John Dunmore Lang.

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

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former but sandstone rock cropt out more frequently and formed
into rocky ranges, cut by deep gullies. From one of these ranges
I had a view over the country before me, and I almost despaired
of ever getting through it. Sandstone ridges behind sandstone
ridges, lifting their white rocky crests over the forest, deep gul-
lies, with perpendicular walls, i*ocky creeks, with boulders loosely
heaped in their beds, frequently interrupted by precipices over
which the waters must form magnificent water&lls during the
rainy season.

I worked my way down to one of these creeks, and followed it
along its bed, until a precipice between two mountain walls com-
pelled me to leave it. Following a grassy lawn up to the north-
ward, I came to a water-shed, and into another grassy lawn with
a small creek, longitude 133*6, which brought me to the deep val-
ley of a i*iver coming from the east and going to the westward.
It was difficult to get down the steep slopes ; but once down, -we
found a fine provision of water in big holes, the water running
through the loose pebbles which fill the bed.



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THE SQUATTING SYSTEM. 331

Having crossed the river, and following a northerly or north-
north-westerly course, I passed again over the table-land, from
'which numerous creeks, one, two, and three miles distant from
each other, went down to the westward. They generally take
their origin from rocky ridges rising out of the level land ; fre-
quently tea-tree swamps are at the head of these creeks ; they
soon become very rocky on both sides for half, two, and three
miles, and open again on fine grassy flats, well provided with
"water, which is found in deep puddle-holes of the creeks. Still
further down, they become rocky again, deep gulleys join them
from both sides, higher or lower precipices interrupt their course ;
and, at last, arrived at the border of the table-laud, a fiue broad
valley is deep below them, and their waters rush over a perpen-
dicular wall />00 or 800 feet high, down into a rocky basin, and into
the channel, in which they flow to the westward to join the main
"branch of the South Alligator River.

The table- land is covered by forests of stringy-bark, of mela-
leuca-gura, and banksia. Several grassy flats, with a white gum,
(similar to the flooded gum,) were observed. The drooping tea-
tree grows in the swamps I mentioned, to a great size ; the jpniss
is excellent in some of these swamps ; but a sedge is prevaihng,
which, it appeared to me, was not so much liked by our cattle and
horses, as the deep green colour of the young plant after late
burnings made me first believe.

It was very difficult to find a passage down the table-land ; but
I succeeded, though the descent was very steep even for our
horses and pack bullocks. This descent was about latitude 1 3*22,
longitude 132-50.

I dare say that my passage over the table-land would have
been much simplified by following the main branch of the Roper
to its head, to pass over to Snowdrops Creek, and follow it down,
notwithstanding its southing ; for Snowdrops Creek, in all pro-
bability, joins the Flying Fox River, which I consider the main
head of flie South Alh'gator. This route would be practicable
for cattle and horses, which might be driven over to the west
side ; I could certainly not recommend my line of march. It is
very remarkable that pegmatite cropped out at the foot of the
slope where we made our descent, whilst at the top, as well as
all over the table-land, when we met the rock, it was found to be
a fritted sandstone.

The South Alligator River is joined by a great number of
creeks, which, as far as we could see, came down over a preci-
pice, and must of course form as many waterfalls during the
rainy season.

I followed the river to latitude 12'51. At the upper part of
the valley the river passes between a high range and an isolated
peak. At the foot of the former, I observed pegmatite again.
Farther down, big lagoons, with an outlet into the river, are very
frequent Farther off the river, iron sandstone ridges, covered



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332 COOKSLAND.

with a scrubby forest, in which a small fan-leaved palm-tree
became more and more frequent, extend between small creeks,
which go down to the river.

The lagoons were surrounded by magnificent tea-trees, and
this outlet was lined by pandanus, myriads of ducks and wild
geese covered the water ; the whole country had been burnt,
and the late thunder-showers had produced the most luxuriant
grass. We experienced the first thunder-shower on the 1 4th
November, at the table-land, after having been without rain from
March, 1845, with the exception of a shower in June, and a
drizzling rain on the 1st September.

In latitude 12*51, large plains accompanied the river ; either
grassy, with a rich loose black soil, or entirely bare with a stiff
clayey soil. On plains of the latter kind we first met a salt-water
creek lined with mangroves. The river bank was covered with
a thick vine brush, gigantic tea-trees, palms, and bamboo.

In latitude 12*49, I came apparently to a river, with fresh
water, lined with pandaiius, palm-trees, &c., which joined the
South Alligator. I was compelled to go up its course, in order
to head it. After about three miles travelling, we found that it
was the outlet of a remarkable swamp, which, according to the
statement of friendly black-fellows, extended far to the eastward.
The swamp was, with few exceptions, dry, its bed a stiff clay,
cracked by the heat of the sun ; out of its bed small islands of
pandanus and of tea-tree rose, either round, like a tuft of green
grass, or long and irregular ; fortunately we were able to cross
it. The black fellows gave us to understand that a big lake of
water is at its head. In the rainy season a passage would be im-
possible, and the traveller would have to keep out far to the north-
east from the upper part of the South Alligator, or on the table-
land, not only to avoid this big water, but to avoid being caught
by the East Alligator, which, as I shall mention, compelled me
to go far to the south again in order to cross it.

in an almost northerly course, I passed over ironstone ridges,
covered with a rather scrubby forest, in which the small fan-
leaved palm-tree became so abundant, that it formed almost for
itself the forest. A small tree, which we called the gooseberry-
tree, as the taste of its ripe fruit resembled that of the gooseberry,
was very frequent ; we had found it all along the outside of the
gulf. We crossed numerous creeks — the first to the south-east
probably joined the swamp ; the others to the westward. We
met with water in latitude 12-38; 12-26-41; 12'21-49. Here I
met with granite again, which crept out in the bed of a fine creek,
with an abundant supply of water. At about 12*17, I crossed a
running brook, bubbUng and murmuring like the mountain brooks
of Europe. It was probably the outlet of a tea-tree swamp ; its
bed was rocky. A fine path of the natives passed along its banks.

My northerly course brought me to an immense plain, 6 to 7
miles broad, and endless to the eye westward and eastward. That



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THE SQUATTING SYSTEM. 333

part which was nearest to the forest land, (which ended every
where in pandanus groves and tea-tree hollows,) was composed
of black soil, and richly grassed. Nearer to the salt-water creeks,
which we met, and which compelled us to return to the forest,
the soil was a stiff clay, covered with a stiff dry grass. The salt-
water creeks were lined by mangroves. We found water in a
swamp along the forest. It was covered with geese and ducks.
About four miles farther to the east-north-east, friendly black-
fellows showed us a number of deep wells, (6 to 7 feet deep,) which
were dug through the sand to a layer of clay, on which the water
collected. These wells were observed all along those big plains,
which we passed or crossed afterwards. It appears that the
black-fellows either dig them, because open water is wanting, or
because the water in swamps and lagoons is very bad, or because
they want water in the immediate neighbourhood of those place?,
where they find abundant food during a certain season. I be-
lieve that the latter is generally the case, though the two other
ones may occasionally compel them to procure water by digging.

At latitude 12-8, longitude 1 32*40, I came on the East Alliga-
tor, and I saw myself compelled to go to the southward, as far as
latitude 12*23, in a south-south-easterly course, to cross the river.
Large plains accompany it all along its left bank ; ridges and
forest land are beyond the plains, and along the outskirts of the
forest land the weUs of the natives are found. At the right side
we observed conical and strange-shaped hills, either isolated or
connected in short ranges ; and when we came to the higher
part of the river, rocky sandstone ranges, rising abruptly out of
the level of the plain, appeared to surround the valley of the
river. At the foot of these rocky ranges fine lagoons were found,
which were so crowded with wild geese, that Brown, one of my
black-fellows, shot six at one shot. The plains were full of melon.
holes, and dead fish shells, limnacus and paludina, were covering
the ground.

The valley of the Upper East Alligator, which I rather should
call Groose River (for nowhere we observed so many geese — and
what is called alligator is no alligator, but a crocodile), is one of
the most romantic spots I have seen in my wanderings. A broad
valley, level, with the most luxuriant verdure, abrupt hills and
ranges rising everywhere along its east and west sides, and closing
it apparently at its southern extremity ; lagoons, forming fine
sheets of water, scattered over it ; a creek, though with salt
water, winding through it.

After having crossed the'river, I went to the northward, passed
a plain about eight miles long, from which I saw bluff mountain
heads to the north-east, which seemed to indicate the valley of a
northerly river, entered the forest land, passed several creeks,
running to the eastward (one at 12*11, with water), and followed
a well-trodden foot-path of the natives, which led me through
rocky sandstone ridges, over numerous creeks running to the



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334 COOKSLAND.

westward, to the broad sandy bed of a river, with fine pools of
water, wMch I consider to be the ftresh-water branch of the East
Alligator, coming from the east. Not very far from the river,
we came to a fine lagoon, beyond which a large plain extended ;
the lat. of this lagoon (Bilge's Lagoon) was 12*6.

I passed the plain, and entered the forest land. Just where
the latter commenced, on a swampy ground between sandstone
rocks, the first tracks of bnffaloes were observed.

The forest covers an undulating country, in which the iron-
stone frequently crops out. A fine chain of lagoons and a tea-tree
swamp, changing into a pandanus creek, were well supplied with
water. Both went to the eastward. At the latter, buffklo tracks
were seen again. (Lat. 11*56).

We travelled in a northerly course again, through forest land,
and crossed a small plain, in which a mangrove creek turned to
the westward, and further on, a tea-tree swamp equally to the
west. On a fine plain we met a tribe of black fellows (Ny wall's
Mbe), who guided us to a good-sized lagoon. This plain extended
far to the northward and westward ; two isolated peaks, and two
low ranges, were seen from it to the east and south-east. We
crossed and skirted these plains in a north-north-west course, and
entered the forest land, which was undulating with low ironstone
ridees, from which numerous creeks went down to Van Dieman's
Gulf, along which we travelled. Black-fellows had guided us
two days, but they left us at the neck of the Cobnrg Peninsula,
which we entered on a fine foot-path; keeping a little too mnch to
the northward on the narrow neck, we came to easterly waters,
and to Montmorris Bay. I turned, howev^, again to the west-
ward, to come to westerly waters. Creeks are numerous on both
sides, and fresh water was frequent after the late thunder-showers.
I made my latitude at 11*32 on a westerly water, and at 11*26
on an easterly water (Baki Baki's Creek). Keeping a little too
much to the northward from the latter (jreek, I came to Raffles'
Bay, from which black-fellows, familiar with the settlement,
guided us round Port Essington to Victoria, which I entered at
about five o'clock, the 17th December 1845.

Ridges composed of the clayey ironstone (a ferruginous psam*
mite), which I had found so extensively in travelling round the
gulf, form the water-shed in the neck of the Coburg Peninsula,
and become more numerous and higher within the Peninsula
itself. Between Montmorris Bay and Raffles' Bay I passed
several high ridees, and a fine running creek, about 15 miles
from the head of the harbour. The ridges are rather densely
wooded. The stringy-bark, the melaleuca gum, the leguminous*
ironbark, are the prevailing timber. Along the cree^ and in
the swamps, the tea-tree grows to a stately size, and yields an
excellent timber. The stringy-bark is useful for its bark and its
wood. The cypress pine is abundant on the heck of the Penin-
sula. The cabbage palm, with long pinnatified leaves, grows



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THE SQUATTING SYSTEM. 335

along some of the creeks, and even on the ridges, and forms
groves, and almost a forest at Montjejalk, between Raffles' Bay
and the harbour. The small fan-leaved palm is very abundant ;
the little gooseberry tree becomes a low shrub.

The tracks of buffaloes became more and more numerous as we
advanced on the neck of the Peninsula. They formed at last a
regular broad path along the sea-coast, sometimes skirting the
mangrove swamps, in which all the western and eastern creeks
end, sometimes entering into the swamp itself. Farther on, other
paths turned off into the forest, or along creeks, and formed a
meshwork, which rendered it impossible for me to keep to the
principal black-fellow^s footpath, leading from Nywall's lagoon to
the settlement. We saw frequently buffaloes as we went on, and
they were very numerous at Baki Baki's Creek, which joins
Montmorris Bay. In riding along it, I saw three and four at the
time hurrying out of the deep holes of water within the creek, to
which they come, in the heat of the day, to cool themselves.
About seven miles from Nywall's lagoon, we succeeded in shoot-
ing a fine beast, of about three years' old, which fortunate acci-
dent enabled me to bring my last pack-bullock to the settlement.
T}ie buffaloes are equally abundant between Raffles' Bay and the
harbour, and the whole country, particularly round Baki Bald's
Bay, and, on the neck, is as closely covered with buffalo tracks,
as a well stocked cattle-run of New South Wales could be.

I entered Victoria with one pack-bullock, and with eight horses.
We had killed fifteen of our bullocks, and had dried t£eir meat.
Along the east coast, and at the east side of the gulf, they kept in
a very good condition, and yielded a fine supply of fat meat, but,
at the west side, long stages, bad grass, and several waterless
camps, rendered them very weak, and compelled me to kill them;
the heaviest bullock of the lot scarcely yielding a fortnight's sup-
ply of meat. My horses did exceedingly well ; they got several
times foot-sore in passing a very rocky country, but they soon
recovered on soft flats. At the Burdekin one broke its thigh-
bone; we killed it, and dried its meat. At the Lynd another died
suddenly, probably by the gripes. At the Roper, four, the finest
of the whole lot, were drowned, the banks being very steep and
boggy, and the river very deep. The loss of these was very
heavy. I had to throw away the greatest part of my botanic^
and geological collections, and my plans of returning overland,
cutting off the angles of my route, and keeping more to the west-
ward, were frustrated.

When our flour, our tea, our salt, our sugar, was gone, we
lived on dried beef and water ; and we lived well on it, as long
as the beef was good ; but, at the latter part of the journey, the
beef got bad, as it was very poor, and of knocked-up beasts, and
as the moist sea breeze made it very liable to taint. Fortunately
the game became abundant round the gulf, and we caught, for
instance, in August, fifteen, and in September, sixteen emus, every
one of which provided meat for a day.



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336 COOKSLAND.

At the head of the South Alligator, black-fellows came up to
U8, and we exchanged presents with them ; they gave me the red
ochre, which they seemed to consider as the best of their run.
At the commencement of the plain, a large tribe of black-fellows
came to our camp, and one of them pointed to the north-west,
when we asked where he got his tomahawk and a piece of shawl
from. They knew Pitche Nelumbo TVan Dieman's Gulf). At
the big Pandanus swamp, another tribe of black-fellows guided
us over the swamp, and behaved very kind. They used the word
peri good (very good), no good, Mankiterra (Malay). At the
mouth of the East Alligator, Ek>oanberry's and Minorelli's tribe,
were equally hospiUble and kind. We met another tribe in
travelling up the river, and at its head. The latter were, how-
ever, noisy, boisterous, and inclined to theft. At the north bank
of the river we met Bilge's tribe. Bilge being the most important
personage amongst them. At Nyw^l's lagoon, Nywall treated
us with imberbi (the root of a species of convolvulus), and two
black- fellows guided us two days farther. At Montmorris Bay
we met Baki Baki; and at Raffles' Bay, Bill White's tribe; and
Bill White himself guided us into the settlement

At Eooanberry's tribe we first heard the question, ''what's
your name," and the name for white men, ** Balanda." At Ny-
wall's tribe they asked for flour, bread, rice, tobacco; and one of
them had even a pipe. It is difficult to express our joy, when
English words were heard again, and when every sign which the
black-fellows made, proved that we were near the end of our
journey, — particularly as December advanced, and the setting in
of the rainy season was to be expected every moment.

I think that the most important results of my expedition are,
the discovery of the Mackenzie, the Isaacks, the Downs of Peak
Kange, and the Suttor; that of a communication between the east
coast of Australia, and of the east coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria,
along the river, with running water through a fine country; that
of the Nonda Country, and of the Big Plains at the east side, and
at the head of the Gulf ; that of a communication between Lim-
nenbight and the South Alligator River, along running streams
and creeks. The future will show how far the country along the
Big Rivers, between the head of the Gulf and Limnenbight, is
available.



It was to be expected that the Muse, which had
mourned over Dr. Leichhardt's supposed death, should
not be silent on the occasion of his joyful return ; and
accordingly the following spirited verses, along with
others of inferior merit, appeared in the columns of the
Colonial Press : —



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THE SQUATTING SYSTEM. 337



STANZAS,



Written on the return of L. Leichhardt, Esq., ^m an Expedi-
tion through the unexplored regions of Australia beti^een
Moreton Bay and Port Essington.

Tht footsteps have returned again, thou wanderer of the wild,
Where Nature, from her lonely throne, in giant beauty smiled.
Pilgrim of mighty wastes, untrod by human foot before,
Trimnphant o*er the wilderness, thy weary journey's o*er !

Thou hast battled with the dangers of the forest and the flood.
And amid the silent desert — a conqueror hast stood :
Thou hast triumphed o'er the perils of the mountain and the plain.
And a nation's smiling welcome is thy greeting home again !

Long had we moum'd with sorrowing, and plaintive dirges sung.
For fate a wild mysterious veil around thy name hftd flung, —
And hope's declining energies, with feeble efibrt strove
Against the boding voice of fear, that haunts the heart of love.

And rumour, with her hundred tongues — her v^igue and blighting

breath,
Had whisper'd tidings sad and drear — dark tales of blood ^d

death ;
Till tortured fancy ceased to hope, and all despairing, gave
Thy name a haUow'd memory — thy bones a desert grave.

But, no ! that proud intrepid heart still held its purpose high.
Like Afric's martyr traveller — resolved to do or die ;
Like him, to find a lonely grave in desert sands of flame,
Or win a bright eternity of high and glorious fame !

Oft in the silent wilderness, when meaner spirits quail'd.
Have thy unfailing energies, to cheer, and soothe prevaU'd ;
For well thy hope-inspiring voice could speak of perils past.
And bid each comipg one appear less painful than the last.

And oft e'en that braye heart of thine has sadden 'd to despair,
When o'er some wild and lonely scene, the moonlight shining fair
Hath bid thy soften'd spirit feel how lonely were thy lot,
To die — thy mission unfulfill'd — unknown, unwept, forgot

And when beside thy comrade's grave, thy stricken heart bow'd

down.
And wept o'er that glad spirit's wreck, its dream of young re-'

nown—
There was bitterness of soul in the silent prayer that rose, '
£U*e t}iey left him in the desert to his long and lone repose. ,

At length the hour of triumph came^the white man's track

appear'd —
Visions of bright and holy joy thy toil-worn spirit cheer'd :
A glorious pride lit up thy heart, and glow'd upon thy brow,
^OT l^eiphh^rdt's name among the great And good is deathless now.
T



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338 COOK8LAND.

Thou hast wrought thy work of victory, by deeds of blood un-

stain'd.
For man's appointed purposes a glorious world obtained ;
Thy step upon the wilderness, the harbinger of peace.
Hath bid that wild and savage night of solitude to cease.

Proud man ! In after ages, the story shall be told.
Of that advent'rous traveller — the generous — the bold.
Who scorning hope of selfish gain, disdaining soft repose.
Taught the dark and howling wilderness to blossom like the rose.

£. K. S.

But the gratulatiohs of the Colonists were not exhi-
bited merely in complimentary verses : a public meet-
ing was held in Sydney, at which I had the honour of
proposing a resolution, which was carried with accla-
mation, to the effect '^ That the grateful thanks of the
Colony were due to Dr. Leichhardt and his party, for
the eminent services they had rendered not only to the
Colony, but to the cause of science and civUization
generally throughout the world, in their successful ex-
pedition to Port Essington ; and that in testimony of
this feeling on the part of the Colonists, a subscription
be commenced on behalf of Dr. Leichhardt and his
party." The call which was thus addressed to the Co-
lonial public was nobly responded to, upwards of £2000
having been subscribed and paid by the Colonists to
the Leichhardt Testimonial. A motion had also been
made in the Legislative Council, recommending the
Government to place dBlOOO, on the Supplementary
Estimate for 1846, as a further donation from the
Public Treasury ; but the Colonial Secretary having
signified, on the part of the Governor, His Excellency's
w^lingness to grant the amount proposed from the
Land Fund, a fund over which the Council has no con-
trol, the motion was withdrawn, that Dr. Leichhardt
might have the thanks of the House presented to him
by the Speaker from the chair, and the grant from the
Land Fund was paid accordingly. It will scarcely be
necessary to suggest to the reader, that the whole affair
is highly honourable to the Coloiy of New South
Wales.

There is one circumstance in which Dr. Leichhardt's



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THE SQUATIIKG SYSTEM. 389

expedition has been remarkably different from all pre-
vious expeditions of discovery in Australia. It has
not resulted in an attempt to confer unmerited immor-
tality on a number of obscure individuals, who had no
other title to distinction than that of holding clerkships
or other subordinate Colonial appointments under the
authorities of Downing Street. There were people in
New South Wales who felt not a little soreness on this
private account amid the general rejoicing, and Dr.
Leichhardt's departure from an old-established rule, as
well as his actual nomenclature, was made the subject
of private criticism in various quarters. But Dr. L.
had received no favours, for which to be thankful at
the time, in these quarters, and he was of too manly a
spirit to resort to such a mode of obtaining them in fu-
ture. There were also a few private individuals who



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