Discoveries In The Interior 1817-1836

Oxley. After the passage over the Blue Mountains had been

discovered--in 1813--and the beautiful pasture land round Bathurst had

been opened up to the enterprise of the squatters, it was natural that

the colonists should desire to know something of the nature and

capabilities of the land which stretched away to the west. In 1817 they

sent Mr. Oxley, the Surveyor-General, to explore the country towards the

interior, di
ecting him to follow the course of the Lachlan and discover

the ultimate "fate," as they called it, of its waters. Taking with him a

small party, he set out from the settled districts on the Macquarie, and

for many days walked along the banks of the Lachlan, through undulating

districts of woodland and rich meadow. But, after a time, the explorers

could perceive that they were gradually entering upon a region of

totally different aspect; the ground was growing less and less hilly;

the tall mountain trees were giving place to stunted shrubs; and the

fresh green of the grassy slopes was disappearing. At length they

emerged on a great plain, filled with dreary swamps, which stretched as

far as the eye could reach, like one vast dismal sea of waving reeds.

Into this forbidding region they penetrated, forcing their way through

the tangled reeds and over weary miles of oozy mud, into which they sank

almost to the knees at every step. Ere long they had to abandon this

effort to follow the Lachlan throughout its course; they therefore

retraced their steps, and, striking to the south, succeeded in going

round the great swamp which had opposed their progress. Again they

followed the course of the river for some distance, entering, as they

journeyed, into regions of still greater desolation; but again they were

forced to desist by a second swamp of the same kind. The Lachlan here

seemed to lose itself in interminable marshes, and as no trace could be

found of its further course, Oxley concluded that they had reached the

end of the river. As he looked around on the dreary expanse, he

pronounced the country to be "for ever uninhabitable"; and, on his

return to Bathurst, he reported that, in this direction at least, there

was no opening for enterprise. The Lachlan, he said, flows into an

extensive region of swamps, which are perhaps only the margin of a great

inland sea.

Oxley was afterwards sent to explore the course of the Macquarie River,

but was as little successful in this as in his former effort. The river

flowed into a wide marsh, some thirty or forty miles long, and he was

forced to abandon his purpose; he started for the eastern coast, crossed

the New England Range, and descended the long woodland slopes to the

sea, discovering on his way the river Hastings.

Allan Cunningham. Several important discoveries were effected by an

enthusiastic botanist named Allan Cunningham, who, in his search for new

plants, succeeded in opening up country which had been previously

unknown. In 1825 he found a passage over the Liverpool Range, through a

wild and picturesque gap, which he called the Pandora Pass; and on the

other side of the mountains he discovered the fine pastoral lands of the

Liverpool Plains and the Darling Downs, which are watered by three

branches of the Upper Darling--the Peel, the Gwydir, and the Dumaresq.

The squatters were quick to take advantage of these discoveries; and,

after a year or two, this district was covered with great flocks of

sheep. It was here that the Australian Agricultural Company formed their

great stations already referred to.

Hume and Hovell. The southern coasts of the district now called

Victoria had been carefully explored by Flinders and other sailors, but

the country which lay behind these coasts was quite unknown. In 1824

Governor Brisbane suggested a novel plan of exploration; he proposed to

land a party of convicts at Wilson's Promontory, with instructions to

work their way through the interior to Sydney, where they would receive

their freedom. The charge of the party was offered to Hamilton Hume, a

young native of the colony, and a most expert and intrepid bushman. He

was of an energetic and determined, though somewhat domineering

disposition, and was anxious to distinguish himself in the work of

exploration. He declined to undertake the expedition in the manner

proposed by Governor Brisbane, but offered to conduct a party of

convicts from Sydney to the southern coasts. A sea-captain named Hovell

asked permission to accompany him. With these two as leaders, and six

convict servants to make up the party, they set out from Lake George,

carrying their provisions in two carts, drawn by teams of oxen. As soon

as they met the Murrumbidgee their troubles commenced; the river was so

broad and swift that it was difficult to see how they could carry their

goods across. Hume covered the carts with tarpaulin, so as to make them

serve as punts. Then he swam across the river, carrying the end of a

rope between his teeth; and with this he pulled over the loaded punts.

The men and oxen then swam across, and once more pushed forward. But the

country through which they had now to pass was so rough and woody that

they were obliged to abandon their carts and load the oxen with their

provisions. They journeyed on, through hilly country, beneath the shades

of deep and far-spreading forests; to their left they sometimes caught a

glimpse of the snow-capped peaks of the Australian Alps, and at length

they reached the banks of a clear and rapid stream, which they called

the Hume, but which is now known as the Murray. Their carts being no

longer available, they had to construct boats of wicker-work and cover

them with tarpaulin. Having crossed the river, they entered the lightly

timbered slopes to the north of Victoria, and holding their course

south-west, they discovered first the river Ovens, and then a splendid

stream which they called the Hovell, now known as the Goulburn. Their

great object, however, was to reach the ocean, and every morning when

they left their camping-place they were sustained by the hope of coming,

before evening, in view of the open sea. But day after day passed,

without any prospect of a termination to their journey. Hume and Hovell,

seeing a high peak at some little distance, left the rest of the party

to themselves for a few days, and with incredible labour ascended the

mountain, in the expectation of beholding from its summit the great

Southern Ocean in the distance. Nothing was to be seen, however, but the

waving tops of gum trees rising ridge after ridge away to the south.

Wearily they retraced their steps to the place where the others were

encamped. They called this peak Mount Disappointment. Having altered the

direction of their course a little, in a few days they were rejoiced by

the sight of a great expanse of water. Passing through country which

they declared to resemble, in its freshness and beauty, the well-kept

park of an English nobleman, they reached a bay, which the natives

called Geelong. Here a dispute took place between the leaders, Hovell

asserting that the sheet of water before them was Western Port, Hume

that it was Port Phillip. Hume expressed the utmost contempt for

Hovell's ignorance; Hovell retorted with sarcasms on Hume's dogmatism

and conceit; and the rest of the journey was embittered by so great an

amount of ill-feeling that the two explorers were never again on

friendly terms. Hume's careful and sagacious observations of the route

by which they had come enabled him to lead the party rapidly and safely

back to Sydney, where the leaders were rewarded with grants of land and

the convicts with tickets-of-leave.

Captain Sturt. The long drought which occurred between 1826 and 1828

suggested to Governor Darling the idea that, as the swamps which had

impeded Oxley's progress would be then dried up, the exploration of the

river Macquarie would not present the same difficulties as formerly. The

charge of organising an expedition was given to Captain Sturt, who was

to be accompanied by Hume, with a party of two soldiers and eight

convicts. They carried with them portable boats; but when they reached

the Macquarie they found its waters so low as to be incapable of

floating them properly. Trudging on foot along the banks of the river

they reached the place where Oxley had turned back. It was no longer a

marsh; but, with the intense heat, the clay beneath their feet was baked

and hard; there was the same dreary stretch of reeds, now withered and

yellow under the glare of the sun. Sturt endeavoured to penetrate this

solitude, but the physical exertion of pushing their way through the

reeds was too great for them. If they paused to rest, they were almost

suffocated in the hot and pestilent air; the only sound they could hear

was the distant booming of the bittern, and a feeling of the most lonely

wretchedness pervaded the scene. At length they were glad to leave this

dismal region and strike to the west through a flat and monotonous

district where the shells and claws of crayfish told of frequent

inundations. Through this plain there flowed a river, which Sturt called

the Darling, in honour of the Governor. They followed this river for

about ninety miles, and then took their way back to Sydney, Sturt being

now able to prove that the belief in the existence of a great inland sea

was erroneous.

The Murray. In 1829, along with a naturalist named Macleay, Sturt

was again sent out to explore the interior, and on this occasion carried

his portable boats to the Murrumbidgee, on which he embarked his party

of eight convicts. They rowed with a will, and soon took the boat down

the river beyond its junction with the Lachlan. The stream then became

narrow, a thick growth of overhanging trees shut out the light from

above, while, beneath, the rushing waters bore them swiftly over

dangerous snags and through whirling rapids, until they were suddenly

shot out into the broad surface of a noble stream which flowed gently

over its smooth bed of sand and pebbles. This river they called the

Murray; but it was afterwards found to be only the lower portion of the

stream which had been crossed by Hume and Hovell several years before.

Sturt's manner of journeying was to row from sunrise to sunset, then

land on the banks of the river and encamp for the night. This exposed

the party to some dangers from the suspicious natives, who often

mustered in crowds of several hundreds; but Sturt's kindly manner and

pleasant smile always converted them into friends, so that the worst

mishap he had to record was the loss of his frying-pan and other

utensils, together with some provisions, which were stolen by the blacks

in the dead of night. After twilight the little encampment was often

swarming with dark figures; but Sturt joined in their sports, and

Macleay especially became a great favourite with them by singing comic

songs, at which the dusky crowds roared with laughter. The natives are

generally good-humoured, if properly managed; and throughout Sturt's

trip the white men and the blacks contrived to spend a very friendly

and sociable time together.

After following the Murray for about two hundred miles below the Lachlan

they reached a place where a large river flowed from the north into the

Murray. This was the mouth of the river Darling, which Sturt himself had

previously discovered and named. He now turned his boat into it, in

order to examine it for a short distance; but after they had rowed a

mile or two they came to a fence of stakes, which the natives had

stretched across the river for the purpose of catching fish. Rather than

break the fence, and so destroy the labours of the blacks, Sturt turned

to sail back. The natives had been concealed on the shore to watch the

motions of the white men, and seeing their considerate conduct, they

came forth upon the bank and gave a loud shout of satisfaction. The

party in the boat unfurled the British flag, and answered with three

hearty cheers, as they slowly drifted down with the current. This humane

disposition was characteristic of Captain Sturt, who, in after life, was

able to say that he had never--either directly or indirectly--caused the

death of a black fellow.

When they again entered on the Murray they were carried gently by the

current--first to the west, then to the south; and, as they went onward,

they found the river grow deeper and wider, until it spread into a broad

sheet of water, which they called Lake Alexandrina, after the name of

our present Queen, who was then the Princess Alexandrina Victoria. On

crossing this lake they found the passage to the ocean blocked up by a

great bar of sand, and were forced to turn their boat round and face the

current, with the prospect of a toilsome journey of a thousand miles

before they could reach home. They had to work hard at their oars, Sturt

taking his turn like the rest. At length they entered the Murrumbidgee;

but their food was now failing, and the labour of pulling against the

stream was proving too great for the men, whose limbs began to grow

feeble and emaciated. Day by day they struggled on, swinging more and

more wearily at their oars, their eyes glassy and sunken with hunger and

toil, and their minds beginning to wander as the intense heat of the

midsummer sun struck on their heads. One man became insane; the others

frequently lay down, declaring that they could not row another stroke,

and were quite willing to die. Sturt animated them, and, with enormous

exertions, he succeeded in bringing the party to the settled districts,

where they were safe. They had made known the greatest river of

Australia and traversed one thousand miles of unknown country, so that

this expedition was by far the most important that had yet been made

into the interior; and Sturt, by land, with Flinders, by sea, stands

first on the roll of Australian discoverers.

Mitchell. The next traveller who sought to fill up the blank map of

Australia was Major Mitchell. Having offered, in 1831, to conduct an

expedition to the north-west, he set out with fifteen convicts and

reached the Upper Darling; but two of his men, who had been left behind

to bring up provisions, were speared by the blacks, and the stores

plundered. This disaster forced the company soon after to return. In

1835, when the major renewed his search, he was again unfortunate. The

botanist of the party, Richard Cunningham, brother of the Allan

Cunningham already mentioned, was treacherously killed by the natives;

and, finally, the determined hostility of the blacks brought the

expedition to an ignominious close.

In 1836 Major Mitchell undertook an expedition to the south, and in this

he was much more successful. Taking with him a party of twenty-five

convicts, he followed the Lachlan to its junction with the Murrumbidgee.

Here he stayed for a short time to explore the neighbouring country; but

the party was attacked by hordes of natives, some of whom were shot. The

major then crossed the Murray; and, from a mountain top in the Lodden

district, he looked forth on a land which he declared to be like the

Garden of Eden. On all sides rich expanses of woodland and grassy plains

stretched away to the horizon, watered by abundant streams. They then

passed along the slopes of the Grampians and discovered the river

Glenelg, on which they embarked in the boats which they had carried with

them. The scenery along this stream was magnificent; luxurious festoons

of creepers hung from the banks, trailing downwards in the eddying

current, and partly concealing the most lovely grottos which the current

had wrought out of the pure white banks of limestone. The river wound

round abrupt hills and through verdant valleys, which made the latter

part of their journey to the sea most agreeable and refreshing. Being

stopped by the bar at the mouth of the Glenelg, they followed the shore

for a short distance eastward, and then turned towards home. Portland

Bay now lay on their right, and Mitchell made an excursion to explore

it. What was his surprise to see a neat cottage on the shore, with a

small schooner in front of it at anchor in the bay. This was the lonely

dwelling of the brothers Henty, who had crossed from Tasmania and

founded a whaling station at Portland Bay. On Mitchell's return he had a

glorious view from the summit of Mount Macedon, and what he saw induced

him, on his return to Sydney, to give to the country the name "Australia

Felix". As a reward for his important services he received a vote of one

thousand pounds from the Council at Sydney, and he was shortly

afterwards knighted; so that he is now known as Sir Thomas Mitchell.