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February 1861

Original item held at the State Library of Victoria, SLV MS13071, Box 2083/3b .
Victorian Exploring Expedition Records, Part IX: Journals and diaries of members of the VEE.
William Wright's diary of the Depot Camp, Darling River. 26 January-21 June 1861.
Manuscript, 92 pages, numbered 1-90 with final page unnumbered.

 

Friday, 1st February
Upon inspecting the horses this morning, I found them so knocked up from thirst that a few hours further suffering would inevitably cause the loss of several. I therefore thought it advisable to push on for the Motanie Ranges, leaving the packs, saddles, &c., behind. I was the more resolved to pursue this course, as Hodgkinson and Belooch were unarmed, and I thought it possible they might have fallen in with natives at the water, and been prevented from obtaining a supply. Shortly after dawn I started with Stone, driving the horses. To my great satisfaction I met Hodgkinson and Belooch with a supply of water, ten miles from Badurga. I immediately gave the horses a bucket of water each, which enabled them to go on to Motanie, where we arrived in the course of the afternoon, and camped in a valley covered with kangaroo grass, leading to a rocky basin containing an abundance of beautifully clear water.

Saturday, 2nd February, to Thursday, 7th February. Motanie Range.
During the period intervening between Saturday morning and Thursday, the 7th, the party was encamped in the Motanie Range, Dr Beckler bringing up the camels with their loads, and Smith and Hodgkinson again returning to Badurga with six of the camels for the purpose of fetching up the horse packs, saddles, and bridles. As this country has doubtless been described to you by Mr Burke as far as Torowoto (or Duroodo) Swamp, I do not think it necessary to state more than that it abounds in fine pasturage, and consists of a valley some twenty miles in length, flanked on its eastern and western sides by ranges of lofty hills, formed of rock, and intersected by picturesque gorges, in many cases forming at their heads fine pools of clear water. Though we saw the country under a very different aspect from that it presented at the period of Mr Burke's transit, it appeared even at the time we passed through it still a fine and verdant tract. On Wednesday I moved the camp to another gorge about eight miles north. On Thursday morning we left Motanie Range, and shortly before sundown reached Nuntherunge Creek, eighteen miles distant from our last camp in the ranges.

Friday, 8th February. Nuntherunge Creek.
The morning broke cloudy, with strong gusts of wind from the south-west. During the night it was piercing cold, and most of us were glad to augment our wearing apparel. Nuntherunge is a fine creek, with waterholes two-thirds of a mile in length, bordered with heavy gum trees, but at this time the water in them was rather shallow. Near the camp there were some pine-bearing sandhills, and somewhat peculiar dome-shaped eminencies. The camels, which had hitherto been tied up at night, I now turned out in hobbles, and found they gave little more trouble, if any, than the horses. This creek seemed to be a great resort for feathered game. Emu tracks were very numerous, and droves of water-hen ran along the margin. Early in the morning flocks of Sturt's pigeons came down from the sand-hills to drink, and flights of parrots enlivened the vicinity of the camp by their cries. We saw no natives here, but there were a number of mia-mias close by us, and the fences which they form, in order to catch water-hen, met the gaze in every bend of the creek. At 6 a.m. we commenced packing, and at 11 a.m. started for the next creek, Wannaminta. Our course bore a little to the west of north, and the track was flanked on the right by a bold range called by the natives Toorltoro, and on the left by undulating sandhills, beyond which were the ranges east of Flood's Creek, called Wa-Ya-Boorla. The sandhills were covered with pine and withered acacia, commonly known as mulgar. Grasses of various descriptions were abundant, and a small tree, with a light green foliage and bushy form, lent quite a charm to the otherwise somewhat sombre character of the vegetation. The journey throughout the day was very heavy for the camel men, who, in consequence of the heavy loads on their beasts, were obliged to walk. About three miles from Wannaminta, two small hills of a singular shape rear themselves from the flat country by which they are surrounded, and form a natural landmark, showing the termination of the plateau to the south. On reaching a spot midway between them, a fine view, peculiarly Australian, presents itself. To the north a line of white gum trees mark the course of Wannaminta Creek ; while at some distance (nine or ten miles) to the N.E. a bold but short and very remarkable range, called Koorningbirri by the blacks, Wannaminta Range by Mr Wills, and I understand Mount Jamieson by Mr Haverfield, forms a striking feature in the scene. During the day two turkeys were seen, but were too wild to be approached within gunshot. We reached the creek at sundown, and estimated the distance from Nuntherunge at twenty miles. The weather throughout the day was cold and cloudy, and at about 2 p.m. a slight shower fell. We reached Yeltawinge Creek at 4 p.m. I had to send back to our last camp for swag of stores which was found to have been left behind. Mr Hodgkinson shot six water-hen, a teal, and four of Sturt's pigeons.

Sunday, 10th February.
Moved the camp eight miles to a fine waterhole on the Yeltawinge. A number of emu were seen here, and several birds shot. Mr. Hodgkinson here complained of rheumatic pains. During the day the mirage was observable in every direction, and the range to the N.E. presented strange changes of outline as we approached it.

Monday, 11th February.
At thirty-five minutes past eight the camels left Yeltawinge, but some delay was occasioned by two of the horses having strayed. Our course lay over clay plains, on which Mr Burke's track was very indistinct, and in some places altogether invisible. Koorningbirri, of which Mr Becker made a sketch, now bore S.E., and a large, though low, hill faced Yeltawinge, on its western bank. The vegetation consisted chiefly of cotton bush and salsolaceous plants, and the absence of timber, except in the vicinity of the creek, rendered the scene rather uninteresting. The country around our camp of last night bore traces of inundation, and the footprints of the natives who had accompanied either Mr Burke or Lyons were deep in the clay soil. Shallow watercourses intersected the wide plain extending around us, and every hollow was coated with dry sand, glistening and cracked. A few of Sturt's pigeons, with occasionally a small bird not unlike a mule canary, were the only animated objects to be seen. The heat was excessive. The camels were unable to stand in one place more than a few minutes, lifting their feet from the hot sand in quick succession. An emu was started, which was feeding near the track, and so bewildered did the bird appear to be that it kept walking in front and around us for some time, but eventually made off. At half-past five we reached Paldromatta Creek, where we camped for the night, with abundance of shallow water of a creamy hue. The distance from Yeltawinge to Paldromatta is about twenty-two miles.

Tuesday, 12th February.
We left Paldromatta Creek at 9 a.m., running up its southern bank for about half a mile to Mr Burke's crossing place, and then ascending the northern bank, bounded by sandhills presenting the usual features. About a mile from Paldromatta, the track passes to the east of a salt lake, which presented a remarkable view, from the contrast of its snowy white incrustations with the scenery around. Mount Koorningbirri and other ranges were nearly out of sight. About 5 p.m. the horses reached Torowoto (or Duroodo) swamp, and shortly afterwards were joined by the camel party, camping on the site of Mr Burke's forty-fifth camp, though no numerals are marked on the tree bearing his initials.

Wednesday, 13th February.
Torowoto Swamp, where I resolved on spelling for a couple of days, is one of a numerous series of hollows, receiving the drainage of the surrounding country, and presents a surface of thick green foliage, intersected by a thousand little watercourses, and traversed by a main channel running nearly east and west. Stunted box trees overshadow the swamp, which is matted with a thick undergrowth of polygonum and plants particularly agreeable to the camels. Besides this there is abundance of marsilice, a plant creeping close to the ground, with leaves not unlike clover, and bearing a seed largely used by the natives as food. On this seed Lyons and McPherson subsisted for some time, and the tree under which they camped and pounded their bread was close by us. Shortly after our arrival at Torowoto, a tribe of natives came towards us. There were about seventeen, perfectly unarmed. A tassel tied round the loins of the men, and a few emu feathers depending from the chin as ornaments, composed their stock of clothing. They appeared to be very healthy and in good condition. I gave them two tomahawks and some broken biscuit, endeavoring to make them comprehend that I wished two of them to accompany the party. I selected two, and gave them each a shirt. They were well acquainted with the various creeks, and named several places in advance, but our mutual ignorance of each other's language rendered it impossible to obtain any serviceable information. ln the evening they brought their women to the camp, and freely offered them as presents in return for the few things we had given them. Most of the males were circumcised, but the cicatrices in the arms and breasts peculiar to some tribes were not marked in the Torowoto natives. The weather during the day was very hot, while occasionally, without the least intimation of its approach, a whirlwind would sweep round the packs and scatter the lighter articles in every direction. These winds moved in segments of circles, and their directions seemed quite capricious.

Thursday, 14th February.
Spelled at Torowoto. The day was employed in mending saddles, cleaning firearms, and looking over the stores. I discovered that the flour planted by Mr Burke had been dug up, the hoops of the cask lying near our camp. The camel rug under which Lyons and McPherson lay was still suspended from the tree to which it had been tied, the natives apparently thinking it too heavy to be useful to them. All day our black visitors kept walking about pilfering any little articles they could, and burying them in the sand with their feet.

Friday, 15th February.
Rose at dawn, filled water-bags, packed and started the horses at 8 a.m. and the camels at 9. Two of the natives accompanied the horses as guides, but proceeded only a short distance with us. On leaving Torowoto the tribe gathered together, and the women made a show of whimpering at our departure. Skirting the N.E. shore of the swamp for half a mile, we then struck over the sandhills on our old course to W. of N., passing over precisely similar country to that bordering the southern shores of the swamp. At eighteen miles distance from Torowoto the track cut the summit of a lofty sand ridge, affording a view of the surrounding country. To the north lay a dreary salt bush plain, diversified by claypans, and flanked on its eastern and western slopes by sandhills of small elevation. As there was no sign of water, and the camel men were fatigued by a long walk through heavy sand, I camped upon the verge of this plain, and experienced considerable difficulty in preventing the horses from wandering during the night back to Torowoto. No water. Weather close and oppressive.

Saturday, 16th February. Mud Plain Camp.
Fortunately we had brought from Torowoto a pair of leather bags filled with water, and all the goat skin bags. The latter, however, would not retain water at all, and arrived at the camp nearly empty. Neither camels nor horses would feed, the former, though closely hobbled, going straight away, and requiring strict watching to keep them near the camp. At the period of Mr Burke's transit this country was completely bogged, the tracks of his party being deeply imbedded in the claypans around. At the date of my arrival not a sign of water was discernible, no birds could be seen save hawks, and the ground was burrowed in every direction by rats, which seemed to exist independent of water. As the cattle were suffering from thirst, I sent Stone back with the horses to Torowoto, and Dr Beckler, Mr Hodgkinson, and Belooch with the camels. They took all the water-bags with them. Shortly after their departure, I started with Smith to look for water in a northerly direction. Mr Becker and Purcell remained at the camp. At 7 p.m. a peculiarly brilliant meteor fell towards the N.E.

Sunday, 17th February. Mud Plain Camp.
Dr Beckler, Mr Hodgkinson, Stone, and Belooch returned to camp with the cattle and a supply of water. I was absent throughout the day searching the N.W. boundary of the plain and adjacent ranges for water, and ultimately discovered a small puddle about twenty miles north of the camp, and about two miles west of Mr Burke's track. Weather intensely hot.

Monday, 18th February. Mud Plain Camp.
During the night the camels and horses were very trouble some, requiring watching to prevent them straying in search of water. The water-bags were protected as well as possible from evaporation, by tarpaulins. At 3 p.m. I returned to camp with Smith, having travelled at least 140 miles since my departure on the l6th. I found the country in front of the most fearful description. Mr Burke's track runs to the N.N.W., over some high ranges covered with sharp stones, and emerges upon the plains upon which we are camped, at a spot where it changes to an apparently limitless expanse of dried mud. The track is utterly effaced, and the whole country the picture of desolation, not a vestige of herbage growing upon the plains. The horses were watched throughout the night, and the camels tied up. A bucket of water was given to each quadruped from our water-bags.

Tuesday, 19th February.
At 4 a.m. called all the hands. Saddled and started with the horses at 7 a.m., the camels following half an hour after. A fierce glare, even at this early hour, rose from the plains, and the sun beat down overhead with an intense heat. Till one o'clock we traversed this weary plain of baked mud, skirting the sandhills upon its western flank, and leaving Mr Burke's track, which ran more to the eastward. Not a sign of animal life was discernible, save the clouds of flies which tormented us throughout the journey. At 1 p.m. two prominent headlands reared themselves to the west ; and in a bay between them was sufficient feed to warrant me in camping there, at about one and a half miles distant from the water I had discovered, I had left the horses to go on in advance, and returned to the camels in order to lead them to the spot, previously cautioning those in charge not to let the horses get to the water. Unfortunately, however, the horses rushed into the hole in spite of every opposition, and in a very few minutes rendered it a mass of mud. The camels were tied up during the night to some bushes, on which they greedily fed, but the horses remained near the water. At nightfall a thunderstorm gathered in the western horizon, breaking upon us and passing, unaccompanied by rain, to the southward. For hours afterwards we were buoyed up by the hopes of a rainfall, but, beyond a few drops, none fell near our camp, though it seemed to be raining heavily a short distance to the southward.

Wednesday, 20th February. Rat Point.
This morning slight showers fell, from which we managed to collect three or four quarts of water. At thirty minutes past one I started with Smith in search of water, taking about eight quarts from the bags as a supply, and two camels. Previous to leaving, I inspected the store of water at the camp, and found it to amount to forty-two quarts for eight camels, thirteen horses, and six men. The nearest supply known to us was at Torowoto, thirty-eight miles distant. I placed the water in Mr Hodgkinson's charge, with instructions to issue two quarts daily to each man, and three pints to each horse, and requested Dr Beckler to take a pair of water-bags to the mud hole and scoop up any small quantity he might be able to obtain. I also instructed Stone if I was not back by 10 a.m. on Friday following to return to Torowoto with the horses, and Dr Beckler, Mr. Hodgkinson, and Belooch with the camels, for a supply of water. Dr Beckler succeeded in obtaining four quarts of a very indifferent fluid from the hole. Thunder continued throughout the day but no rain fell. A water hen was shot close to the camp in the afternoon.

Thursday, 21st February. Rat Point.
The camels remained near the camp all last night. The first annoyance was experienced from the rats, which abound throughout this country.

Friday, 22nd February. Rat Point.
The rats visited the camp in myriads, not only gnawing through every pack bag, but absolutely biting the men when at rest. The horses suffering greatly from thirst. Stone started with them for Torowoto, and at a few minutes past ten I returned to camp just as Dr Beckler, Mr Hodgkinson, and Belooch were starting with the camels. During my absence I travelled upwards of a hundred miles, crossing the country northwards in every direction, without finding a drop of water. The camels with me suffered greatly from rapid travelling and thirst, but I thought it best to send them on at once with the others to Torowoto. Stone and the camel party met with water from the late rainfall about ten miles from camp and the horses returned in the evening after drinking as much as they could. Dr. Beckler also came back with a pair of water-bags containing a small supply, but Mr Hodgkinson and Belooch went on as no more water could he found near the spot.

Saturday, 23rd February.
Remained in camp throughout the day. At 10 p.m. Mr Hodgkinson and Belooch returned with a supply of water, which they had procured from the claypans on the plain, sixteen miles distant.

Sunday, 24th February. Rat Point.
Mr Hodgkinson reporting that a good supply of water might be stored by sinking a hole in the vicinity of the claypans from which he obtained the late supply, I instructed him to proceed thither with Dr Beckler, and sink a hole for that purpose. At the same time I sent six of the camels and Stone with all the horses to spell there, during my absence on a further attempt to explore northward. Should the claypans dry up previous to my return, they were to proceed to Torowoto, leaving Mr Becker and Purcell at Rat Point in charge of the stores. At noon I left Eat Point with Smith and Belooch, four camels, and seven days' rations, resolving to penetrate to the first permanent water on the line of route, and if possible to reach Cooper's Creek, which I conjectured to be within a hundred miles. Dr Beckler, Mr Hodgkinson, Stone, and the cattle, remained near the claypans ; the two former sinking a hole and watching the camels, and the latter attending to the horses. In order to preserve the continuation of events at the camp during my absence, the report of my trip will be given on the date of my return.

Monday, 25th February.
Dr. Beckler and Mr Hodgkinson finished sinking their waterhole this morning, and collected a considerable supply of water from the claypans adjacent. Neither camels nor horses strayed from the vicinity.

Tuesday, 26th February. Rat Point.
The water in the claypans being exhausted. Dr. Beckler, Mr Hodgkinson, and Stone moved with the cattle to Torowoto, reaching that place at 3 p.m. The natives were still at the swamp, and very friendly.

Wednesday, 27th February. Rat Point.
Dr Beckler, Mr Hodgkinson, and Stone remained at Torowoto with the cattle ; Mr Becker and Purcell at Rat Point.

Thursday, 28th February. Rat Point.
Dr Beckler conveyed a supply of water to Rat Point, and Mr Hodgkinson and Stone remained with the cattle at Torowoto.

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