Page:History of West Australia.djvu/49
The country between Pelican Point and the Moreau (the name given to the river Canning by the French) was diversified by hills and dales, "magnificently clothed with trees of the richest green." The Banksia grandis and two other arborescent species rise here "in all their grandeur," while there are also the eucalyptus, dryandra, armata, zamia spiralis, and several species of flakea and Grevillea. A very magnificent species of Jacksonia adorned the swamps. On the banks the pendulous Leptospermum formed one of the greatest beauties of the landscape. Other interesting flora were also observed. Ample fresh water was found on the banks of the river between Pelican Point and Point Heathcoat. "The valleys and headlands are formed of the richest loam, and are covered with the most luxuriant herbage. The Banksia and Collitritis were "particularly splendid" about here, while the foliage of the trees, with the rose-coloured flowers of the Leptospermum added lustre to an already charming picture. Not much of the land on the north shore was examined—merely a strip of land, which was named Point Belches, after the officer attached to the expedition. The flora there were equally as fine, and the soil was somewhat sandy. Water was easily obtained by shallow sinking. The surface of the hills were barren, and yet they produced an "immense variety" of plants. Broom grass was plentiful in this more inland situation. Salt marshes were discovered, "admirably adapted to the growth of cotton," and an extensive fresh water lagoon was found, whose banks were "covered with the most beautiful plants." Fraser "distinctly heard the bellowing of a large animal from amongst the marshes" higher up the river, "resembling the lowing of horned cattle," sounds evidently made by the frogs which caused so much consternation and irresistible terror to members of the Baudin expedition. Large flocks of cockatoos, with white on the backs and upper wings, and yellow quill feathers, aroused attention as they rose, shrieking, and flew over the otherwise silent woods.
Above the flats at the causeway the character of the country changed. An extensive flat was seen, "of the richest soil—resembling in fertility those on the banks of the Hawkesbury—covered with luxuriant broom grass and also abounding in magnificent blue gums." The country from this point was similar to that on rivers falling west of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, with hilly points on either bank and extensive flats. The hills were composed of rich red loam of great depth, while the flats were formed of the "richest brown loam." The flats increased in breadth as the hills were approached, and extended many miles on each side of the river and up to the base of the mountains, exceeding in point of soil the flats on the Macquarie River, west of Wellington Valley; each flat was surrounded by a high terrace. The banks at the head of the river, although contracted and high, were composed of "the richest materials." At the basement of the mountains were fragments of quartz, which strewed the whole way.
Fraser then went up on the mountains and found their summits formed of blocks of red ironstone and "very sterile." soil. A magnificent view of immense, wooded plains which bounded the horizon was there obtained, and the feelings of the explorers must have been decidedly romantic as they surveyed the prospect. They were in a new world with no white men to watch them, and it was their privilege to first behold this scene, created they knew not how long ago. Also, a new strange race of men inhabited these parts, and they soon saw evidences of their burrowing in the earth for their food. They descended the mountains, and amid the forest observed numerous pits, some more than nine feet deep, which caused them much speculation as to how they were made. After curious examination they decided that they were dug by natives while searching for land tortoises, which formed a considerable portion of their food.
"In ascending the Swan River," says Fraser, "it was remarked that the tide did not rise above three or four inches, and when we consider the very small quantity of fresh water which discharges itself into the channel, in character not amounting to a large brook, we were at a loss to account for the means by which the river was supplied. For upwards of twenty miles it was fresh. The cause must arise from subterraneous springs." The water was well stocked with fish, and black swans, ducks, pelicans, and shags were seen in myriads. From the shyness of the black swan, Mr. Fraser doubted not that "at no distant period, should the country be settled, there will not be a swan to be seen, when no doubt the original discoverers will be laughed at for so apparently preposterous a name."
He was right, for now the black swan is a rare bird indeed,and brings an enormous price in Perth.
While Cockburn Sound was being surveyed by the officers and men attached to the expedition, Mr. Fraser examined the geographical and geological characters of the islands bounding it. He pronounced them as generally sterile. There were very small patches of good soil on Garden Island; Carnac was "a barren, uninhabited spot, without water," and Rottnest "exceedingly barren." He spoke highly of the coast down to Geographe Bay. He records that from Cape Peron it is "hilly and well wooded, and seems to abound in water; within the bay it is bold, consisting of high granite ranges separated by beautiful valleys of the richest description. Through each runs a little streamlet. The soil in these valleys is a rich vegetable loam covered with herbaceous plants of the greatest luxuriance." Among the trees were "gigantic sow thistles, which were seen to attain the almost incredible height of 112 feet." Cape Naturaliste proved very interesting. It was perhaps the most magnificent promontory west of Cape Leeuwin. The base was formed of enormous beds of compact granite, in places embracing immense veins of iron and felspar. Sulphate of copper was one of the features, and above the granite lay a huge bed of lime containing two superb ranges of caverns. The walls and roof of one cavern which was examined were covered with stalactites, many of which approached near to 20 feet long, but from the extraordinary humidity of the cavern they were all covered with fungi and algæ of the most fantastic forms and colours, imparting to the whole such an extraordinary combination of colours as was rarely to be met with in such situations. In another cavern the gigantic stalactites appeared in the distance like pillars of a Gothic cathedral. The sight of the sea rolling into a lower cavern was "terrifically grand." One mile north of Cape Naturaliste were other cliffs, in which there was a range of small caverns, formed of the finest rock-salt penetrating into the limestone, and into the most compact parts of a bed of pudding-stone immediately under it. Along the beach, between Port Leschenault and Cape Naturaliste, streamlets of delicious water rushed from beneath the limestone and granite rocks at every ten or twelve yards. Such was the calcareous character of this water that it combined shells, algæ, wood, and everything within its reach into a solid and compact mass.
Mr. Fraser thus concluded his report:-
"In delivering my opinion on the whole of the land seen on the banks of the Swan, I hesitate not in pronouncing it superior to any I have seen in New South Wales, eastward of the Blue Mountains, not only in its local situation, but in the many existing advantages which it holds out to settlers, viz.:—
"1st. The evident superiority of the soil.
"2nd. The facility with which settlers can bring their farms into a state of culture from the open state of the country, the trees not averaging more than ten to the acre.