Journal of an Expedition into the Interior of Tropical Australia

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Email to a Friend. Sir Thomas Livingston Mitchell was one of the most controversial and enigmatic of Australian explorers. Between and he led four expeditions - all investigating the country's river systems, including his best known exploration into Victoria through what he called Australia Felix. Between and he led four expeditions investigating the country's river systems, including his best known exploration into Victoria through what he called Australia Felix. It is his last expedition, on which he endeavoured to find a route from Sydney to Port Essington, that is described in this book.

Equipped with boats, in the event of finding his long-sought great river flowing to the north coast, Mitchell set out in December Hampered by the heat and water shortages, he pushed slowly north, discovering the rich Fitz Roy Downs, but became increasingly disappointed as rivers trended in the wrong direction. Disappointed to not find a viable route, Mitchell was forced to return because of diminishing stores.

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Mitchell died some nine years later, of pneumonia contracted while surveying. I remained encamped there, in the expectation of some decided change of weather. The night had been oppressively hot. The season during which we had been beyond the Balonne, viz. The tracks of cattle and horses became more and more numerous as we proceeded, and the channel of the little river was full of water, on which a large species of duck was very plentiful.

At length we came upon the track of wheels, and followed them towards the station; which was not yet visible when our young native, Dicky, fell a shouting and laughing, drawing my attention to what certainly was a "RARA AVIS" to him.

This was a white woman going with pails to milk the cows, and the first white female he could ever have seen. The jeering laugh of the young savage was amusing, as he pointed to that swaddled, straw-bonneted object, as something curious in natural history, to which my attention, as he thought, would be rivetted: but the sight was, nevertheless, a welcome one to all the party.

Soon two comfortable stations, one on each side of the river, appeared before us; and the neatly dressed mother of two chubby white children stood at the door of one of them. I had a memorandum from Mr. Kennedy to call at the other, to thank the owner for lending him a horse; and there I first entered again under a roof, and a most agreeable cover it did seem to me after living nearly a year under canvass, in houseless wilds. These were cattle stations, and both appeared to be well-laid out for the purpose, and upon a scale more substantial and worthy of it, than I had hitherto seen in squatting districts.

The placing of two such stations thus near each other, is a good arrangement, not only affording better security against the depredations of natives, but also as banishing that aspect of solitude and loneliness such places in general present; and in the outset of such a life, implanting, in the still uncultivated soil, the germs of social union, on the solid basis of mutual protection. I continued to travel some miles beyond these stations, for the sake of obtaining better grass for our cattle; and thus lengthened the journey to near twenty miles, in very warm weather, the thermometer being deg.

Thermometer, at sunrise, 58 deg. Latitude, 28 deg.

Kennedy's track on riding back. Following this as he had been guided back by an experienced stockman , we at length crossed the Mooni, and fell into a cart-track leading southward, and at a few miles beyond where we fell into that track, we encamped on the left bank of the Mooni; a tree at this camp being marked It is a curious genus, and belongs to the poisonous order of Spurgeworts. Now this was the first country in which we had any reason to dread wet weather, since we crossed the Culgoa about the beginning of April. Here rain would render the ground impassable, and inundate the country.

The mercury in the barometer was falling, and so was the rain. The coolness of a cloudy day rendered the tent much more agreeable and convenient for finishing maps in, than one under the extremely hot sunshine which mine had been recently exposed to so long at St. I had now, therefore, a good opportunity of completing the maps. The great heat which had prevailed during so many successive days there, portended some such change as this; and we were thus likely to be caught in that very region so subject to inundation, which I was formerly so careful to avoid, that I endeavoured to travel so as to be within reach of a hilly country.

For that reason chiefly I had proceeded into the interior, by the circuitous route of Fort Bourke. This was the only spot where such a rain could have seriously impeded our progress; the waters of the great rivers were sure to come down, and we had still to traverse extensive low tracts, where, in , I had seen the marks of floods on trees, which had left an impression still remaining on my mind, that I thought it very desirable then, to get my party safe out of these flats as soon as possible.

On the 28th November, or eight days after the rains set in, the Mooni waters came down, at first slowly, but gradually filling up the channel, until they rose to such a height, as to oblige me to move three of the drays. During the night, the rising inundation began to spread over the lower parts of the surface back from the river; while the current came down with such rapidity, and, judging from marks of former inundations on the trunks of box-trees "GOBORRA" , it appeared probable the water might reach our camp.

I therefore determined to move it by daylight to a sand- hill, about a quarter of a mile back from the river. This was effected in good time, and only in time. Between the camp beside the Mooni, and that we afterwards established on the sand-hill, there was a hollow by which the rising floods would pass to an extensive tract of low ground almost surrounding our camp on the sand-hill, and which would, probably, render our passage out of that position difficult, even after the waters had subsided.

I therefore employed the men in throwing up a dam across this hollow, between our hill-camp and the river, so as to prevent the inundation from passing that way. We had no better material than sand to oppose to this water; yet, by throwing up enough, we succeeded in arresting the waters there, although they rose to the height of two feet four inches on the upper side of our dam, and gave, to the country above it, the appearance of a vast lake, covering our old encampment; so that the figures 86 cut on a tree, were the only traces of it that remained above water.

Our camp on the sand-hill was elevated above the sea feet, or about 80 feet higher than the river. The waters continued to rise until the 2d of December, when they became stationary; and next day they began slowly to subside. By the evening of the 5th, they had receded from the dam; and the sky, which had been lowering until the 1st, began to present clouds of less ominous form.

Still the return of clear weather was slow, and accompanied by thunder-showers.

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Journal of an Expedition into the Interior of Tropical Australia by Thomas Mitchell

It was only on the 7th that a crust had been formed on the earth, sufficiently firm for the cattle to travel upon; and we embraced the earliest opportunity of quitting that camp, where the superabundance of water had detained us seventeen days. Musquitoes now tormented us exceedingly, and had obliged us to tether the horses at night, to prevent them from straying. We this day passed over the soil without finding the wheels to sink much, until we arrived at Johnston's station, five miles from our camp, and where I had been told the ground was firm.

There, on the contrary, we encountered the only two swamps at all difficult. Even the drays got through them, however, and I gladly quitted the banks of the Mooni, taking a straight direction towards the Barwan, and encamped ten miles from the former. That central ground between the Mooni and the Barwan, had brigalow growing upon it, was firm, and in some hollows we found water. A heavy thunder-shower fell at sunset, but we were on such firm soil, that I was under no apprehension that it would have the effect of retarding our journey.

Having determined our position on the map, I now chose such a direction for our homeward route, as would form the most eligible general line of communication between Sydney and the Maranoa. It seemed desirable that this should cross the Barwan the Karaula of my journey of , some miles above the point where I had formerly reached that river; and thus avoid the soft low ground upon the Nammoy, falling into my old track about Snodgrass lagoon, or when in sight of Mount Riddell.

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With this view, our latitude being 28 deg. We had passed through some open scrub, chiefly of the rosewood kind, and crossed several small grassy plains; saw one or two patches of brigalow, but very little callitris. An improvement was visible in the quality of the grass, when we came within the distance of about two miles from the river; and open forests or plains of richer soil, its usual concomitants, plainly enough indicated the presence of the Barwan or "Darling".

In the country we traversed, we saw no cart tracks; but the deep impressions of a few stray cattle, apparently pursued by natives, were visible throughout the scrubs. There was still a considerable flood in the river, although the water had been recently much higher, as was obvious from the state of the banks. The boats were soon put together, and on reconnoitring the river in one of them, I soon found a favourable place for swimming the cattle and horses at, and which was effected without accident. The unloaded drays were next drawn through the river at the same place; which was about three hundred yards lower down the river than that at which we had encamped, and which was marked by the number 87, cut on a tree.

My former camp on this river in , for want of such a mark, could not be recognised. According to my surveys, it should have been found seventeen miles lower down the river. All our stores and equipment were carried across in the boats. These looked well in the water; their trim appearance and utility, then renewed my regret that I had not reached the navigable portion of the Victoria, and that its channel had been so empty.

Perhaps more efficient portable boats never were constructed, or carried so far inland undamaged. They were creditable to the maker, Mr. Struth of Sydney.


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By their means, the whole party was comfortably encamped this afternoon, on the left bank of the Barwan, just before a heavy thunder-shower came down. The river had fallen several feet during the day. Thermometer, at 6 P.

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The mosquitoes were most tormenting; as was well expressed by one of the men outside my tent, who remarked to his companion, "That the more you punishes 'em, the more they brings you to the scratch:" a tolerable pun for one of "the fancy," of which class we had rather too many in the party. The horses, although tethered and close spancelled, could not be secured, even thus. Some had broken away and strayed during the night. It was ascertained by Yuranigh, that four other strange horses were with ours, having come amongst them and led them astray. These had broken loose from a neigh- bouring station, whence a native came to the men I had left to await the horses at the Barwan, and took back the strange horses.

I had gone forward with the party, still pursuing the same bearing, and came thus upon the "Maael," a channel not usually deep, but, at the time, so full of water, with a very slight current in it, that here again we were obliged to employ the boats. The camp was established at an early hour on the left bank of the "Maal," which camp I caused to be marked 88, in figures cut on an iron bark tree. Latitude, 29 deg. This seemed to be the same channel crossed by me on 5th February, , at a similar distance from the main river.

We continued to travel homewards on the same bearing; thus tracing with our wheels, a direct line of road from Sydney to the northern interior and coast. OVATA the upper one is longer and attenuated into a short beak. The same plant was found by Frazer along the Brisbane. We met with no impediment for eighteen miles, when I encamped, although without reaching water enough for our cattle. I knew we could not expect to meet with any watercourse between the Barwan and the Gwydir; which latter river I wished to cross as soon as possible, in hopes then to meet with roads and inhabitants.

Even cattle-tracks had again become rare in this intermediate ground, although the grass was in its best state, and most exuberant abundance.