Early explorers describe unique features of the Aust L'scape

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Early explorers describe unique features of the Aust L'scape

Post by duane » Fri May 23, 2008 10:09 pm

Historical evidence tells clearly that Australia had a very different landscape to the one early settlers had come from.

The explorers described water being found always on the HIGH ground and pools or ponds interupted by choking vegetation NOT continous, uninterupted free flowing rivers as they were in Europe.

To understand NSF you have to understand how unique were the landscape components of the Australian environment. Water did not drain away quickly...rather, it was spead out from the flowlines to the ancient and recent floodplains....there to be stored as HIGH water tables in grass covered dams on the floodplains....protected from droughts and evaporation.

This extract from Mitchell's log describes the unique hydrology of the landscape. A word of warning....this is a long post!!!!

Extracts from Sir Thomas Mitchell’s travels to the Eastern Interior Vol1


A rather elevated but grassy plain afforded little prospect of water being near at the time we were about to halt and rest, after a long journey, and I had directed the men to pitch the tents, despairing of reaching water that day, when I suddenly came upon a deep pool. I was truly sensible of the goodness of Providence, considering that this was to all appearance the only water within many miles, and on a plain where I had no reason to expect it. I could not then see how the pond was supplied.
Neither was this all our good fortune, for having directed Jones (one of the men ablest at fishing) to try the pond, to the no small amusement of the others; he nevertheless drew out in a short time a good dish of crayfish (or lobsters, as they termed them).
A brush of Acacia pendula also bounded this plain on the north; and beyond it we entered a scrub of forest-oak (casuarina) which was so very thick that we were compelled to halt the carts until a way could be cut through it for upwards of two miles; beyond that distance however the brush opened into patches of clearer ground. We had changed our course to north in the large plain, and had preserved this direction in cutting through these scrubs. It was now four P.M., and during the whole journey from six A.M., we had seen no water; the day also was exceedingly warm, and I was riding in advance of the party, and looking at some elevated ground in an opening of the wood with thoughts of encamping there, but very doubtful whether we should ever see water again.
When almost in despair I observed a small hollow with an unusually large gumtree hanging over it; and my delight under such circumstances may be imagined, when I perceived on going forward, the goodly white trunk of the tree reflected in a large pond. A grassy flat beside the water proved quite a home to us, affording food for our cattle, and rest from the fatigues of that laborious day. We found these ponds in situations which seemed rather elevated above the adjacent plains, at least their immediate banks were higher; hence we usually came upon them where we least expected to see water, before we were acquainted with this peculiarity of the country. The pond where we now encamped was connected with several others that were dry, but it was quite impossible at that time to discover which way the current ran in times of flood. The latitude was 30 degrees 6 minutes 30 seconds South. In the evening the sky was illuminated so much by an extensive fire in the woods near us that the light was clearer in our camp than the brightest moonlight.
January 6.
The morning was rather cool, with clouds and distant thunder. We now proceeded in a northerly direction until we were impeded by scrub, about three miles from the camp. Through this we cut our way, keeping as closely in the northern direction as the openings would allow. At length the wheels of one of the carts, and the axle of another, became unserviceable, and could not be repaired, unless we halted for two days. As they could only be dragged a few miles further, I went forward as soon as we got clear of the scrubs, which extended three miles, in search of water for an encampment. I came upon a slight hollow and followed it down, but it disappeared on a level plain, bounded on each side by rising grounds. One dry pond encouraged my hopes, and I continued my search along a narrow flat, where the grass had been recently on fire. From this point, and while pursuing a kangaroo, I came upon a well marked watercourse with deep holes, but all these were dry. Tracing the line of these holes downwards to where the other flat united with it I found, exactly in the point of junction, as I had reason to expect, a deep pool of water. Once more therefore we could encamp, especially as two very large ponds on a rocky bed were found a little lower than that water first discovered. This element was daily becoming more precious in our estimation, and I had reason to be very anxious about it, on account of Mr. Finch, who was following in our track. The spot on which we encamped was covered with rich grass, and enclosed by shady casuarinae and thick brush. The prospect of two days' repose for the cattle on that verdure, and under these shades, was most refreshing to us all. It was, indeed, a charming spot, enlivened by numbers of pigeons, and the songs of little birds, in strange, but very pleasing notes.
Here I again remarked that among these casuarinae scrubs the eucalyptus, so common in the colony, was only to be seen near water; so that its white shining bark and gnarled branches, while they reminded us of home at Sydney, also marked out the spots for fixing our nightly home in the bush.
January 7.
The night had been unusually hot, the thermometer having stood at 90 degrees, and there had not been a breath of wind. Few of the men had slept. Thus even night, which had previously afforded us some protection from our great enemy, the heat, no longer relieved us from its effects; and this incessant high temperature which weakened the cattle, dried up the waters, destroyed our wheels, and nourished the fires that covered the country with smoke, made humidity appear to us the very essence of existence, and water almost an object of adoration. No disciple of Zoroaster could have made proselytes of us. The thermometer ranged from 96 to 101 degrees during the day, and during the last five nights had stood as high as 90 degrees between sunset and sunrise. From the time the party left Sydney rain had fallen on only one day. We left each friendly waterhole in the greatest uncertainty whether we should ever drink again, and it may be imagined with what interest, under such circumstances, I watched the progress of a cloudy sky. It was not uncommon for the heavens to be overcast, but the clouds seemed to consist more of smoke than moist vapour. The wind, from the time of our first arrival in the country, had blown from the north or north-west, and the bent of trees, at all exposed, showed that these were the prevailing winds
The country when seen from an eminence appeared to be very generally wooded, but the lower parts were perfectly clear, or thinly strewed with bushes, and slender trees, chiefly varieties of acacia. The principal wood consisted of casuarinae which grew in thick clumps, or scrubs, and very much impeded, as has already been stated, our progress in any given direction. I found that these scrubs of casuarinae grew generally on rising grounds, and chiefly on their northern or eastern slopes. We saw little of the callitris tribe, after we had crossed the first hill beyond our last camp on the Namoi. On the contrary, these casuarinae scrubs and grassy plains seemed to characterise the country to the westward and northward of the Nundewar range, as far, at least, as we had yet penetrated. The course of this chain of ponds appeared to be parallel to that on which we had previously encamped, 36 degrees North of West. A yellow, highly calcareous sandstone occurred in the bed and banks of this stream, forming a stratum from two or three feet in thickness, and in parts of the upper surface nodules of ironstone were embedded.
On examining our wheels, we found that the heat had damaged them very much, some of the spokes having shrunk more than an inch. The carpenter managed however to repair them this day.
At length we reached an open tract across which we travelled in a south-west direction about eight miles, when we arrived at one of those watercourses or chains of ponds which always have the appearance of being on the highest parts of the plains. As the general course of this, as far as it could be seen, was nearly east and west, I thought it might be the same as the channel which I had named Wheel Ponds on the 7th instant; but the range of these chains of ponds, not being confined by any hills of note, I could not be certain as to the identity, or whether such channels did not separate into different branches on that level country. The ponds they contained, even during the dry season, and the permanent character of their banks, each lined with a single row of trees throughout a meandering course over naked plains, bespoke a providential arrangement for the support of life in these melancholy wastes, which, indeed, redeemed them from the character of deserts. We encamped on this chain of ponds, having first crossed the channel, that we might have no impediment before us, in the morning; experience having taught us that the cattle could overcome a difficulty of this kind better when warmed to their work than at first starting from their feeding-place
In the meantime I rode northward towards the river accompanied by Mr. White and, at about a mile from the tents, we found one of the lagoons which are supplied by its floods. The margin was thickly imprinted with the marks of small naked feet, in all probability those of the gins and children whose most constant food, in these parts, appeared to be a large, freshwater mussel. We next traced the course of the river westward for about five miles, being guided by the line of river trees. When we arrived we found within them a still lagoon of deep water, the banks thereof being steep like a river, and enclosing the water within a very tortuous canal, or channel, which I had no doubt belonged to the river. To the southward the whole country was clear of wood, and presented one general slope towards the line of the river.
We found in the course of a ride of twenty miles from the camp a much better country for travelling over than that in the immediate vicinity of the lagoon. We crossed, at eleven miles, a line of ponds in a deep channel whereof the bank seemed the highest ground; and beyond them was a rich plain with a few clumps of trees; where the grass also was remarkably good. At twenty miles, the length of our ride, we fell in with a second chain of ponds, beyond which we saw another plain. We were delighted with the prospect of so favourable a country for extending our journey, and not less so with the apparent turn of the Gwydir, as indicated by its non-appearance in our ride thus far. It was obvious that the more this river turned northward the greater would be the probability that it might lead to a channel unconnected with that of the Darling--and terminate in some still greater water, or open out a field of useful discovery.
The direction of the channels we had already crossed however was somewhat to the south of west--and it was difficult to account for their waters otherwise--than by supposing that they came from the Gwydir.
We could trace their course to a remote distance by the smoke of the fires of the native population. The numerous marks of feet in the banks, with the abundant remains of mussels and bones of aquatic birds proved that human existence was limited to these channels; not only on account of water, but of those animals, birds, and fishes also, which are man's natural prey.
In returning we explored the western termination of the lagoon on which we had encamped, and thus ascertained that it was not part of any channel of flooded waters. Beyond the lagoon was a plain, apparently subject to inundation, and bounded at the distance of some miles by a line of trees which, in all probability, defined the course of the Namoi.
January 16.
The party proceeded along the course I had traced the day before. The country as far as the first chain of ponds was full of holes, which evidently were at certain seasons filled with water; and the height to which the inundations rose was marked on the trunks of the trees by a dark stain which, to a certain height, seemed universal. Considering these proofs of extensive flooding, and the soft nature of the soil we were then crossing, it was obvious that a rainy season would render our return impracticable, at least with the carts. For the first time, and with great reluctance, we left the high ground behind us to traverse a region subject to inundation, without the prospect of a single hill to which we might repair in case of necessity. It was nevertheless indispensable that we should find the river Gwydir and cross it before we could hope to travel under more favourable circumstances.
Beyond the first channel we traversed an open plain of rich soil similar to that of the plains near Mount Riddell.
We reached the second channel at a higher part than that attained by me previously, so that the distance traversed by the party was only seventeen and a half miles, as determined by the latitude; and this journey, although very distressing to the cattle, was accomplished by half-past two. Thermometer 96 degrees. Here the ponds opened into a large lagoon covered with ducks. It was surrounded with the remains of numerous fires of natives, beside which lay heaps of mussel shells (unio) mixed with bones of the pelican and kangaroo. Latitude 29 degrees 43 minutes 3 seconds South.
Trifling as this circumstance was it was nevertheless unusual on that level surface, and I endeavoured to trace the slope downwards until my horse, who at other times would neigh after his companions, here pulled hard on the rein, as if to cross a slight rise before me. I laid the bridle on his neck while he proceeded eagerly forward over the rise, and through some wood, beyond which my eyes were once more blessed with the sight of several ponds of water, with banks of shining verdure, the whole extended in a line which resembled the bed of a considerable stream. I galloped back with the good news to the party whose desperate thirst seemed to make them incredulous, especially as I continued our line of route northward until it intercepted, at about a mile on, as I foresaw it would, this chain of ponds. It was still early; but we had already accomplished a good day's journey, and we could thus encamp and turn our cattle to browse on the luxuriant verdure which surrounded these ponds. They were wide, deep, full, and close to each other, being separated only by grassy intervals resembling dykes.

We were about to leave, at last, this extraordinary stream on which we had sojourned so long, enjoying abundance of excellent water in the heart of a desert country. From the sparkling transparency of this water, its undiminished current, sustained without receiving any tributary throughout a course of 660 miles, and especially from its being salt in some places and fresh at others, it seems probable that the river, when in that reduced state, is chiefly supported by springs. It would appear that the saltness occurs in the greatest body of water where no current was perceptible, and as this was excessive when the river was first discovered, it may be attributed to saline springs, due to beds of rock-salt in the sandstone or clay. The bed of the river is on an average about sixty feet below the common surface of the country. To this depth the soil generally consists of clay in which calcareous concretions and selenite occur abundantly; but at some parts the clay, charged with iron, forms a soft kind of rock in the bed or banks of the river. There are no traces of watercourses on these level plains such as might be expected to fall from the hills behind; though the latter contain hollows and gullies, which must in wet seasons conduct water to the plains. The distance of such heights from the river is seldom less than twelve miles; and it would appear that the intervening country is of such an absorbent nature that any water falling in torrents from the hills is imbibed by the soft earth, or is received in the deep broad cracks which sear the hollow parts, and in wet seasons must take up much water and retain it, until either evaporated or sunk to lower levels. The water may thus be absorbed and retained for a considerable time, or until it is carried by slow drainage into the river, especially where the lower parts of such plains are shut in by hills approaching the channel. Thus, where the extremity of Dunlop's range shot forward into the wide level margin, we found that the water had lost all taste of salt, a circumstance most easily accounted for by supposing that springs, being more abundant there from the near vicinity of the hills, had diluted the water which we had found salt higher up. That some tributary or branch joins the river from the opposite bank, at or near the sweep it describes round the hill, is not unlikely. I could not conveniently examine that part from our side, and hence it remains doubtful whether the problem admits of such easy solution.

Vol 2 To the Lachlan, Muurumbidgee and Darling in 1836
I beheld in the Lachlan all the features of the Darling, but on a somewhat smaller scale. The same sort of large gumtrees, similar steep, soft, muddy banks; and, even in this place, a margin with an outer bank. But its waters were gone, except in a few small ponds in the very deepest parts of its bed. Such was now the state of that river down which my predecessor's boats had floated. I had during the last winter drawn my whaleboats 1600 miles overland without finding a river where I could use them; whereas Mr. Oxley had twice retired by nearly the same routes, and in the same season of the year, from supposed inland seas!

This was our straightest course, but we had to keep along the riverbank for another reason. The plains were full of deep cracks and holes so that the cart wheels more than once sunk into them, and thus detained us for nearly an hour. A sagacious black advised us to keep near the riverbank, and we found the ground better. We encamped at half-past two o'clock, after a journey of ten miles; and I immediately set out, accompanied by a native and a man carrying my theodolite, both on horseback, for the highest or northern point of Mount Cunningham (a). The distance was full five miles; yet we could not proceed direct on horseback, the scorched plains being full of deep, wide cracks; and we were therefore compelled to take a circuitous route nearer the river.
Mount Allan (Wollar of the natives) lay north-east by north, at a distance of 3 3/4 miles. It was not a conspicuous or commanding hill, but between it and our camp we this day discovered a feature of considerable importance. This was the Goobang creek of our former journey, to all appearance here as great a river as the Bogan and indeed its channel, where we formerly saw it, contained deep ponds of clear water at a season when the muddy holes of the Bogan had nearly failed us. Here the Goobang much resembled that river in the depth of its bed and the character of its banks: and its sources and tributaries must be also similar to those of the Bogan. Hervey's range gives birth to the one, Croker's range to the other and, their respective courses being along the opposite sides of the higher land extending westward between the Lachlan and Macquarie, all their tributaries must fall from the same ridge. Of these Mr. Oxley crossed several in his route from the Lachlan to the Macquarie; Emmeline's Valley creek belonging to the basin of the Goobang; Coysgaine's ponds and Allan's water to that of the Bogan. It was rather unfortunate, considering how much has been said about the Lachlan receiving no tributaries in its long course, that Mr. Oxley left unexplored that part where a tributary of such importance as the Goobang joins it; especially as the floods of this stream lay the country below Mount Cunningham under water, and are the sole cause of that swampy appearance which Mr. Oxley observed from the hill on looking westward. It would appear that this traveller's route northward was nearly parallel to the general course of the Goobang. The name this stream receives from the natives here is Billibang, Goobang being considered but one of its tributaries. Its course completes the analogy between the rivers and plains on each side, and the supposed disappearance of the channel of the Lachlan seemed consequently as doubtful as the mysterious termination of the Macquarie.
We finally encamped on the Lachlan at the junction of the Goobang, in latitude 33 degrees 5 minutes 20 seconds; longitude East 147 degrees 13 minutes 10 seconds. There the river contained some deep pools and we expected to catch fish; but Piper told us that the holes had been recently poisoned, a process adopted by the natives in dry seasons, when the river no longer flows, for bringing the fish to the surface of deep ponds and thus killing the whole; I need not add that none of us got a bite. All these holes were full of recently cut boughs of the eucalyptus, so that the water was tinged black.

The plains appear to be divided into several stages by these cross ridges, which may have shut up the water of high floods in extensive lakes during the existence of which the deposits formed the surface of the present plains. Loose red sand also constantly forms low hills on the borders of these plains; and it seems to have been derived from the decomposition of the sandstone, and may be a diluvial or lacustrine deposit. Blue clay appears in the lowest parts of the basin, and forms the level parts of the plain, with concretions of marl in thin layers. This has every appearance of a mud deposit; but its depth is greater than the lowest part visible in the channel of the river. The parallel course of small tributaries joining rivers, which seem to be the middle drain of extensive plains, may have been marked out during the deposition of the sedimentary matter as tributaries, on entering the channel of greater streams, immediately become a portion of them; hence it is, the general inclination being common to both, that such tributaries do not cross these sediments of floods now termed plains in order to join the main channel or river now remaining

Thus the Goobang, on entering the valley of the Lachlan, pursues a parallel course until the ridge from Hurd's peak confines the plain on the west and turns the Goobang into the main channel. The Bogan, on the opposite side of the high land, may be said to belong to the basin of the Macquarie, although it never joins that river, but merely skirts the plains which, below Cambelego, may be all supposed to belong to the original bed of the Macquarie. Throughout its whole course of 250 miles the left bank of the Bogan is close to low hills, while the right adjoins the plains of the Macquarie. The basin of the Macquarie, as shown by its course near Mount Harris and Morrisset's ponds, falls northward, but that of the Darling to the south-west. It is not at all surprising therefore that the course of a tributary so much opposed, as the Macquarie is, to that of the main stream, should spread into marshes: still less that, on being at length choked with the deposit filling up these marshes, it should work out for itself a channel less opposed to the course of the main stream. Duck creek appears to be now the channel by which the floods of the Macquarie join the Darling, and in a course much more direct than that through the marshes. Hence the Bogan also, being still less opposed to that of the Darling, finally enters that river without presenting the anomaly of an invisible channel. In like manner, at a much lower point on the Darling, the course of the little stream named Shamrock ponds, so remarkable in this respect, may be understood. This forms a chain of ponds, or a flowing stream, according to the seasons, between the plains on the left bank of the Darling, and the rising grounds further to the eastward: but instead of crossing the plains to join the main channel this supposed tributary, after approaching within one or two miles of the Darling where its plains were narrow, again receded from it as they widened, and finally disappeared to the left where the plains were broad, so that its junction with the Darling has not even yet been discovered. On this principle the channel of the Lachlan, as soon as it enters the plains belonging to the basin of the Murrumbidgee, may be sought for on the northern skirts of these plains, although its floods may have been found to spread in different channels more directly towards the main stream.
For this purpose it was desirable to gain a bend of that river at least as far west as the most western portion of the lake, according to Mr. Oxley's survey. This distance we accomplished and more; for we were obliged to proceed several miles further than I intended, and along the bank of the river, because no water remained in its bed, until Mr. Stapylton found a good pond where we encamped after a journey of 16 1/4 miles. Notwithstanding such an alarming want of water in the river, we saw during this day's journey abundance in hollows on the surface of the plains; a circumstance clearly evincing that this river, as Mr. Oxley has truly stated, is not at all dependent for its supply on the rains falling here. The deep cracks on the plains, so abundant as to impede the traveller, seemed capable of absorbing not only the water which falls upon them, but also any which may descend from the low hills around. During our day's journey I found grey porphyry, the base consisting apparently of granular felspar with embedded crystals of common felspar and grains of hornblende.
He extended his survey to the small lake to the north-east, the first discovered by Mr. Oxley and named by him Campbell's lake. Mr. Stapylton found only a grassy plain without a drop of water. By an opening from Cudjallagong lake he proceeded to another likewise seen by Mr. Oxley. It had also become a verdant plain, nevertheless I thought it was necessary to distinguish it on my map by its native name of Goorongully, as Mr. Oxley had not supplied any to it.
Leaving Mr. Stapylton in charge of the camp I went with a small mounted party to Cudjallagong (Regent's lake) which I found to be nine miles to the east-south-east of our tents. We passed by the place where Cudjallagong creek first leaves the river and by which this lake is supplied.
Mr. Stapylton proceeded with a party to make a survey of Cudjallagong lake and creek, an operation which could be accomplished with less inconvenience as that gentleman's equipment could not come up to us until the 16th.
The uniformity of breadth and width in this streamlet and its tortuous course were curious, especially as it must lead the floods of the Lachlan almost directly back from the general direction of their current to supply a lake. Thus the fluviatile process seemed to be reversed here, the tendency of this river being not to carry surface waters off, but rather to spread over land where none could otherwise be found, those brought from a great distance. The particular position of this portion of depressed surface being so far distant from the general course of the river and the communication between it and the river by a backwater so shallow and small, the lake can only receive a small share of the river deposits and this only from the waters of its highest floods. We found the "noble lake" (as it appeared when discovered by Mr. Oxley) now for the most part a plain covered with luxuriant grass; some water, it is true, lodged on the most eastern extremity, but nowhere to a greater depth than a foot. Innumerable ducks took refuge there and also a great number of black swans and pelicans, the last standing high upon their legs above the remains of Regent's lake. We found the water perfectly sweet even in this shallow state. It abounds with the large freshwater mussel.
On its northern margin and a good way within the former boundary of the lake stood dead trees of a full-grown size which had been apparently killed by too much water, plainly showing, like the trees similarly situated in Lake George and Lake Bathurst, to what long periods the extremes of drought and moisture have extended.

Beyond Mount Torrens we entered the region which lies to the westward of the Macquarie range, and found several new plants, especially a very pretty Xerotes, with sweetly perfumed flowers, being a good deal like X. leucocephala, but with the leaves filamentous at the edges, and the male spikes interrupted.* We encamped on a deep pond at a bend of the Lachlan named Gonniguldury. I learnt from the old native guide who accompanied us from Regent's lake that they call those ponds of a river which never dry up quawy, a word which proved to be of use to us in descending the Lachlan. At this camp I found, by a careful observation of alpha and beta Centauri, that the magnetic variation was 8 degrees 56 minutes 15 seconds East.
Near this scrub we saw also many pigeons and parrots; which strengthened our hopes of finding water, which hopes however were disappointed, and we at length tied our horses' heads to the trees in a bit of scrub, and I lay down on a few boughs for the night under the cover of a gunya or bower which, on such occasions, was set up by Woods in a very short time. (See Volume 1.)
April 23.
Dew had providentially fallen during the night and it proved in some measure a substitute for the want of water to our horses. It was also highly favourable to the object of our tour in affording a refraction when the sun rose, so that Coccaparra (Macquarie's range) appeared above the horizon and enabled me to determine our distance from it to be sixty miles. Still even this refractive state of the air brought no hills in view to the north or north-west, a circumstance which surprised me and afforded additional reason for supposing that the Lachlan might not unite so soon as had been imagined with the Murrumbidgee.
Clumps of trees of the flooded box, or marura of the natives, appeared occasionally in and about the many hollows in the surface; and, on the isolated eminences of red sand, callitris trees grew, always hopeless objects to persons in want of water. These patches of sand however were not numerous, and never rose more than a few feet above the common surface, which in general consisted of clay more or less tenacious. Parts of it were quite naked; but others bore a crop of grass about three years old which probably sprang up after the last thorough drenching of the surface.
So parched however was the ground now, especially in those parts which bore no vegetation, that it yawned in cracks too deep to be fathomed by the length of my sabre and arm together.
The first line of trees we crossed enclosed only a shallow channel, overgrown with polygonum; and we in vain sought the natives although we saw where portions of fire had been recently dropped.
Three miles further we perceived a more promising line of trees and smoke arising from them also. There we found the yarra trees growing on a flat with a reedy channel meandering amongst them. The fire arose from some burning trees and grass; and there were huts of natives but no inhabitants.
We found that this belt of river-trees enclosed a dry swamp only, covered with dead reeds, amongst which stood a forest of dead yarra trees, bearing well-defined marks of water in dark stained rings at the height of about four feet on their barkless trunks. The soil was soft and rich and, where no roots of reeds bound it together, it opened in yawning cracks which were very deep. This dried up swamp was nearly a mile broad, and beyond it we found firm open and good ground; some very large eucalypti or yarra growing between it and the edge of the reeds.
After proceeding thus about two miles, the chirping of birds and a tree full of chattering parrots raised my hopes that water was near; and at a very sharp turn of the channel, to the great delight of all, I at length saw a large and deep pool. Our horses stood drinking a full quarter of an hour; and during the time a duck dropped into the pond amongst them. The poor bird appeared to have been as much overcome by thirst as ourselves for, on the inconsiderate native throwing his boomerang, it was scarcely able to fly to the top of the opposite bank. As the grass was good I halted during the remainder of the day for the sake of our horses; although the delay subjected us to another night in the bush. I made the men sit down out of sight of the pond for a reason which I did not choose to tell them; but it was that we might not, by our presence, deprive many other starving creatures of a benefit which Providence had so bountifully afforded to us.
On a large tree overlooking the pond, and which had already been deprived by the natives of a considerable patch of bark, I chalked the letter M, which the men cut out of the solid wood with their tomahawks. This being the lowest permanent pond above the separation of the river into so many arms, I thought that by such a mark of a white man the natives would be more ready to point out the spot to any future traveller when required. I found about the fires of the natives a number of small balls of dry fibre resembling hemp, and I at first supposed it to be a preparation for making nets, having seen such on the Darling.
The yarra grew here, as on the Darling, to a gigantic size, the height sometimes exceeding 100 feet; and its huge gnarled trunks, wild romantic-formed branches often twisting in coils, shining white or light red bark, and dark masses of foliage, with consequent streaks of shadow below, frequently produced effects fully equal to the wildest forest scenery of Ruysdael or Waterloo. Often as I hurried along did I take my last look with reluctance of scenes forming the most captivating studies. The yarra is certainly a pleasing object in various respects; its shining bark and lofty height inform the traveller of a distant probability of water, or at least of the bed of a river or lake; and being visible over all other trees it usually marks the course of rivers so well that, in travelling along the Darling and Lachlan, I could with ease trace the general course of the river without approaching its banks until I wished to encamp. The nature and character of several other species of the genus eucalyptus were nevertheless very different and peculiar. The small kind, covered with a rough bark and never exceeding the size of fruit trees in an orchard and called, I believe, by Mr. Oxley, the dwarf-box, but by the natives goborro, grows only on plains subject to inundation, and it usually bears on the lower part of the trunk the mark of the water by which it is at times surrounded. Between the goborro and the yarra there seems this difference: the yarra grows only on the banks of rivers, lakes, or ponds, from the water of which the roots derive nourishment; but when the trunk itself has been too long immersed the tree dies; as appeared on various lakes and in reedy swamps on the Lachlan. The goborro on the contrary seldom grows on the banks of a running stream, but seems to thrive in inundations, however long their duration. Mr. Oxley remarked during his wet journey that there was always water where these trees grew. We found them in most cases during a dry season, a sure indication that none was to be discovered near them. It may be observed however that all permanent waters are invariably surrounded by the yarra. These peculiarities we ascertained only after examining many a hopeless hollow where grew the goborro by itself; nor until I had found my sable guides eagerly scanning the yarra from afar when in search of water, and condemning any distant view of goborro trees as hopeless during that dry season. In describing the trees which ornamented the river scenery I must not omit to mention a long-leaved acacia whose dark stems and sombre foliage, drooping over the bank, presented a striking and pleasing contrast to the yarra trunks, and the light soil of the water-worn banks. The bimbel (or spear-wood) which grows on dry forest land, the pine-like Callitris pyramidalis on red sandhills, and a variety of acacias in the scrubs, generally present groups of the most picturesque description.
We saw however the river-line of trees on our left, and late in the day we approached it. Here I recognised the Lachlan again united in a single channel, which looked as capacious as it was above, the only difference being that the yarra trees seemed low and of stunted growth. A singular appearance on the bushes which grew on the immediate bank attracted my attention. A paper-like substance hung over them in the manner in which linen is sometimes thrown over a hedge; but on examination it appeared to be the dried scum of stagnant water. This--marks of water on the trees and the less water-worn character of the banks which were of even slope and grassy--seemed to show that the current of the river during floods here loses its force, and that the water is consequently slower in subsiding than higher up the stream.
May 5.
The ground being very heavy the cattle in the carts proceeded but slowly along the plains to the northward of the Lachlan; and while the party followed Mr. Stapylton I went along the bank with the natives to visit Mr. Oxley's last camp, which was not above a mile from that we had left. On my way I crossed a bed of fine gravel, a circumstance the more remarkable, not only because gravel was so uncommon on these muddy plains, but because Mr. Oxley had also remarked that no stone of any kind could be seen within five miles of the place. This gravel consisted of sand and pebbles of quartz about the size of a pea. Our female guide, who appeared to be about thirty years of age, remembered the visit of the white men; and she this day showed me the spot where Mr. Oxley's tent stood, and the root with some remains of the branches of a tree near it which had been burnt down very recently, and on which she said some marks were cut.
Several trees around had been sawn and on two, about thirty yards west from the burnt stump, were the letters WW and IW 1817. The tree bearing the last letters was a goborro or dwarf box, and had been killed two years before by the natives stripping off a sheet of bark; but from the growth of the solid wood around the carved part it appeared that this tree had increased in diameter about an inch and a half in seventeen years; the whole diameter, including the bark, being sixteen inches. We immediately dug around the burnt stump in search of the bottle deposited there by Mr. Oxley, but without success. The gins said that he rode forward some way beyond, and marked another tree at the furthest place he reached. I accordingly went there with them, and they showed me a tree marked on each side but, the cuttings being in the bark only, they were almost grown out. It stood beside a small branch or outlet of the river, which led into a hollow of polygonum. The natives also said that one of Mr. Oxley's men was nearly drowned in trying to cross this but that they got him out. They positively assured me that this was the farthest point Mr. Oxley reached; and it seemed the more probable as during a flood the deep and narrow gully extending between the river and the field of polygonum must have then been under water, and a most discouraging impediment to the traveller. I place this spot in latitude 33 degrees 45 minutes 10 seconds South; longitude 144 degrees 56 minutes East. The natives further informed me that three white men on horseback who had canoes (boats) on the Murrumbidgee had visited this part of the Lachlan since, and that after crossing it and going a little way beyond, they had returned.
About seven miles from the camp the river, the general course of which had been for several days about south-west, turned southward; and we came in sight of Waljeers. The natives had for some days told us of Waljeers, which proved to be the bed of a lake nearly circular and about four miles in circumference. It was perfectly dry, but in wet seasons it must be a fine sheet of water. As we approached its banks I observed that the surface, which was somewhat elevated above the country nearer the river, consisted of firm red soil with large bushes of atriplex, mesembryanthemum, and other shrubs peculiar to that kind of surface, which is so common on the left bank of the Bogan.

The whole expanse of the lake was at this time covered with the richest verdure and the perfumed gale which:
fanned the cheek and raised the hair, Like a meadow breeze in spring,
heightened the charm of a scene so novel to us. I soon discovered that this fragrance proceeded from the plant resembling clover which we found so excellent as a vegetable during the former journey.* A young crop of it grew in scanty patches near the shores of the lake, and I recognised it with delight, as it seems the most interesting of Australian plants. The natives here called it Calomba and told us that they eat it. Barney said it grew abundantly at Murroagin after rain. It seems to spring up only on the richest of alluvial deposits, in the beds of lagoons during the limited interval between the recession of the water and the desiccation of the soil under a warm sun.** Exactly resembling new mown hay in the perfume which it gives out even when in the freshest state of verdure, it was indeed sweet to sense and lovely to the eye in the heart of a desert country. When at sea off Cape Leeuwin in September 1827, after a three months' voyage and before we made the land, I was sensible of a perfume from the shore which this plant recalled to my recollection.
In the afternoon we came upon the river where rich weeds and lofty reeds enveloped a soft luxuriant soil. The yarra, or bluegum, not only grew on its banks, but spread over the flats; but I remarked that where the reeds grew thickest most of the trees were dead; and that almost all bore on their trunks the marks of inundation. These dead trees among reeds suggest several questions: Were they killed by the frequent burning of the reeds in summer? If so, how came they to grow first to such a size among them? Or did excess of moisture or its long continuance kill them? Are seasons now different from those which must have admitted of the growth of these trees for half a century? Or have changes in the levels of the deposits made by the larger rivers below, produced inundations above, to a greater extent than they had spread formerly?
I was returning with the overseer from examining the country some miles in advance of the carts, and with the intention of encamping where I had left them halted, when I found the men had followed my track into some bad ground. After extricating them from it I proceeded three miles further to Bidyengoga, which we did not reach until dark. Water was found in the bed of the Lachlan on our penetrating through a broad margin of reeds towards some lofty yarra trees. Latitude 34 degrees 12 minutes 17 seconds South; longitude 144 degrees 18 minutes East.
The course of the Murrumbidgee, as far as I traced it in that excursion, appeared to be about west, and I distinctly saw, from the highest point I attained on that river, rising ground at a great distance also bearing east. Under these circumstances it was obvious that the long course of the river Lachlan is in no part better defined than where it enters the basin of the Murrumbidgee. Water, which had been so scarce in other parts, was abundant where its channel and immediate margins assumed the reedy character of the greater river. So far from terminating in a lagoon or uninhabitable marsh, the banks of the Lachlan at fifty miles below the spot where Mr. Oxley supposed he saw its termination as a river, are backed on both sides by rising ground, until the course turns finally southward into the Murrumbidgee.
I saw the first of these heaps when near the end of the last day's journey along the Lachlan, where this river partook of the reedy character of the Murrumbidgee. I understood that the balyan or bulrush-root which is the chief food of the natives there is prepared in those kilns when a family or tribe are together. I ascertained the name of the place to be Weyeba; its latitude is 34 degrees 21 minutes 34 seconds South; longitude 143 degrees 56 minutes 27 seconds East.
May 16.
We commenced our journey down the Murrumbidgee. Our route passed occasionally through reeds as we cut off the bends of the river; but they formed no serious impediment although they stood so high that we occasionally experienced some difficulty in following each other through them. Having found, after surveying the river a few miles down, that the general course was about south-west, as I had also found it to be above our camp, I followed that direction as a general line of route, leaving the river at length at some distance to the left. The country looked well, lofty yarra trees and luxuriant grass giving it the appearance of fine forest land; but most of these trees bore marks of inundation, and the water appeared to have reached several feet up their trunks. At length I came on a native path conducting westward; but as it led to rising ground with Atriplex halimoides, etc., I bent our course to the south and reached the river at sunset.
Burnett and Piper followed the native path until they came to the bed of a fine lake about half a mile across, and they met some natives who told them that the name of it was Weromba. Mr. Stapylton also discovered a small lake of the same sort near our route and south of the other. Both sheets of water, like that of Waljeers, were surrounded by a ridge of rising ground consisting of the red earth of the dry plains, and it was covered with the salsolaceous shrubs peculiar to them. These lakes seem to be supplied only from the highest floods of the river, and to constitute a remarkable and peculiar feature in the character of the surface. I had been informed of a very large one of the same kind named Quawingame near the left bank of the Lachlan, and not far from its junction with the Murrumbidgee; but the singular turn of the first-mentioned river prevented me from seeing it.
The land adjacent to the river was of the richest quality; and the grass on it was luxuriant and the forest scenery fine. The lofty trees certainly bore marks of inundation one or two feet high; but as land still higher was not far distant it cannot be doubted, notwithstanding its liability to become flooded, that the soil might supply the wants of an industrious population; especially as its spontaneous productions are the chief support of the aboriginal inhabitants.
We came thus upon some rainwater in the clay of the plains which, being sufficient to satisfy the bullocks, we gladly availed ourselves of the opportunity it afforded of watering them without unyoking. After proceeding about three miles further we saw a lagoon between us and the Murrumbidgee. It resembled a bend of the river, and contained abundance of water on which were three pelicans and a number of ducks. When we had travelled nearly far enough to encamp, we came on two other lagoons of the same kind, similarly situated and both containing water. The grass being good, I determined to pitch our tents between them, as the cattle might thus be watered for one night at least without the risk of being bogged or drowned. These lagoons looked like different bends of a river, although we saw the ends of both and passed on firm ground between them. It was evident however that they could only be supplied by the inundations of the river. On this day we killed a kangaroo.
May 19.
During the night the weather was tempestuous; at three A.M. it blew a hurricane and the rain fell heavily afterwards. I was not sorry when the wind abated for we were so confined for room between the two lagoons that my tent had been pitched, and most of our encampment placed, unavoidably under a large yarra tree, a very unsafe position during high winds, but fortunately no branches fell. In the morning, after proceeding about a mile, another lagoon lay before us, which was full of water and indeed terminated in the river. We avoided it by turning to the right and gaining the higher ground above the level of floods. We continued along this upper land, thus crossing two small plains; but soon after, being apprehensive of going too far from the river, we again entered the open forest of yarra trees which marked so distinctly its immediate margin. At 3 1/2 miles we passed a bend of the river, full of dead trees, the banks being quite perpendicular and loose. After reaching another bend three miles further we noticed two lagoons, apparently the remains of an ancient channel of the river; and at ten miles we came upon a creek as capacious as the Lachlan and full of large ponds of water. Mr. Stapylton examined this creek some way up and he found that it came from the north-east; and on arriving at a favourable place I crossed with the party and encamped, the day having been very rainy and cold. We soon discovered that this channel was only a branch of one from the north and, the latter being very deep, I determined to halt next day, that its course might be explored while the men made a fit passage across it for the carts.
The Murray was flowing rapidly in a narrower channel and within two or three feet of the top of the banks. The country appeared on the whole superior to any that we had seen on the other side of this river. The grassy flats backed by hills covered with callitris seemed very eligible for cattle runs, the chief objection to them being only that the banks of the river were so steep and yielding that the water was in general inaccessible. The breadth seldom exceeded 60 or 70 yards; and I suspected that we might be already above the junction of some stream on the right bank, especially as the course came now so much from the southward.
On crossing the extremity of a sandhill, about two miles from the spot where we afterwards encamped, I perceived that reeds covered a vast region before us. They grew everywhere, even under the trees, and extended back from the channel of the river as far as I could see and, no alternative presenting itself, we endeavoured to face them. The lofty ash-hills of the natives, used chiefly for roasting the balyan (or bulrush) a root found only in such places, again appeared in great numbers. We soon came upon a lagoon about a mile in circumference and surrounded on all sides by high reeds. One or two smooth grassy hills arose among them, but the ground, even where they grew, was as firm and good for travelling upon as any that we had recently crossed. They were no impediment to a man or bullock in motion, but grew to the height of about seven or eight feet.
Grass was also to be found among them and I was willing to encamp there; but the difficulty was in finding a spot where the cattle could approach the water. The flood ran high in the deep and rapid river; yet the margin was covered with high reeds and, although I ultimately encamped near a small lagoon within the reeds, the cattle would not venture to drink at it, instinctively shrinking back from the muddy margin. In the course of the evening one animal fell into the river and was extricated with great difficulty and after much digging in the bank. One remarkable difference between this river and the Murrumbidgee was that, in the latter, even where reeds most prevailed, a certain space near the bank remained tolerably clear: whereas on this river the reeds grew most thickly and closely on its immediate banks, thus presenting a much less imposing appearance than the Murrumbidgee, with its firmer banks crowned with lofty forests of yarra. Each Australian river seems to have some peculiar character, sustained with remarkable uniformity throughout the whole course.
One or two spots seemed very favourable for farms or cattle stations. The soil in these grassy flats was of the richest description: indeed the whole of the country covered by reeds seemed capable of being converted into good wheat land, and of being easily irrigated at any time by the river. This stream was also navigable when we were there, and produce might be conveyed by it at such seasons to the seashore. There was no miasmatic savannah, nor any dense forest to be cleared; the genial southern breeze played over these reedy flats which may one day be converted into clover-fields. For cattle stations the land possessed every requisite, affording excellent winter grass back among the scrubs to which cattle usually resort at certain seasons; while at others they could fatten on the rich grass of the plains, or during the summer heat enjoy the reeds amid abundance of water. We found on these plains an addition to the common grasses.* The fine open country afforded extensive views, and to the eastward and south-east we saw hills with grassy sides and crowned with callitris.
June 23.
The most eastern of these smooth bare ridges was immediately above our camp and, observing in it the regularity of curve which I had noticed in others, I was struck with the analogy, and in these ridges being always on the eastern shore of hollows or lakes, while the western was irregularly indented, and was in some parts so abrupt as to have the character of cliffs. The southern end of the ridges was generally the highest.
Perceiving no reeds near the lake nor any birds upon it I sent Mr. Stapylton to taste the water, which he found to be quite salt, like that of the sea. This and several of the other basins were surrounded by high ground and were without any communication with the river.
A concentric border of grass of uniform breadth grew on the slope above the rushes, and one of fragrant herbs below the line of rushes, all being at nearly equal distances; while a single row of bare poles measuring from three to five inches in diameter stood where a row of saplings had grown in what had, at one time, been the very centre of the stream. These poles were the remains of yarra trees eight or ten years old, and marked the extent doubtless of a long period of drought which had continued until some high flood killed them.
June 25.
The country we passed over this day was upon the whole richer in point of grass than any we had seen since we left Sydney; I therefore suspected that the soil had some better rock for a basis than sandstone; and I had reason to believe that it was limestone, from indications of subsidence which I observed on the surface.
We had discovered no similar country during either of the two former journeys. There were none of the acacia trees we had seen on the lower Bogan; while the grasses were also different from any of those on the Darling. A fine new species of Daviesia, very like a Grevillea and forming a most singular bush, grew here. It had no leaves, but green branches formed into short, broad, thick vertical plates arranged spirally, and much lower than the little axillary clusters of flowers which were just beginning to open.* We also met with bushes of the rare Trymalium majoranaefolium, a hoary bush with clusters of small grey flowers, enclosed when young in a bright, large membranous involucre. Once or twice distant rows of lofty gumtrees appeared to indicate the line of the river; but on approaching them we found either dry hollows or the same ana-branch, as it seemed, on which we last encamped. I observed at several places that the more dense box-forests near this branch of the river were skirted with ground broken into low undulations six or eight feet square. These appeared where there was great depth of soil, and were probably caused by deep rents or cracks opened at the first induration of the deposit, and subsequently modified by rain and other atmospheric agents. This seems to be the state of the deep deposits at the present day where, from the absence of trees, the surface of tenacious soils remains visible. I was first struck with this effect in the clays near the Darling where alternate saturation and desiccation seemed to check all vegetation. On the upper parts of the Bogan also I saw these inequalities on a very large scale, but there the hollows still exist under dense forests of casuarinae, and are so deep and extensive that I for some time was induced to examine them in hopes of finding water; but from a small hole or fissure still remaining there I soon learnt that any such search was hopeless.
On laying down my survey of the country which we had lately passed over I found that the lakes were nearly all circular or oval, and that a very regularly curved ridge, as before stated, bounded the eastern shore of all of them. The number of lakes or hollows of this character already seen by us to the south-west of the Murray amounted to eleven. In three of them the water was salt, and the greater number had no communication with the river; but between it and the others there was a narrow creek or gully, but accessible only to the highest floods. The northern margin of one of the salt lakes consisted of a bank of white sand on which grew thickly a kind of pine, different from the trees around. The channels between the river and the lakes seemed neither to belong to the original arrangement of watercourses, nor to ana-branches of the rivers; for they frequently extended upwards in directions opposed to that of the river's course. The fact being established that some of these lakes have no obvious connection with the river, it becomes probable that they are the remains of what the surface was before the fluviatile process began to carry off its waters. I had no difficulty in referring to an early system of this kind other lakes which we had seen elsewhere, the anomalous peculiarities of which were equally remarkable. Among these were Cudjallagong and others adjacent; Waljeers; the two smaller on the Murrumbidgee named Weromba; also Lake Benanee and Prooa its neighbour; in all which the peculiarities accorded with what I had observed in those on the left bank of the Murray.
August 3.
The ponds where we had encamped were large and deep, and I endeavoured to ascertain whether the cod-perch (Gristes peelii) inhabited these waters. Neither this fine fish nor either of the two others found in the streams flowing towards the interior from the eastern coast range have ever been seen in the rivers which reach the eastern shores; and I had now ascertained that all the waters in which we had procured the fish in question belonged to the extensive basin of the Murray. We were at length on channels evidently distinct, both from those leading to the eastern coast and those belonging to the basin of the Murray. The beds of the rivers flowing to the east coast are chiefly rocky, containing much sand but very little mud, consequently no reeds grow on their banks, nor is the freshwater mussel found in them, as in rivers on the interior side, which in general flow over a muddy bed and are not unfrequently distinguished by reedy banks. Judging therefore from the nature of the soil of this southern region, the fishes peculiar to the Murray might be looked for in the rivers of the south, rather than those fishes known in the rivers falling eastward. It was important to ascertain at least what point of the coast separated the rivers containing different kinds of fish. In these ponds we caught only some very small fry, and the question could not be satisfactorily determined, although the natives declared that none of them were the spawn of cod-perch.
August 4.
Proceeding over ground of a similar character we crossed several fine streams, some flowing in shallow channels over rocks, others in deep ravines. The ground on the higher parts was however still so soft as to yield to the wheels, and very much impeded the progress of the party, especially at one place where an extensive lake, full of reeds or rushes, appeared to the right. The drays sunk to the axles, the whole of the soil in our way having become so liquid that it rolled in waves around the struggling bullocks. The passage of some of the streams could not be accomplished until we had filled up the bed with large logs, covered them with boughs, and strewed over the whole, the earth cut away from the steep banks. Under such circumstances I considered six miles a good day's journey, and indeed too much for the cattle. I halted for the night with a small advanced party only on a fine little stream running over a rocky bed; while the main body was compelled to remain with the carts several miles behind, having broken, in the efforts made to extricate the carts and boat-carriage, many of the chains, and also a shaft. The small river I had reached ran in a bed of little width, but was withal so deep that it seemed scarcely passable without a bridge. At the junction however of a similar one, some rocks, favourably situated, enabled us to effect a passage by bedding logs between them and covering the whole with branches and earth, leaving room for the water to pass between.
When we had travelled four miles we came to a swamp where a considerable current of water was flowing into it through some ponds; the margin of this running water being broad, flat, and grassy, and having also lofty gumtrees (white bark and eucalypti) growing on it. Unfortunately it was so soft and rotten, as the men described it, that all the wheels sunk to the axles and, although in such cases it was usual to apply the combined force of several teams to draw each vehicle through in turn, we found that the rising ground opposite was equally soft and yielding, so that the cattle could have no firm footing to enable them to pull. It was night before we could, with the strength of all the teams united by long chains and yoked to each vehicle successively, bring the whole through, the broad wheels of each cart actually ploughing to the depth of the axle in soft earth; the labour of the cattle may therefore be imagined. We encamped on a small barren plain much resembling a heath and just beyond the swamp which had proved so formidable an impediment.
The hills on the margins of the Australian salt lakes are always on the north-east side, or opposite that of the prevailing south-west winds. The formation of these hills is probably due to the action of the wind, the growth and decomposition of small shells, the carbonate of lime disengaged by evaporation, and the concretion of calcareous matter and friable tuff so common in these ridges.
In two of the most remarkable, Mitre Lake and Greenhill Lake, a portion of the basin of each, between the hilly curves and the water, was filled by a dark-coloured perfectly level deposit, apparently of vegetable mould. This being of a quality different from that of the hills, it would appear that any process by which these heights may have originated through the agency of the water adjacent and the wind could not continue after this differen

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Re: Early explorers describe unique features of the Aust L'scape

Post by ccxzayhi » Thu Dec 29, 2016 5:38 pm

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"The small river I had reached ran in a bed of little width, but was withal so deep that it seemed scarcely passable without a bridge. At the junction however of a similar one, some rocks, favourably situated, enabled us to effect a passage by bedding logs between them and covering the whole with branches and earth, leaving room for the water to pass between. "
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