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October 1861

Original item held at the State Library of Victoria, SLV MS13071, Box 2085/6a, Item 1.
A W Howitt’s diary [of Victorian Contingent Expedition], 1 September 1861, Camp 20, Poria Creek to 9 October 1861, Poria Creek.
Received by the EC on Monday, 4 November 1861, and published in the Melbourne press. 16p. ms.


Tuesday, 1 October 1861.
Halted above our 27th camp, at a number of water holes, where there was pretty good feed. Passed our black friends on the road who invited us to stop and eat fish and nardoo, and have a corroborree. Strong hot wind from N.W. round to N.E. -the fifth day now and it seems to have blown away every sign of clouds. 'The sky looks hard and blue, with a grey haze on the horizon, and the vegetation is withering fast. Where we camped happened to be not more than a couple of hundred yards from a large native camp, situated in a branch channel, and completely hidden by dense limber and scrub. When we arrived, all the men excepting three old fellows were away, and only the lubras and picaninnies were at home in a terrible fright at so many white fellows squatting down close to them. They began to pack up their things for a flight; but an amicable understanding being brought about, and some of the men returning, we were soon the best of friends. I distributed the few remaining presents, and they gave in return, some chewed pitchery and nardoo balls. One old grey beard had been as far as Wonominta Creek, and could repeat the names of the various waters between here and that place, via Bulla; but I found him impenetrable on any other road. There were about twelve men, all well made and well fed, and several were old patriarchs and some of them apparently old rascals too. They were far more inclined to he troublesome and importunate than our friends lower down -particularly one tall, young fellow, rubbed over with red earth, who pestered me for a tomahawk. One of them had had his arm broken above the wrist, and roughly bandaged up with rags and grass cord; the doctor set it properly, and it was remarkable to see the perfect composure with which the blackfellow bore the operation. In assisting I had to use my clasp-knife to cut bark-splints and laying it down beside me it of course vanished, and I saw no more of it; but strange to say, in the same place shortly afterwards one of the knives was found which I had given the blackfellows, I suppose they had exchanged for mine, on the principle of the old saving that "exchange is no robbery." After a while the natives began to draw in too close to our camp, talking a good deal about our "portos" or bundles, so that we had to draw a line as a boundary, a hint they took at once and all squatted down beyond it. At dusk I fired of two rockets to their unbounded surprise, but they were not so alarmed as I expected, probably from feeling that we were kindly disposed towards them. I believe that the sight of us smoking and seeing the smoke coming out of our mouths, alarmed them much more, as some of them made signs to put the pipe away and others got up and walked off looking behind them. At dark they retired to their camp.

Wednesday, 2 October 1861.
This morning the natives came up and commenced a brisk trade in nets, grass-string girdles, boomerangs and other things for old clothes, rags and other such like valuable property. For part of an old blanket I obtained two boomerangs, a large staff used in digging roots, one of the long pointed sticks used in fishing, a stone tomahawk cemented into a boxwood handle and the head of a larger one about the size and shape of an American axe, which the proprietor, a tall old warrior with one very sinister eye, scraped up from the sand by his hut. The smaller tomahawk he dropped twice between his camp and ours and pretended he had never had it, until I made him understand that I was not going to be done, when he burst out laughing and sent his lubra back for it. The whole mob sat down by our camp, and observed us packing with great interest, but were terribly frightened at the horses far more so than at the camels. They accompanied us for half a mile on our road, and then waited looking after us for a while. Camped at some sandhills near our 26th camp, the only water near being a pool of liquid mud, from which we obtained a small supply of water by draining the surface. In going up this was a fine channel. Day rather hot, but the wind from the S. and a great improvement on the last five of hot winds.

Thursday, 3 October 1861.
This morning the clouds began to bank up from the south, drawing northward with every sign of a thunderstorm. During the time we were travelling, before reaching our camp, the clouds continued to gather in masses, threatening rain but dispersed as they passed over towards an arch of blue sky to the north. The country much greener since we came down owing to the two nights rain we had. Camped at the remains or what had been a large sheet of water in one of the branches of the creek. It has now a very unpleasant taste of soda and produces thirst rather than quenches it. Sent Phillips away after dinner on one of the spare horses, to run our track as far as possible before night among the sandhills to see if there was any water in the polygonum flats. The clouds still gathering and thunder and heavy rain to the north-east and south-east. We lit a fire at dark on the edge of the plain but had great difficulty in keeping it up, as the natives had burned all the dead wood near the water. By means of this and rockets fired occasionally Phillips returned about nine o' clock, having been ten miles on the track. He reported the water to be almost all dried up and had only seen two small pools of mud. The night very dark, with thunder and lightning, but no rain.

Friday, 4 October 1861.
Started late this morning, as I wished all the horses to drink well before leaving the creek and also as I had to send the camels two miles to fill the water-bags, this pool being scarcely drinkable. I went on ahead of the party to search for water, but did not leave the track for the ten miles; Phillips had been over. The sand-hills are looking splendid, the two nights rain having covered them with grass and herbage and even the earthy flats between the ridges show some vegetation. About three o' clock I came on to four native children sleeping under the shade of a box tree and covered with nets. One waking suddenly, started up in a terrible fright at such an unusual sight, and ran off screaming into the polygonum where I saw its mother peeping at me through a bush. When I called out to her to come, she did so, but kept at a very respectful distance. I asked for water and to reassure her gave her all old handkerchiefs. She got her children gathered round her, two on her back and one carrying a fourth, all of them screaming out loudly, and having pointed out a little pool of mud, moved on to a sandhill where she commenced bawling to some of the natives, who seemed to be about half a mile off. I went off to hunt over the flat for water and shortly heard shouts of "Gew gew" behind me from three natives who came running up in an excited state each with a boomerang or a waddy. We soon however, came to a friendly understanding by means of a few words I knew, and the promises of a knife decied them to show me the way.

One of them, a jolly-looking young fellow, minus his front teeth, took the lead; the other two, both of them dressed in red paint and a head net keeping a little to one side. We kept up a sort of conversation and in half an hour came to their camp a large hut on a sandhill, with a small pool of water near among the clay-pans. I was very much amused at the ceremonious way in which my guide led the way, pointing out the best road and very earnestly making me notice the bushes in my way as if I were in danger of falling over them. They gave me as usual a ball of chewed pitchery, and seemed very much surprised that neither I nor my horses cared about drinking. I found it quite impossible to make them understand that the waterhole was too small. My guide having received his knife, was now very anxious to have my shirt, which, of course, I objected to; and, as I could learn nothing more, I gave them a few matches and, rode on my way. My four black friends, however, either out of politeness, or in the hopes of getting my shirt, followed me and kept so close behind the tail of my horse, each with a waddy in his hand, that I thought it best to send them back to their camp, whither they went after some yabbering among themselves. About three miles further on I found eight small channels of water in a polygonum flat containing sufficient water for ourselves and our horses for two days. Camped here, when the party came up, in splendid feed.

Saturday, 5 October 1861
Camped to day at the tank, which, with the channel by it, is brimful of water. The country looks beautiful, the sandhills are covered with flowers and bushes in full bloom, and swarm with birds of all kinds. It has every appearance of being spring here. Passed several fine channels of water by the track. Natives in various places scattered through these sandhills. It is very difficult to estimate the number of the blacks here, but I believe they cannot he far short of 400, belonging to Cooper's Creek.

Sunday, 6 October 1861 - Stokes' Ranges, Surprise Creek.
Left the tank this morning, carrying as much water as possible on the camels and two horse loads sufficient for ourselves for four days and one drink for the horses; calculating on making Koliatti or Poria Creek in four days. If I find water on the track I intend striking for WiIkie's Creek. The sandhills covered with grass and flowers, and even the bare clayey plains, and the miserable stony country, between them and the ranges had struggled into something resembling vegetation. The ranges, where we entered them, by Brahe's Gap, are not so high as where we crossed them more to the westward, but run in low ridges along wide stony valleys formed by the numerous gorges we found so difficult to cross. Mulga and acacia shrub everywhere, but not much feed; only saltbush and very short herbage grown since the rains. We were agreeably surprised by a fine waterhole in the first creek we came to, which proved to be the lowest of several of nearly the same size higher up the creek. I believe it to he about ten yards wide and eighty long, and some three or four feet deep. Distance eighteen miles.

Monday, 7 October 1861 - Stokes Ranges, Keppel's Creek
28 17', 142 30'
We were late in leaving camp this morning, as nineteen of the horses had followed the track back for several miles. The country travelled through for fifteen miles was much of the same character -wide stony flats surrounded by low ridges, and intersected by gum creeks coming from the gorges in a northerly direction. We passed through a succession of gaps, in each of which we found a creek with pools of clear rain-water, and from the very loose gravelly nature of the ground, I am inclined to believe that these creeks are still running slowly underground since the rain. At fifteen miles came on the south slopes of the range, with a wide view towards Koliatti and Poria. Camped on a small watercourse near its junction with Keppel's Creek Two tolerable pools of water. Another make believe thunder-storm tonight with violent gusts of wind, but no rain excepting at two places to the N. W., where it appeared to be raining, about a mile wide. Everything looks springlike here.

Tuesday, 8 October 1861 - Junction Camp No. 21.
Crossed Keppel's Creek and travelled over stony slopes for six miles, when we crossed the creek on to barren sandy plains. At three miles entered the sandhills and found the country terribly burned up, and no sign of water. Rain cannot have fallen here for some time. Made our old camp in twenty-two miles from Keppel's Creek, and found water still in the small creek, but the feed very dry and scanty.

Wednesday, 9 October 1861 - Poria Creek
When the party started this morning I went to the westward if the track, and found that at a short distance the sandhills terminated in the gum forests and polygonum swamp before mentioned. From a high sandhill I could see across these for many miles towards the range in a westerly direction and I believe that they also extend to or across Wilkie's Creek to the south. I found no water, but I am convinced that there are other channels similar to the one we camped on last night which will contain water for months after rain. At Wilkie's Creek I again left the track, and followed the creek upward, crossing several deep channels running in and out of it, and full of water. At a short distance I came on a large sheet of water, certainly mere than a mile long and about eighty feet wide, and with the couch grass growing on its banks, and large box timber, having a striking resemblance to some of the smaller branches of Cooper's Creek. It is a far finer watercourse than I had at first supposed. Made Poria Creek about two o' clock. The country very dry and parched we seem, in one days journey to have travelled from Spring into Summer.

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