Part 6 out of 10
bank of a flooded creek, crossing it on its subsidence on the third day.
On the 28th February they were in better country, and a good stage was
made, and the next morning they encountered a tribe of blacks who greeted
them with cries of "Alico! Franco! Tobacco!" and other words. From these
natives they finally selected three as guides, and at noon the following
day reached the settlement.
As was but natural, their long journey had caused their father great
trouble and anxiety; he had done all in his power to help them at the
end, having cut a marked tree line almost across the promontory, and
instructed the blacks in the few English words they could remember to
greet the wanderers if they met with them, which last device succeeded
It remains but to be said that the rest of the party and the remnant of
their stock were soon brought in to Somerset, where a cattle station was
formed. When we look at the difficulties through which they had forced
their way, and the unexpected misfortunes that beset them, one cannot
help feeling the greatest admiration for the two brothers in attaining
such success, not having lost a member of the party throughout the
journey, in spite of the numberless treacherous attacks of the natives to
which they were subjected, and the daily risks of illness, swimming
flooded rivers, and other perils. Above all regret must be felt that
their work was not better rewarded by the discovery of available pastoral
country, but that result it was not in their power to control. They had
at any rate the proud feeling of having done their duty, and that beset
by the same dangers that had environed poor Kennedy, they had lived to
tell the tale when he had laid down his life.
Whilst the Jardines were fighting their way through to Cape York, and
rendering such good service to geographical research, a labour which the
Royal Geographical Society afterwards acknowledged by electing the
brothers, Fellows of the Society, and awarding the Murchison grant to
each of them, the pioneer squatters were everywhere busy.
Mr. J. G. Macdonald started with a small party to visit the much lauded
Plains of Promise, and discover a better route for stock than the one
formerly taken by the explorers. By crossing the dividing range on to the
upper part of the Flinders, and following that river down, a much shorter
and more practicable route was made available for the army of cattle and
sheep now marching to the western pasture land, and the magnificent
country on the river named after the great navigator was brought
prominently into notice.
In the far north of Australia, settlement on a fresh scale was once more
undertaken; this time under purely colonial auspices. The territory
beyond the northern boundary line of South Australia, extending to the
shores of Arnheim's Land, and part of the Gulf of Carpentaria had long
been considered No Man's Land, although the English had formerly taken
possession of it. The arrival of the ASTROLABE and ZELIE in Raffles Bay
in 1839, gave colour to the supposition that the French had a design to
secure part of this territory after our first abandonment of it.
Fortunately Sir Gordon Bremer was in time to make the second settlement
at Port Essington a few short weeks before the appearance of M, Dumont
D'Urville, even as Governor Phillip forestalled La Perouse.
The territory was provisionally annexed to the Province of South
Australia by commission under the great seal, bearing date 8th July,
1863. It comprised all the country to the northward of the twenty-sixth
parallel south latitude, and between the 129th and 138th degrees of east
The inland country was known only from the description of Stuart, Gregory
In 1864 an expedition left Adelaide to proceed by sea to Adam Bay, and
there form a depôt, whilst search for a suitable site for a township was
made. Colonel Finnis was sent in charge of the infant colony, and three
vessels, the HENRY ELLIS, the YATALA, and the BEATRICE conveyed the
emigrants to their destination, where they safely arrived in August,
A discretionary power had been entrusted to the leader with regard to the
choice of a suitable position; Port Essington and Raffles Bay were
excepted, the former failures to establish settlements at those places
being probably looked upon as ominous.
Escape Cliffs in Adam Bay, so called from the narrow escape two officers
of the BEAGLE had from death at the hands of the natives, was chosen, but
the choice was not ratified. A good deal of dissension broke out in the
early days, and J. M'Kinlay, the well-known explorer, was sent north to
select a more favourable position, and report generally on the
capabilities of the territory. He organized an exploring party, and left
the camp at Escape Cliffs with the intention of making a long excursion
to the eastward; but he only reached the East Alligator River, where he
was cut off and hemmed in by sudden floods, and narrowly escaped losing
his whole party. Everything had to be abandoned, and the explorers
escaped from their critical position by resorting to the construction of
coracles of horse hide, by means of which they managed to save their
lives. On his return, M'Kinlay examined the mouth of the Daly River in
Anson Bay, and recommended it as a site in preference to Escape Cliffs,
the suggestion was not, however, acted on.
This was M'Kinlay's last expedition. He died at Gawler, in South
Australia, in December, 1874.
The affairs of the new settlement were now in such a disorganised state
that a commission of enquiry was appointed, and the result was that
Colonel Finnis was removed.
Mr. Goyder then selected Port Darwin as a better situation than that of
Escape Cliffs, and the township was laid out and the residents removed to
there. The establishment of the overland telegraph line soon caused the
town of Palmerston to take permanent importance, which the discovery of
gold in the Northern Territory confirmed.
Western Australia, too, had an unfortunate experience about this time, an
attempt being made to establish a settlement at Camden Harbour. The
country was quite unsuitable, and it was abandoned.
Some fresh interest was now aroused in the unsettled question of the fate
of Leichhardt. A Mr. M'Intyre, who, in 1864, was taking stock from the
Darling to the Flinders River, found himself stopped on the Queensland
border by the stock regulations then in force in that colony. Whilst
detained there he made several short excursions, and examined the country
between the head of the Paroo and the Barcoo, discovering many
well-watered creeks and a lake of considerable size. On his return,
finding that there was still no chance of his being allowed to take his
stock on, he determined to make a trip to the Gulf of Carpentaria and
examine the country he intended taking up.
The party left the Paroo on the 21St June, 1864, and the journey led to
an unexpected discovery. On the way over, M'Intyre found and buried the
bodies of two unfortunate pioneers who had preceded him, Messrs. Curlewis
and M'Culloch. They had. been murdered when asleep by the natives.
Twenty-two days after leaving the Paroo they reached Cooper's Creek, and
then pursued much the same track to the Gulf as that formerly followed by
Burke and Wills, and M'Kinlay. Three hundred miles from the sea, and to
the westward of Burke's track, M'Intyre came upon two old saddle-marked
horses, grazing upon what appeared to be a permanently watered creek. A
short distance to the eastward he found the traces of two camps, and two
trees marked L. From these circumstances M'Intyre concluded that he had
come upon new and important traces of the lost explorer.
On his return to the south, public interest was at once aroused, and,
aided by the championship of Baron Von Mueller, whose enthusiasm in the
cause of discovery never flags, a committee was formed to organise a
party to at once follow up these clues, and try to set at rest the
In order to fully arouse the sympathies of the public, the matter was
with much gallantry placed in the hands of the ladies of Victoria, and
under their auspices a party was equipped and the command given to Mr.
M'Intyre. Unfortunately for the success of the expedition, the leader
died of malarial fever before the party left the settled districts of the
Gulf of Carpentaria. From the course mapped out for the explorers, there
is no doubt that, even if the aim of the expedition had not been reached,
an earlier knowledge of much unknown country would have been obtained.
As was but natural, the construction of the overland telegraph line
between Adelaide and Port Darwin led to numbers of short explorations on
either side of the line, which considerably added to our knowledge of the
interior, but of which no records have been kept.
The establishment of this telegraph line and its maintenance did much
towards the settlement of Central Australia. It formed, as it were, a
chain of outposts through the heart of the continent, and thereby greatly
facilitated the success of many private expeditions undertaken in quest
of country for pastoral purposes.
South Australia had served a rough apprenticeship in the cause of
exploration, and the experience gained by her pioneers now stood her in
good stead in the successful accomplishment of the national work she at
this time undertook--the establishment of telegraphic communication with
England. Queensland, the youngest colony of the group, was striving very
hard to secure the landing of the cable on her shores. Walker, the leader
of one of the Burke and Wills search parties, was out examining the
country at the back of Rockingham Bay, and marking a telegraph line from
there to the mouth of the Norman River, in the Gulf of Carpentaria. South
Australia, however, thanks to her energy and superior geographical
position, secured the honour; and already the completion of a railway
across the country which witnessed the repeated efforts of Stuart is
being hastened on.
In Western Australia, in 1864, Hunt made a long excursion to the eastward
of York, and travelled for 400 miles over the country lying between the
31st and 32nd parallels. He found nothing to reward him for his
trouble--scrub, salt lakes and samphire flats were the same wearisome.
During the construction of the overland telegraph line it was surmised
that such a close examination of the country as would necessarily ensue,
might lead to the finding of traces of Leichhardt, if he ever had reached
so far on his journey; but none were found. Apparently it suggested an
idea to a prisoner in one of the gaols of New South Wales, for he made a
statement to the effect that he had been employed as a labourer on the
construction of the overland telegraph line, and whilst so engaged had
been in the habit of making long excursions into the unexplored territory
on either side of the line. During one of these trips he came across some
blacks, who informed him that they had an old white man living with their
tribe. Hume--which was the name of the hero of this story--professed to
have an intimate acquaintance with the habits and customs of the natives,
and willingly accompanied them to their camp. Here he found a venerable
old white man, who turned out to be Classen--Leichhardt's
brother-in-law--and from him Hume learnt that the death of the leader and
most of his party happened through a mutiny in the camp, Leichhardt being
murdered, and the party then becoming disorganised and lost. This absurd
story was repeated so earnestly that inquiries were instituted, and it
was found that Hume had really been employed on the telegraph line, and
that whilst there he had been absent for some time on one or two
Hume was interviewed by some gentlemen who were interested in the
solution of Leichhardt's fate, and he now added a little additional
matter: that on a subsequent visit he found that Classen, rendered
restless by the near neighbourhood of the whites, had made an effort to
reach them and died in the attempt. This, with a few variations as to the
details of the death of Leichhardt, led to Hume being released from gaol
for the purpose of leading a party to the spot where Classen had pointed
out that he had concealed Leichhardt's journals. But for the tragedy that
ended the affair this episode would scarcely be of sufficient importance
to insert in the history of explorations. Money having been furnished for
the purpose, Hume and two companions started on their search. They
reached Thargomindah--then the nucleus of a small township in Western
Queensland--and left a station called Nockatunga to make a short cut
across some dry country. One man only turned up. He said that they had
lost themselves, had separated looking for water, and with much
difficulty he reached the station. Search being instituted the dead
bodies of Hume and the other man were found, they having perished of
thirst. This story was revived many years afterwards by another man, who
had lived a good deal on the frontiers of Queensland. According to him,
Leichhardt and some of his party died of hunger and thirst, Classen was
revived again, and the discoverer stated that he had in his possession a
diary and many relics of the explorer. Although expressing his
willingness to produce the relics on receiving the promise of an adequate
reward, he never did so, and having attained a temporary notoriety,
returned to his former obscurity. This may be said to end the rumours of
the discovery of Leichhardt's memorials, They served no good end in any
John Forrest, of Western Australia, made his first important journey in
1869. It will be remembered that a report had been current for many years
amongst the natives of Western Australia, to the effect that a party of
white men coming from the east had been murdered by the natives on the
shore of an interior salt lake. A Mr. Monger, when out west in search of
pastoral country, came across a native who stated that he had been to the
place where the murder was committed, had seen the remains, and would
lead the party there.
As usual with the Australian natives, his story was most circumstantial.
He described the scene of the murder as being in the neighbourhood of a
large lake, so large that it looked like the sea, and that the white men
were attacked and killed whilst making a damper. These artistic details
with which the blacks embellish their narratives, make it very hard to
refuse credence to them.
Baron Von Mueller immediately wrote to the Western Australian Government,
offering to lead a party there, and ascertain the truth of the report.
The Government took the matter up, and made preparations to start an
expedition. Von Mueller was, however, prevented by his other engagements
from taking charge, and the command was given to Mr. John Forrest, a
On the 26th of April, 1869, Forrest and his party reached Yarraging, then
the farthest station to the eastward. On the first of May, when camped at
a native well, visited by Austin in 1854, Forrest says that he could
still distinctly see the tracks of that explorer's horses. Past this spot
he fell in with natives, who told him that a large party of men and
horses died at a place in a northerly direction, and that a gun belonging
to the party was still in the possession of the blacks. On closer
examination this story turned out to relate to nine of Mr. Austin's
horses poisoned during his expedition. Forrest continued his journey to
the eastward, and on the 18th came to a large dry salt lake, which he
named Lake Barlee. An attempt to cross this lake resulted in getting the
horses bogged, and a good deal of hard work had to be gone through before
the packs and horses were once more safe on dry land Lake Barlee was
afterwards found to be of great size, extending for more than forty miles
to the eastward. The native guide Forrest had with him now became rather
doubtful as to the exact position of the spot where he professed to have
seen the remains, and Forrest, after some searching, came across a large
party of the local inhabitants. But they proved anything but friendly,
threw dowaks at the blackfellow, and advised the whites to go away before
they were killed. As it was getting dark they adopted this advice, and
retreated some five miles and camped, Mr. Monger having unfortunately
lost his revolver in the scrub. Next morning they managed to get speech
with two of the blacks, who restored the revolver, which they had found,
and had been warming at the fire. These men stated that the bones were
two days' journey to the north, but they were the bones of horses, not of
men, and offered to take the whites there, promising to come to the camp
the following day, a promise which was riot kept.
No other intercourse with the blacks was obtainable, at least none that
produced any good results. One old man simply howled piteously all the
time they were in his company, and another one, who had two children with
him, said most emphatically that he had never heard of any horses having
been killed, but that the natives had just killed and eaten his brother.
After vainly searching the district for many days, Forrest determined to
utilise the remainder of the time at his disposal by examining the
country as far to the eastward as his resources would permit.
It was evident that the story of the white men's remains had originated
from the bones of the horses that died during Austin's trip; and, as no
matter how circumstantial might be the narrations of the blacks, they
invariably contradicted them the next time they were interrogated, it was
evident it would serve little purpose being led by them on a foolish
errand from place to place.
After pushing some distance east with very little encouragement in the
shape of good country, Forrest, taking with him one black boy and a seven
days' supply of rations, made a final excursion ahead, and managed to
reach a point one hundred miles beyond the spot where he left his
companions encamped. He found nothing to reward him. It was only by means
of shallow and scanty pools of water that he managed to get so far, and
the country where he turned back was certainly clearer than any he had
crossed but it was only open sand plains, with spinifex and large white
gums. He climbed a large gum tree to have a last look to the eastward,
but it was a scene of desolation. Some rough sandstone cliffs were
visible, distant about six miles N.E.; more to the north, a narrow line
of samphire flats appeared, with cypress and stunted gums on its
edges everywhere there was spinifex, and no prospect of water. Forrest
turned back, and retraced his steps to where he had left his companions.
On his homeward way he managed to cross the dry bed of Lake Barlee, which
had so nearly engulfed his horses, and examined the northern side of it.
On their return track Forrest kept a more northerly and westerly course,
but saw nothing to alter the unfavourable report of the country made by
the former explorers. He returned to Perth on the 6th August.
Forrest was not more successful than those preceding him in finding good
available country to the eastward, but he at any rate obtained a correct
and reliable survey of a good deal of country hitherto unknown.
On his return to Perth, Baron Von Mueller, whose ardour in the cause was
rather increased by the disappointment experienced in finding that the
accounts of the natives were quite unreliable, recommended a journey from
the head waters of the Murchison in the direction of the Gulf of
Carpentaria. Forrest was quite willing to undertake the trip, but want of
funds stood in the way just then, and the matter was not enthusiastically
supported by others.
It was then proposed to make a journey to Adelaide. by way of the Great
Bight, which had not been traversed since Eyre's celebrated march round
it, and the leadership was offered to Forrest and accepted by him.
The party, beside the leader, consisted of his brother Alexander, two
white men and two natives, one of the last having been on the former
trip. A coasting schooner, the ADUR, of thirty tons, was to accompany
them round the coast, calling at Esperance Bay, Israelite Bay, and Eucla,
there to supply the party with fresh stores. On the 30th March, they left
The first part of the journey to Esperance Bay was through comparatively
settled and well-known country, so that but little interest attaches to
it. At Esperance Bay, where the Messrs. Dempster had a station, they
arrived a few days before the relief schooner, and on the 9th May started
for Israelite Bay.
From Esperance Bay to Israelite Bay the record of the journey is equally
tame, and it was not until he once more parted from his relief boat that
Forrest had to encounter the serious part of his undertaking. He had now
to face the line of cliffs fronting the Bight behind which he had, he
knew, little or no chance of finding water for one hundred and fifty
miles. Forrest says that these cliffs, which fell perpendicularly into
the sea, although grand in the extreme, were terrible to gaze from.
"After looking very cautiously over the precipice, we all ran back quite
terror-stricken by the dreadful view."
Having made what arrangements he could to carry water, Forrest left the
last water on the 5th of April. They reached the break in the cliffs
where the water was obtainable by digging amongst the sandhills, on the
13th April, without any loss, having luckily found many small rock holes
filled with water, which enabled him to push steadily on.
While recruiting at the sand hills he made an excursion to the north, and
after passing through a fringe of scrub twelve miles deep, came upon most
beautifully grassed downs. At fifty miles from the sea there was nothing
visible but gently undulating plains of grass and saltbush at far as
could be seen. There being no prospect of finding water, he was forced to
turn back, fortunately finding small waterholes both on his outward and
On the 24th, they started for Eucla, the last point at which they were to
meet the Adur. On this course he kept to the north of the Hampton Range,
and crossed well-grassed country, but destitute of surface water,
reaching Eucla on the 2nd July. The ADUR was there awaiting them, and the
parties were soon re-united.
On the 8th, Forrest and his brother made another excursion to the north;
he penetrated some thirty miles finding, as before, beautifully-grassed,
boundless plain 9, but no signs of surface water.
After leaving Eucla, the explorers had a distressing stage to the head of
the Great Bight, where they obtained water by digging in the sand, the
horses having been three days without a drink, suffering much more than
on any previous stage. From here they soon entered the settled districts
of South Australia, and the exploring came to an end.
Although this trip of Forrest's can hardly be called an exploring trip,
inasmuch as he was repeating the journey made by Eyre, he embraced a
great deal of new country during its performance, and, owing to the
larger facilities he enjoyed, was able to pronounce a much more impartial
verdict than Eyre was competent to do. Eyre, be it remembered, was
struggling on for his life, Forrest travelled in comparative ease, being
able to supply himself three times from the schooner during the journey;
it is but natural that Eyre's report should bear a very sombre tinge.
Forrest showed that the fringe of gloomy thicket was only confined to the
coast; beyond, he on every occasion found fine pastoral country. He
"The country passed over between longitude 126 deg. 24 min. E. as a
grazing country, far surpasses anything I have ever seen. There is
nothing in the settled portions of Western Australia equal to it, either
in extent or quality; but the absence of permanent water is a great
drawback; . . . the country is very level, with scarcely any undulation,
and becomes clearer as you proceed northward."
The rapid progress now being made in improved methods of boring for
water, will soon bring this country under the sway of the pastoralists,
and without doubt render it one of the most valuable provinces of Western
On his arrival in Adelaide, Forrest received a hearty welcome, and
equally so on his return to Perth. In the following year Alexander
Forrest took charge of a private exploring party in search of new
pastoral country. He had the advantage of a good season, and reached as
far as 123 deg. 37 min. E. longitude; he then struck S.S.E., towards the
coast, finally returning by way of Messrs. Dempster's station in
Forrest's expedition, unfortunately, left no hope that any river existed
that might possibly have been unknowingly crossed at its mouth by Eyre.
The first expeditions of Ernest Giles--Lake Amadens--Determined attempts
to cross the desert--Death of Gibson--Return-Warburton's expedition--
Messrs. Elder and Hughes--Outfit of camels--Departure from Alice
Springs--Amongst the glens--Waterloo Well--No continuation to
Sturt's Creek--Sufferings from starvation--Fortunate relief from death
by thirst--Arrive at the head of the Oakover--Lewis starts to obtain
succour--His return--Gosse sent out by the South Australian Government--
Exploring bullocks--Ayre's rock--Obliged to retreat--Forrest's expedition
from west to east--Good pastoral country--Windich Springs--The Weld
Springs--Attacked by the natives--Lake Augusta--Dry country--Relieved by
a shower--Safe arrival and great success of the expedition--Ernest
Giles in the field--Elder supplies camels--The longest march ever
made in Australia--Wonderful endurance of the camels--The lonely
desert--Strange discovery of water--Queen Victoria's Spring--The march
renewed--Attacked by blacks--Approach the well-known country in Western
Australia--Safe arrival--Giles returns overland, north of Forrest's
track--Little or no result--Great drought--The western interior.
Before following up Forrest's career as an explorer, and tracing his most
important work of crossing the centre of Australia from the sea to the
telegraph line, we must see what the South Australians had been doing.
Ernest Giles, in 1872, made an excursion to the westward, starting from
Chambers' Pillar. His progress was stopped by a large, dry, salt lake, to
which he gave the high-sounding name of Lake Amadens, and which unhappily
figures on maps of Australia in a rather misleading way, as a large,
permanent, BONA FIDE lake. Not being able with his small party to
ascertain the exact limits of this obstacle, which was of the same
character as those so often described as barring the way of the Western
Australian explorers, Giles returned, having traversed a good deal of
country, up to that time unknown and unexamined.
In the following year he again took the field, assisted by the help and
sympathy of Baron Von Mueller, and a sum of money subscribed by the South
Australian Government. He left the settled districts at the river now
called the Alberga, which flows into Lake Eyre, and travelling
north-west, made many determined attempts to cross the spinifex desert
that had confronted him; but had to return beaten.
On one occasion, anxious to reach a range that he saw in the distance,
and where he hoped to find a change of country, he started with one man
and a supply of water on pack horses; as the horses knocked up they were
left to find their way back themselves, until at last, when but two were
left, Giles sent his companion, Gibson, back on one, whilst he made a
final effort to reach the range.
This trip, which recalls one of the purposeless and impetuous exploits of
Grey, resulted in the death of Gibson and the loss of several horses.
Giles' horse soon knocked up, and he had to return on foot. Having, with
really astonishing prudence, left a keg of water buried on his way out,
he made for that. To his dismay, after proceeding some distance he saw
Gibson's track turn off on the trail of one of the horses that had been
abandoned, instead of keeping to the outward track. Hoping still that he
might have found his way back, Giles hastened on to the buried keg, but
it was untouched, and he knew that the unfortunate man's fate was sealed.
Giles made his way back to where the rest were encamped, and they
immediately went in search; but it was fruitless. Neither man nor horse
were ever seen again, and the scene of his death is now marked on the
maps as "Gibson's Desert." During his excursions in various directions,
trying to find a westward route, Giles discovered and traversed four
different ranges of mountains. The party suffered much from the hostility
of the blacks, who on several occasions attacked them; and the leader,
in his journal, complains, like Warburton, of the sleepless nights caused
by the myriads of ants that infested the desert country. The farthest
point reached was the 125th degree of east longitude. He returned to
Adelaide after an absence of twelve months, during which he had gone
through much hardship and danger.
The tract of country between the overland telegraph line and the western
settlements now became the battlefield of the explorers; few of them, it
is true, hoped to find much available country, the accounts of those who
had penetrated a short distance being so depressing; but they struggled
for the honour of being the first to cross the gap of unknown land, often
to the neglect of careful inspection.
One of the expeditions that led to the western half of the continent
being condemned as a hopeless desert was that commanded by Colonel
Warburton, It was promoted by two South Australian colonists whose names
have been always to the front when exploration has been
concerned--Messrs. Thomas Elder and Walter Hughes. They jointly fitted
out the expedition, which, it was hoped, would lead to the advancement of
geographical knowledge; unfortunately, the result was not at all
commensurate. The original idea was that the party should start from
about the neighbourhood of Central Mount Stuart, and make for Perth, this
course, however, was not adhered to. In spite of being fitted out solely
with camels, Warburton suffered so much delay in getting through the
sandhills that his provisions were all consumed and his camels knocked up
before he got half-way through, compelling him to bear up north to the
head waters of the Oakover River, discovered by F. Gregory.
The party consisted of the leader and his son Richard, Mr. Lewis
(surveyor), one white man, two Afghans, and a black boy. They had
seventeen camels, and six months' rations. On the 15th of April, 1873,
the explorers left Alice Springs, one of the stations on the overland
telegraph line, and on the 17th reached the Burt, where they left the
line and struck out west. Warburton's course at first lay some seventy
miles south of Central Mount Stuart; but after a vain search for the
rivers Hugh and Fincke, which were supposed to flow through the M'Donnell
Ranges, he altered his direction, steering to the north-west, meaning to
connect with A. C. Gregory's most southerly point on Sturt's Creek. Their
way for some distance was through good pastoral country, and in some of
the minor ranges beautiful glens were discovered, with deep permanent
pools of water in their beds. So frightened were the camels at the
appearance of the rocks that surrounded these water-holes, that they
would not approach them to drink, and, in fact, even refused the water
when it was brought to them.
On the 22nd of May, after being some days in poor sandy country, they
came to a good creek, the head of which was running, and the whole flat
where the creek emerged from the hills was one spring. This spot, the
best camp they had yet seen, was named Eva Springs. Leaving the main
party resting at these springs, Warburton, with two companions, started
on ahead, and were successful in finding some native wells, that enabled
him to break up his camp and move on with the whole of the men and
On the 5th June they crossed the boundary line between Western Australia
and South Australia; but their progress was now monotonous and most
uninteresting, being through the scrubby, sandy tableland common to the
At some native wells, called by them Waterloo Wells, they had an enforced
spell of more than a month, and in addition lost three camels, and one of
the Afghans nearly died of scurvy. Afterwards they soon got fairly into
the salt-lake country, and on the 12th August, at the end of a long and
exhausting march, were relieved by one of the small native wells, on
which the blacks of this region exist. They were now by their reckoning
within ten miles of Sturt's Creek; but although Warburton made two
separate attempts to find it, he was unable to see any country that at
all resembled the description given by Gregory.
He concluded there was some error in the longitude, and proceeded on his
westerly course. The record of the day's journey now becomes a simple
tale of traversing a barren country, and an incessant search for native
wells; added to that, the excessive heat, caused by the radiation of the
sandhills during the day induced the leader to spare his camels as much
as possible, by travelling at night. This naturally led to a most
unsatisfactory inspection being made of the country, and it is impossible
to say what clues or indications to better country or more permanent
waters were passed by. In fact, he more than once during this part of his
journal mentions the fact of wild geese flying over the camp, although
they never found any surface water to account for their presence.
Starvation was shortly looming ahead; the constant halts and delays had
so protracted their journey that they were almost at the end of their
resources, and still surrounded by a most inhospitable waste. Sickness,
too, came on then, and the full brunt of the search work ahead fell upon
Lewis and the black boy, Charley; their time was taken up in watching for
the smoke of the natives' fires, or looking for their tracks. In the
evening they could travel a little, and in the early morning; at night
the myriads of ants proved an unbearable plague, and prevented the
wearied men getting their natural rest. Their position was as well nigh
hopeless as it was possible for any party to be in; if they stopped to
relieve their camels they starved themselves, and without rest the camels
could not carry them to look for native wells ahead. At last, on the 9th
of October, they reached a small waterhole that the camels themselves had
found when straying, and here perforce, they had to rest, for with the
exception of Lewis and the black boy, the remainder of the party were too
weak to do anything. At this camp they slaughtered another of their
precious camels, and for a time satisfied their gnawing hunger with the
fresh meat; they were also lucky enough to get some galar parrots and
pigeons. Here they stayed for nearly three weeks, and then shifted to
another well to the south.
Warburton now decided to make a desperate push to the head of the Oakover
River, and effect his escape if possible from the desert; on the evening
of the fourth they started, and but for the black boy would have
doubtless all marched on to death. The boy had left the camp in the
morning, after their first night's tramp, and coming across the tracks of
some natives, ran them up, finding another well at their camp, by the
time he got back, the party had been obliged to start without him;
fortunately, he heard the tinkle of the camel bell as he crossed the
sandhills, and by cooeeing loudly managed to attract attention. He then
led the way to this new source of relief, which, but for him, the party
would have missed.
Again they recommenced their journey to the Oakover, Lewis and Charley on
ahead, Warburton and his son coming on as fast as their exhausted state
would permit; their only hope for life now lay in the chance of the
advance party finding water soon and bringing it back to them. At midday,
on the 14th, Lewis appeared with a bag of water; another well had been
found, but this time it nearly cost Charley's life. As he usually did, he
had gone in advance when close to the native camp, in order not to alarm
them. The blacks had received him kindly and given him water; but when he
cooeed for his companions they took a sudden alarm, and set upon him,
spearing him in the arm and back, and cutting his head open with a club.
The remainder of the party were just able to rescue him. It seems quite
certain that this attack was not premeditated, but the effect of timidity
caused by the unexpected appearance of the white men and the camels.
At this well the party had to rest, until Lewis and one of the Afghans
pushed on to the head of the Oakover, which they thought could not be so
very far distant, as the nights were cool and dewy, and in the camp of
the natives they found two large seashells, an old iron tomahawk, and
part of the tire of a dray wheel.
On the 19th November Lewis started, and on the 25th he returned, having
been successful in reaching the head waters of the Oakover, and on the
5th December the whole party arrived at the rocky creek that he had
found. They now travelled very slowly down the river, but saw no signs of
settlement, so the indefatigable Lewis had once more to go ahead, whilst
the others waited and starved on the flesh of the last camel. He had to
ride 170 miles before he arrived at the station of Messrs. Grant, Harper,
and Anderson, who immediately supplied him with fresh horses and all
requisites with which to return to the starving men.
It was on the 29th of December, and Warburton was lying in the shade,
moodily thinking that the cattle station must be abandoned, and that
Lewis had been forced to go on to Roeburne, when the black boy, who was
climbing up a tree, called out, and starting to their feet the astonished
men found the pack-horses of the relief party almost in their camp.
Out of the seventeen camels the two that Lewis had ridden in for help
were all that survived, and for the rest of their equipment, it had been
left piecemeal in the desert.
It is distressing to think that all this suffering and labour should not
have been adequately rewarded. Warburton got into a strip of desert
country, but apparently was too much occupied with pressing straight
through to devote any time to examine any country beyond his track.
Whatever may have been the aridity, the water supply must have been ample
to support such large numbers of natives as he came in contact with. In
one camp there were numbers of women and children and one cripple; but
they quietly vacated the well when the whites came, without any apparent
difficulty, showing that they had other resources within easy reach.
This trip of Warburton's, and a succeeding one by Mr. Ernest Giles, prove
conclusively that the possession of camels leads men to push on, eager to
be able to say that they were the first to get across, leaving the
country almost as unknown as before they traversed it.
But a few days after Warburton started on his adventurous journey, Mr. W.
C. Gosse, in charge of the Central and Western Exploring Expedition, left
Alice Springs, a telegraph station on the overland line, with the
intention of endeavouring to reach Perth.
On April 23rd, the leader reports leaving the Springs, with his party all
in good spirits; beside the white men, there were three Afghan
camel-drivers, and the party had a mixed equipment of camels and horses.
On May 1st, they left the telegraph line, and, turning to the westward,
soon found themselves in excessively dry country.
On the 14th, he had a trip lasting fifty-two hours, without water for the
horses, and one of them died; this happened whilst on an excursion ahead
with his brother, who was acting as collector to the party.
Having formed a depôt, and sunk a well on a creek he named the Landor, he
made several short trips in different directions, and on the 21St, in a
creek he called the Warburton, found a considerable pool of water, to
which he shifted his main camp.
During one of his excursions from this second depôt, he had the singular
experience of riding all day through the heavy rain and camping at night
without water, the sandy soil having absorbed the rain as quickly as it
fell. On his return he found that the creek at his camp was running, and
the Afghans had made repeated attempts to cross one of the camels, but
the animal obstinately refused to do so, which, probably, made the leader
reflect that it was just as well they were not likely to meet with many
On June 6th, Major Warburton's tracks were seen, and a camp of his found.
The next depôt formed was at the western extremity of the Macdonnell
Range, at the foot of a hill named by Ernest Giles, Mount Liebig. From
this depôt the party moved to the spot named by the same explorer, Glen
Edith, and on their way augmented their live stock by picking up three
bullocks that had been lost from Alice Springs, and apparently had
started on an exploring trip by themselves. From King's Creek, their next
depôt, the leader made a long excursion to the south-west, and at
eighty-four miles, after passing over sandhills and spinifex country,
came in sight of a hill, which, on a nearer approach, proved to be of
very singular limestone formation.
"When I got clear of the sandhills, and was only two miles distant, and
the hill, for the first time coming fairly in view, what was my
astonishment to find it was one immense rock rising abruptly from the
plain; the holes I had noticed were caused by the water in some places
forming immense caves. I rode round the foot of the rock in search of a
place to ascend, and found a waterhole on the south side, near which I
made an attempt to reach the top, but found it hopeless. Continued along
to the west, and discovered a strong spring coming from the centre of the
rock, and pouring down some large deep gullies to the foot.
"This seems to be a favourite resort of the natives in the wet season,
judging from the numerous camps in every cave. These caves are formed by
large pieces breaking off the main rock and falling to the foot. The
blacks made holes under them, and the heat of their fires causes the rock
to shell off, forming large arches. They amuse themselves covering these
with all sorts of devices--some of snakes very cleverly done, others of
two hearts joined together; and in one I noticed a drawing of a creek,
with an emu track going along the centre."
On the return journey, he crossed an arm of Lake Amadeus, and on reaching
his camp, the whole party started for Ayer's Rock, which was the name
Gosse gave to the singular hill he had discovered, where they arrived
safely, and one of the exploring bullocks was converted into beef.
Rain having set in heavily for some days, he was enabled to penetrate
some distance westward, where he came upon very good grazing country, but
soon got beyond the extent of the rainfall. After many more attempts,
Gosse found himself obliged to turn back, the heat of the weather and the
dryness of the country--for they were now in the sandhill
region-rendering it almost useless for him to think of risking his party
with any hope of success.
On the 22nd September, he left his fourteenth depôt in the Cavenagh
Range, and started on his return. His course home was by way of the
Musgrave Ranges, where he found a greater extent of good pastoral country
than he anticipated. He discovered and christened the Marryat and the
Alberga, which last river they followed down almost to the telegraph
line, and arrived at Charlotte Waters in December.
Mr. Gosse's exploration did not add much fresh information to what was
already known of the district, but it extended the area of explored
country, and he was enabled to correctly lay down many of the points
discovered by Mr. Giles.
In March, 1874, Mr. Ross and his son, with a well-equipped party,
consisting of another European and three Arabs, having with them sixteen
camels and fourteen horses, started from the neighbourhood of the Peake
Station, on the telegraph line, to endeavour to bridge the desert. He
was, however, compelled to return, although he made another effort, after
reducing the number of his party.
Colonel Warburton having been the first to successfully make his way from
the South Australian border to the settled part of Western Australia,
Forrest was the next to aim and arrive at a successful issue.
Forrest's trip was certainly the most commendable of the two, and by far
the most important in its results. Warburton, with a troop of camels,
reached the Oakover River naked and starving, with but two miserable
animals left. Forrest, with nothing but ordinary pack-horses, crossed the
middle of the continent, where the very heart of the terrible desert was
supposed to exist, and took his men and most of his horses through in
Forrest, having with him his brother, Alexander Forrest, two white men,
and two natives, left Yuin, then the furthest outside station on the
Murchison, on the 14th of April. Their course at first was along the
upper part of the Murchison River, which he describes as running through
fine grassy flats, good loamy soil, with white gums in bed and on flats,
the water in some of the pools being rather brackish. This description of
country continued for many days, some of the river water being at times
quite salt. On nearing the head of the Gascoyne River, the land was found
to be fine, undulating downs, admirably adapted for sheep or cattle.
On the 21st May, they ascended the watershed of the Murchison, and from
the top had a fine view of their future travelling ground to the
eastward. The country appeared level, with low ranges, but there was an
absence of conspicuous hills--not a promising country for water, but
looking as though good feed would be obtainable.
For the next few days the party were dependent on springs and small
clay-pans. On the 27th when following down a creek, which was called
Kennedy Creek after one of the party, they arrived at a fine permanent
spring, which Forrest characterised as the best he had ever seen, the
grass and herbage around being of an equally satisfactory description.
The springs were named the Windich Springs after the black boy, Tommy
Windich, who had been with Forrest on three expeditions. To the northwest
there was a fine range of hills, which was named the Carnarvon Range.
The explorers now got into less attractive country, the spinifex
sandhills began to become a familiar feature, and the water supply less
to be depended on.
On the 2nd June, Forrest made his next important discovery of the Weld
Springs, which he describes as unlimited in supply, clear, fresh, and
running down the gully wherein it was situated for over twenty chains.
Here they settled down to give their tired horses a week's rest.
On the 8th, he started with one boy, to look for water ahead, leaving
instructions for the party to follow on their tracks in a day's time. He
was unfortunate; the two travelled for twenty miles over undulating
sandhills covered with spinifex without seeing a sign of water. At
daybreak from the top of a low, stony rise the view was gloomy in the
extreme. Far to the north and east it was all spinifex country with no
appearance of hills or watercourse, in fact a barren worthless desert.
Turning back they met the remainder of the party about twenty miles from
the spring, and the whole party retreated to their former encampment, and
after a day's rest Alexander Forrest and a black boy started for a trip
to the south-east in search of water.
During their absence the natives made an unexpected attack on the camp.
At about one o'clock about sixty or seventy natives appeared on the brow
of the hill overlooking Weld Springs, plumed and armed with spears and
shields. They descended the rise and attempted to rush the camp, but were
met with a volley from the whites who were prepared to receive them. They
retired to the top of the hill, and after a consultation made a second
attack, but were checked by a rifle shot from the leader. This put an end
to the assault. That evening Alexander Forrest and the boy returned, and
were much astonished to hear of the day's adventure. They had been over
fifty miles from camp, had passed over some good feeding country, but had
found no water.
They now set to work and built a rough hut of stone, in order to ensure
safety during the night, as their stay at Weld Springs seemed likely to
be indefinite, and a fresh attack might be made at any moment. When the
hut was finished, Forrest, taking a boy with him, started on a flying
trip due east. This time they were fortunate enough to find a small
supply in some clay waterholes, and the whole party shifted camp to it.
On the 22nd, the leader made another search ahead, and in thirty miles
came to a fine supply of water in a gully running through a grassy plain,
whereon there was abundant feed. Eight miles to the south there was a
small salt lake, which was named Lake Augusta. Another good spring in
grassy country was also found, and on the 30th June, Forrest made a
further exploration ahead to the eastward. This time he was unfortunate,
for he soon found himself fairly in the spinifex desert, and his horses
knocked up. By the aid of scanty pools of rainwater in the rocks he
managed to push on some distance, walking most of the way. He reached a
range, and from the top had an extensive but most discouraging view. Far
to the north and east the horizon was as level and uniform as the sea;
spinifex everywhere; neither hills nor ranges could be seen for a
distance of quite thirty miles.
He was now perplexed as to his future movements. The main party were
following up his tracks, and there seemed no prospect of getting through
the country ahead of them. Fortunately they found a little water, enough
to last a day or two, and there awaited the arrival of their companions.
A search amongst the low ranges was then commenced, as the only other
alternative was a retreat of seventy miles. To the great relief of every
one A. Forrest and the black boy found water five miles to the
south-east, with some coarse rough grass around it, that would serve them
for a time. The younger Forrest then went ahead, and found some springs
twenty-five miles distant, which were named the Alexander Springs, after
Another excursion was attended with equally good results as regards
water, although the country around was not at all desirable pasture land;
and. this brought the explorers within one hundred miles of Gosse's
furthest westerly point. To bridge this hundred miles proved a weary
task. Repeated excursions only resulted in continued disappointment, and
knocked up horses. At last a kindly shower of rain filled some rock holes
to the north-cast of their camp, and after much labour and exertion the
whole party found themselves at an old camp of Giles, which he had named
Fort Mueller, and as they were also on Gosse's tracks the leader was able
to congratulate himself upon the successful accomplishment of his
As the course of party, from here to the telegraph line, was more or less
on the track pursued by Gosse, it is unnecessary to follow their fortunes
any further; some privation had to be endured and one or two more of the
horses gave in; but on Sunday, the 27th September, they arrived at the
telegraph line some distance north of the Peake station, thus concluding
one of the most valuable journeys on record.
On their arrival at the station, Forrest learned that Giles and Ross had
both been turned back by the inhospitable country that he had
successfully traversed. The leader and his companions received great
applause for the work they had so well performed, and it at once placed
Forrest in the front rank of explorers. The fact of his having got
through with but the simple and ordinary outfit showed that he possessed
high qualities of foresight and judgment, and the many minor excursions
he made on the way over, although, perhaps, wearisome and distressing at
the time, led to his having a perfect acquaintance of the country through
which he had travelled.
Ernest Giles, after being driven back twice in his attempts to reach
Western Australia, was now equipped with a troop of camels by Sir Thomas
Elder, and made a third and successful effort. The party started from
Beltana and travelled to Youldeh, where a depôt was formed. From here
they shifted north to a native well, called by the natives Oaldabinna.
The water supply at this place proving but scanty, Giles started to the
westward on a search for more, sending Messrs. Tietkins and Young to the
north on a similar errand. The leader travelled for one hundred and fifty
miles through scrub, and past dry salt lakes, until he came to a native
well or dam, with a small supply of water in it. Beyond this he went
another thirty miles, but found himself once more amongst saline flats
and scrubs; he therefore returned to the depôt. Messrs. Tietkins and
Young had not been as successful, having found no water. At their
furthest point they had come upon a large number of natives, who, after
decamping in a terrified manner, returned fully armed and painted. No
attempts of the two white men to establish friendly communications and
obtain information succeeded, and they were obliged to return
A slight shower of rain having replenished the well they were camped at.,
Giles determined on making a bold push to the west, and trusting to the
hardihood of his camels to carry him on to water.
On reaching the dam that he had formerly visited, he was agreeably
surprised to find that it had been replenished by the late rains, and now
contained plenty of water for their wants. There was excellent feed
around this oasis, and they rested until the water gave signs of
At the end of a week, on the 16th September, 1875, they again closed with
the desert surrounding them. For the first six days of their march they
passed through scrubs of oak, mulga, and sandalwood; then they entered
upon vast plains, which were well-grassed, and had saltbush and other
edible shrubs growing on them. After crossing these endless downs for
five days, they again reentered scrub, but of a more open nature than
When two hundred and forty-two miles had been covered, Giles distributed
what water he had amongst his camels, which amounted to four gallons
each. The next change that occurred in the country was the reappearance
of sandhills, blacks' tracks became plentiful, and smoke was occasionally
On the seventeenth day, when more than three hundred miles had been
travelled, Mr. Tietkins, who judged by the appearance of the sandhills
that there was water in the neighbourhood, sent the black boy, Tommy, on
to a ridge lying to the south of their course.. Fortunate it was that he
did so, for behind it, in a hollow surrounded by sandhills, lay a tiny
lake, which the cavalcade was passing by unknowingly until Tommy arrested
their progress with frantic yells and shouts. Giles gave this place of
succour the name of Victoria Springs, and rested there nine days.
Recruited and strengthened, a fresh start was made and they soon got
amongst the peculiar features common to the southern interior of Western
Australia, outcrops of granite boulders, salt lakes and swamps.
In one of these lakes they got their leading camels bogged, and it was
only after hard work and much patience that they got them out again.
Their next relief was at a native well two hundred miles from Victoria
Springs, and here they once more rested from their weary and
The monotony of their life was, however, rudely broken up at this
encampment by the blacks. During their stay several natives had made
their appearance, and had been kindly received and treated. No suspicions
of treachery were aroused, and the explorers were just concluding their
evening meal when Young caught sight of a body of armed men approaching,
and gave the alarm in time for the whites to stand to their weapons.
Giles says in his journal that they were a "drilled and perfectly
organized force," if so, they must have been a higher class of natives
than the usual type of blackfellows, whose proceedings, as a rule, have
little organization about them. A discharge from the whites was in time
to check them before any spears were thrown, otherwise, from the number
of their assailants and the method of their attack, it was probable that
the whole party would have been murdered.
On leaving this camp the caravan travelled through dense scrubs, with
occasional hills and open patches; in fact, the country that has of
necessity been so often described in these pages. They were fortunate
enough to find some native wells on their route, and on the 4th of
November arrived at an outside sheep station.
The result of this trip, satisfactory as it no doubt was to the leader,
who thus saw his many gallant efforts at last crowned with success, had
little or no other fruits to show, not even the negative one of proving
that the desert they had passed through was an absolutely waterless
waste. The very water that saved their lives they were passing by
unheeded; and it was impossible for them to say whether similar
formations did not exist on either hand of their line of march.
Like Warburton's, only without the suffering from starvation, it was a
hasty flight on camels, through an unknown country, and, like his, barren
of results beyond a thin line on the map of Australia.
Expeditions such as these must be looked at from two points of view;
whilst admiring the fortitude and resolution possessed by the leader who
takes his party through such a waste in safety, we must regret that
fuller information and more patient deductions had not been gained. The
fact of having the means, in their camels, to venture on long dry stages
with impunity, led them to disdain the careful manner in which Forrest
felt his way across; but in the end that explorer had certainly the best
idea of the country he had travelled over.
Giles now retraced his steps from Western Australia to the overland line,
following a track to the north of Forrest's route. He went by way of the
Murchison, and crossed over to the Ashburton, which river he followed up
to the head. Then striking to the south of east he came on to his former
track of 1873, at the Alfred and Marie Range; the range he had so vainly
striven to reach when the unfortunate man Gibson, met his death. He
finally arrived at the Peake station, on the telegraph line.
Few watercourses were crossed, the country was suffering from extreme
drought, and no discoveries of any importance were made.
The journeys of the late explorers had greatly lessened the area of the
country in which fresh discoveries could be looked for; true, the
results had not been encouraging. The utter and complete want of a river
system, even of the rudest kind, in the western half of the interior of
Australia, was plainly shown. No continuous line of country could even be
traced as corresponding on the routes of the different travellers, and
unfortunately, where good country was found, the want of surface water
held out no encouragement for the grazier to follow up the explorers'
footsteps. The reclamation of this country it was evident would have to
be a work of time, and would be dependent greatly on the facility with
which the underground supplies could be tapped. That these supplies
exist, the pioneer work carried on, on the outskirts of the desert, has
proved beyond a doubt; how far they will be carried into the interior
remains to be seen.
Further explorations around Lake Eyre--Lewis equipped by Sir Thomas
Elder--He traces the lower course of the Diamantina--Expedition to
Charlotte Bay under W. Hann--A survivor of the wreck of the
Maria--Discovery of the Palmer--Gold prospects found--Arrival on the east
coast--Dense scrub--Return--The Palmer rush--Hodgkinson sent out--Follows
down the Diamantina--Discovery of the Mulligan--Mistaken for the
Herbert--Private expedition--The Messrs. Prout--Buchanan--F. Scarr--The
QUEENSLANDER expedition--A dry belt of country--Native rites--A good game
bag--Arrival at the telegraph line--Alexander Forrest--The Leopold
Range--Caught between the cliffs and the sea--Fine pastoral country
found--Arrival at the Katherine--The Northern Territory and its future.
But although the country to the east of the telegraph line had up to the
year 1874 received such a large share of attention, in fact, the
principal share, there yet remained much unknown territory to
investigate, and many geographical problems to determine. Chief amongst
these was the definition of the many affluents of Lake Eyre.
The western district of Queensland was drained by rivers of great
magnitude, that found their way through South Australia into the lake;
but their many channels, and the direction and size of them had never
been fully determined. To further this end, Sir Thomas Elder equipped Mr.
Lewis, who, it will be remembered, did such good service on Colonel
Warburton's expedition, and under his leadership an expedition was
undertaken which resulted in much valuable information being gained.
Starting from the overland telegraph line, Lewis skirted Lake Eyre to the
north, and penetrated to Eyre's Creek, in Queensland territory, and
traced that creek and the Diamantina into Lake Eyre; also confirming the
opinion so often advanced that the waters of Cooper's Creek found their
way into that receptacle, as well as the more westerly streams.
In Queensland the Government had decided upon further exploration of the
northern promontory ending in Cape York. More than eight years had
elapsed since the Jardines had made their dashing trip, and their report
taken in conjunction with Kennedy's did not offer much inducement for
anyone to follow up their footsteps; but as there was yet a tract of
country at the base of the promontory comparatively unknown, a party was
organised and placed under the leadership of Mr. William Hann, one of the
pioneer squatters of the north of Queensland.
The object of the trip was in the main an examination of the country as
far north as the 14th parallel, with a special view to its mineral and
other resources; the discovery of gold so far north in Queensland having
caused a hope to be entertained that its existence would continue along
Hann had with him as geologist a Mr. Taylor, and as botanist, Dr. Tate, a
survivor of the melancholy New Guinea expedition that left Sydney in the
brig MARIA, only to suffer wreck on the Barrier Reef, where, in the sea
and amongst the cannibals north of Rockingham Bay, most of the
unfortunates left their bones. Apparently, his ardour for exploration had
not been damped by his narrow escape.
One other member of the party, a Mr. Nation, was destined to meet a
tragic death by starvation in the newly-settled district of the northern
territory of South Australia. The party left Fossilbrook station, on
Fossilbrook Creek, a tributary of the Lynd, which would be north of the
starting point of the Jardines.
On leaving this creek they passed over much rugged and broken country,
the scene of Leichhardt's first trip, and a spot which presented many
indications of being auriferous. Here they devoted some days
unsuccessfully to prospecting, and on resuming their northern journey
came to a large river, which was named the Tate. Four days afterwards
another one was struck, which received the name of the Walsh.
From the Walsh the party crossed to the upper part of the Mitchell River,
and thence to a creek marked on Kennedy's map as "creek ninety yards
wide," which was called the Palmer, and here Warner, the surveyor, found
prospects of gold. Some further examination of the river resulted in
likely-looking results being obtained, and the find is now a matter of
history, verified by the discovery of one of the richest goldfields in
Queensland on the waters of this river.
Above the Palmer, Hann came across a memorial of the trip of the Jardines
in the tracks of some (or descendants) of the cattle, dropped by them,
but he was unable to find them. This was on a creek which, he supposed,
to be the one named by them the Kendall.
These animals had, no doubt, led a rather harassed life from the natives
since they had last been seen by the whites.
On the 1st September, Hann reached his northern limit, the 14th parallel
of latitude, and the next day commenced the ascent of the dividing range
between eastern and western waters. A few days afterwards he sighted the
sea, at Princess Charlotte's Bay.
From this point the party turned south, and soon came to a large river,
which was named the Normanby, and here a slight skirmish occurred with
the natives, with whom they had hitherto been on friendly terms. Whilst
the men were collecting the horses in the morning, and not suspecting
treachery, a body of blacks attempted to cut them off, each native being
well armed with a bundle of spears. A few shots, however, at long
distance were sufficient to disperse them, so that, fortunately, the
affair ended without bloodshed.
On the 21st September, Hann came to the Endeavour, a river well-known in
the history of Australia. Whilst entangled in the scrub on the upper
reaches of this stream he had the misfortune to lose one of his best
horses by poison, two others having also eaten of the weed.
At this point the party had terrible work to encounter; the old obstacles
that had so retarded Kennedy were met with--scrub impenetrable, and steep
ravines. Tracks had to be cut through the vines, and the horses led on
foot down perilous descents. This went on for days, and an attempt to
reach the sea coast and continue their intended route south, ended in
involving them in a perfect sea of scrub, and the final conclusion that
advance for white men and horses was impossible. Hann had reluctantly to
make up his mind to return to the west, and abandon the fresh ground to
the south of him.
After many entanglements in the ranges, and the usual confusion arising
from the tortuous courses of the rivers, the watershed was at last
crossed, and on the 28th October they camped once more on the Palmer
River. From here they returned over the country formerly traversed on the
outward course, and exploring came to an end.
The work had been very hard, especially during the time the party had
been impeded in the scrubs of the east coast, which fully bore out the
reports of the survivors of Kennedy's expedition as to the terribly
toilsome nature of the labour to be undergone in cutting a track through
them. Hann was lucky in not having his party attacked by sickness during
his detention in such a dangerous locality; they all returned in safety.
The gold discoveries on the Palmer, and the rush there which occurred
soon after this expedition, led to a vast deal of exploration being done
under the name of prospecting. Small parties were out in all directions
on the rivers named and crossed by Hann and the heads of those named by
Leichhardt, the Lynd and the Gilbert, were ransacked and searched in
In 1875, the Queensland Government decided to send out an expedition to
decide upon the amount of pastoral country existing to the westward of
the Diamantina River, and see if it extended to the boundary of the
colony. It was placed under the command of W. O. Hodgkinson, who had
already seen considerable experience as an explorer, having been one of
the members of the Burke and Wills party, and also a member of M'Kinlay's
expedition when he traversed the continent. The second in charge was a
mining surveyor and mineralogist, Mr. E. A. Kayzer.
Although the expedition was organised as early as September, it was not
thought politic to start so soon before the impending wet season, so the
party were directed to muster at the Etheridge (goldfield), and occupy
the time between then and the end of the year, in examining and reporting
on the country between there and Cloncurry gold-field, on the Cloncurry
River, which was to be the final point of departure.
After some minor excursions in the neighbourhood of the Cloncurry,
Hodgkinson and party left that place in May, 1876, and proceeded across
the dividing watershed to the Diamantina River, and followed that river
down to below the boundary of the colony of Queensland and South
Australia, where it received the name of the Everett, from Lewis.
This much of the progress of the North West Expedition, as it was called,
included little country not already known, and, moreover, at this time
the district was being settled on in all parts by the pioneer squatters,
the tracks of whose cattle were now up and down the whole length of the
From the lower Diamantina, Hodgkinson made west towards the boundary of
the colony, and beyond Eyre's Creek found a fine watercourse running
through good pastoral country, which he branded with the name of the
Mulligan River. Following this river up, and finding it alternately well
and poorly watered, the party crossed from the head of it on to the
Herbert, unwitting that they had done so, and followed that river on
until they overtook Buchanan, Landsborough's old companion, who, with a
mob of cattle, was re-stocking the Herbert.
As this country had been at one time stocked, and stations formed and
abandoned, exploration may be considered to have ceased. The surveys of
Messrs. Scarr and Jopp soon explained the mistake fallen into by
Hodgkinson as to the identity of Landsborough's Herbert and his own
Mulligan. It will be remembered that in the central districts, the
watersheds are so low and the size of the rivers so uncertain, that to
find a watercourse dwindle away into nothing in one mile, and expand into
a river the next is not at all surprising, so that to leave the head of a
river and come on to another running in the same direction, it would
appear quite feasible that it was the same river re-formed.
This was the last exploring expedition sent out by the Queensland
Government; their colony being now nearly entirely known, and in fact the
earlier squatters of the Herbert, before its abandonment in 1874, were
settled some distance across into South Australian territory.
Unfortunately, the commercial depression of 1871 and 1872 led to the
stations on the Herbert being thrown up, and the country, good as it was,
lapsed into its original state of loneliness, and remained for many years
Although Queensland herself had little or no territory within her own
borders left to explore, the energy and enterprise of her pioneers led to
many private explorations being organized across the border into the
colony of South Australia, or rather into the northern territory of that
colony. Amongst those undertaken in the year 1878 may be instanced one
which resulted in the loss of the entire party.
Induced by the favourable terms offered by the South Australian
Government to pastoral lessees in the Northern Territory, two brothers
named Prout started out with one man, looking for country across the
Queensland border. They never returned, and it was not until they had
been given up for months that some of their horses, and finally the bones
of one of the brothers, were discovered by Mr. W. J. H. Carr Boyd.
It was evident, from the fragments of a diary recovered, that they had
extended their researches far into South Australian territory, and met
their death by thirst on their homeward way, probably from some of the
waters they depended upon for their return having failed them.
In the same year Buchanan made an excursion to the overland line from the
border of Queensland. Crossing from the Ranken--one of the main heads of
the Georgina River, and so called after one of the pioneers of that
district, J. C. L. Ranken--Buchanan on a westerly course, came to the
head of a creek, running through fine open downs; following it down for
some days he eventually lost its channel in flooded country, and striking
across a belt of dry country arrived at Tennant's Creek station on the
overland line. This creek, which received the name of Buchanan's Creek,
was a most important discovery, affording in future a highway and stock
route to the great pastoral district lying between the Queensland border
and the overland line.
The next to attack this unknown strip was Frank Scarr, a Queensland
surveyor. He tried to cross the line, to the south of Buchanan's track,
but was prevented by the waterless belt of country existing there. During
one of his excursions he found the horses of the ill-fated Prout
Brothers, already alluded to.
Finding he could not reach the country he desired to, from the Queensland
border, Scarr made north, and by means of Buchanan's Creek arrived at
Tennant's Creek station; but owing to the dry season, did not extend his
In the same year, 1878, a project for an overland railway line, between
Brisbane and Port Darwin, was inaugurated in the former city. The
principle of building the line by means of land grants being one of the
chief features of the scheme. Mr. Gresley Lukin, the then proprietor of
the leading Brisbane newspaper, organised and equipped a party to explore
a line of country, the object being to find out the nature and value of
the land in the neighbourhood of the proposed line, and the geographical
features of the unexplored portion.
The party left Blackall, then the furthest township to the westward in
Queensland, the leader being Mr. E. Favenc, accompanied by Messrs. S. G.
Briggs (surveyor), G. R. Hedley, and a black boy.
From Blackall the party struck across the settled pastoral districts
until they arrived at Cork station, on the Diamantina. From there they
kept a north-westerly route through the then unexplored country lying
between the Burke and Herbert Rivers. From the Herbert the Ranken was
followed up for some distance, and the route was then to Buchanan's
Creek, and down that creek to the last permanent water. From here the
party struck north, and some permanent waters were discovered, amongst
them being the Corella Lagoon, the finest lagoon in that district. Two
lakes of large extent were also seen and named, but, although at the time
of the explorer's visit they were extensive sheets of water, seven or
eight miles in circumference, they were so shallow for a mile from their
shores, that at that distance, they were only knee deep.
A singular feature of the lakes of this depressed region, was the fringe
of dead trees that surrounded them. From the age of the trees, and even
borders of all the lake beds seen, both dry and full, it was evident that
this must have been the result of an excessive flood, which had inundated
this district during some past year.
From the Corella Lagoon, where some two or three hundred natives were
assembled to celebrate the peculiar tribal rites common to that religion,
and which have never been witnessed by whites, the expedition proceeded
north, and discovered a large creek running from east to west, which
received the name of Cresswell Creek. This creek, which ran through fine,
open downs, was followed until its course was lost in the flooded
country, which is the end of most inland creeks.
The last permanent water on it was named the Adder Waterholes, on account
of the number of death-adders killed there. The first excursion from there
towards the telegraph line, some ninety miles away, resulted, in such
days of heat, in conjunction with cracked and fissured plains, that three
horses died before returning to camp. The country was soft, and full of
holes and hollows, and it being the height of summer, the horses could
not travel long stages without water; so there was nothing to do but
await at the Adder Waterholes the falling of a kindly thunderstorm, to
assist them to bridge the gap that lay between them and the telegraph
During their detention at this camp many excursions were made, and the
country traversed found to be mostly richly grassed downs; and where
flooded country was crossed numbers of the dry beds of former lakes,
surrounded by the customary belt of dead forest were noticed.
The long delay exhausted the supply of rations, but by means of game,
horse-flesh, and the usual bush vegetable, "bluebush and pig-weed," the
party fared sufficiently well.
"We made up a list of game that had already been shot for ration
purposes, nearly all by Hedley, who was our chief reliance as a hunter,
and the following is the account up to 11th December:--50 parrots
(corellas and galars), 350 ducks (black ducks, teal, whistling ducks,
wood ducks and widgeons), 150 pigeons (principally flock), 11 geese, 4
turkeys, 8 spoonbills, 7 water hens, 2 shags, 1 emu, 1 native companion,
making a total of 584 birds, and in addition we had consumed 100 fish.
All of them were shot for actual food, nothing had been wantonly
destroyed. We considerably added to this menu afterwards, including such
choice delicacies as eagle hawk and frogs. Crows and hawks we carefully
reserved to the last when all else should fail. The absence of kangaroos
and other marsupials is a marked feature in this list, there being none
on these wide-stretching downs."
In January, 1879, the thunderstorms set in, and enabled the explorers to
reach the line safely at Powell Creek Station. From here they travelled
over known country to Port Darwin.
This expedition had the effect of opening up a good deal of pastoral
country, which is now nearly all stocked.
As might have been expected, the party were most hospitably received at
Palmerston, where the inhabitants, in addition to its chief feature of a
railway survey, saw in this expedition one of the first steps to open up
to the world the vast territory they possessed; for as yet the pastoral
industry had been confined to one or two spirited attempts in the
immediate neighbourhood of the goldfields, the great tableland at the
back whereon there was so much valuable sheep country being, untouched.
Western Australia now sent out another of the exploring parties, which
form such a feature of her history. In 1879, Alexander Forrest led an
expedition from De Grey River to the telegraph line. The party left
Anderson's Station on the De Grey River, on the 25th February, and
reached Beagle Bay on the 10th April, the country passed over being like
most of the land in the immediate neighbourhood of the coast, poor and
From Beagle Bay they followed the coast round to the Fitzroy River, which
empties into King's Sound, and journeyed up that river until they reached
a range which gave the explorers some trouble; in fact, they spent six
weeks of constant toil and trouble endeavouring to penetrate it.
On the 2nd June, Forrest bade good-bye to the Fitzroy, which he calls
"the longest and largest river in Western Australia, flowing through
magnificent flats;" and which he says they had then followed for 240
miles. Leaving the river the party struck north, looking for a pass
through the precipitous bluffs of King Leopold Range, as it was named.
The sea was, however, reached before this range was surmounted, and
following down the angle now being formed, between the sea and the range,
they at last found themselves enclosed in a perfect prison; romantic and
pretty according to Forrest's description, but rather militating against
their success. Here too the blacks approached them in threatening
numbers, but after the display of a little policy, peace was preserved.
The rugged nature of the country began to tell most severely on the
horses, "how on earth," says Forrest, "they are going to take us on I
really cannot think." On the 22nd June, they attacked a range, and
finally after a steep climb, which witnessed the death of one of the
horses, they reached the height of 800 feet, and camped; here Forrest
determined to rest the horses and go ahead on foot, and explore the
country. The result was that they came upon endless rugged zigzags, which
so involved them that they gave it up in despair and returned to camp.
Forrest had most reluctantly to abandon any idea of crossing this range
and return to the Fitzroy, where they arrived on the 8th of July.
Following up a tributary of this river, the Margaret, they gradually
managed to work round the southern end of the range, which still frowned
defiance at them, and at last reached the summit of the tableland, and
saw before them good grassy hills and plains. Of this country Forrest
speaks most enthusiastically, and doubtless after their late terrible
struggle with the range it must have appeared a perfect picture of
enchantment to them.
On the 24th, they reached a fine river, running strong, and named by
Forrest the Ord, and for a time he followed its course. Leaving, he
continued his way to the overland telegraph line, which they were
destined not to reach without a struggle. More rivers were crossed, and
the country undulated between rough ridges and well-grassed flats, and at
last, on the 18th August, the Victoria River of Captain Stokes was
Now commenced their first privation for want of water. Their rations were
almost expended, and one of the party seriously ill. Taking with him one
man (Hicks), Forrest started for the line to obtain succour, leaving his
party in camp to await his return.
The first stage was for twenty-nine miles, and then they fortunately
found a small pool; on the next day a stage of thirty-two miles, through
the level, grassy country, timbered with box and intersected by dry
swamps, which is so familiar a feature in the Northern Territory, but at
the end they had to camp without water. They now had no alternative but
to push on to the line at all risks, as it was the nearest point where
they could obtain supplies, and it was useless to think of going back
without them. Unhappily, Forrest was unprovided with a map of the line,
which led to his having to strike at random; and, as it happened in the
end, resulted in his turning north instead of south, which brought about
needless pain and suffering. Forrest's account of their terrible trip
runs as follows:--
"August 31. An hour before daylight we started, steering east for
fourteen miles before we rested. The country was similar to that passed
over yesterday. During the mid-day halt we walked about searching for
water in the dry swamps, but were unsuccessful. Here we killed a large
snake, and made off it a miserable meal, thinking that it would relieve
our thirst; it made us, however, a good deal worse than we were before.
We had only two quarts of water with us, and we both decided not to touch
this until reduced to the last extremity, as we knew not how far we might
have to go before coming to water. At one o'clock we were in the saddle
again, and continued on the same course until sundown, when we gave our
horses a short rest. They were very tired, and did not seem able to keep
up, in the state they were, for much longer. As for ourselves, we were so
thirsty we could scarcely speak. We shot a hawk, and cut his throat in
order to drink the blood, but it did us no good. What would we have given
for water? No one can have an idea what thirst is unless he has
experienced it under tropical heat. . . . After eating our hawk we
saddled up, and steered east-north-east for two miles, when we reached a
creek trending northwest. We thought there might be water in it lower
down, so we followed it for a mile or two, when the horse I was riding
knocked up, and by lying down compelled us to halt."
Forrest now decided to leave the creek, and walk all night, leading their
worn out horses. Fortunately for them they had not far to go; in two
miles Hicks called out that the line was in sight, and forgetting their
thirst they cheered lustily. Within a short distance of where they struck
the line, they came to one of the tanks stationed at intervals for the
use of the repairing parties, and so their thirst was relieved; but owing
to taking the wrong direction, they travelled away from the nearest
station, Daly Waters, and it was four days before they overtook a
repairing party, under Mr. Wood; who provided them with food and fresh
horses to take back succour to their comrades.
Thus ended a most successful trip, as the country found by Forrest is
amongst some of the most valuable in the northern part of Western
Australia, and has since been stocked with both sheep and cattle, and
large mineral wealth has been developed.
The whole of the northern part of the continent of Australia seemed for a
time to suffer from a blight. The tracks of the explorers appeared to be
checked by some fatal influence.
The Victoria that was thought to be such a grand discovery turned out but
an ordinary coast stream, and on its further investigation to lead to
nothing but disappointment. This deduction, however, under fuller
knowledge is gradually departing, and there is little doubt that the time
is not far away when it will attain its greatest development as a
pastoral and mineral country.
There is no doubt that the east and west tracks of tile Queensland
explorers, and of Alexander Forrest did more to throw open the country
than did the north and south one of Stuart, although that was the most
important ever made in the later days of Australia's history. Stuart
showed the feasibility of crossing the continent in the centre, but even
after the telegraph line was formed on his track, very little was known
of the country on either side. The northern territory had, however, been
the scene of many private expeditions beside those mentioned here. Some
years before Alexander Forrest crossed over, two residents of the
Northern Territory, Phillip Saunders and Adam Johns, accompanied by a
third man, started from Roebourne in Western Australia, and crossed to
the telegraph line successfully. They were prospecting for gold most of
the way, but the line they took was unlucky, as although they passed
through the now well-known Kimberly country, they failed to obtain
anything like satisfactory prospects. They passed through much good
pastoral country, but at that time stock country was of no value at such
a remote distance from settlement.
There now remains but a few more explorations, and those mostly in the
northern part of Australia. Whatever the yet large unknown tract of
country in the interior will show in the future it is impossible now to
do more than conjecture.
In 1884, Mr. Stockdale, who had had considerable experience in the other
colonies, and was an old bushman, started on an expedition from Cambridge
Gulf to explore the country in that neighbourhood, with a view to
settlement. He proceeded there by the WHAMPOA, and on the 13th September
he landed at the gulf, with his party of seven men and the necessary
horses, this being, probably, the first landing that had taken place
there since the days of Captain Stokes. Leaving the gulf, and crossing
the range through a natural gap, which was named after the leader, they
found themselves in well-grassed country, with a fine stream of water
running through it. Their next halting-place was at a creek they called
the Birdie, and they now found numerous camps of the natives, though as
yet they did not come into contact with them. The next creek was named
the Patrick, which was followed down for some distance through very good
country. Here commenced the beginning of the trouble, which afterwards
culminated in a tragedy, one of the men (Ashton) losing himself, and
delaying the party by having to be sought for. They were now on a river
which was called the Forrest, after the explorer, and here they rested
for the sake of their horses. On leaving it they got into rather stony
country until they arrived at the head of a creek called the Margaret,
where they again rested.
From there they had to face great difficulties in the shape of
mountainous country, the gullies and ravines reminding one of those
described by Grey. On October the 14th, they came to a fine river, which
they named the Lorimer, on which there was a waterfall one hundred feet
high. The large creek next met with was called the Buchanan.
On the 21st of October a depôt was formed, and the leader, with three
men, went south, for the purpose of making a thorough inspection of the
country, leaving the other men to await his return, having first taken
the precaution to bury the main portion of their stock of provisions in
case of accidents.
On November 2nd they narrowly escaped an encounter with the natives. By
means of a little tact bloodshed was avoided. While amongst the cliffs
they came upon some of the native drawings and paintings, which have
always created so much interest.
On returning to the depôt, after having passed through and discovered a
fine amount of pastoral country, the leader found, much to his disgust,
that the horses he had left to spell there had been used for kangaroo
hunting, and were not in a fit condition to do much more work. This
compelled him to shorten his trip and start towards the telegraph line.
On getting his party together again, which was a work of some difficulty,
a start was effected in the direction of the Ord River, and on the road
home the unfortunate occurrence happened that resulted in the death of
two of the men, entirely the consequence of their own headstrong conduct.
The account had better be given in the words of the leader. Speaking of
one of the two men, he says:--
"He eats very heartily, and so does Ashton, and both have strong, lusty
voices, but seem to have lost all heart, and the rest of the party are
getting discouraged at the many and serious delays they are causing us. I
have used every means to induce them to rally and pluck up heart, but it
seems all to be totally lost upon them. It is a very trying situation for
me, and I trust God will guide me, and help me to do what is right and
just to all I have in my charge. Mulcahy acknowledged riding horses in
depôt out kangarooing, also to taking apples, biscuits, jam, flour and
peas, and to be unworthy of forgiveness or to remain one of the party. We
all forgave him the wrong he had done us freely and truly.
"December 17 (Wednesday). Fine morning after very cool night. Thermometer
at daylight, 60 deg. Mulcahy and Ashton both looking better, but both
came to me, and said if I would allow them they would take three weeks'
rations and camp for a spell on the river, and perhaps I would send help
after them. I tried all in my power to induce them to struggle on a
little further, if only as far as the Wilson River, but could not alter
their determination. Called the rest of the party together, and as they
one and all thought it was best under the circumstances, I had to
consent, so, with Mr. Ricketson's assistance, measured out to them twenty
pannikins of flour, ten of white sugar, ten of peas, fifteen of dried
apples, four pounds of tea, and a tin of preserved meat. Left them two
double-barrel guns, etc., with about one hundred and fifty cartridges,
fish-hooks, and lines, and camped on the Laurence River. We then packed
up the remainder, and with sad hearts bade them good-bye, and firmly
advised them to get either fish or game, as game is fairly plentiful
around them. Ashton and Mulcahy both expressed a desire to write a few
lines in my diary, and, in the presence of all hands, I allowed them.
Ashton also forwarded by me a note to his aunt in England, but Mulcahy,
although I earnestly desired him to, would not write to either wife or
parents, all he would say being, 'They will see you at no loss, old man.'
"It is a dreadful state of affairs, the two biggest and strongest of our
party collapsing like this, and has had a very depressing effect on me,
though I must not show it, for fear of causing a despondent feeling in
the others. I do hope we shall now have fair travelling, and reach Panton
and Osman's station, and send back horses and relief to those left
behind. They have had any amount of provisions, meat excepted sometimes
five meals a day, and never less than three."
The two men were never found, although every endeavour was made to do so.
Stockdale, not finding Panton and Osman's station, had to leave some of
his men in camp, and, after a hard struggle, reached the telegraph line
with one companion, and sent back relief to the others, which duly
The exploration of the Continent by land almost completed--Minor
expeditions--The Macarthur and other rivers running into Carpentaria
traced--Good country discovered and opened up--Sir Edward Pellew Group
revisited--Lindsay sent out by the S.A. Government to explore Arnheim's
Land--Rough country and great loss of horses--O'Donnell makes an
expedition to the Kimberley district--Sturt and Mitchell's different
experiences with the blacks--Difference in the East and West Coasts--Use
of camels--Opinions about them--The future of the water supply--
Adaptability of the country for irrigation--The great springs of
the Continent--Some peculiarities of them--Hot springs and mound springs.
The whole of the continent being now known, and the mystery of the
interior solved, there remained little more for the explorers of later
years to do, but follow up the course of some tributary, stream or river,
the origin of which, though, perhaps, guessed at, had never been finally
settled, nor had the country drained by them been mapped or defined.
These explorations, useful though they have been in opening up fresh
tracts of country for the pastoralist, have not the same amount of
interest attaching to them possessed by the earlier travels. Much of the
exploration of the past few years naturally centres round the northern
portion of Australia; there, as the pioneer pushed out, the unknown parts
had to yield up their secret, and the tracks of Macdowall Stuart were
gradually elaborated. The South Australian Government had made many
attempts to reach the Queensland border from their overland line, but
without success. In 1778, they had dispatched two surveyors--Messrs.
Barclay and Weinnecke--to proceed in that direction, starting from the
neighbourhood of Alice Springs. Barclay had much dry country to contend
with, and managed to reach close to Scarr's furthest point when he was
making west in the same year, but failed to connect with the settlements
of Queensland. He made no important discoveries, being amongst the
country common to the central districts of Australia--alternate desert,
and pastoral land, with few and insignificant watercourses. It being a
matter of moment to settle the position of the border line between the
two colonies, surveyor Weinnecke was again dispatched in 1880 to make
another attempt. By following Scarr's route, via Buchanan's Creek, he
succeeded in reaching the border. He travelled entirely over the country
explored by Queensland parties. In 1883 Favenc traced the heads of the
rivers running into the Gulf of Carpentaria, near the Queensland border,
and in the following year undertook a more lengthened expedition from the
tableland across the coast range to the mouth of the Macarthur River. The
party left the Queensland border and crossed to the overland telegraph
line, traversing mostly open downs country the whole of the way.
From the northern end of Newcastle Waters a fresh departure was as made,
and the watercourse that supplies these lagoons followed up for some
fifty miles. From there an easterly course was kept, and after some
privation from want of water, reached a creek, which was christened
Relief Creek, and which proved to be one of the head waters of the
Macarthur. A large extent of valuable pastoral country was found in the
basin drained by this river, and many fine permanent springs discovered.
The party followed the river down to salt water, and returned by another
route to Daly Waters telegraph station.
The South Australian Government soon after sent a survey steamer to the
group called Sir Edward Pellew's Islands, which had not been visited
since the days of Flinders. The mouth of the Macarthur was found and
sounded, and shortly afterwards a township was formed at the head of
navigation. The explorations conducted on this river led to a good road
being formed from the interior tableland to the coast and the settlement
of much new country.
The whole of the territory east of the overland line was now rapidly
becoming settled, and the explorations made by Mr. Macphee east of Daly
Waters may be said to have concluded the list of expeditions between the
overland line and the Queensland border.
In 1883 the South Australian Government determined to complete the
exploration of Arnheim's Land, and Mr. David Lindsay was dispatched on
the mission. He left Palmerston on the 4th June, and proceeded, by way of
the Katherine, to the country north of the Roper River. From there they
proceeded to Blue Mud Bay, and, on the way, had a narrow escape from
being massacred by the natives, who speared four horses, and made an
attempt to surprise the camp. Lindsay got entangled in the broken
tableland that caused such trouble to Leichhardt, and, with one
misfortune and another, lost a great number of his horses-in fact, at one
time, he anticipated having to abandon them all, and make his way into
the telegraph station on foot. On the whole, the country passed over was
favourable for settlement; in fact, the flats on some portions of his
course were first-class sugar country.
Another journey was undertaken about this time by Messrs. O'Donnell and
Carr Boyd into Western Australia, starting from the same place as
Lindsay, namely, the Katherine telegraph station. The expedition
succeeded in finding a large amount of pastoral country, but no new
geographical discoveries of any importance were made.
Meantime, the discovery of gold in the Kimberley district of Western
Australia led to that province being searched by small prospecting
parties, and every creek and watercourse becoming known. This has left
but little of the coastal lands still unexplored in Australia, and there
is scant chance of anything noticeable being found in the interior beyond
what we can fairly conjecture. The utmost an explorer can now hope to
find there is some permanent lagoon or spring, affording a stand-by for
the pastoralist. No such streams as the Murray or Darling will ever again
gladden the eyes of the traveller in the interior,
The greater part of the territory still left to explore is situated in
one colony--that of Western Australia, and, although the interior has
been successively crossed by so many different men, there yet remains a
large area which may be called unknown. Of what the end will be it is
hard to say. Shall we find it bear out the gloomy predictions of
Warburton and Giles? or the more hopeful one of Forest? One thing we do
know--that, year after year, use is being found for the most repellent
country. When we look back at the verdict pronounced against the interior
of Australia by the early explorers, and how it has been falsified by
time there is ground for hoping that even the most despised portions of
our continent will yet be found available for something.
That, in spite of the monotony of the Great Plain, it is strange to note
the fascination it has had for many of the most renowned explorers.
Sturt, after being reduced to semi-blindness, found himself compelled to
struggle with the desert once more. Eyre, left alone in the wilderness,
after his awful experience at the head of the Great Bight, still longed
to venture again, and accompanied his friend Sturt as far as ever his
duties permitted him. Leichhardt died in harness somewhere in Australia,
and Kennedy lost his life in his desire to emulate his former chief,
Mitchell. Even the very sterility of the great solitude seems to have
been, in its way, a lure to drag men back to encounter it once more.
Knowing now as much as we do of the interior, we can hardly help being
amused at the theories propounded in the old days by some of the earlier
travellers. Oxley was, we know, wedded to the idea of an inland sea.
Sturt, too, when he looked on the stony desert, saw in it but the dry
channel of some old ocean current; and Eyre was convinced that the
interior was nothing but a parched and and desert. One after another,
these fallacies were exploded, and now we find that human and animal life
can as easily be adapted to the central plain as elsewhere.
But the want of knowledge displayed by the natives of anything beyond
their immediate surroundings, was one great difficulty in the way of the
explorers. The blackfellow of Australia seemed to partake largely of the
country he lived in. His whole life was one fight for existence, and not
even the sudden advent of a strange race could do more than stir him to a
languid curiosity. Bounded, as he always had been, by his surroundings,
and never venturing beyond tribal limits, what information he was able to
impart was, as a rule, meagre and misleading, and without any good result
in the way of assistance to the explorer. True, we find exceptions to
this amongst them; two instances may be quoted as exemplifying two
different phases of the native character. One is a picture from Sturt's
journal, the other from Mitchell.
Sturt and his companions were returning to the depôt from one of their
northern efforts. Suddenly they came across a party of worn and thirsty
natives. What little water the whites had with them they gave them, but
it was only a mouthful a-piece, and the natives indicating by signs that
they were bound for some distant waterhole, disappeared at a smart trot
across the sandhills. They apparently expressed no surprise at the sudden
meeting in the desert, although they could not have had the slightest
conception of white men before. They seem to have accepted their presence
and the friendly drink of water as only a part of their strange
Far different was the conduct of the Darling River blacks, who so
resented Mitchell's appearance, that they travelled over some hundreds of
miles to attack him on his second visit. The ingenuity with which they
planned an attack on the party was a rather remarkable thing in the
annals of exploration. Thinking that the clothing of the whites rendered
them secure against spears, two men were told off for each member of the
party, one to hold the victim whilst the other clubbed him. Fortunately
the scheme was fathomed by one of the lubras with the party; but it
showed very deep-seated animosity and dislike.
The intercourse, then, that the travellers could expect from the natives
was either passive ignorance or violent hostility. On the few occasions
when their services were made use of it amounted only to finding some
scanty well. Again, the nature of the country was so persistently opposed
to all the pre conceived notions that the first arrivals brought to the
country. It would seem but rational to suppose that a river or creek
would ultimately lead to somewhere, a larger channel, or the sea; but the
rivers of the plain lived and died without any defined end, and to follow
their courses only resulted in disappointment. Add to all this a dry and
hot climate, and we cannot wonder at the slow progress made in the
advance of the first half of the century.
There is little doubt that had fortune turned the prows of the Dutch
vessels on to the north-east coast, instead of the rough and rugged
shores of the west, Australia would have seen settlement long before the
date of Phillip's landing. But the Dutch found no inducements whatever on
the west; their ships were wrecked, their crews attacked by the natives,
and they had great difficulty in finding fresh water; so that it was
little wonder that even their energy and adventurous spirit recognised
but nothing in TERRA AUSTRALIS to repay them for the trouble of taking
possession. The French, too, saw little in the unclaimed portion of the
country they visited to do more than threaten an occupation, which never
took place, and it is doubtful if the uninviting shores of Botany Bay
would have held out any hope to a body of free immigrants.
In all these halts on the way to colonization, Australia seems to have
borne but the aspect of her interior plains: formidable and repellent to
the intruder. Starting from the south, the first travellers had to face
all the loneliness and sterility of Lake Torrens and the other salt
lakes, and it was many years before it was found out that beyond existed
good habitable country. Eyre and Sturt both failed in their efforts to
penetrate north, and it was astonishing how easily it was afterwards
accomplished by two such comparatively inexperienced men as Burke and
Wills. From the west, nature was all against the explorer, and it was
only after the discovery of the Ashburton that Forest managed to reach
the overland line, that river having helped him well into the centre of
the colony. From the north, the penetration of the Great Plain was only
attempted once by A. C. Gregory, and then he was repulsed. From the
eastern shore, the steady progress, although not destined to finally
succeed, gradually brought nearly half the continent under the sway of
settlement, and the advance was mainly checked by the disappointment
resulting from Kennedy's examination of the Barcoo, and its final course
into a dreary desert. Of the many magnificent preparations made, it has
not always been the lot of the best equipped parties to attain the
greatest success, few men started with less outfit than did Macdowall
Stuart, when he reached to and beyond central Mount Stuart; no men ever
left better provided than did Burke and Wills, and their unfortunate
death by starvation is too well known. The equipment of the explorer,
especially as regards the use of camels, has been a matter of much
dispute. M'Kinlay speaks highly in praise of them, Warburton and Giles
both ascribe their safety to having them with them. But although they
have been the means of achieving long stages over dry country, they are
treacherous and dangerous animals to deal with. And should they make
their escape, it would be impossible to recover them with only horses at
command. Then, too, the possession of camels leads to hasty and hurried
examination of country, and the mere fact of being in command of such
means of locomotion entices a man to push on regardless of caution.
M'Kinlay reports that the camels seem to thrive well on everything, but
Warburton appeared to have great difficulty in obtaining feed for them in
the sandhill country. Be this as it may, they have done good service in
Australia, but it is not evident that they are always of equal good.
But the time will, without doubt, soon come when camels will no longer be
required, and the scenes of the forced and painful marches of some of our
explorers be watered by the springs now imprisoned hundreds of feet below
the surface. Since these pages were commenced, one of the strongest
outflows in the world has been struck near the foot of the range in
Queensland, some hundreds of miles back from the central coast, in a
place which witnessed the last expedition of Major Mitchell. This
discovery, added to the many that have preceded it, leads to much thought
as to the probability of future discoveries, and the wonderful springs
that are already known to exist.
"Water! water! everywhere, and not a drop to drink." Although not
absolutely true, in fact, or rather on the surface, this quotation might
be uttered with a strong measure of truth by many a poor wretch perishing
from thirst on a drought-blasted inland plain, whilst underneath him, at
a greater or less distance, run sunless seas.
Of the magnitude of our great subterranean reservoir who shall tell?
What craft will ever float on its dark surface, under domes of pendant
stalactites, rippling for the first time the ice-cold waters, and
disturbing the eyeless fish in their shadowy haunts? Only when here and
there we tap it, and the mighty pressure sends up a thin column of water
hundreds of feet in answer. Or when we notice the strong, constant
springs that at intervals break through the surface crust to gladden us;
or when the deeper internal fires burst forth, and hurl up its waters in
scathing steam and boiling mud, can we guess of the great hidden sea
We have a problem given into our hands to solve; it is our heritage, and
we have only just commenced to try and find the answer. In our fair
continent there are thousands upon thousands of square miles of fertile
country that Nature herself has planned and mapped out into wide fields,
with gentle declivities and slopes, fit for the reception of the modest
channel that shall convey the living water over the great pasture lands;
and now we want the magician to come, and, with the wand of human skill,
bring the interior waters to the surface, and make the desert blossom.
Of the great supply that lies awaiting us deep down in the earth's
caverns we have incontestible proofs, and of the force latent in it to
lift it to the surface, to be our willing slave and bondsman, we, too,
have some dawning notion. Will years of study and observation give us the
power to wield the wand at will? We cannot but believe it. Our vast and
fertile downs were never destined to be idle and unproductive for months
and months, dependent only on the niggard clouds o'erhead.
To make Australia the richest and most self-supporting country that sun
ever shone upon, wherein every man could follow out the old saying of
sitting under his own vine and fig tree, what is wanted? The answer to
this problem is to bring to our rich alluvial surface the waters under
On the great inland plateau that occupies two-thirds of the entire
continent, we find the soil teeming with elements of surpassing
fertility. Even the grudging rainfall that comes so seldom has developed
a wealth of indigenous herbage, grasses, and fodder plants unequalled in
any other part of the globe. The earth seems to have put forth every
inherent vitalising power it possesses to render its creatures
independent of cruel seasons.
What traveller but has noticed the magical effect of rain upon the deep
friable soil, formed by the denuded limestone rock. Almost
instantaneously fresh life springs up. Within but a short time the dry
and withered stalks of grass assume a deep rich green, the soft broad
leaves and joints are replete with moisture. The bare ground is quickly
coated with trailing vines and creepers, bearing succulent seed pods,
grateful and moist. The rough-coated, staggering beast that could scarce
drag its feeble legs out of the muddy waterhole, becomes in a few weeks
strong and vigorous. What would not such a land be with a constant
fertilizing stream of water through, and about it?
In approaching the subject of our subterranean water supply, the peculiar
physical formation of Australia must be borne in mind. The great flat
tableland that stretches in almost unvarying monotony from shore to
shore, fringed round with its strip of coastal land, resembles--to use a
homely simile--nothing so much as a narrow brimmed, flat crowned hat. The
moisture-laden clouds that visit us, break on the sides of this hat,
giving the brim, or coast, the full benefit of their precipitation;
drifting over the plateau, or crown, with rapidly decreasing bulk. Thus,
the great plain, in size the greatest, and in soil the richest part of
us, is always labouring under the curse of irregular and inefficient
rainfall; and whatever good we may do in the way of water storage and we
may do so much-we have always the threat of many years of drought hanging
over, during which our treasury of water will be drained, and not
Welling from the sides of the tableland we find large permanent springs,
in many cases the sources of fine strong-flowing rivers, the component
parts of whose waters now first see the light again after countless ages.
Storms and floods may come and go unheeded, their steady flow
is-maintained unchecked by summer or winter weather; for their birth is
deep down in the earth, where meteorological disturbances are unknown.
Like an old and battered tank, through whose cracked and leaky sides the
water it contains is escaping, so these springs find vent through
fissures in the mighty tableland, to flow down to the sea.
Up in the northern provinces where, perhaps, if anything, the contrast of
these flowing streams beneath the parched surroundings is more striking
than in the more temperate southern clime, there are some mighty leaks in
the sides of the tableland. The Gregory River, in the Burke district of
Queensland has one unvarying flow; a strong running stream, never
lessened by the longest drought, but gliding beneath cool masses of
tropical foliage and gurgling over rocky bars when all around is dry.
What a great heritage here runs to waste unheeded.
In the northern territory, from out another vent, springs the Flora
River, whose waters ripple over limestone bars in miniature cascades,
from pool to pool, like pigmy reproductions of the lost terraces of New
Zealand. Follow the edge of the great tableland around, and amongst the
deep seams and fissures of its abrupt descent coastward, we suddenly
come, midst rugged barreness and gloomy grandeur, upon these messengers
from the inner earth. Some enjoying the sunlight, but for a brief span,
disappearing again for ever as, suddenly as they were up-borne; others
finding their way down to the habitable lowlands and to the sea. But,
unfortunately, all these springs, some of great volume, find issue on the
outer edge of the range; the gradual descent that marks the inner slope
is not the scene of these outbursts. Here, and throughout the interior,
the waters from below rise in a way that seems to best befit the weird
solitude of the great plain.
At times, on a bare, baked mound elevated above the surface, there is a
dwarf crater filled with water that never overflows, and when tapped and
exhausted, rises once more to its former level. Again, canopied by giant
ti-trees amid the shrill shrieking of thousands of noisy parrots, the
traveller can pick his way along the treacherous paths that wind amongst
the hot springs. Or at the foot of a low range a scanty trickle fills a
rocky pool, and thence is lost.
In the bed of some far inland creek, the water rises in the sand in
shallow pools, during the dark hours of night, to vanish once more
beneath the sun. And in low caverns in the limestone hills, down some
deep fissure, can be seen the waters of a stream, whose rise and course
no man has ever traced. Again a solitary lagoon is found whereon no lily
grows, and wherein no fish swims. Where the belated bushman camping for
the night, finds the next morning that the water has sunk many feet, or
perhaps has risen, when no rain has fallen far or near for months. All
these signs and tokens from the great sea beneath us may serve as guides
to the end.
When one comes to know the real value of water in a thirsty land, it
almost seems like a crime on the part of Nature, that a spring should
rise and flow for a comparatively short distance, to be lost in the sea.
When by placing the source some fifteen or twenty miles away the course
would run for hundreds of miles through a dry country. Can human
ingenuity improve on nature?
In this case nature seems to have laid the ground work of a great
comprehensive continental plain; to have put the lever ready for man to
start it, and though the scheme is one of such magnitude that it may at
first glance seem widely impossible, there is no reason, backed as it
would be by natural forces, that it may not be an accomplishment of the
To fully understand the great problem of the water supply of Australia,
it is necessary to comprehend and carry in mind the wonderfully unique
river system of the continent. In an average area of 1,800 miles east and
west, by 900 miles north and south, the whole drainage runs from north to
south; that is to say, all that finds vent in the ocean. This, of
course, is the surface formation carrying off the rainfall, and has no
bearing on the outbreak of subterranean springs. But, as showing the
upheaval of the land to the northward, it points out that naturally the
flow of irrigation on a large scale will be from north to south.
It may be said that from the 18th parallel there is a steady slope
southward, broken only by the subordinate natural features of the
country, which necessarily form the irregularities of the smaller