Second letter to the Exploration Committee31 December 1858
As it appears that your province of Victoria is determined to attempt the exploration of the interior, I have thought it desirable to give you a brief outline of my views on the subject.
Assuming that the object is the exploration of the unknown portion of the interior, by penetrating into it as far as practicable, we must first look for the best line by which to pass the country already known, and this still appears to me to be by way of Sturt's Creek and the Victoria River, on the north-west coast. But there are many circumstances which render it injudicious to make the attempt until the permanent settlement of that portion of Australia has been effected.
On the south east side the desert is bounded by the Cooper River, and therefore, some spot on its banks would be the best to select as a centre of operation. The general character of the country on its banks renders the upper portion of its course unsuited to the object, and it is only on the lower part, or Cooper Creek of Sturt that the requisite supply of water and grass exists. Taking everything into consideration, the most eligible point is where the Strezlecki Creek branches off from the Cooper River, in its course south to Lake Torrens. Here there is a fine reach of water in the River, and sufficient grass for the stock even if detained through the dry season. Were a Depôt formed at this place the stores and equipment could easily be brought up from Port Augusta, as only 150 miles of desert intervene between the out-stations of South Australia and Cooper River, and, by following the channel of Strezlecki Creek, water would probably be found by deepening the native well in lat. -- --. From this Depôt, two days journey would take a party into the unexplored country, nearer the centre of the Terra Incognita than any other that could be selected, with a due regard to the existing facilities of approach. Of the subsequent proceeding of the expedition, only a NW and WNW course can be indicated, as so little is known of the country, that there is nothing to indicate the exact course on which fewest obstacles would be encountered. With reference to the time of year that the expedition should commence, the party should be fully equipped and at the out-stations not later than March, and, if practicable, return before the ensuing summer, and not remain out at the Depôt during the hot season, for it would be cheaper and better to send another party out the following year, than to keep the first out in the field, if the equipments, were stored at one of the out-stations.
The equipment should be carried entirely on pack horses, drays being worse than useless in the sandy country to be traversed. If a few camels could be procured, they would, I think, prove invaluable, though the public seems to put too much confidence in the results, over-rating their powers of endurance, &c. They should not be overworked by carrying heavy loads, but reserved for reconnoitring the country before bringing up the main party. Even if a sufficient number of these animals were to be procured, it would not be prudent to employ them to the exclusion of horses, in the present uncertainty with regard to their adaptation to the country and liability to suffer from poisonous plants, which may be expected to be found as we approach the Western Coast, where they are so abundant. The number of pack and saddle horses required to convey a party and its equipment fully supplied for a period of six months, is from four and a half to five horses to each man, but this calculation is based on the supposition that all unnecessary encumbrances are avoided. In one of your letters you advert to the possibility of my undertaking the charge of the proposed expedition; this I conceive is not compatible with existing circumstances, but it is, perhaps, best to give you my reasons at length.
First, the party could not, or at least would not be ready to start at the proper season next year (1859), and that ensuing is too distant for me to make any arrangements. Secondly, even under the most favorable circumstances, the results must fall far short of public expectation, and, even were as fine a country to be found (which is scarcely possible), it could only benefit South Australia, as that colony would intervene between it and Victoria; and the people of the latter province would be far from satisfied when they found they had paid a large sum for discoveries which were to benefit others, while they were inaccessible to themselves. Thirdly, accepting the charge of the party would be construed into an approval of the undertaking generally, and that I had reasonable expectations of attaining the objects desired; and lastly, it would be much better if some person were sent by Victoria, who, by a previous residence in the province, would be more closely identified with the community than a non-resident like myself. Apart from these considerations, and only considered with reference to undeniable risk and inconvenience during the expedition, I should have readily undertaken it personally, and assure you that, should it eventually start, it will have my best wishes for its success; and if I can be of any service in its organization, by furnishing memoranda from the details of former arrangements for my own journeys, it will afford me great pleasure. Although I may appear to take a very adverse view of Australian exploration at the present time, you must not suppose that I consider that any part of Australia is absolutely impenetrable; it is only a question as to the desirability of incurring an expense to eflect that which at the present time is practically useless, and may hereafter be obtained with greater ease and certainty. If it is imperative that new country should be found for sheep and cattle, which have to recede before agriculture, while they are more required as the population increases, why not avail ourselves of the East Coast beyond Moreton Bay? The Burdekin, with which you are personally acquainted, possesses a better and more extensive tract of good country, with easier access than can possibly exist in the interior, while it is practically much nearer even to Melbourne than any oasis in the Interior Desert.
Hoping I shall not have overtaxed your patience by the extreme length of this rambling letter,
To Dr Ferdinand Mueller, &c. &c.