The Australian explorers/Chapter 18

The Australian explorers by George Grimm
Chapter 18: Other Explorers in Western Australia—Conclusion



There still remain a considerable number of the explorers of Western Australia, whose achievements, though inferior to the foregoing, would have called for particular notice had this been an exhaustive work. A very brief outline of the journeys of the most prominent is all that can be attempted here. We shall begin with Captain, afterwards Sir George, Grey, so well known in later times as a new Zealand statesman. From 1837 to 1840 he was occupied with two expeditions for the exploration of the country lying between the coast and the first range. Both journeys were exceedingly hazardous—none more so in this department of history. During the first Prince Regent's River was explored; but the most important result was the discovery of the River Glenelg, which was described as one of the finest in Australia. The second expedition was directed to Shark's Bay, which was reached in February, 1839. The most important discovery during this journey was the River Gascoyne. The expedition was soon overtaken by terrible misfortunes, which compelled the party to make for Swan River by the quickest route. The first attempt was made in a small boat, which got no further than Gantheaume Bay, where it was dashed to pieces on the beach. To save their lives they had now to walk on foot along an inhospitable coast for 800 miles, with no more provisions than twenty pounds of Hour and one pound of pork to each man. Grey struggled along and gave a heroic example to the men under his charge. When he arrived at Perth he looked like a spectre, and his most intimate friends did not know him. He has himself told us what was the secret of his moral strength:—"It may be asked," he said, "if, during such a trying period, I did not seek from religion that consolation which it is sure to afford. My answer is, yes; and I further feel assured that but for the support I derived from prayer and frequent perusal of the Scriptures, I should never have been able to have borne myself in such a manner as to have maintained discipline and confidence among the rest of the party; nor in my sufferings did I ever lose the consolation derived from a firm reliance upon the goodness of Providence. It is only those who go forth into perils and dangers, amidst which human foresight and strength can but little avail, and who find themselves day after day protected by an unseen influence, and ever and anon snatched from the very jaws of destruction by a power which is not of this world, who can at all estimate the knowledge of one's own weakness and littleness, and the firm reliance and trust upon the goodness of the Creator which the human heart is capable of feeling."

The next in order is Mr. J. S. Roe, Surveyor-General of Western Australia. With a party of six men, eleven horses, and four months' provisions, he started from York in September, 1848, for the southern part of the colony. Leaving the last stations of the River Avon, he went S. ½ S. in a direction which had not yet been explored. In a short time he got into a poor country, which contained the heads of the Avon, the Williams, the Arthur, and other rivers. In 45 miles further he came to the Pallinup River, the last water which had been crossed by Eyre on his journey along the Great Bight. He followed it to the neighbourhood of Cape Riche, the latter part of this stage being through a well-grassed country. Here a squatting station was found, and a much -needed rest obtained. The next effort was to make the Bremer Range. In the intervening part, a river, the Jeeramungup, was discovered in a good tract of country, which was again succeeded by poor land. The Bremer Range was reached by the 3rd November. There was a hard journey thence to the Russell Range, which was near Eyre's country, and of the same description. The coast was reached opposite the Recherche Archipelago. Roe had now travelled 1,000 miles from Swan River, and found it necessary to return, and in doing so kept very much to Eyre's track as far as Cape Riche. The most important result of this journey was the discovery of several seams of coal. The return to Perth was made by way of the Pallinup River. The party had been absent 149 days, and travelled 1,800 miles.

The third explorer who shall be briefly noticed is Mr. R. Austin, who was Assistant Surveyor-General. He was despatched by the Government to search for gold in the country north and east of the settled districts. The party consisted of ten men, twenty-seven horses, and 120 days' provisions. By the 10th of July, 1854, they had left the head of Swan River, and entered on a wretchedly poor country, in which all the bushes were dead. Another fifty miles' travel brought them to a table-land with some high mountains, the most conspicuous of which received the name of Mt. Kenneth. Soon after a severe mishap befell the expedition. The horses having eaten a poisonous plant, twenty-four died within a few hours, leaving the explorers in a very helpless condition. They pushed on, nevertheless, and displayed an admirable perseverance. On the 24th of August they reached a magnetic hill, which was called Mt. Magnet, and returned for rest to Recruit Flat. The country next traversed lay between the Great Salt Lake and West Mt. Magnet, dry, rough, and stony throughout. One curious discovery was a cave with life-like figures of animals drawn by the aborigines. Some similar exhibitions of savage art had previously been discovered by other explorers in the north and west. The party came again to poisonous bushes, and the horses had to be watched night and day. Thence, taking a westward course, they got within fifty miles of Shark's Bay, when want of food compelled them to retreat to the Geraldine mines on the Murchison River. Here the party broke up, some returning to Perth by sea and the rest overland. The expedition failed in its principal object; nor was it in other respects much of a success.

It would be unpardonable to close this list without mention of Mr. F. T. Gregory's services in the exploration of West Australia. In April, 1858, he led an expedition from the Geraldine mines to examine the country between the Gascoyne River and Mt. Murchison. This effort was attended with much success. At least a million acres of good land were discovered—quite a Godsend for this colony, which is so rich in deserts. The principal places discovered and named were Mt, Nairn, Lockyer Range, Lyons River, the Alma, and Mt. Hall.

It is but right to add that the exploration of the interior has been largely indebted to private enterprise, of which there is no particular record. The pioneer squatters, in search of "fresh fields and pastures new," have not been afraid to invade unknown territories, nor have they gone without their reward. When a line patch of country has been discovered they have usually been quite willing to sacrifice their merit as explorers to the caresses of private fortune, being mindful, perhaps, of the old proverb which tells us "the crow would have more to eat if he were less noisy over his food." The same cause has been helped on, also, by the search for gold, than which nothing: will entice man further from home, or collect them in greater crowds. In this way much available country has lately been opened up in the Kimberley district of Western Australia, and the process is still going on, with many promising prospects. It is extremely probable that this northern region will soon be reckoned one of that colony's most valuable possessions, both in the squatting and the mining interests.

As the combined result of all the foregoing agencies, Australia has virtually ceased to be an unknown land by the close of the first century of our history. Even the great desert of Western Australia, real or supposed, has been crossed again and again, while lesser enterprises, issuing from all sides, have carried the fringe of the known territory further and further inland. Even yet the spirit of exploration keeps awake, and refuses to rest so long as a patch of the interior remains to be examined. While these sheets are passing through the press an exploring party, supported again by Adelaide, are preparing for the interior, in order to wrest from its grasp such secrets as it may yet retain.

It is pleasing to observe how a better acquaintance with Australia, both in the way of discovery and settlement, is surely leading on to the belief that it will yet be the home of a numerous population. For a long period it was reckoned unfit to be the habitation of civilized man, except along the seaboards. The want of water, and continuous deserts, were supposed to have placed the interior beyond the pale of settlement. But experience has already revealed a system of compensations by which this hasty judgment has come to be reversed, and the back country settled by a thriving population. There are deserts, indeed, in which one might search in vain for a blade of grass, but they contain many patches of nutritious shrubs, which not only keep alive, but even fatten, stock. Water, too, is scarce, but, by another of these admirable compensations, it is capable of being stored in any quantity, and for any length of time, without becoming putrid—an advantage unknown to the home countries. The rainfall, moreover, is very scant—perhaps not more than seven inches per annum in the far interior—but then the recent borings with the diamond drill have shown that an abundant supply may be obtained from subterranean sources. The latest announcement made to us, now standing on the threshold of the centennial year, is the most encouraging of all. By the ticking of the telegraph we learn that an experiment at Barcaldine, in Queensland, has brought to the surface of the bore a daily discharge of something approaching to 100,000 gallons of water tit for all purposes. Experience is ever revealing new relations of material adaptability. There is a sympathy between a country and its inhabitants, which may have a deeper foundation than the fancy of the poet. The land and the people are the complements of one another. "God made the earth to be inhabited," and there is now no fear of Australia being an exception to the rule.