« PreviousContinue »
and abounding with kangaroos and emus. To this new and promising region Governor Macquarie gave immediate directions for a road to be made, passable by carriages, which, though extending in length upwards of one hundred miles, was completed early in 1815; and over which the governor proceeded in person, in the spring of that year, as far as Bathurst plains. From this place he dispatched Mr. Evans to examine the country to the south-west, in which direction another river had been discovered, afterwards named the Lachlan.
The expeditions, of which the account is now before us, were undertaken to explore the termination of this river and the Macquarie, the direction of which was to the north-west: both were placed under the command of Lieutenant Oxley, (a zealous and enterprizing officer,) Surveyor General of the territory of New South Wales. He left Bathurst, in April 1817; and proceeded, in the first place, to trace the course of the Lachlan.
Bathurst (Mr. Oxley says) had assumed a very different appearance since I first visited it in the suite of his excellency the Governor in 1815. The industrious hand of man had been busy in improving the beautiful works of nature; a good substantial house for the superintendant had been erected, the government grounds fenced in, and the stackyards shewed that the abundant produce of the last harvest had amply repaid the labour bestowed on its culture. The fine healthy appearance of the flocks and herds was a convincing proof how admirably adapted these extensive downs and thinly wooded hills are for grazing, more particularly of sheep. The mind dwelt with pleasure on the idea, that at no very distant period these secluded plains would be covered with flocks bearing the richest fleeces, and contribute in no small degree to the prosperity of the castern settlement.'--p. 2.
Not far to the westward of Bathurst is a ridge of limestone hills running north and south through a very beautiful well-wooded country admirably adapted for grazing. It may here be remarked that this ridge runs on a meridional line to a great distance, perhaps the whole extent of New South Wales, as it was observed in three distinct places lying exactly north and south of each other, the extremes of which were two hundred miles apart. It also appeared that this meridional distribution was not confined to the geology of the country; but was equally noticeable in the trees and shrubberies, the same species and the same kind of grouping into clumps, or thickets, being constantly observed to take place on the same meridian, and to differ on different meridians.
On reaching the point of the river where it becomes navigable, the country assumed the appearance of a perfect level, and the soil seemed poor, except on the banks, which were high and steep,
and on which alone large trees were found growing. The width of the river was here from thirty to forty yards. A considerable number of natives flocked down to the opposite side, about twenty of whom swam across, with their galengars or stone hatchets in their hands, which, on landing, they laid at the feet of the strangers. They were stout, well featured, and manly in their appearance, with long black beards. The words used by these people had not the remotest resemblance to those used by the natives of the coast for expressing the same objects, though at so short a distance from each other. Seven days after they fell in with another party, who came up boldly to them; they were clothed in cloaks made of the skins of the opossum, with their hair bound up in nets neatly worked; their faces were daubed with a red and yellow pigment; and the front teeth of the upper jaw were wanting in all.
The country was evidently subject to extensive inundations ; and as the travellers proceeded they found the grass in some places nearly breast high, coarse, thick, and so entangled as to be almost impenetrable; in others were extensive swamps, interspersed with dwarf box and gum trees: swans and other water fowl were in great abundance. The navigation of the river was frequently interrupted by fallen trees, and so winding was its course, that the distance by water was nearly three times that by land. It was, however, found to be rich in excellent fish.
One man in less than an hour caught eighteen, one of which was a curiosity from its immense size, and the beauty of its colours. In shape and general form it most resembled a cod, but was speckled over with brown, blue, and yellow spots, like a leopard's skin; its gills and belly a clear white, the tail and fins a dark brown. It weighed entire seventy pounds, and without the entrails sixty-six pounds : it is somewhat singular that in none of these fish is any thing found in the stomach, except occasionally a shrimp or two. The dimensions of this fish were as follow:
1 1] Circumference of the mouth opened
6 Depth of the swallow
-Journal, p. 24. On the 11th of May, the party had reached a spot of the dead level through which the river flowed, where it appeared to lose itself in a multitude of branches among marshy flats; and where a rise of four feet would have been sufficient to sweep them all
away; since there was not within sight the smallest eminence to retreat to. Lieutenant Oxley therefore determined to strike off to the south-west for Cape Northumberland, knowing that if any river emptied itself into Bass' Strait between Spencer's Gulf and Cape Otway, that course would intersect it; and that if the Lachlan united itself into one stream, beyond the marshes, he would thus be most likely to fall in with it. The party accordingly commenced their journey, and at the end of five weeks came again, unexpectedly, upon the banks of the Lachlan, much diminished in size, but still running in a tolerably brisk stream to the westward.
The country over which they had travelled to gain this part of the river was of the most miserable description, and the sufferings of the party from fatigue, and want of water, were very great. In some places they fell in with a little grass in patches, just sufficient to keep their cattle alive, but this was of rare occurrence. • It is impossible,' says Mr. Oxley' to imagine a more desolate region; and the uncertainty we are in, whilst traversing it, of finding water, adds to the melancholy feelings which the silence and solitude of such wastes are calculated to inspire.' As the party advanced to the north-west, they came to a low range of stony hills equally barren with the sandy deserts which they had passed; these, however, abounded with dogs, whose howlings were incessant by day as well as by night. As there was no appearance of any kind of game, it was concluded that the principal sustenance of these wild animals must be rats, which had undermined the whole country. The natives eat these dogs; and the present party, when short of provisions, agreed in thinking them by no means unpalatable.
On the 230 June the appearance of a flock of large kangaroos, of emus and bustards, and the change of the soil from loose sand to stiff tenacious clay, bearing evident marks of occasional inundations, left little doubt on the minds of the party that a river would be met with at no great distance; and accordingly, as we observed above, they all at once found themselves upon the banks of the Lachlan, the course of which they now determined to follow. The face of the country continued to present a dead level on all sides, and, in the neighbourhood of the river, was full of bogs and swamps. We seemed,' says Mr. Oxley, the sole living creatures in those vast deserts. There was no object to relieve the eye but a few scattered bushes, and occasionally some dwarf box-trees; the view being as boundless as the ocean.
Our travellers however still proceeded down the stream till, on the 7th July, it became evident that the channel was the bed only of a lagoon, the current being 'now imperceptible, and the waters
and morasses so intercepting each other as to render all farther progress impossible. The water was muddy, and the odour arising from the banks and marshy ground offensive in the extreme. Mr. Oxley determined to return, concluding, rather summarily we conceive, " that the interior of this vast country was a marsh, and uninhabitable.' • Perhaps,'he adds, there is no river, the history of which is known, that presents so remarkable a termination as the present: its course in a straight line from its source to its termination exceeds five hundred miles, and including its windings, it may fairly be calculated to run at least twelve hundred miles; during all which passage, through such a vast extent of country, it does not receive a single stream in addition to what it derives from its sources in the eastern mountains.'
Nothing now remained for the party but to retrace their weary steps; in doing which, to their utter astonishment, they observed that the same river which, the day before, was so shallow that it could be easily forded, and whose stream was scarcely perceptible, was now rolling along its agitated and muddy waters nearly on a level with the banks, though for many days there had not been a cloud in the sky. It was now determined, as soon as they could contrive to cross the river, to proceed northerly, with the view of falling in with the Macquarie, the course of which they knew to be to the north-west. From the 11th July to the 3d August they continued to skirt the banks of the Lachlan ; when they succeeded in crossing it on a raft. Mr. Oxley complains, and, we think, not unreasonably, of the weariness experienced from the uniform barrenness and desolation of this part of New South Wales, where
one tree, one soil, one water, and one description of bird, fish or animal, prevails alike for ten miles, and for one hundred !-and seems to pine after that last consolation of the unhappy,' variety of wretchedness.'
The party did however discover several new plants, and two new species of kangaroo, one of them so small that they gave it the name of the rabbit kangaroo. They heard also two nightbirds, one remarkable for its imitation of the calls of the natives, the other for that of the short sharp bark of their dogs. They met, too, with a tumulus or grave, apparently of recent construction; it was a cone about five feet high, surrounded by semicircular seats. On opening it, the earth to the depth of about four feet was found to be supported by three or four layers of wood, beneath which were several sheets of bark on a bed of dry grass and leaves in a state of perfect preservation; and under all, the body, with the face downwards and the head to the east, the feet bent quite back, and the arms between the thighs. The body was wrapped in a number of opossum skins, and the head enveloped in VOL. XXIV. NO. XLVII.
the net usually worn by the natives. Two cypress trees at a little distance had been barked on the sides next the tumulus, and some curious characters deeply cut into them. A fac simile of them would have been desirable.
It is unnecessary for us to follow Mr. Oxley very closely in his north-eastern tour. The country was somewhat improved but still destitute of water, from the want of which his party suffered greatly. After travelling upwards of a hundred miles from the Lachlan, they reached a beautiful valley, where they halted to recruit their exhausted strength.
• We had just pitched our tent when hearing the noise of the stonehatchet made by a native in climbing a tree, we stole silently upon him, and surprised hiin just as he was about to descend: he did not perceive us until we were immediately under the tree; his terror and astonishment were extreme. We used every friendly motion in our power to induce him to descend but in vain: he kept calling loudly, as we supposed for some of his companions to come to his assistance; in the mean time he threw down to us the game he had procured (a ring-tailed opossum), making signs for us to take it up: in a short time another native came towards us, when the other descended from the tree. They trembled excessively, and, if the expression may be used, were absolutely intoxicated with fear, displayed in a thousand antic gestures, convulsive laughing, and singular motions of the head. They were both youths not exceeding twenty years of age, of good countenance and figure, but most horribly marked by the skin and flesh being raised in long stripes all over the back and body; some of those stripes were full three quarters of an inch deep, and were so close together that scarcely any original skin was to be seen between them. The man who had joined us, had three or four small opossums and a snake, which he laid upon the ground, and offered us. We led them to our tent, where their surprise at every thing they saw clearly showed that we were the first white men they had met with; they had however either heard of or seen tomahawks, for upon giving one to one of them, he clasped it to his breast and demonstrated the greatest pleasure. After admiring it for some time they discovered the broad arrow, with which it was marked on both sides, the impressiou of which exactly resembles that made by the foot of the emu; it amused them extremely, and they frequently pointed to it and the emu skins which we had with us. All this time they were paying great attention to the roasting of their opossums, and when they were scarcely warm through, they opened them, and, taking out the fat of the entrails, presented it to us as the choicest morsel; on our declining to receive it they ate it themselves, and again
the opossums in the hot ashes: When they were apparently well done, they laid them, the snake, and the things we had presented them with, on the ground, making signs that they wished to go; which of course we allowed them to do, together with their little store of provisions and such things as we were able to spare them. The collection of words which we had made at the depot on the Lachlan, we found of no