John Dunmore Lang.

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

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ed at latitude 17 0' 1 3, I passed four creeks, all provided with
water-holes and fine water. Between the Staaten and Gilbert's
Lagoon I found three creeks with water ; the country along both
rivers is excellent. Between the Van Dieman and the Carod
(latitude 17*28*11,) I passed a small river, which had no name,
and which I called the "• Gilbert," in commemoration oi the
fate of my unfortunate companion. Its latitude was about 1 7*5«
it contained numerous water-holes of fredi water ; but was not
' running. A fine chain of lagoons is between the Van Dieman
and the Gilbert ; seven cree^ with water between the Gilbert
and the Carou. Towards the latter river, which had no water
in its bed, but chains of lagoons parallel to its banks, the creeks
were lined by a dense tea-tree scrub, half a-mile or more broad.
The tea-tree is of a peculiar species, which always indicates the
neighbourhood of salt water. In latitude 17*49, we came on a
salt water river, which I called the " Yappar," — this word be-
ing frequently used by friendly black-fellows, whom we met at
one of the fine lagoons alongside the river. Between the Yap-
par and the Carou there is a chain of shallow lagoons of fresh

The whole country from Gilbert's Lagoons to the Yappar, ex-
tending along the east coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria, is highly
adapted for pastoral pursuits. Cattle and horses would thrive
exceedingly well ; sheep would not, neither the climate, the tem-
perature, nor the nature of the soil is favourable for them.

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Large plains, limited by narrow belts of open forest land, exten-
sive box flats and tea-tree flats openly timbered, changing with a
more undulating country, fine grassy meadows along frequent
chains of lagoons, and shady forest land along the rivers, render
this country pleasing to the eye of the traveller, and inviting to
the Squatter. After what I have learnt of the cultivation of rice
and cotton, I can add that long stretches of country would be
adapted for both.

The country is well inhabited by black-fellows ; we had three
times intercourse with them — the first time they were hostile
(when Gilbert was killed) ; the second time they were very noisy,
but withdrew at the approach of a horseman, and were not seen
again ; the third time (at the Yappar) they were very friendly,
and it was evident they had seen either Malays or white men be-
fore us.

I called the whole country between tiie Mitchell and the Van
Dieman the *' Nonda Country," from a fine shady tree with a
yellow eatable fruit, which we enjoyed very much. It grew in
the stretches of open forest land, with the blood-wood and the
pandanus I had seen at first at the Upper Lynd. It disappeared
at the Van Dieman, and we never met it again.

Between the Yappar, longitude 140*45' approx.,and the Nichol-
son, (longitude 138*55) which latter river I crossisd in lat. 17*57,
I passed three big salt-water rivers, one fine running creek,
which 1 called Beames' Brook, and several chains of fresh water
lagoons. The country west of the Yappar is undulating and hilly
forest land, frequently scrubby, for an extent of about twenty
miles. Here it opens in immense plains, some of them three
miles broad, ten miles long, and longer. The plains stretch along
the banks of the rivers, and are separated by creeks, lined by
thickets of a small tree, which we called raspberry-jam-tree, from
the scent of its wood, which reminded us of raspberry jam.
These creeks had fine water-holes, but they were all for the
greater part dry. We found our water principally in grassy la-
goons, surrounded by polygonum ; but the country is in general
badly watered, though the number of black-fellows, the smoke
of whose fires we saw all around us in crossing the plains, show-
ed that a nearer acquaintance of the country would probably lead
to the discovery of a sufficient supply of water.

Beames' Brook, which I crossed in lat 17*57, was about twenty
yards broad where I first met it A rich verdant brush of pan-
danus and the palm-tree, and several other trees, lined it Its
water was fresh, but affected by the tide. At the crossing-place
(about eight miles lower down) it was three yards broad — ^very
aeep in some places, shallow in others — a full flowing little stream
with nuignificent oak-trees and palms, and pandanus and flooded
gum along its banks. We never had met, nor did we meet, an-
other brook hke it again.

About three miles farther we crossed the ^ Nicholson," called

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so in honour of Dr. William A. Nicholson, of Bristol, who had
enabled me to come to Australia to explore it, and to study its
nature. Its bed is 100 yards broad, sandy, with magnificent'
drooping leaves, a shallow running stream, flood-marks 15*18
high, a chain of fine lotus lagoons parallel to its banks, which are
accompanied by fine box fiats at its left-.

Tlie salt water rivers which I had crossed, as well as those
which I have still to mention, are very broad (150, 200, 300
yards); but they were easily fordable after one or two days' tra-
velling upwards, the fords generally being formed by rocky bars
crossing the rivers. These fords were generally indicated by
fisheries of the natives, sticks having been stuck close to each
other to form a sort of hedge, preventing the fish from returning
with the tide, or stone walls having been formed by heaping loose
stones on each other. At the head of the salt water, the bed of
these rivers usually enlarged, and frequently it was formed by
two or three deep chasms, separated by high bergs. One
channel either contained a running stream of fresh water, lined
by pandanus and the drooping tea-tree, or it had just ceased
running, a chain of fine water-holes still remaining.

From the Nicholson to the Roper (lat. 14-50, long. 13510,)
we travelled through a country, in part miserably scrubby, in
part covered by a dense tea-tree forest and by stringy-bark forest,
which was sometimes open, but generally scrubby, and rendered
difficult for passage by a dense underwood. There was particu-
larly a leguminous shrub, from two, three, or five feet high, with
a winged stem and branches, leafiess, with yellow blossoms (like
bossied scolopendrium), which composed the scrub and the under-
wood of this country. Several species of shrubby acaciae, and
several grevilleas were very frequent. The vegetation preserves
the same character all along the west side of the gulf, across the
Amhem Peninsula, and up to Port Essington, wherever the soil
18 similar. Along large rivers the country opened, and fine box
fiats and open forest land refreshed the eye, tired by the endless
scrub. It is very probable that from the sea-coast, and
higher up the rivers, before they ent^r iuto the mountains, a fine
favourable country exists. The country is in general well
watei'ed ; numerous creeks provided with good waterrholes, and
several rivers, with running streams at Uie head of the salt
water, go in a north-easterly direction, which changes into an
east-north-east and easterly one, to the sea.

Between the Nicholson and the Marlow (lat. 1 7*), named after
Captain Marlow, of the Royal Engineers, for his land contribu-
tion to our expedition, we met numerous creeks, which contained
either fresh or slightly brackish water. The first (lat. 17-39) I
called Moonlight Creek, as I had found it on a reconnoitre dur-
ing a mooulieht night ; another, about sixteen miles north 30*
west, I called " Smith's Creek ;" a third I met in lat 17*25 ; a
fourth about eleven miles north-north-west The whole country
was covered with an almost uninterrupted tea-tree scrub.

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Between the Marlow (longitude 1 38-25 approx.) and the Van
Alphen (latitude 16*30, longitude 137* 18) J passed six creeks^ con^
taining a greater or smaller supply of fresh or brackish water;
some of the very isolated water-holes were very small, and often
very brackish ; seven creeks, ten to twenty yards broad, were
salt, the water filling their whole bed ; they were easily fordable,
as the bed was composed of a firm sand, or of rock. The three
most southern ones probably join into a large river, the man-
grove line of which I saw in the distance. I called the most
southern one Turner's Creek, in acknowledgment of the liberal
support I received from Cooper Turner, Esq. In latitude 16*52,
about eighteen miles south-east from the Van Alphen, the coun-
try opens, and fine plains extend along a big creek, though badly
supplied with water. In the bed of this creek I found a piece of
granite, and near another, about eight miles west-north-west of
this, a large piece of porphyry, in an old black- fellow's camp.
This piece had served to crush the seed vessels of the pandanus,
which grows abundantly all along these creeks. These pebbles
show that the table land or the division of the waters, is not very
distant, as I found the primitive rocks almost invariably con-
nected with at least the ascent to a table-land.

Between the Van Alphen and the Abel Tasman (latitude
16*29) I passed a big creek (latitude 1 6*35), and a small river, well
supplied with water, which I called ** The Calvert," in commemo-
ration of the good services of my trusty companion, Mr. James
Calvert. Sandstone rock crept frequently out in the open stringy-
bark forest, which covers the greater part of the intervening
country. Sandstone ranges were seen to the west and north-
west. T-he lower part of the Abel Tasman forms a broad sheet
of salt water ; the banks are steep, lined with mangrove and
several trees peculiar to the change of fresh and salt water, as I
feel convinced that during the rainy season the freshes go far out
into the sea. The flats idong the river are well grassed, openly
timbered with blood-wood, stringy-bark, and white gum. In lati-
tude 16*29, the water is fresh running strong over a rocky bed :
the stream is about three feet deep, fifteen to twenty yards broad,
the whole bed from bank to bank 300 yards.

Between the Abel Tasman and the Seven Emu River (longi-
tude 137*5, latitude 16*12), I crossed seven creeks, containing
pools of water, some of them brackish ; four had a fine supply
of it. The whole country is a succession of tea-tree and cypress-
pine thickets and scrubs. A fine open well grassed country ex-
tends along the Seven Emu River, which received its name from
numerous flocks of emus, seven of which were hunted down, as
we travelled eight miles up its banks. We met soon the fresh
water stream, which we crossed at a black-fellow's well and a

Between the Seven Emu River and the Robinson (latitude 1 6*8,
longitude 136 -43), several small waterless creeks were met, after

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326 C00K8LAND.

having passed the fine country near the river and some miserable
scrub. A fine path of the natives led me to a large but waterless
creek, the banks of which were covered with cypress-pine and
cycas groves : (the cycas is a tree of the aspect of the paim, 30 to
50 feet high and higher, frequently with two or three heads ; the
leaves like those of zamia spiralis in the neighbourhood of Syd-
ney ; the nuts arranged in two parallel lines along an interme-
diate flat fleshy fruit stalk.) The foot-path went from cycas-
grove to cycas-grove ; big wells, 6 to 8 feet deep, were dug in a
sandy soil, which rested on a layer of stiff clay. All these wells
were however dry, though the whole country looked fresh and
verdant About five miles from this creek we came to a large
salt-water river, equally accompanied by cycas-groves. A fine
foot-path brought us to a large well under the bank of the river.
An alligator was tracked at this well, and porpoises were seen
playing in the broad salt water of the river. Two miles below
the spot, where we come to the river, it entered into a still big^r
one coming from the westward ; the first became narrow five
miles higher up, where the salt water ceased and fresh water
pools commenced. 1 called this " Cycas Creek," and the more
northerly river " the Robinson," as a slight sign of gratitude
towarcLs J. P. Robinson, Esq., for his kind support of our expe-

The fruit of the cycas forms the principal food of the natives
during September. They cut it in slices of the size and thickness .
of a shilling, spread these slices on the ground and dry them, soak
them for several days in water, and pack them after this closely
up in sheets of tea-tree-bark. Here it undergoes a process of
fermentation, the deleterious properties of the fruit are destroyed,
and a mealy substance with a musty flavour remains, which the
black-fellows very probably form into cakes, which they bake.
The fruit of the pandanus forms another apparentiy very-much-
liked eatable of the natives. We found heaps of them in their
camps, and soaking in the water contained in large koolimans
made of stringy-bark. I am inclined to believe that they are
able to obtain a fermented liquor, by soaking the seed-vessel of
the pandanus, and by washing the sweet mealy substance out,
which is contained in the lower part of the seed-vessel between
its fibres.

Between the Robinson and the Macarthur, (lat. 16*5*26, long.
136*10,) named after Messrs. William and James Macarthur, in
acknowledgment of their kind support of my expedition, I cross-
ed a fine creek, with a chain of deep pools and two waterless
creeks. The whole country is a stringy-bark forest, mixed with
melaleuea gum, with cypress pine thickets, and tea-tree scrub.
About five miles from the creek we had an interview with a tribe
of black-fellows, who gave evident signs that they knew the gun
and the knife. They were very friendly, and we exchanged some
presents with them. They were circumcised, as all the black-

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fellowB of the gulf we had seen. The head of a crocodile was
seen at Cycas Creek ; the carcase of another I found at the up-
per crossing-place of the Robinson ; tracks were observed by
Charley at the water-holes of the creek, between the Robinson
and the Macarthur.

The country along the Macarthur is well grassed, and openly
timbered for a half to one and a half mile off the river. Sand-
stone ranges commence at lat. i6'5'26. Two miles higher up it
is fordable, a running stream of fresh water enters the broad
salt water river ; its bed gets broad and sandy, with the vegeta-
tion of the Lynd, and fine plains extend along its banks to the

Between the Macarthur and the Red Kangaroo River, I passed
three creeks, well provided with water. The most southern is
about ten miles north-west from the crossing-place of the Macar-
thur ; the second, a pandanus creek, is only one and a half miles
from the former, and joins it lower down ; the third, about nine
miles north-north-west farther, I called the Sterculia Creek, as
the Sterculia heterophylla grows very frequently along its lower
course. The Red Kaigaroo River (latitude 15-35) h&s a very
broad sandy bed, two channels, separated by a broad high berg ;
the northern channel has a fine supply of water in numerous
water-holes, the connecting stream of which had just ceased run-
ning. A fine lagoon extends along its southern bank, about half
a mile from the river. The country near the crossing-place of
the Macarthur is intersected by rocky sandstone ranges. To-
wards the first creek tea-tree forest and box flats ]*ender the tra-
velling easy. Sandstone ranges were seen to the left. From the
second Creek to Red Kangaroo River the country is a miserable
scrubby stringy-bark forest.

From the Red Kangaroo River to. Limnenbight River, (lati-
tude 15*5, longitude 135*30,) we passed through a continuous low
dense scrub. In four creeks intersecting our course we found
either fresh or brackish water. The sandstone range which I
just mentioned continued to our left. In this scrub, twenty-nine
miles long, almost all the small trees had been thrown down by
a violent wind ; they lay from south-east to north-west. At Port
Essington I learnt from Captain Macarthur that a hurricane had
past over Victoria in 1 838, and I saw the trees which it had up-
rooted ; they lay in the same direction as those of Limnenbight,
and I feel assured that the same hurricane has past over the
west coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria.

In latitude 15*14 I came to the sea coast ; I went in a north-
west course to the northern extremity of the Sandstone Range,
indicated in the map of Arrowsmith. We saw the sea, an island
(Maria I) and a large river coming from the westward ; white
sandy plains were seen along its course.

I had to find my way through an intricate country, intersected
by salt-water creeks. Fresh water was generally found in

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creeks coming from sandstone ranges ; their heads were fre-
quently formed by fern swamps, (a species of blechnum was very
frequent.) From latitude 15-31 I crossed the salt-water river by
a rocky bar.

Ten miles farther to the north-west I met a second branch of
the same river, with a fine broad bed, several channels, fresh-wa-
ter in detached pools, which just had ceased running, lined with
pandanus and drooping tea-trees. Both branches are of equal
size, and probably come from an equal distance. Captain Wick-
ham has explored the lower part of the river, and probably one
of its branches. I do not know whether Captain Wickham has
riven a name to these rivers, I called the lower the Limnenbight
River, and its northern branch ** The Wickham," in honour of
the successful explorer of this coast, and of the north-west coast
of Australia.

Between the Wickham and the Roper (latitude 14-50, longi-
tude 135*10) the country is badly watered. Though we passed
nine creeks, two of which were very considerable, we found water
only in the pools of two, after having followed them down for a
considerable distance. The country is very remarkable, parti-
cularly after leaving the Wickham. Steep sandstone ranges pa-
rallel to each other, with a direction from south-west to north-
east, intersected our course ; they were separated by tea-tree
flats ; but at their foot generally a richer vegetation of pandanus,
of the leguminous iron-bark, and of blood- wood existed, which
made me mistake them for the verdant belt of trees accompany-
ing rivers and big creeks. From the top of these ranges still
more ranges appeared, one above the other, till their dim outlines
were lost in the misty blue of the horizon. My horses and cat-
tle got very foot-sore, and I was compelled to go to the north-
ward in order to get out of those ranges. After having passed
over tea-tree flats, I entered again into scrubby stringy-bark fo-
rest, with patches of cypress- pine thickets ; the creek with water
was in latitude 15*10. Towards the Roper, sandstone ranges
re-appeared ; fine box-tree fiats with dry water-courses stretch
from south by west to north by east. But they are limited to-
wards the river by a narrow belt of thick scrub; Plains with
groves or thickets of the raspberry-jam-tree, and overgrown
with salicomia, indicate the neighbourhood of salt water. A fine
open country, undulating or hilly, extends along the Roper, and
fine lagoons, some two or three miles long, covered with ducks
and wild geese, are parallel to the river, a quarter to two miles

I followed the Roper from hit. 14*50 to 14*40, long. 134*18; but
I came again on its upper course, and I believe that the creeks
which I passed from lat. 14*40 to 13-44 (long. 133-45 appr.) be-
longed to the system of that river, and I equally believe that
the corresponding waters to the north-west belong to the system
of the South Alligator, on the main branch (?) of which river I

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came much later in descending from the table-land into the val-
leys to the westward. I observed the tide to lat. 14*44, where
the bed of the river assumes the character of the Lyndand many
rivers mentioned before. As far as the tide extends, the river
is from 150 to 200 yards broad, deep, with steep banks, lined
with dense hedges of pandanus, of the drooping tea-tree, and
several other brush trees, amongst which a jasmine, which was
in blossom, and rendered the air fragrant with the perfume of its
flowers. Vines hung from tree to tree, and a fine leguminous
climber (Kennydise ?) with green flowers, big pods, big brown
seeds, grew in great abundance. These seeds, crushed and
boiled, formed a tolerably satisfying food ; it appeared that the
black-fellows did crush it on stones, which were in all the camps
along the river. This strip of brush was, however, very nar-
row, and cannot be compared with the river-brushes of Moreton
Bay, which I have not met in an equal extent during the whole
of my expedition. A big creek came in from the southward in
latitude 14*48, and a bitmch as big as the main branch came
from the northward.

The country along the river is openly timbered, and particu-
larly its upper part, which opens into fine plains, would be well
adapted for pastoral purposes. There are, however, many rocky
ranges, bluff isolated hills and mountains, which frequently ap-
proach the river, and render the travelling along its banks diffi-
cult. The rock which composes these ranges is a fritted sand-
stone and indurated clay, regularly and horizontally stratified.
In latitude 14*39 the plains commence, the river splits into a great
number of channels, almost all with a running streamlet, every
one lined with pandanus and tea-tree. I suppose that the main
branch turns off to the south-west and west-south west, as even
the branch which I followed turns considerably to the south-

The banks of the river are inhabited by numerous black fel-*
lows. We had friendly intercourse with them at its lower part ;
at the plains, Charley and Brown, my black fellows, asserted to
have seen four of them coming up to our camp at nightfall, in
order to attack us; they ran, however, away, when they saw
that we were prepared to receive them, even without the dis-
charge of a gun.

After leaving this branch of the Roper, as its source is in
latitude 14*40, longitude 134*16, a living spring coming out of a
gentle rise beyond the plains ; I passed in a north-west direction
through a country in which ridges, flats, and sandstone ranges
frequently changed. In latitude 14-33, I came to a big creek,
with a good water-hole ; in 14*24, basalt first made its appear-
ance at the foot of sandstone ranges. A creek, which I met here,
was waterless ; but in one of the gulleys which go down to it, a
small rocky basin of water fed by a spring was found. Both
creeks go down to the south-east and join the Roper. Having

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paflBed these ranges, I came to a large fine valley, the south-east
aud east side of which was limited by basaltic ridges. A water-
course, tumiuff to the south-west, brought me to a fine running
brook, lined with groves of pandanus. The basaltic ridges made
me believe that I was at the head of westerly waters ; but the
pandanus brook turned to the southward, and as I met in latitude
14*16 a large creek with a sandy bed, about ten yards broad,
filled by a rapid stream running to the southward, which is join-
ed by the Pandanus Brook, I feel assured that I was again at the
Roper, the main branch of which had probably made a large
sweep at first to the westward and afterwards to the northwanl
I followed the big creek up its course to latitude 14-2. The coun-
try is in part very fine, but it becomes more and more moun-
tamous, and the fiats along its banks become more and more

Leaving the creek, and ascending the sandstone ranges, I came
to a table land, level, with sandy soil, cypress pine and stringy-
bark forest, frequently scrubby. Water courses and gullies went
down to the south-east and south-west, both were collected by
large creeks joining the Roper.

I met one of these creeks running to the south-east, with
grassy lawns along its banks, in latitude 13*57. Another, with
the direction to the south-west in latitude 13*50. My course
changed between north-west and north-north-west. In latitude
13*41 approx., I came on the heads of the first westerly water,
and found the first water-hole in its bed in latitude 13*38, longi-
tude 133*30.

Open, well grassed stone ridges accompany this creek, which I
followed for several days. But as it turned too far to the south-
west) I left it again, following my old course to the north-west.
After having crossed a very rocky creek, well provided with
water, came again to a table-land of the same description as the

Online LibraryJohn Dunmore LangCooksland in north-eastern Australia: the future cottonfield of Great ... → online text (page 31 of 47)