entangled are despatched with
spears. Captain Flinders found one of these nets on the
beach in Bribie's Island Passage, formed of cord of from
I of an inch to an inch in circumference, and with
meshes large enough to permit the escape of moder-
ately sized porpoises ; but while he admired the ingen-
uity displayed in its formation, he could not divine for
what purpose it was intended. As fishermen, the black
natives of Moreton Bay have certainly nothing to learn
from Europeans, as the following extracts from the ac-
count of the expedition of Qaptain Flinders on that oc-
padion, will sufficiently show :

** In a house which stood upon the west side of the head, (Red
Cliff Point, Moreton Bay,) they found a net or seine, about lour-
teen fathoms long, the meshes of which were much larger than
any English seine, and the twine much stronger ; but its depth
was much less, being not more than three feet. At each end it
had a pointed stick of about the same length. Upon the shore
near the house there was more than one enclosure of a semicir-
cular form, and the sticks and branches of which it was made were
set and interwoven so close that a fish could not pass between.
This net, Mr. Flinders supposed, was to be placed diametrically
across the semicircle at high water, and thus secure all the fish
that might get within the inclosure, until the falling tide should
leave them dry.*'*

" At this time their attention was much attracted by a party of
natives from these islands, [the islands off the entrance of the
Brisbane River,] who appeared to be standing up in their canoes
and pulling towards them with all their strength, in regular or-
der. They seemed to have long poles or spears in their hands^
with which also they appeared to be paddling, the whole of them
shifting their hands at tiie same instant, after the manner of the
South Sea Islanders. As about twenty of them were counted,
and seemed to be coming on with much resolution, our people



* Account of the English Colony in New South Wales. By
David Collins, Esq., late Judge Advocate and Secretary of the
Colony. 2 Vols., 4to. London, 1798 and 1802. Vol. 2, page
?38.



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A VISIT TO MORETON BAT. 99

prepared for whatever might be the event. The sloop was put
under easy sail, her decks cleared of every encumbrance, and
each man was provided with a competent number of musket balls,
pistol balls, and buck shot, which were to be used as the distance
might require ; for it was intended that not a man should escape
if Siey commenced an attack.

<< Being thus prepared they bore away towards them, finding
that with all their exertions Uiey did not approach much nearer
to the vessel. But what was their surprise on discovering that,
instead of advancing in canoes to attack them, they were stand-
ing on a large flat that surrounded the third island, driving
fi£ into their nets, and that they had but two canoes among them.
They were standing in a line, splashing in the water with long
sticks, first for some time on one side, and then all shifting to
splash on the other. Thus this hostile array turned out to be a
few peaceful fishermen — peaceful indeed, for on the approach of
the vessel they sunk their canoes upon the flat, and retreated to
the island where they made their fires.*'*

In these fishing operations the natives experience
much assistance from the porpoise, with which they form
a sort of partnership, and which aids them considerably
in driving the fish into their nets. For this reason they
have a great respect for that animal, and will not allow
one of them to be killed on any account, if they can
help it.

Captain Flinders appears to have landed on St. He*
lena Island, close to the Fishermen's Islands, off the en-
trance of the Brisbane, which he thus describes :

^ This island was two or three miles in circumference. The
central part was higher than the skirts, and was covered with a
coating of fine vegetable mould, of a reddish colour. On the
south side of the island this elevated part descended suddenly in
a steep bank, where the earth was as red as blood ; and, being
clayey, some portions of it were nearly hardened into rock. The
trees upon it, among which was the new pine, were large and luxu-
riant. The exterior part of the island upon the west side [towards
the river] was a flat., over which the tide seemed to rise, and was
abundantly covered with large mangrove trees. On the south*
west and north-east sides, it was low and sandy, and here the palrn^
nut tree was produced ."+

In Pumice-Stone River, it is added, " he saw several
large fish, or animals that came up to the surface to

* Ibid, p. 240. + Ibid, p. 241.

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100 COOKSLAKD.

blow, in the manner of a porpoise, or rather a seal ;
for they did not spoot, nor bad they any dorsal fin.
The bead also strongly resembled the bluff nosed hair-
seal, but their size was greater than any which Mr.
Flinders had seen before. He fired three musket balls
into one, and Bungaree [a well-known Port Jackson
native, who died only a &w years ago] ihrew a spear
into another ; but they sunk and were not seen again.
These animals, which perhaps might be sea-lions, were
not observed anywhere but in this river.*** There
can be no doubt that this strange animal was the
yungan.

There is a Romish mission to the Aborigines of Strad-
broke Island, situated not far firom the Pilot's Station,
at an abandoned Government settlement, formerly of
some note, on that island, called Dunwich. It was
formed in the year 1842, by Archbishop Polding, who
had brought two Italian priests with him for the pur-
pose from Rome, and it was introduced to the Colony
with a great flourish of trumpets in that quarter, as if
Popery would be sure to succeed where Protestantism
had uniformly fsdled. But the Italians, who give out
that they have been greatly deceived in the whole mat-
ter, have as yet done nothing, and do not expect to
do anything with the Aborigines : they despair of their
mission, and are anxious only to be relieved.

The pilot at Amity Point, the north end of the is-
land, has had a family of children by a black native
woman, with whom he lives as his wife. They are re-
markably fine promising children. The Romish Arch-
bishop has placed one of them, whom he was allowed
to bring away with him for his education^ at a Ro-
man Catholic School at Parramatta, I presume with
the intention of educating him for the priesthood. I
found another of them learning the Westminster As-
sembly's Shorter Catechism in a Presbyterian family
in which he was domiciliated at Brisbane Town, and
going regularly to school with the other children.

* Ibid., p. 244.

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A VISIT TO MORETON BAT. 101

' The navigation from the Southern Entrance of the
Bay to the mouth of the Brisbane River is very circui-
tous, and the process of the formation of land, from the
gradual accumulation of the earthy matter brought down
by the rivers that empty themselves into the Bay, is in
evident progress all the way. There happened to be an
unusually high tide when we crossed the Bay; and in
many places, as we paddled along in the deep water
channel, I was not a little astonished at first, till a mo-
ment's reflection served to explain the phenomenon, at
observing one or two solitary mangrove trees growing,
as it were, out of the sea, to the right or left. But the
places where these trees were growing were mere mud
banks, very seldom under water.

From the same cause the Brisbane River is evidently
pushing forward its banks into the Bay, and forming
additional dry land on either shore for future genera-
tions ; the lower part of its course, for eight or ten
miles from its entrance, being lined on either side
with a fOTest of gloomy mangroves, exhibiting, amid
their cheerless vegetation,

« Water, water everywhere,
But not a drop to drink !*'

What a splendid site this noble Bay would form for



Online LibraryJohn Dunmore LangCooksland in north-eastern Australia: the future cottonfield of Great ... → online text (page 10 of 47)