Tracks of McKinlay and party across Australia/Chapter 7
THE GREAT STONY DESERT.
Editor's Remarks on the features of the Desert—Repeated Traces of Burke's Party—February 10th, McKinlay seriously ill; and, 19th, also Middleton—25th, Burke's Creek—27th, 28th, Very heavy Rains—March 1st, Around Camp all Flooded; Difficult Extrication—8th, Named "Escape Camp"—Fine Weather and extraordinary Vegetation—Features of the Country—13th, Elliott's Knob—16th, McKinlay's description of the Country; Browne Creek; Ellar's and Warren's tiers of Tabletops—Goat's hair Head-ornament and part of a Greatcoat in a Native Whirlie—Diminishing Rations and sorry Substitutes.
The reader, in entering upon this long chapter, may conjecture that there is nothing before him but a wearying uniformity of arid wastes. The account we have given in the last chapter, extracted from Mr. McKinlay's journal, of his four days' excursion into the Desert, will have done nothing to prevent such a conjecture. The description given by the travellers of a scene so wonderfully different in its character when they had entered this Desert, is most striking, and is well worthy of the attention of those who would know of all the peculiarities and vicissitudes by which Australia is distinguished. The expedition waits for rain to enable it to cross the "Desert." We have already gathered some experience of what all the country hereabouts may be reduced to when for a long time deprived of rain. Now the party are to see what are the effects of the rain, when it does at length pour down, upon even the most sterile parts—the stony plains and sand hills.
Heavy rains fall, which appear to be general over a large area, especially northwards in the line of the expedition's subsequent march. In a fortnight the capacious creek-beds, previously quite dry, or interspersed with only a few water-holes, are the channels of great bodies of water, rising momentarily in their level to overflow upon the plains, while the plains themselves are in some parts already shallow lakes. The most of these creeks seemed to have been dry for some time before. "The running of the creek" is quite an event in many parts of colonized Australia, where the creek is, perhaps, for nearly all the year, or for several years together, merely a chain of ponds or natural cisterns. The creek may not "run" at any particular station, after even weeks of pouring rain, because all the waters are being meantime absorbed in filling up the successive natural cisterns of its upper course. But with a roar they come at last, sweeping all before them with the flood. Our travellers experienced such a flood in the midst of the Desert, which this chapter finds them entering upon, and Mr. Davis's journal graphically describes its incidents.
The dangers experienced by the expedition from these recurring floods, suggest to Mr. Davis that Leichhardt's party may have been lost in one of them some fourteen years before, and Mr. McKinlay is disposed to the same view. The head-ornament made of goat's hair, found in a "whirlie," or temporary shelter of the wandering natives, seems, as Davis thinks, to confirm this view, for where could these natives have procured goat's hair except from the flock of goats taken by Leichhardt on his second and fatal expedition? We are doubtful, however, of an Australian belle (if indeed she claimed the ornament) bestowing such long lasting care upon any of her, especially when she leaves it at last in what seems a deserted whirlie. Leichhardt's party were long since reported to have been all killed by natives. Perhaps this is the least likely of the several alternatives, as Leichhardt, an experienced traveller, had a force adequate to resist any attack the usually timid natives were capable of. Starvation was one probable fate; the other we see in our travellers' experience of sudden and tumultuous floods.
Under the genial rain, the dry surface promptly changes its aspect. The ground, where it is not sand and stones, is mud, impeding the march at every step. For a short time the well-moistened surface exhibits no trace of life. "Nothing green," says McKinlay's journal of 13th February, the third day after starting, "except in the bed of the creek and the trees. The whole country looks as if it had been carefully ploughed, harrowed, and finally rolled, the farmer having omitted the seed." This naked, lifeless aspect soon, however, disappears beneath the verdure called forth by the moisture and the warm air. The plains become covered with pasture. Even "the stony hills and slopes," says McKinlay, on 8th March, "where, from their bronzed and desert appearance a few days ago, one would suppose grass never grew, are now being clothed in many places with a nice green coating, and shortly will give this place quite a lively appearance. When I first saw it, it was as desolate a looking spot as one could picture." He goes on to say, on 19th March, "passed through some magnificent country—one plain extending several miles, and well grassed. The weather, magnificent and quite tropical; the perfume of the flowers quite refreshing." Mr. Davis's account, further on in this chapter, is even more striking. The reader must remember that we are here still in the great Stony Desert, a fact of which the leader's journal keeps us well in mind, for it is stated, after two days' progress beyond this gay, luxuriant scene, "our journey to-day (21st March) was over nothing but red sand hills."
How, then, are we to know when we are in and when we are out of the Desert? Is it when we quit the fragrant region of flowers, and emerge into more ordinary scenery, that we know we have left the region of sand and stones? But the Desert has still its recognizable features throughout. The red sand hills protrude everywhere, varied by stony plains. Hill ranges appear on the horizon, but they are soilless and treeless masses of rock. Timber, if there is any, is confined to the beds of creeks, and there too, in protected spots, may be permanent, or comparatively permanent, grass; but the surface generally is bare under the scorching of sun and drought, excepting on those fitful occasions when the rain, as with a magician's wand, covers the country with beauty—a beauty, however, that may disappear almost as promptly as it came. These are the features of our Australian desert, and let us watch when they cease. On 23rd March there are some ameliorative symptoms. A white gum-tree flat is passed over; the trees are not very large, but the stony character is less conspicuous. The next day the wooded hills of Scott's Range appear in the distance. This last symptom coming upon the others preceding, we take to be decisive, so we close the Desert, and the chapter that describes it, with the 23rd March. Just six weeks had been spent in traversing it.
The Desert was the place of trial for the merits of the camels, and they appear to have come off quite triumphant. Mr. McKinlay says, under date 10th March, "The camels travelled over the stones with their loads apparently quite unconcerned; they are undoubtedly the best of all animals for this kind of work; they eat anything nearly, from the gum-tree down to the smallest herb, and then come and lie down beside you; whereas, horses and bullocks, if there be any lack of food, will wander all over the country." He also greatly commends the sheep. Speaking, on 26th February, of delay and trouble with the other animals, a bullock having dropped down almost dead under the heat, he remarks, "None of our journeys appear to give the sheep the slightest inconvenience, and they are as ready to commence their journey in the morning as the man who attends them; in fact, no party ought ever to go out exploring in the summer months without them."
10th. The cart and sheep started at 7 a.m.; the horses and camels some time after, as usual. Our course lies somewhere about north-west. We passed over sand hills to the other side of the lake, and then over alternate sand hills and flats for nine or ten miles, and passing on our way a salt lake. "Warma-ga-la-dhailie" is its name, and a very pretty one too. The ground is very soft, and, consequently, very heavy travelling. Before leaving, we set fire to our little dwellings, and very soon the "whirlies" were among the things of the past. We shall go a long stage to-day, and hope to find our expectations realized anent the water in the claypans and holes. Some of the water that is caught in the stony hollows is as clear as crystal, while that in the claypans is thick and muddy to a degree; the former is delicious. We camped under a bush, as there is not a tree to be seen. We did not do so till late, having passed the cart and sheep miles back. I do not expect they will be up to-night. There is nothing for the horses to eat, and only a few bushes for the camels. The latter part of the journey over sand-ranges, spinifex, and stony flooded flats, then over sand hill and part of Stony Desert, where we camp on the stones. Hard sleeping to-night. The last part of the way has not so much water as the first. We must do the best we can to-night, and we shall have a nice time of it, watching the animals to prevent them from straying; for, should they do so, it would be almost impossible to track them over the stones, which are quite brown, and look as if they had been packed, and very much water or weather worn. It is a curious sight, such an extent of bronzed surface, without thing but perhaps a small bush to break the view.
The cart not up, so we shall make a few scons of some seconds flour, boil a pot of tea each, and then to bed. I have the first watch, and a nice time it will be, rounding up all the horses, and keeping them together. I am mounted, however, so that I can get after the brutes quicker and better. It is rather dark here, too, which makes it worse.
The camels were brought in and tied up, to prevent their being non inventi in the morning. A few natives are seen looking for snakes and lizards, etc.—in fact, anything that has been driven to the hills by the wet. How would you, reader, like to sit down to a snake and lizard supper, served up with that best of all sauces—hunger?
11th. At daylight this morning, Mr. McKinlay, by the aid of his binocular, discovered the cart and sheep about two miles off, wending their weary way to camp. They arrived shortly after. The bullocks were taken out and watered, etc., while we got our breakfast. The meal was soon concluded, and away we went to bring up the horses, etc., and prepare for a start. We shall go a short stage to-day, as one of the bullocks got knocked up, and caused the delay on the road yesterday. We start, and continue our journey over the same uninteresting flat of brown stone, with little or no herbage; some high sand hills to our right and left some way off. We then crossed over the one to the left, and camped on the other side where there was some water. No feed here to speak of. We had to kill a sheep, the meat on the cart being unfit for food. We left the old bullock to go by himself to-day, and he was driven into camp some time after we arrived by the man left in charge of him. I fear he won't go much further, as he is so fat, and feels the heat so much. We with the camels picked up the water-keg, which had fallen off the dray, and a sack containing rations. We soon whipped them up on the camels. The bullock-driver was unconscious of his loss.
I never travelled through a more uninteresting country in all my life. As soon as we got to camp, down came the rain, and we had to get such shelter as we could, as it was too windy to put up the tents; the ground being light sand, the pegs would not stand a minute; so we had to grin and bear it. We got tolerably well soaked, as it came down with a will. I had a long and wet walk this evening with the camels to a creek some three miles off, as there was nothing for them to eat but a few bushes, and they wandered in search of something more palatable; and when they do begin that game they will go for miles, even in hobbles. I brought them back, and they were tied up, so I shall not have far to look for them.
In the morning, on crossing the large plain, we found large stones, much larger than any we had seen before, placed side by side, marking out squares, circles, and different kinds of figures as far as the eye could reach; what these were for we could not make out. I suppose the blacks hold merrymakings here, or something of the sort; to-morrow perhaps we shall know all about it, till then it must remain a problem to be solved. Distance to-day nine or ten miles; several sand hills, some distance from them where we are camped, this is called (the large hill where we are camped) "Canna-cannan-thainya." The natives who accompany us are very useful in this way, and point out to the governor the different hills and creeks, and tell him their names. We had a steady rain last night for about three hours, but this morning it is fine and cool. There is plenty of water all along the route, we can see it from the high sand hill.
12th. The dray started as usual before us. We crossed a large sand range called "Malla-poorpo-nannie." The country generally is very uninteresting. The greater part of the day's journey we crossed several small creeks, most of them running. The female camel gave us a great deal Of trouble to-day, she did not like facing the running water; she detained us most seriously. Mr. McKinlay thus describes in his journal the country passed through to-day:—
"12th. Steady rain for about four hours last night, and this morning breaks fine and clear, with a wind north. Plenty of water lying all over the Desert. Dray started at 7·40 a.m., and at six and three-quarter miles distant got to Malla-poorponannie sand range, the southern end of which is called Cookorda; about two miles off its northern end dwindles down to nothing in the Desert. To the northern end of Coontarie sand range, a creek and well by the same name; about twelve miles off, a detached sand range in the desert, at the north-west end of which are two waters, named respectively Dhooramoorco and Moongaara; also on north-east side of sand range another water in creek called Cadry-yerra, also a sand range about four to five miles distant. There was a number of small detached sand hills going round to the westward, then a perfect blank round to Coontarie well. At about three to four miles struck the flooded flat from the main creek I am now going to. At eleven and a half miles further came to and crossed a deep creek crossing my course at right angles. At two miles further came to water in Daeragolie Creek, same creek that I crossed before two miles from this; within this last two miles the whole flat is cut up into innumerable channels most difficult to travel over, I must therefore see and get a better road for the cart. Here there is not a green blade of grass to be seen; there are some green shrubs in the bed of the creek that the camels are fond of. I arrived at this camp at 2·5 p.m.; distance travelled to-day, twenty- three and a half miles. This is an immense creek, timbered on its bank with box, bean, and other trees, the water is in detached holes, but good, and apparently plenty of fish and ducks."
The cart not up to-night as usual. Mr. McKinlay talks of abandoning it and packing the bullocks; it has been a great drawback to us and no mistake, still it has been exceedingly useful.
There is very bad feed for the horses here, but capital for the camels. No niggers to be seen, or any signs of them, so we shall have no watch to keep to-night, the first time for some months. Thank goodness we are camped on a fine creek with plenty of water. We had to get our supper of scons baked on the coals, and a pot of tea: we shall not get fat at this rate however.
13th. The cart on its way this morning got upset into a creek close by, no damage done. Bell having been sent to look after it, returned with the above intelligence; it shortly after arrived.
Mr. McKinlay and Hodgkinson go out to look for a good crossing place for it and the animals, as we are to cross this creek, which is very steep, some fifty or sixty feet down almost perpendicular banks. Middleton also goes out to see if he can find a ford close by for the horses, as there is splendid feed here for the camels though bad for horses. The food the camels are so fond of is a tall thin shrub, bearing a very pretty flower, there being three or four varieties, alike in growth and leaf, but differing in the colour of the bloom, some yellow, others white and purple.
Our breakfast was the ditto of last night's supper—a scon and a pot of tea; the cart not coming up, and containing as usual all our commissariat in use. Had a fine bathe in the creek this morning, which quite refreshed all of us.
We shall stay here to-day and rest the bullocks, as they will not be in early, and also that they may get something to eat; the plant in the creek they also are very fond of, and as there is abundance, they will have a good feed to-day, and they want it, for the poor brutes have hardly had anything for two or three days to speak of. We have had no meat to eat since Tuesday morning at 6 o'clock a.m. till to-day at 1 p.m., when we were regaled with a small piece of bacon—hard times—I hope they won't get harder, that's all. We had a jolly good supper, however, of roast mutton and damper to make up for the late short commons; had a good bathe after dinner, and that, reader, is half the battle in these times, although we may not have a change of raiment to put on afterwards. Mr. McKinlay reports the road, from what he saw, as far as he could judge, as better for our next day's journey than it has been for the last few days, so he hopes we shall go ahead better.
The creek we are on is one hundred yards wide, with any number of small creeks flowing into it, draining the flats around. Wind to-day rather hot from south-west. There is another creek not quite so large as the one we are on, that goes away to west and south. There is plenty of limestone seen, and it is heavily timbered; there is nothing green to be seen but the leaves on the trees, and in the creeks the ground is quite black, and looks as if it had been prepared for seed. Two natives came into camp this afternoon and remained with us; they did not appear to be afraid.
14th. We went about fifteen miles on the same creek and camped. About three miles from here we came on the bones of a horse and an old saddle. Middleton and self stopped here and examined all the trees to see if we could find any marks, but nothing was to be seen. There was camels' dung found though, plainly showing that this was the spot where poor Burke killed and jerked his horse Billy. We stopped some time to see if we could find anything buried, but failed to do so; the saddle was all that was left, no stirrup leather or girth—merely the saddle. We each took away a hoof of the horse as a. Yes, here we are for certain at a camp of Burke's! I imagine they came down this creek on their way home; and if so, we shall fall in with many more, I dare say.
I wish they had marked the trees on their way, but perhaps they had no means of doing so; but they must have had a knife surely, and that would have been sufficient to mark the bark, even if not very deep.
We got to camp some time after the rest consequent on our stay in Burke's camp; cart not up, and won't be for a long time, so there will be nothing to eat; all of us very hungry till it did come, about 9 p.m. I took the bullock driver's watch as well as my own; I thought it would never end; six hours is a long spell; and I also had to keep a sharp eye on a native friend who had come with us a short way to prevent his bolting, as our long-tried companion, Mr. Nilmilly, vanished immediately on our arrival here, and has not been seen since; he got the funks on the march I fancy, as he was getting out of his latitude, and feared we should find no water ahead; ho takes with him tomahawk, pannikin, clothes, and our good wishes for his safe journey to his people, for he has really been very useful indeed to the party, and I dare say we may hear something of him from parties who may be on the look-out for Burke coming from the north.
Ned had to leave one of his best bullocks behind; he was quite baked, and his mate was obliged to be left also to keep him company, as he would not leave him. The mate came into camp about 11 p.m., but the other, I fear, will be dead before morning. There is a largo red sand hill close by, from which an extensive view of the country can be obtained—not a very cheering one, it must be owned; but there is a well-defined creek in the distance, well timbered. Close to this camp also we found camel-dung, showing that Burke had been here also, so that he could not have been making much progress.
15th. I did not have much sleep last night, having to keep such a long watch; consequently, feel rather done up this morning. Cut Mr. McKinlay's initials on a tree; party started first thing for the missing bullock; found him in the creek, and brought him into camp; he is better, but not quite right; he will be a great loss, for he is a splendid working beast. This delayed our starting till 12 o'clock, and we got into camp at 1·30, going only five or six miles; our journey is up a branch creek; there seems to be no good waterhole to bathe in at or near this camp, for which I am sorry, as I fear we shall stop here some days to make pack-saddles and packs for the bullocks, for at last the cart is to be abandoned, and quite time too, for this country is not fit for the passage of any wheeled arrangement, at any rate the roads we have travelled; it may be better on the plains, and very likely it is so, but it is so intersected by deep and steep watercourses and creeks, that it is almost impossible for a cart to travel at all, and had we not been fortunate enough to have a first-rate and experienced bullock-driver, we should never have brought it so far. Ned Palmer certainly deserves great credit for the way he has managed his team through this intricate and dangerous country. I wonder the cart has not been smashed long ere this.
Wind to-day disagreeable, blowing from north. The heat fearful in the extreme. Mr. McKinlay taken violently ill with dysentery. Our last native quite forlorn at being left all alone by himself, so Mr. McKinlay has taken pity on him and let him slip his cable and go; he seems delighted, and is off like a shot down the creek. It is a pity too, for they are very useful in pointing out the waters, and it does not seem likely that we shall see any more of them for some time, as we have not seen any lately; they must have gone up into the sand hills after their game, and left the creeks, as there are plenty of water-holes down the creek, and from the number of them they must be pretty numerous at all times.
Many fish to be seen in the water-holes, and plenty of mussels, judging from the number of empty shells round the fire-places at the native whirlies. The country on this side of the creek is better wooded than the other, but not a blade of grass, excepting in the bed of the creek and watercourses, and not much to boast of in them on the sandy side of the creek.
We found a small plant with a thick velvet leaf. We pulled a lot, and had it boiled; had we but salt and a little butter it might have been taken for asparagus, though not much like it in taste, only resembling it slightly; it is also very nice eaten raw, it has a slight acid flavour, and I should say first-rate for us, who have not had any greens for so long a time. It will improve the blood, a thing which we all require, as it is as pale and as thin as possible. The plant is best picked early in the morning, as, if the sun has been on it any time, it is tougher and not so acid. I hope we shall continue to find it, as it does us a world of good; besides being a great treat to us all, it helps out our small allowance of bread, as we can save half our bread at a meal having this stuff to eat with our meat.
Mr. McKinlay very ill this afternoon; he must have a very serious attack, as his face is very much pinched since this morning, and he walks really very ill indeed.
16th. Remained in camp. Mr. McKinlay in his tent all day, and looks worse than ever; he is taking some medicine; I think it is chlorodine—it quite warms you through after a dose of sixty or seventy drops. I hope it will soon restore our worthy leader to us in his usual health and spirits. We are all rather down in the mouth at this sudden illness of the governor, for he is certainly much worse to-day.
Ned and I had a nice walk up the creek after the camels some two miles; it was very hot up the creek, as we were obliged to follow their tracks. However, we managed a spell and a smoke or two; we found no beauties to flirt with, but spun yarns of the old country. We got the camels into camp all right, and found on our way some old horse and camel dung, so that Burke must have been here also. When we returned to camp we set to work to jerk mutton; the cart is to be left here, so we shall have a lot of traps to put on the camels—cooking utensils, rations, and God knows what else. There is no lack of mosquitoes here, but they don't seem to trouble me as much as they do the others, and a very good job too; what between the swarms of flies by day and the mosquitoes at night, we have a very lively time of it indeed. We retired to our blankets early, but, alas! not to sleep; at least several fellows were seen perambulating up and down, keeping the sentry company, for they could not sleep on account of these torments of the dark hours.
17th. Mr. McKinlay still very ill. Most of us hard at work, getting the baggage from the cart to separate the things that are to be taken with us from those that are to be left behind. Another long trudge up the creek after the camels and, generally have it at meal-times. Very scanty food indeed for the horses, so they break up into different mobs and stray away. We take leave of the old cart to-day, as to-night it is going to the top of a sand hill, to be there left to its fate; the goods are to be buried on the sand hill, also, in consequence of all this country being under water at some periods, from the flood-marks left on the trees. We bury no end of lucifers and candles, and, as the Yankees say, notions too numerous to mention., I forgot my pipe, and now I have only one left—a short clay. We have had no salt for some days past, and our meat, etc., is very insipid, but hunger is a good sauce, and we
Some of us weighed to-day, Mr. McKinlay one of the number. He weighed when he left Adelaide, in August, 15 st. 11 lb.; to-day exactly 12 st.! A slight shower with thunder this morning, and promises for some more. Mr. McKinlay a little better this evening.
Camels will miss the cart, as they now have a stiff" load; the "old woman," as we call her, has over 433 lb. on her, which is a good weight for this difficult country. We did not get away till after 3 o'clock, and arrived in camp on a muddy water-hole about dark, long after all the others. Distance, sixteen miles. I fear Mr. McKinlay will feel the journey, as he is still very weak, though he says he is better.
18th. The country passed over to-day quite destitute of vegetation, the low, black flats looking as though they had been prepared for crops. Passed a creek to east; no water. Crossing the plain one of our bullocks (the one that had been ill) was struck dead by the heat of the sun, though carrying nothing, only walking along by himself. Nothing could be done with him, as all the party save those with the camels were a long way in advance; so he was left to the tender mercies of the wild dogs. There was not a drop of water to be seen, and I feared for some time we should have been obliged to camp without any. "We passed several magnificent creeks, and saw through the breaks in the sand hills others with timber. Passed over more flooded flats, on to a creek without water; then went on the same kind of country well wooded till we came to a rain-water hole, where we camped. Mr. McKinlay went further on in the hopes of finding water, but to no purpose, so came back to this water, and we found him and the horses camped when we arrived. There was sufficient water in this hole for all our purposes, first taking out enough in our water-bags and canteens to supply us to-night and to-morrow in case we see no more.
This must be a splendid country after the floods, for, though destitute of anything like grass, it is really very pretty, some parts of it undulating and well wooded; but it is desolate enough now. We find more similar traces of Burke and his unfortunate companions. Mr. McKinlay says he is very ill this evening, and hardly able to sit in the saddle, and he really looks so.
19th. Hodgkinson and Middleton are sent out up the creek to look out for water for next stage. Middleton returns about 11, having found plenty of water about eight miles up. Hodgkinson proceeded further, and is to return to the aforesaid water, where we shall camp to-night. So we all saddled up, and started for this water late in the afternoon, as the distance was so very short. Mr. McKinlay suffered a great deal, and we rigged up a kind of shade for him under the only tree near the camp with our blankets, for he did not wish the tents pitched, as they would keep us back at starting.
Mr. McKinlay and party found the water-hole from the direction given by Middleton, who was taken so ill by the way that we were unable to get him to camp that night; so he camped on a plain, under a large tree, without water or anything to eat. Poor fellow! he was awfully bad, and unfit to go further. He craved for water so much, and there was not a drop to give him, although I drained my canteen and bag for him. I lighted a large fire, and unpacked the camels, making him a bed under the tree. I thought he would have died. I fancied he had the cholera; he was doubled up, and rolling about so fearfully. I knew we could not be far from our camping place by what he told me, and I sent up a blue light and a Roman candle. I was very hungry and thirsty, and went to sleep after seeing Middleton a little better; strange to say, when I woke I was neither hungry nor thirsty.
20th. (Camp, iv.) Poor Middleton was hardly able to rise this morning, so I saddled up the camels and horses, and started. We shortly got to camp, Middleton very ill indeed. I was glad to get a drink of water and a scon. This creek where we are camped is some two hundred yards wide, and about eighty or ninety feet deep, with rather steep banks. We are on the east side; it is well wooded, which affords good shelter for the sick. The men in camp saw nothing of our blue light, though they had been looking out and keeping up roaring fires all night. Mr. McKinlay could not imagine what had become of us. We have, ever since we abandoned the cart, to carry the stock for the larder on the camels, so that the men at head-quarters had not much of a supper; we, as I said before, did not touch them either. Middleton was so bad on arriving at camp, that he had to be helped up the side of the creek to the place where we are to camp, just on the top of the bank, under some nice shady trees. The tent was soon up, and Middleton quickly between the blankets; I thought at one time I should never have brought him into camp.
After breakfast took the camels to water and feed; I took a bath, and very much refreshed I was after; the water, nice and cool, but the bottom muddy. About 6 p.m. I went on horseback after the camels, the horsemen reporting that they were not to be seen on the creek for three miles. I overtook them about four miles down the creek on the tramp; God knows where they would have been in the morning had I not gone after them. There was plenty of feed on the creek, and they had a good drink on arriving, so that I cannot account for their getting on the spree; tied them up at camp to-night; Mr. McKinlay much better to-day, and looks quite a different man; Ned very bad; the day was hot in the extreme.
21st. This is not a very first-rate camp, but Middleton is too ill to move. Repairing camel saddle to-day, and doing odd jobs, others washing.
22nd. Up early; Hodgkinson and Bell start off with two days' rations to examine the stony ranges in the distance, and to ascertain if this creek receives any waters from the west or north-west, and to return by this creek and see how the water is in it. Parallel ruler not to be found; it must have been left behind or else dropped off the earners back; unpacked everything, but non est. McKinlay quite well to-day, and Middleton improving, thank God!
There is only eight weeks' flour from to-day, but we still get a lot of that greenstuff, and relish it; it goes down well with a little sugar, when we can spare it from our tea. We must get to Finnis' Springs shortly, or we shall be in a pretty fix; we can't well starve, though, while we have plenty of sheep and horses to eat, to say nothing of a camel or so.
23rd. Up early to-day, to get mutton jerked. Wylde starts off to No. iii. camp, after parallel ruler, a stage of some fifty miles or more there and back, where we buried the things, and left the cart. I hope he may find it, as it is very useful to the leader. I did think we left it behind, but fear we must have dropped it. Middleton decidedly on the mend. McKinlay goes out on horseback, feeling all right, to the east, to examine the country; he went over flooded flats. Here is his account of the journey:—
"Over flooded flats, and a couple of sand hills. From top of the highest sand hill, changed course to 113' for two and a quarter miles to top of another larger sand hill, passing one other in my course then on bearing of 15° for six and three-quarter miles, over flooded flats, with a few smaller sand hills, but soon terminate on both sides of my course; the current over this tract of flat being to the south of east, then three-quarters of a mile on bearing of 15' over one sand hill to top of rocky hill, from which the flooded flat I have just passed gathers together in the distance to a creek, and goes off on course of 155° and no doubt is the feeder of the waters now in the creek to south and east of our present camp, viz., Barrawarkanya, Marroboolyooroo, Cadrityrrie, Meincounyannie, and Gnappa Muntra; then two and a quarter miles on bearing of 10° to top of sandy and stony hill, with four or five malice trees and a few other shrubs; marked one of tho mallee trees. From this hill tho creek passed end of table-topped stone range, on bearing from six to nine miles distant north-west and round northward to east. Peaks and hills of stone with intervening flats, some of earth, others of stone, are visible as far as eye can reach; from this hill our present camp bears about 227½° and distant about eleven and a half miles."
This evening Bell and Hodgkinson returned; having examined the hilly country, but could find no tributary joining the creek, they saw a little water further up, and also a native and his lubra, but could not get any conversation with them, they were so shy.
24th. To-day a great event occurred; Hodgkinson tendered his resignation as second in command, so he will now join the ranks as horseman. He wished to return to the settled districts, but that Mr. McKinlay would not hear of. The bullocks all astray this morning, and could not be found in time to start.
Poole got a slight sunstroke going after the horses; he was brought in, and from the cold applications continually made, he soon rallied. Middleton all right again.
25th. (Camp v.) After a cool journey of eighteen miles, we camped on a small creek, with plenty of water. The country was flooded flats; passed a large creek, and numerous native "whirlies;" we crossed it, and then went over some high sand hills, the summits of which were almost perpendicular walls of drift sand, from two to five feet high, and very difficult for the animals to get over; the female camel gave us much trouble to get her to cross them; then over more flooded flats, then over small and stony hills, the stones of the same description as those of the Desert. We reached a creek we descried in the distance, and found plenty of water and abundance of good feed for the animals, which luxury they have not had for some time. Weather cloudy. We saw in the flats fields of very beautifully coloured lilies; the vegetation all this day's journey better than it had been some days previous. Mr. McKinlay has called the creek we left this morning "Burke's Creek."
26th. The weather cloudy, and threatening for rain. Maitland arrived this morning with the intelligence that the bullock that was ill before had dropped down, and would go no further; so they killed him, in order that the flesh might be made use of. He was too fat to travel. Another hurt itself to-day; although generally one of the quietest, it took to bucking, endeavouring to get rid of its saddle, when it fell, and must have hurt itself severely, for there it remains where it fell; the rest are all right, and off to feed. I expect we shall kill it also, but we must have more sun if we are to jerk them. Mr. McKinlay has gone up to the creek, and Maitland has written instructions for three men to bring on the meat and hide of the dead bullock. Wylde, Hodgkinson, and Poole went with three pack-horses to bring in the meat; the remainder of the bullocks arrived at 3·30. They brought in the meat shortly afterwards, but it was so awfully tough that we could hardly get our teeth into it.
Camels not found to-night; it came on so dark, I could not see their tracks; it would be a devil of a go if they were lost. I hope to find them in the morning, as they camp at night, and are, I dare say, now chewing the cud comfortably. The night is as black as Erebus, and if we don't get some rain it is a caution. It is spitting now, and if this continues we shall not be able to jerk the other bullock, so he will have to take his chance in the desert. There is plenty of grass and water here to last him for months; there was splendid green feed on the slopes of the stony hills and water-courses. There is an island in this creek formed by an arm of it; I should say it is 800 or 900 yards wide. Rained very heavily the whole night, and as black as pitch; those who have the middle watch will have a nice time of it to keep the sheep together, for there is no yard for them, for if they do get scared, it would be perfect madness to follow them; thank goodness it is my morning watch, when it will be light.
27th. Rained the whole of the night. Sheep bolted; it was no use trying to see them, much less to look after them; they were recovered in the morning, with the exception of fourteen, which were not to be seen anywhere. I started early in the morning after the camels; it was no use trying to find their tracks, as they had long since been obliterated, so I went on my travels, and came on the lost sheep, and brought them nearly into camp, when I met Ned in search of them, and made them over to him. I start again after the camels, up to my knees in water, but cannot see anything of them, and got a blowing-up from the governor for my pains; then I brought in a horse, and Middleton started after them, for I was awfully tired, having been walking in water up to my knees for the last two or three hours.
The creek that was almost dry yesterday is running a strong stream this morning, and rising rapidly. All the horses were brought to our side of the creek, and taken to the stone hill, where there was fine feed, as the rain still continued to pour down with a will. If the rain still continues in this style, we shall soon have to take to the sand hills for safety, for all this flat and where we are camped will be under water very shortly—a nice state of things. As it is, the camp is a perfect muck-yard, up to our ankles, and it sticks so to the boots that our progress is slow and tiresome. We are all as wet as drowned rats, and shall continue so, I suppose, till it holds up, for there is no use in changing, as we should be wet again directly. I talk of changing our clothes, we have only another suit to our back, and we all think it better to keep that dry till it holds up. Some of us I suspect will be having a touch of rheumatism—wet clothes all day, ditto blankets all night. We try and make ourselves as jolly as we can, and even Mark Tapley would allow that some credit is due to him who can make himself so here. The ground in the tent even is so soft that if we sit down we leave an impression. The flat is becoming quite a lake, and you can almost see the water rise, it flows over the ground so fast, and the trees are becoming shorter and shorter—of some only the tops are visible; the creek is now quite swimable, and running like a sluice. The camels arrived safe this afternoon, after a good hunt for them.
28th. It has been raining the whole night as hard as it could pour down. The water last night rose nearly three feet, and is rising fast now. We are making preparations to clear out of this, and high time too, or we shall have to swim for it. Our camp itself will shortly be under water; as it is the water is all round us, our camp being the only piece of high ground about. The rain held up about 12 o'clock, thank goodness, though everything is damp or wet. We shall get out of this in the morning, i. e., if we don't have to flit before. We are all most miserable. Camels can't wander, that's a blessing, for the water won't allow them. It is as well we left the cart where we did, we could not have taken it further, and in all probability it would have been swept away by this flood now rapidly coming on. McKinlay says we are now in that position, and not far from the place where Captain Sturt dreaded being overtaken by rain. It will be awful work travelling through this sea, but we must make the best of a bad bargain and face the difficulty. There is one thing, the quantity of water will enable the governor to go where he pleases, as there will be abundance for months to come. He says, "I wish I had a couple of months' rations of flour, tea, and sugar, as then I could thoroughly examine the country in this quarter." It is very stormy, the creek is rising very fast still, and here we are quite isolated on about a quarter of an acre. Pleasant, isn't it? We shall have a swim for it tomorrow, and no mistake. Poor little sheep, it will be hard work for them. The weather looks very angry, and more rain coming.
Mr. McKinlay remarks in his journal of this date:—
"If this creek carries me much more to the north, instead of going to the east as it now does, I think it will take a run through to the Albert River; and if the steam sloop "Victoria," Captain Norman, has not sailed from there, I think I will be able to get flour or biscuits in sufficient quantity to carry me back, and enable me to do all, or nearly so, that was required of me by the South Australian Government; if not at the Albert, I will only be obliged to live the principal part of the return journey on animal food, and what vegetables we may find from time to time. It won't be a very hard case, but much more pleasant and agreeable if it can be obtained."
March 1st. And a very pretty first of March it was. Up early and had breakfast, so that we may be off about the animals. First of all the sheep are to be taken to some dry ground, half a mile off. They will have to swim, and there is a strong current too. Kirby and the horsemen go with them. They manage, with care and patience, to get them over in safety after a difficult job, they then go after the other horses some miles away on the hills. Sometimes I can see them swimming, and then a head suddenly disappears altogether, its proprietor having gone down a hole; they were never less than up to their waists. Middleton and self go after camels in the same sort of way, sometimes swimming, and sometimes just touching the ground with our toes. Thank goodness, they were all close by, two and two, on little bits of ground, just big enough for them to stand on. They came with us through the water quite quietly, and I fancy they must have felt some fear of danger, for the female camel in particular has generally a great antipathy to water. She followed me like a dog. We soon got to camp, down tents, load up, etc. Soon accomplished it, but it was frightful work, all our clothes dripping, for we did not take them off when we started, as they were wet already. To mend the matter the wind got up, and it went through us like a knife. We never felt it so cold as during this part of the performance. All ready to start, and off we go. We have to lead the camels to where the sheep are camped. We get on all right. The water sometimes up to our necks, and sometimes we have to swim a little way. Camels may well be called "the ships of the desert." They answered the purpose of boats to-day, at any rate, for us. The most of the provisions would have got soaked if the horses had carried them.
On our arrival on the spit of sand where the sheep were, Mr. McKinlay ordered two of the camels to be unloaded and to return for the ammunition, flour, tea, sugar, etc., which had hitherto been carried by the horses. So we had to take this most delightful journey again for the aforesaid traps, and very fortunate indeed it was that we had the camels, as otherwise all the flour, etc., would have been spoilt, as the water was over the horses' backs in many places, and their packs consequently more or less soaked. The creek this morning was rising some six inches, yesterday it was only three to four inches. It is none too soon for us to be on the move, I'm thinking. We are now in the midst of a vast sea, the shallowest part of which I should say could not be less than five feet. After getting all things to dry land we reloaded the camels with their proper burdens, giving the horses what belonged to them, and what we brought up on the second trip, and started for camp (we are all shivering and shaking, and teeth fairly chattering with the intense cold) on a sand-hill, where there is plenty of water and fine feed for the animals; but the road to it is our difficulty, the beasts all slipping and sliding about, and we expecting some of them to be down every minute. The poor little sheep were sometimes up to their bellies in mud, and had to be lifted out. It was horrid work for them. It still looks rainy. I suppose we shall remain here for some time, for I don't see how we are to get out of it. For the present we are in our new position, above all inundation, and in perfect safety for some time. From this camp the whole country is one immense sea as far as the eye can reach, nothing else visible but the large trees marking the courses of the different creeks and stone-hills in the distance.
Mr. McKinlay remarks again in his journal regarding this flood:—
"We were very fortunate to be caught in it where we were; had we been caught thus in making this creek, or a day's stage up it, to a certainty we should all have been washed away, or, what would have been just as bad, be perched on a small island of sand with all the animals round us, and nothing but starvation staring us in the face—as on most of the sand-rises down near the creek there was no vegetation of any consequence upon them."
We had a narrow escape from following in the footsteps of poor Leichhardt and party, who have never been heard of to this day, and it is now some sixteen years since they started. I should not be the least surprised if he and party were carried away in one of these floods, as not the slightest trace of him has ever been seen. This is mere supposition on my part, but I believe Mr. McKinlay agrees with me. After arriving and turning out the animals we got into some dry clothes, and not before they were wanted. Then we had some hot tea, and began to feel comfortable once more. Pitched tents, and we all looked more happy than we have done for some days. The sand here is awful, blowing into our eyes, etc., and everything we get to eat is covered with it.
Sunday, 2nd. It rained steadily for some time last night, and is showery to-day. The flats are considerably more covered this morning. Thunder and lightning from north-east. Some of us began to talk of our possible fate, others raking up stories of accidents that had befallen other explorers, and some painted the picture rather dismally; but it is of no use putting a sad face on, it will be time enough when the accidents do come. Threatening for a storm, but it went off in the evening and the stars shone brightly. No yard for the sheep, and we have to keep a special sharp look out for the wild dogs that are up here in numbers, out of the way of the flood. Mosquitoes very bad, no sleep hardly.
3rd. I hope, as the day promises, it may be fine and dry, that we may get our things out to air, they being all more or less damp.
There was a horrid row about 2 a.m. Mr. McKinlay caught the man who should have been on watch, not only asleep but absolutely coiled up in his blanket most comfortably. My stars! he caught it, and no mistake. I mention no names, but if he ever sees this he will remember the circumstance. After breakfast Mr. McKinlay called us all round him, and standing on a small eminence addressed us to the effect that if ever he found any one asleep on his watch, or even sitting down, which was as bad, he should erase that man's name from the list of those receiving pay; and that for the future he would have to work for nothing. It is very hard to keep on your feet two or three hours without resting, after a long march; however, the edict has gone forth, and becomes a law.
Began shoeing horses to-day, as their feet are rather soft, and we shall have to tackle plenty of stony ground on our course. Mr. McKinlay and Ned went out on horseback to look after the lost bullock which had been left behind on coming to last camp. They found him with the stifle joint broken, so that we shall jerk him as soon as the sun comes out hotter. Made a stunning currie to-day for all hands, which was duly appreciated, but the want of salt was a great drawback to arriving at perfection. Middleton unwell again.
4th. This morning four men started with as many horses to kill and bring in the lame bullock. The country is very boggy and travelling heavy. Mr. McKinlay went out yesterday, after he returned from finding the bullock, to see the state of the flood. He had to swim his horse some distance, the water was still so high, but he found that the creek had gone down nine inches. The last flood (whenever that was) was some seven feet higher than the present one, from the marks left on the stone hills and trees.
The high land up here is perfectly infested with wild dogs, but we have plenty of strychnine, and that soon settles them. They are so hungry, or voracious perhaps is the word, that when one of their gang gets poisoned he is quickly torn in pieces by his fellows, and some of them pay the penalty of their repast, and are in turn devoured themselves.
Mr. McKinlay and Poole rode out to some high stone hills to the east to see from what quarter the creek flowed, but the haze was so great that the journey was of little use. From the stony hills to the west of north there was a perfect sea, nothing but the tops of trees to be seen here and there above the water. The ground was all but impassable in some places. Some days ago there was not a bird to be seen, but now thousands of cranes, gulls, ducks, etc., are here, and also a few black swans passed over our camp. We have seen very few of these birds up to the present time. The dews at night are very heavy, and you get quite damp on the watch, and those who sleep out in the open air have a wet blanket in the morning. Mosquitoes and sand still very troublesome, the latter blowing into the bread while it is being made, so you grind it up all the time you are eating, which is agreeable in the extreme.
5th. Every appearance of a magnificent day, the country beginning to look green, and pretty lilies in profusion in blossom for hundreds of yards. It is splendid, and the little birds chirping round and about give it quite the appearance of spring.
About dinner time the party returned with the bullock, in the shape of beef, in packages, and after dinner we all commenced the work of cutting up and jerking; while doing this an accident happened to Maitland, which might have been worse. One of the men while splitting down the head with an axe and cutting it up for soup, the head of the axe flew off and buried itself in his (Maitland's) knee. He is laid up for a time, so we shall have to cook by turns, he being our chef de cuisine. We got all the meat jerked to-night, and if the weather continues as it is it will be "first chop."
It is very hot indeed to-day, and I am cook; the sun blisters my back and the fire my belly, and I thought I should have been done before the soup. I must tell you there was no shelter from the sun at the cooking place, it was just on the open sand. There was not a tree on the sand hill that could be called a shade. Jolly, my cooking day is over! This evening we draw lots for to-morrow and consecutive days. Mr. McKinlay rather unwell to-day, and kept his tent.
6th. Every appearance of a fine day, and the weather appears to have broken. No signs of more rain. Still busy shoeing horses. A very painful touch of rheumatism in my. Wylde takes charge of the pots and kettles and relieves me. (N.B. It is a relief.) We are looking forward to some roast beef to-day, which will be a treat after the jerked mutton.
7th. Wind very changeable, veering all round the compass. All the beef cooked yesterday gone bad, I regret to say, so that we must put up with the soup made of the bones, etc. What brutes those camels are for wandering; here they have left good food and are off over stone hills, where there is not a blade of green to be seen, so I had a nice walk after them, and found them going straight a-head, one after the other, and returned to a sorry supper of mildewed mutton and damper.
8th. (Camp vii.) In camp still. Mr. McKinlay calls this "Escape Camp." Finishing shoeing horses, and we shall make a start, if all be well, the day after to-morrow.
Extraordinary vegetation going on, grass springing up everywhere, in fact in places where you would think grass could not grow. This country will be beautiful in a short time, with flowers of all descriptions, and creepers, principally of the convolvulus family, are beginning to creep up all the trees along the creek. Innumerable black macaws flying about and discoursing anything but sweet music. Mr. McKinlay says, "in two or three months time from this date one could, with little difficulty (I am almost certain), start with any description of stock from the northern settled parts of South Australia, and go right across the continent to whatever point he might think fit."
The bullock has given us 116 lb. of dried meat besides what we have been using. 1 lb. of sugar to be served out to-day to each man, as this is the last, except a few pounds which will be preserved in case of sickness; so here goes the first of the stores; after all, what is it, we shall soon drink our tea (as long as that lasts,) without it, and think nothing about it! One of the fellows made all his into toffee, so that was soon done. Offers were made at 5s. per pound for sugar, and no sellers.
Had a nice job to-day to melt up all the extra fat to grease Mr. McKinlay's tent, but the sand was flying about so I was obliged to stop; it will make an additional weight of 50 lb. for the camels. There was a great game going on in the flat this afternoon, one of the nags could not be caught for two horn's; having been without hobbles for some days she had got rather fresh, and at last we lassoed her.
Sunday, 9th. We are getting all ready for a start to-morrow; it will be a relief to get out of this disagreeable sandy camp. Middleton still unwell, he has not quite got over the shaking he had at No. v. camp.
10th. We start this morning, all being ready for it. The bullocks very refractory at being packed; they don't seem to like it at all. We did not get away till mid-day in consequence. Our journey was over stony hills and flats, crossing several small creeks; on the way we crossed the outskirts of a flat, about sixteen miles from Escape Camp, with plenty of water and fine feed. Mr. McKinlay arrived at camp some time before we did; he thought shortly after that the water was gaining on us, or rather that the wind being high it was driving it up the flat; but no such thing, we were again to be flooded out and had to move the horse-gear from where it was and bring it up to the most elevated spot, where all the other things were. The bullocks did not get in till after sunset, and one of them gave an infinity of trouble. Mr. McKinlay thinks of leaving him behind rather than be bothered with him. The camels came over the rough stones admirably. Mr. McKinlay remarks that they are "certainly the best animals for this kind of work. They will eat anything, from a gum tree to the smallest shrub, and then come and lie down by you;" whereas horses and bullocks, if a chance offers, will ramble all over the country: with sheep and camels, one could travel over any practicable part of the continent, and keep them in good condition.
I am suffering from rheumatism fearfully in one of my legs, from being so long in water and wet clothes.
11th. Where we removed the horse-packs from last night is now a perfect sea, and even up to the foot of some of our blankets; one of the men had to shift his quarters during the night, as he found himself getting very cold and wet. We start after breakfast for a gap in the hills, and have to wade through the water for a mile or more before we get to the foot of the sand hills. There are rather high table-topped ranges in the distance to the north and south of our course; then to the top of a high red sand hill and across a stony plain, with plenty of feed, thence to another sand hill, from whence there is a perfect sheet of water as far as you could see. Camped on a myall creek, after passing table-topped hills right and left; passed a native camp, with the fire still burning, and the tracks quite fresh, but we saw no human being. One of the bullocks did not come into camp to-night; knocked up, and charged the men who were with him, so they left him to his fate; he won't hurt, for there is plenty of good feed and water where he is. It is a great pity he should be left, for we want him for food. The cook not recovered yet, so we still do a little in the culinary line by turns. The men with the rest of the bullocks not in till late.
12th. Off early this morning; the bullock that was left never came into camp. We crossed several myall creeks on our course, over stony ground, the flood obliging us to diverge continually, over broken and stony hills and several creeks, to camp on a small creek with a frizzly barked tree growing about it, quite new, no one of us knowing the name; it is a beautiful, finely-grained wood, very heavy, and something like rosewood; would make very nice furniture. One of the bullocks dropped down within two hundred yards of the camp, apparently struck by the sun, though it was not very hot today. It looks for rain this afternoon; I hope we shall not get any, for we have had enough, at least for the present. Native smoke seen about five miles to west of north of the opening in the hills. Blew fresh to-night, and sent all the rain away. This bullock must be left also, as he cannot get up.
13th. (Camp x.) We start up the range about four miles, over some very stony country. The main range of hills Mr. McKinlay has named "Wills' Range," after the unfortunate gentleman who lost his life with Burke.
After passing this range we went over sand hills and rich pasture, with swamps full of water to east end of sand hills. Thousands of pigeons, ducks, and teal. They have commenced laying, and we found several pigeons' nests with eggs in, and also some ducks' nests; the latter had as many as eight or ten eggs each. Of course we gather up all the contents of the several nidifications for a glorious "feed" this evening. There are also quail, and numerous other smaller birds.
To the north-east of the camp is a very peculiar hill, with an immense stone on the top, which has been called by the leader "Elliott's Knob." The country was very pretty to-day, the ground covered with flowers of all colours and tints. One native was seen to-day on the top of one of the hills, but we could not get within speaking distance. We found to-day a quantity of the vegetable before alluded to: the native name is "adley."
Several ducks' and pigeons' eggs found to-day. Bell and Hodgkinson left camp directly after they came in for the purpose of shooting, and they brought home some ducks and pigeons. One or two new birds were seen to-day; flies very bad.
14th. Started early this morning on eastern course, to avoid the flood, and went some miles along stony ridges, then through swamp and water. On our left a small but pretty lake, and a long sandy range on our right; in the distance there is a well-watered creek, which seems to supply this small lake. We came to camp on a sand hill close to a claypan, with shallow water. The flood is seen some four miles off to the west of north. There seem to be interminable sand hills ahead. Country to-day was pretty, with much fine feed for the animals, and the "adley" in abundance, with its elegant little yellow blossom. The sand hills were covered with various flowers of all colours. The smell of the flowers is delicious, so no one must tell me any more that the flowers of this country have no smell.
15th. (Camp xii.) Off again, but detained a little, as one of the camels' saddles was wrong; it had become broken, and was galling the poor beast; it was soon righted, and we started afresh; passed through some fine country, also some stony and sandy rises, and came to camp in good time, on a fine creek, running nearly north and south. We shall again enjoy the luxury of a bathe here, as we shall stop some days, as we are going to kill a bullock, which will delay us. A splendid range of hills in the distance, east and north. This is a very pretty camp, but the mosquitoes are beginning to sing already. Lots of ducks killed to-day, and some eggs found. Old "Ranger" killed this evening, and will be cut up and jerked to-morrow, and some trouble they had with the old brute; he would not stand to be shot, but took to the water, and had a swim for it, but we got him at last.
16th. Oh, goodness! talk of mosquitoes, they were in swarms—if I may use the expression, in herds on this creek; every man of us was obliged to have his own fire to keep them away, but it was all of no use, they cared for nothing; they bit you through blankets, sheets, trousers, in fact, anything you had on; they could not have had such a chance before, I should think, and they made the most of it; very little sleep we got. I never saw them so bad except at a place called Maturne, up the Orinoco river, where we had gone to procure bullocks for the Government contractor for beef, and there we had to get into our mosquito-nets at 4 p.m., or we should have been eaten alive; here we had no such luxuries; what little we had was just enough to cover the face, and no more. No end of ducks' eggs found about the creek and swamps around. All hands jerking old "Ranger," except Poole, who is out with McKinlay on a scout to see the country towards the ranges to the east, some twenty miles from here.
Leaving Mr. Davis for a moment, we refer to Mr. McKinlay' s journal, where he reports upon this excursion in a way rather perplexing, if we are to understand he is passing through the famous "Stony Desert." And yet the characteristic features of the desert ever recur in stone and sand, cropping out amidst all the verdure called up as by enchantment after the late rains. He says:—
"Sunday, March 16th. Went to have a view from the principal range eastward, the first and greater part of the road over magnificent pasture, nearer the hills very stony; found the hills distant twenty-one miles; from top of a large table-topped one I had a splendid view; the tier of ranges I am now on bear to east of north and west of south, but are very irregular, many spurs running off from main range, and forming a vast number of crown-shaped tops and peaked hills with innumerable creeks draining the country from east and south to west and north, and joining the main creek. Twenty-one miles travelled to-day, bearing 62½°; from this hill another tier of similar hills is seen in the distance with a very large creek, draining the country between this and that, flowing northward, and then west round the north end of the tier I am now upon. The south-west end of distant range bears 125° about twenty-five to thirty miles off, and the north-east end, dimly seen in the distance, bears 65°, which tier of ranges and creek I have called Browne Creek, after J. H. Browne, Esq., of Booboorowie, South Australia. The range I am on, and the tier northwards to where the Creek (Browne's) passes round the end of them, I have called Ellar's tier of Tabletops; the tier south of where I now am I have called Warren's tier of Tabletops, after my respected friend, Geo. Warren, Esq., of Gawler, for whose kindness I am much indebted; the plain or downs east and north of those ranges, I have called 'The Downs of Plenty,' as here there is everything one could wish in travelling over a new country. I would have gone over to the distant ranges, but unfortunately, my horse threw one of her shoes, and I was obliged to camp at a creek under the hills for the night. The creek I have now camped on I have named Ranger's Creek, after our bullock killed here."
We all took it out pretty well this morning, having had so little sleep last night, and the governor did not return last night, so "when the cat is away the mice always will play." All hands still at the beef; we have a fine sun, and it will be well jerked. Mr. McKinlay and Poole returned this afternoon, tired and hungry, having had very little to eat, and having travelled sixty miles. They brought some curiosities, found in a native whirlie, and saw plenty of emus; they saw also part of a European greatcoat, lined with red flannel, in the whirlie. To whom could that coat have once belonged? They also saw a head ornament, made of goats' hair, which must surely have been taken from one of the goats that Leichhardt had with him on his last trip; mosquitoes still very bad, and the sooner we are out of this the better. Mr. McKinlay has called this creek after the old bullock "Ranger," killed here. Mr. McKinlay saw three natives yesterday, but could not get near to them; they were busy gathering various seeds.
18th. Still at "Ranger" Creek; two of our fellows went out after eggs, and brought in seventy-six ducks', not a bad find; I should have gone, but I had something else to do; they were made into custards, without milk, boiled, roasted, just as it suited the fancy of the consumer—not that it much signified, as we could eat in those days. We were not in bed quite so late this morning, but were roused by Mr. McKinlay just before daylight, and we pack everything for an early start to-morrow. The beast gave us 162 lb. dried meat, and well jerked it is too, and glad I am that we are off first thing.
19th. Up early as usual, just before daylight, and breakfast by the first dawn, and off after the animals saddled up, after about two hours' detention, and started on north of east course, about 14 miles through a magnificent country, the plain alone extending for miles and miles, level as a billiard table, and beautifully grassed. High ranges in the distance, the scent of the flowers as we passed over them was delightful. Sure it is that20th. Started this morning at 10 a.m., our course a little north of east, and travelled till we struck a large creek, and then over sand hills and flats, covered with magnificent grasses of every description, many creepers, and the blue convolvulus, also another beautiful small blue flower, with a dark purple eye. It seems quite tropical, and everything has changed these last few days, flowers, shrubs, and weather too. Only about six pods of the blue flowers could be obtained. Plenty of pigeons to-day, and a few nests were found also with eggs in. A native brought into camp, and decorated with necklaces; he also got a good feed to console him. Mosquitoes worse than at "Ranger" Creek I really believe.
21st. Our journey to-day was over red sand hills nearly all the way, our course north-north-east. We had to cross an immense sheet of water. We found eighty ducks' eggs. The grass nearly up to the horses' knees. Bullocks and sheep not in to-night. Not one of us could sleep to-night; the air was perfectly alive with mosquitoes. Every day we meet with fresh flowers. Distance to-day sixteen miles, and camped on a plain by the side of a claypan with a little water, and not very good.
22nd. Bullocks not up, so had to spell here, and a fine place too certainly. Two or three of us went out to look after them. The sheep arrived about 8 a.m. Thunder, with a little rain; then the bullocks came up; they had strayed a long way from where they camped the night before; the men were hungry, as they had nothing to eat since yesterday morning. Mr. McKinlay took a ride to-day, to see what sort of country was ahead of us, leaving orders that if the bullocks came in before 12 o'clock, we were to follow his tracks, but as they did not arrive in time, we shall have to stay here another night. Kirby was much knocked up on his arrival; he had been up all night with the sheep, so I relieved him, and he took his sleep out. Looking much for rain, so preparing for it; covering things up with tarpaulin. Mr. McKinlay returned in the afternoon. Ned, the bullock-driver, reports that when he was after the bullocks this morning, he was stuck up by a lot of niggers; he fired over their heads, and they soon scampered off, leaving him to go his way in peace. Perhaps they thought to have a good breakfast of him, but they were scared by the fire-arms.
23rd. (Claypan Camp.) No tree marked here, as there was not one large enough. We travelled seventeen miles to-day, the first part over sand hills and flooded stony and sandy flats, then crossed a myall creek, afterwards a box and myall one, some ten miles from our starting place, with plenty of water on both sides of the creek; stony flats and undulating ground, well grassed. We camped on a myall creek, after following it down for two miles to where there was plenty of water and good feed; the flood was close on our left for some time after starting. Mr. McKinlay called me into his tent at 3 a.m.; he could not sleep, and was very anxious to be on the move.
After a sorry breakfast of jerked beef soup we started, and glad enough to get out of this. We are allowed only 12 lb. of this meat per diem for the party of ten, with 4½ lb. flour per week. What shall we do when the flour is all gone, and nothing but this jerked stuff? it is very like thick mahogany shavings. We feel almost as hungry after having had our allowances as before, and it is no use "asking for more;" for, like Oliver Twist, we should not get it. The feed all along our route to-day was magnificent. We found a wild cucumber, but it was so bitter that it could not be eaten.
- " A very strange round stone hill, capped with larger stone."—McKinlay's Journal.