Australia, from Port Macquarie to Moreton Bay/Part 1
NEW SOUTH WALES.
The entrance of the MacLeay River—Trial Bay—Granite headlands—A digression on the nature and appearance of the alluvial jungles or brushes, on the banks of some of the coast rivers of New South Wales—Probable causes of the tropical aspect of the vegetation, and the inexhaustible richness of the soil, which characterise these brushes, especially in the northern districts—Extensive swamps near the estuary of the MacLeay—Successful experiment with rice—Agricultural stations of the squatters—Cedar sawyers— Prevalence of ague at the lower MacLeay—Village of Kempsey—Dongai Creek—Beautiful fertile ranges—Their geological formation the most favourable of any for vineyards—Limestone caverns—Rich fertile well-watered country on the south side of the MacLeay—Densely wooded lofty mountains—Tremendous cataracts and basaltic precipices—Extraordinary altitude of the bed of the MacLeay above the level of the sea, between the cataracts and its sources—Fine table land country of New England—Coldness of the climate from the great elevation of the country—The Nambucca River—Survey of its navigable arms—Murderous attacks of the native Blacks on the Cedar sawyers—Coohalli Creek—First appearance of Pine here, in about 30½° S.—The Bellengen River—Journal of an excursion over the mountains towards its sources—Journal of subsequent examination of the country in the vicinity of its mouth.
The MacLeay River, and the adjacent country to the north of it, having been the districts allotted to me, by the Colonial Government, to explore and survey, I will commence my observations on the northern part of the territory of New South Wales, by a minute description of that river; especially noticing those peculiarities in the geological formation, soil, and botanical productions, which distinguish the MacLeay from the rivers in the south country.
The general character of the country on the banks of the other rivers, north of Port Stephens, viz.: the Manning, the Hastings, the Clarence, the Richmond, the Tweed, the Brisbane, &c. being, with some little variation, nearly similar to that at the MacLeay, a more brief notice of their natural features will suffice.
The MacLeay river disembogues in Trial bay, lat. 30° 40' S. The entrance is obstructed by a bar of sand, the position of which is not unfrequently altered by floods and other causes; it,has, however, generally sufficient water on it for vessels drawing eleven feet. Trial bay is a good roadstead, being completely protected from all winds but those between north and east, from which quarters the winds are seldom strong. The basis of the country in the immediate vicinity of the mouth of the MacLeay river, is a pink granite, overlaid occasionally by dark-coloured rock of trap formation; a few miles west of the bar, this granite rises abruptly to an altitude of nearly two thousand feet in the Yarra-Hapinni range; which is the termination of the range dividing the basin of the MacLeay river from that of the Nambucca river to the north of it. Mount Yarra-Hapinni is densely wooded to the summit, with an almost impenetrable forest of gigantic trees, but its spurs towards the sea descend in beautiful verdant park-like declivities to the beach, the grass growing luxuriantly, even within reach of the salt spray of the ocean. At the south extremity of Trial bay, the granite again rises in a lofty conical grassy forest hill, to which I gave the native name of Arakoon; its gullies are enveloped in brushes of bangalo palms, cabbage palms, and gigantic ferns.
In ascending the MacLeay river, from its entrance, the first objects which meet the eye on both banks are extensive mangrove flats, with thickets of myrtle, palm, and swamp oak, which, a few miles farther on, are superseded by dense alluvial brushes, rising like gigantic green walls on both sides of the river.
I must here make a digression to attempt to convey to the English reader some idea of the very peculiar appearance of that kind of vegetation to which the colonists have assigned the unmeaning name of brush. It grows on the richest alluvial land, and consists of trees of almost endless variety, and very large dimensions, totally differing in appearance from the ordinary Eucalypti and Casuarinæ, which grow on the common open forests of Australia, for the brush trees in general possess a rich umbrageous foliage of bright shining green.
The popular names of the most remarkable brush trees are as follow:—Red Cedar, White Cedar, Mahogany, Tulipwood, Rosewood, Ironwood, Lightwood, Sassafras, Corkwood, the Australian Tamarind, Box, the numerous and elegant varieties of trees of the Myrtle genus, the Australian Palms, and the Brush Fig-tree, which, from being originally a mere creeper, requiring the support of another tree, gradually envelopes it, and attains occasionally such a size, as to cause it to rank among the largest vegetable productions in the world. But the peculiar appearance of the brush is principally caused by the countless species of creepers, wild vines, and parasitical plants of singular conformation, which, interlaced and entwined in inextricable confusion, bind and weave together the trees almost to their summits, and hang in rich and elegant flowering festoons from the highest branches. The luxuriant and vigorous character of the brush, on alluvial land, in the northern part of the territory of New South Wales, cannot be surpassed in any tropical region. When this brush land is cleared, and cultivated, its fertility seems inexhaustible. For even in the old settled parts of the colony, near Sydney, the productiveness of the thickly wooded alluvial flats is most wonderful; thus, on the banks of the Hawkesbury, there is some land of this description, which has now been cultivated for forty years, without intermission, and without any renovating application to the soil; and it has been observed by Mr. Wentworth, the present member for Sydney, in the New Legislative Council, that, on the banks of that river, the same acre of ground has been known to produce, in the course of the same year, fifty bushels of wheat, and a hundred bushels of maize, and yet the settlers have never any occasion for manure. I have also been informed of fourteen successive crops of wheat having been reaped off the same piece of ground at Illawarra, without manure, and on ground, too, out of the reach of flood.
Facts such as these will appear almost incredible to the English, or even the Canadian agriculturist; several causes may be assigned for this more than ordinary richness in alluvial soils in some situations on the east coast of Australia. First, the more than ordinary quantity of renovating substances which have been deposited on them during heavy floods. For in those districts in which we find the most of this rich brush land, (the Illawarra country, the Williams and Paterson rivers which join the Hunter, and all the northern rivers), the mountain ranges are eminently formed, from their height, steepness, and narrow shelving ravines and gullies, to effect the rapid transportation of rain-water to the lower grounds; and as the Australian climate is characterised by long intervals of fine weather, followed by sudden and violent rains, the decayed vegetation on the ranges becomes desiccated and pulverized by the heat during the dry weather, or else is reduced to ashes by the frequent bush fires, and is therefore in a state most favourable for being easily washed away by heavy rains, and subsequently deposited on the alluvial lands.
The geological formation of the basins of different rivers in Australia, exercises also a most marked influence on the comparative fertility of the soil of their respective alluvial lands. For instance, in examining a well dried handful of alluvial soil, taken from the banks of the MacLeay river, with a microscope, I saw in it minute particles of felspar, and quartz, and little thin laminae of mica; thus at once indicating, that in the basin of this river there is a preponderance of primitive rooks. Now soil containing minute particles of these kinds of rocks, would, of course, have different qualities from soil in which particles of other kinds of rock, such as sandstone, predominated.
Professor Jameson has made the following apposite remarks on the different qualities of alluvial soils produced from this cause.—"The varieties of transported soil depend chiefly upon three circumstances: first, the nature of the rocks from which they are derived; 2ndly, the quality and effect of the moving powers; 3rdly, the changes which they may have undergone after their formation. The origin of the materials, which enter into the composition of transported soil, has already been considered. From their difference may be easily explained why soil generated from the debris of primitive crystalline rocks, has different qualities from soil which has been derived from strata of sandstone."
There is, indeed, scarcely any country where the surface rocks exercise so great an influence on the fertility of the soil, and the aspect of the vegetation, as in Australia. Thus, sandstone, the all-pervading rock of the central part of the colony, and of which the Blue Mountains are composed, from the Shoalhaven to the Liverpool range, except in a few places where it is overlaid by whinstone, is always indicative of barrenness and sterility; whilst nearly all the varieties of trap, with the clay slates, (so frequently met between the Hunter and Moreton), limestone and granite, are generally accompanied by good soil, and a more luxuriant vegetation. Thus the richness and tropical aspect of the isolated district of Illawarra, is principally attributable to the whinstone, of which the abrupt range, which separates it from the surrounding country, is composed; whilst a few of the higher summits near Sidney, such as Hay, Tomah, and Warrawolong, which consist of trap, are crowned with lofty trees, and stand conspicuously prominent amidst the miserable sandstone ridges around them. Sir Thomas Mitchell, in the valuable dissertation on the geology of the eastern part of New Holland, given in his interesting work, has observed, that, "by a little attention to the geological structure of Australia, we learn how much the superficial qualities of the soil and productions depend upon it, and where to look for arable spots amid the general barrenness." He also frequently alludes to the sterility of the country wherever sandstone occurs, whilst he observes, that trap forms an excellent soil on decomposition. Captain Sturt, also, was much struck with the apparent connection between the geology and vegetation of Australia; and he observes, that this connection was so strong, that he had little difficulty, after a short experience, in judging of the rock that formed the basis of the country over which he was travelling, from the kind of tree or herbage that flourished in the soil above it.
Begging the reader to pardon this long digression, I will now continue the description of the MacLeay river. It is navigable for vessels of fifty or sixty tons, to a distance of thirty-four miles from its bar, the water being of a good depth, except at Shark and Pelican islands, where sand flats extend across the river, which can be passed by vessels only at high water. The reaches of the river are long and straight, averaging about a quarter of a mile in width, and flanked on both sides by huge walls of the dense brush I have just now described. These borders of alluvial brush land on the banks of the river, are generally half a mile, or a mile wide, and are then backed by extensive swamps of many thousand acres in extent, whose verdant sea, of high waving reeds and sedge, stretches away to the base of the distant forest ranges. There are several lagoons in these swamps, and stagnant water is very generally diffused over their surface. Their soil is very good in some parts, and rice would probably grow in them very well; for Richard Oakes, Esq. the late Commissioner of Crown Lands for the MacLeay river, planted a small quantity of rice at his station, situated on the verge of Clybucca Swamp, and the experiment was very successful. The continuous brush renders the aspect of the lower part of the MacLeay very monotonous to the admirer of picturesque scenery; however, an occasional glimpse of the azure tinted peaks of the distant mountain ranges, with green islands covered with palms, now and then varying the uniform sameness of the reaches of the river, not to speak of the air of cheerfulness imparted to the scene, by the large flocks of aquatic birds, of wonderful variety, all busily engaged, and fish leaping out of the water in every direction, renders an excursion on the waters of the MacLeay pleasant enough.
At the distance of twenty miles from the mouth of the river, and from thence to the point where the river ceases to be navigable, the brush land is interspersed with small alluvial plains, clear of trees, and varying in extent from fifty to a hundred acres. These clear patches of ground possess all the exuberant fertility of the brush land, and have now been cultivated for several years by squatters, (the MacLeay river being beyond the boundaries). This part of the river, however, has the great drawback of giving ague to those residing there, which is not to be wondered at, when one considers the immense extent of the surrounding swamps. This disorder was particularly prevalent among the cedar sawyers, who lead a life, compared with which, the life of the lumberers, or wood-cutters in Canada, is civilization itself. These men are generally convicts, who have become free by servitude; they live in pairs in the dense dark brushes; their habitation being merely a few sheets of bark temporarily piled together, as they are continually moving in search of fresh cedar. Here they live exposed to the myriads of noxious insects with which the brush abounds, whilst not a breath of air can reach them through the entangled mass of surrounding vegetation.—The cedar dealers furnish them from time to time with salt provisions, flour, tea, and sugar; and every three or four months the sawyers travel down to the cedar dealers, who live at the mouths of the rivers, for a settlement of their accounts. As these latter individuals are not remarkable for delicate scruples of conscience, they generally settle the balance due to the sawyers in a very summary way. They take care to have a good assortment of clothing, tobacco, &c. in their huts, with which they furnish the sawyers at an advance of about three hundred per cent, on the Sidney prices: this, with a cask or so of rum and wine, to enable the sawyers to have a fortnight's drinking bout, generally balances their accounts. The scenes I have witnessed at. the MacLeay river, on these occasions, surpass all description. Men and women, (for many of the sawyers have wives), lying day and night on the bare grass in a state of intoxication, and only recovering to renew their orgies; casks broken in, and the contents passed round in buckets; men fighting; native blacks, who have been supplied with liquor, yelling and screeching like demons, under the influence of alcohol. Such are a few of the accompaniments of the cedar sawyers' drinking bouts. At length, when they have drank enough to balance their account, they wend their way once more to the brushes with their rations, there to remain until the next time of settlement.
The cedar is cut in square logs, on which the cedar dealer strikes his initials with a branding hammer; the logs are then launched into the water by the aid of bullocks, and afterwards rafted down to the vessels to be conveyed to Sydney. The cedar is employed in Sydney for every purpose to which deal is generally applied; and is also used for all kinds of cabinet work, as it is of a handsome grain and colour.
Twenty-eight miles from the mouth of the MacLeay, is the small village of Kempsey, on the south bank of the river, at the termination of the northern boundary of the county of Macquarie. It consists of several good brick-built cottages, an inn, a store, and police station. Mr. Sullivan has established a very fine fruit garden here. The fruit trees, of all descriptions, have arrived sooner at maturity, and grown with greater luxuriance, than in any other garden I have seen in the colony. Not far from Kempsey is the station in which I lately possessed a share; the portion of alluvial plain that we cultivated, has now been under the plough for upwards of six years, producing two crops a year;—maize, followed by either wheat, potatoes, sugar loaf cabbages, or swede turnips. Our crops of cabbages and turnips, which we cultivated for the pigs, were nearly twice as abundant as good crops in England. Our potatoes were large, and the crops always abundant; but the quality was very indifferent, as they possessed a strong earthy flavour, the ground evidently being too rich for them. Wheat yielded good crops in dry seasons; but when the spring was moist, it grew as luxuriantly as reeds, and consequently there was not much grain. Maize, whether the seasons were wet or dry, was a never failing crop. The greatest quantity harvested on the plain we cultivated, was at the rate of seventy-five bushels per acre; other settlers, however, in the neighbouring Port Macquarie district, have informed me that they have had one hundred bushels per acre. The cause of our crops not being greater, was probably owing to our planting pumpkins between the rows. The ground was twice flooded during the time that I lived at this station, but the floods did not occasion much detriment to the standing corn, our only loss being a few cabbages and turnips.
Directly the tide loses its influence in the river it ceases to be navigable any farther, even for small boats; and it now assumes the appearance of a rapid stream flowing over beds of shingles, a quarter of a mile wide, composed of pebbles of granite, limestone, beautiful crimson jasper, greenstone, basalt, quartz, &c. The alluvial brushes on its banks are now frequently superseded by park-like forest ground, verdant rocky eminences, and luxuriant grassy flats of the greatest richness, lightly timbered with Apple trees, (Angophora lanceolata,) whose gnarled branches, and light green foliage, resembling that of the English oak, render it the most picturesque forest tree in Australia. Several small tributary streams now begin to join the river. The first we meet, on the south side, is Dongai Creek. In the narrow valley of this stream, the land is of the richest quality possible, consisting of a narrow border of alluvial flats, covered with broad-bladed grass, growing breast high, and with a few large blue gum trees scattered so far apart as to offer no impediment to immediate tillage. All the squatters on this stream have, in consequence, brought patches of ground under cultivation. Dongai Creek is hemmed in on both sides by fertile ranges, well clothed with grass, and lightly wooded; apple trees being the predominating trees on their lower slopes. The scenery is often very pleasing; the ranges rise in smooth round cones, and their sloping sides, covered with bright green verdure, contrast strongly with the dark glistening green of the brush vegetation* which occasionally invades some of the hills. The stream itself, of crystal brightness, rushes rapidly through the glen, over a bed of large pebbles, and frequently forms diminutive cascades over opposing rocks; this, with the magnificent trees, and beautiful flowering creepers, forming natural arches, with a glimpse of distant hills, softened and blended with the deep azure of an Australian sky, cannot fail of affording gratification to any one who can admire nature unadorned by art. The ranges of hills in the neighbourhood of Dongai Creek, are principally composed of clay-slate, and other soft slaty rocks. Granular limestone and marble frequently occur, which formation contains numerous caverns encrusted with stalactites. Some of the ranges were composed of a rock which I thought might be porphyritic trap. The limestone ranges are generally covered all over with brush, bearing a great resemblance to that on alluvial land, the trees being of large dimensions, and interwoven with creepers; turpentine, (Tristania albicans,) iron bark, (Eucalyptus resinifera,) box, and myrtle trees, being the prevailing timber.
The soft slaty ranges just mentioned, are very general in the basin of the MacLeay, especially on the south side of the river, the strata form a considerable angle with the horizon, and their edges are almost in every instance more than usually disintegrated and decomposed, forming, in consequence, a rich loose soil, on which the grass is generally comparatively better than on ranges of other formations. The clay-slate ranges rise in smooth, round, waving summits; they are not in general thickly wooded, and would be pre-eminently suitable for the growth of the vine. It is well known that scarcely any thing exercises so much influence on the quality of wine, as the nature of the rocks and soils among which vines are planted. According to the best authorities, clay-slates seem peculiarly favourable for vines. Thus Albertus Magnus has observed, " that the vines thrive well in earth which is mixed with fragments of black roofing slate." And Humboldt remarks, "that the vines which grow upon the mountains of the valley of the Rhine, consisting of black day-slate' afford a most excellent wine." Dr. Adam, in his remarks on the rocks and soils of the celebrated Constantia vineyards at the Cape of Good Hope, notices also how well the vine thrives in a soil produced by the decomposition of clay-slate, and mixed with the fragments of it.
I have already observed that many caves are met with in the limestone formation at Dongai creek. Mr. Ralfe and myself examined a great number, which he found near the summit of a heavily wooded, brushy range, in the vicinity of Lieutenant Baxter's station. They were full of the stalactites ordinarily met with, but we could discover no traces of ancient organic remains. In the hills at the sources of Parabel brook, I examined a cave of rather singular conformation. Its entrance was in the middle of the grassy sloping hollow, the waters of which entered the mouth of the cave. The first chamber was tolerably lofty, and illuminated by a small aperture overhead, resembling a skylight, so hidden by grass outside, that if any one of us had chanced to pass that way, before entering the cave, he would have probably fallen through it. At the extremity of the first chamber, was a narrow perpendicular hole, resembling the vent of a chimney. On descending this à la ramoneur, we passed through a narrow lofty passage, fantastically adorned with stalactites, until our further progress was arrested by a perpendicular cleft, too small to get through. On breaking through the stalagmitic crust, forming the floor of the most remote passage, I found one bone evidently belonging to a recent animal, as the nature of the rock (mountain limestone) was not such as to lead me to expect the discovery of any ancient organic remains.
Tracing the MacLeay upwards, from Dongai Creek, we pass a great number of squatting stations, belonging mostly to retired officers. The country they occupy as cattle runs is abundantly watered, independently of the river, by a vast number of permanent chains of small ponds, and water-courses; the grass is good, but the country available for grazing extends but a very few miles back from the river, especially on the north side, as the ranges soon become lofty and serrated, rising one beyond
At Captain Joblin's station, a small brook joins the river on the south bank, to which the stockmen have given the designation of Hindmarshes Creek, and which Mr. Ralfe has altered to the native name, "Parabel." The land surrounding this little stream is of great richness, its physical aspect resembling that of Dongai Creek; the fertile, lightly wooded ranges which confine it are covered with a rich mould, and would be admirably adapted for vines. On this brook are several out-stations, belonging to Major Innes of Port Macquarie and Major Kemp. Beyond this stream, the ranges on the north side of the river form steep, high, rocky banks, rising abruptly from the water, and frequently attaining an altitude of several hundred feet above the river; the back country being very hilly, densely wooded, and intersected by narrow ravines, and brushy hollows, containing rugged water-courses. A few miles higher up the river a razor-backed range, covered to the summit with a dense brush of lofty trees, rises to an altitude of 3000 feet above the level of the sea, on the north bank of the river; at its base flows a large brook called Henderson's Creek, the bed of which is worthy of notice, as its pebbles and gravel consist almost exclusively of triturated quartz. Henderson's Creek is the highest point up the MacLeay river, to which, in my capacity of Surveyor to the Government, I carried the subdivision of the land into blocks and sections; the country on the north side of the river being now so mountainous and brushy as to be quite unavailable. On the south side of the river, the country, although hilly, is still good, consisting of apple tree and blue gum flats, of the richest soil, and lightly wooded, park-like mountain ranges, affording excellent pasturage for sheep. The ranges hereabout are mostly composed of clay-slate. A very soft, red, schistose rock, the strata of which are nearly vertically disposed, is very frequently met with on the river banks; the surface of this rock is quite disintegrated, and pulverized into minute, angular fragments, and these debris having become intimately combined with the vegetable mould, the result has been the formation of a rich, loose soil, well covered with grass, and which would be, no doubt, eminently suitable for vines. Between Parabel Brook, and Henderson's Creek, the bed of the river consists in several places of a hard, black rock, of trap formation. Stations continue up the river as far as Gonderang Creek, which is about thirty miles beyond Henderson's, the grazing country being confined by the mountains to the mere banks of the river, and its tributary brooks. Above the junction of the MacLeay river with the Apsley, the scenery assumes a grand alpine character; both rivers hurry along rapidly descending beds, through narrow glens of frowning precipices, 3000 feet in elevation, whilst the surrounding mountains frequently attain an elevation of 6000 feet above the level of the sea. Tremendous cataracts are of continual occurrence; at one of them the whole river has a perpendicular fall of 250 feet, and after raging in a furious torrent, half foam and vapour, along a steep, inclined plane, it again dashes down another perpendicular fall of 100 feet, the total descent of its waters in this short distance being, probably, little under 500 feet. The sublimity of these falls cannot be surpassed by the finest waterfalls of the Alps, especially when the MacLeay is swollen by rain;—the untrodden forest crowning the towering precipices, the dazzling spray, and boiling foam, and the mighty roar of the torrent, reverberating with a deafening sound through the narrow glen, cannot fail to strike the spectator with admiration.
The geological formation of this part of the MacLeay river is principally basalt; it is characterized by lofty mountains, rent with perpendicular fissures, and faced with lofty precipices. After tracing, the river MacLeay upwards, through this rugged country, its bed rising rapidly to a very considerable elevation above the sea, we at length emerge on a gently rising table land. From this point to its sources, the MacLeay river, and the scenery on its banks, are totally different to what I have hitherto described, owing to the difference of temperature, occasioned by its great altitude above the level of the sea. In fact it is now considered as part of the New England country, and its features are exactly similar to the New England streams, flowing west to join the Peel river; smaller trees sparingly scattered over pasturage of quite different aspect to that on the lower MacLeay, and scrubs of Acacia pendula, now characterizing the scenery. There are several sheep stations on the upper branches of the MacLeay and Apsley rivers, but such is the rugged mountainous country intervening between them and the lower MacLeay, that they have never had any communication with it, or the settlers on it. They have, consequently, communicated with Sydney by way of Liverpool Plains and the Hunter; the land journey they had to perform to reach Maitland being upwards of 200 miles. Mr. Ralfe, however, when Government Surveyor for the district of Port Macquarie, discovered a road from that place over the mountains to the table land of New ' England; and owing to the exertions of the inhabitants of Port Macquarie, aided by the Colonial Government, a road, practicable for wool drays, was completed last season; and the wool of the table land settlers brought down by it to the town, and conveyed to Sydney in the steamer, which makes weekly trips to Port Macquarie. According to Mr. Ralfe, some parts of the New England mountains are 6000 feet above the level of the sea. It is one of the best sheep districts in the colony; and the temperature of the air is, of course, proportionate to its great elevation.
One remarkable characteristic of the round-topped ranges in the bases of the lower MacLeay, is their very great fertility: for their steep slopes are never bare and rocky, but almost invariably covered with soil, clothed with good grass and lofty forest trees, and sometimes tangled brush; they are occasionally stoney on the higher ridges, but the grass is still abundant. A peculiarity I have noticed in the soft, slaty ranges, is the very great inclination of the sides of ranges and gullies, having a good covering of soil, with grass and trees, and which I have seen considerably greater than that which geologists seem to have assigned as the extreme limit at which rock can carry a soil. I have extracted from Professor Jameson's valuable notes to Cuvier's Theory of the Earth, the following observations of the celebrated Humboldt on this subject. According to his measurements, "a slope of even fifteen degrees appears steep, and a declivity of thirty-seven degrees so abrupt, that if it be covered with a dense sward, it can scarcely be climbed. The inclination of the pastures of the Alps seldom exceeds an angle of ten or fifteen degrees, and a slope of twenty degrees is pretty steep. At an inclination of forty degrees the surface of the rock is sometimes covered with earth bearing a sward, but at a greater elevation the rocks are usually destitute of soil and vegetation. In the Upper Hartz, the most common inclination of the declivities of the mountains is twenty-five degrees, nor does it usually exceed thirty-three, at which inclination the beech and spruce grow. The greatest declivities at which ground can be advantageously cultivated have an inclination of thirty degrees." Now I have frequently observed at the MacLeay river, sides of gullies, &c. with an inclination of upwards of fifty degrees, covered with grass and trees; the long roots of the common Australian forest grass may possibly exercise some influence in retaining soil on a rocky surface of so great an inclination, whilst the edges of the almost vertically disposed strata of the schistose formation would occasion a rough surface, along which the soil could not easily slip.
In returning to the mouth of the MacLeay river, and proceeding eleven miles north of it, along the coast, we arrive at the mouth of the Nambucca river, which communicates with the ocean, over a rocky impassable bar. The Nambucca river is formed by several mountain streams, rising in brushy gullies. When these streams have attained a fall low enough to be affected by the tide, they form salt-water inlets, navigable for boats, which all unite in one main channel a short distance from the bar. In my survey of the navigable arms of the Nambucca river, I did not find it possessed of any important features; its banks consisted of mangroves, teatree swamps, dense forest, and cedar brushes. On one arm, called by the natives Nymbedia, there is a curious passage, scarcely wide enough for a boat, through which the water passes, although the creek, immediately above and below this spot, is fifty yards wide. As the cedar on the MacLeay river is now quite exhausted, the cedar sawyers have lately migrated to the brushes at the Nambucca. They were at first exposed to murderous attacks from the native tribes on its banks, who killed and wounded several sawyers; and as retaliatory expeditions were undertaken, in consequence, against the natives, (on which occasion the sawyers mustered together, armed with their guns, and swords, roughly manufactured from their pit-saws,) a great number of blacks were killed in the skirmishes which took place, and they gradually became more peaceably inclined.
About six miles north of the embouchure of the Nambucca, a small stream, called by the natives "Coohalli," (which rises in a high pyramidical forest hill, and the adjacent ranges,) filters through a sand bank to the sea. I have considered this stream worth noticing, as being the farthest point south, and consequently, the nearest point to Sydney, at which I have found the magnificent variety of pine, generally known as "the Moreton Bay pine." These trees occur here all of a sudden, in considerable numbers, and of great size and altitude, although I have never detected one single individual pine in any of the brushes of the Nambucca, MacLeay, Hastings, or Manning rivers, or indeed any where south of this point. This variety of pine, and the Araucaria excelsa, or Norfolk Island pine, which is grown as an ornamental tree in the Sydney gardens, and also grows very extensively on the northeastern coast of New Holland, are the most beautiful and stately of all the genus Coniferæ in the known world; they frequently exceed two hundred feet in height. The following remarks on the Araucaria excelsa, are by Mr. Cunningham, the late enterprising colonial botanist; they are quoted in Murray's Encyclopaedia of Geography, from which work I have copied them:—" The famous Araucaria excelsa, reckoned amongst the loftiest trees in the world, which was first found in Norfolk Island, and New Caledonia, has been ascertained by Allan CunninghamMr. Cunningham to extend from Mount Warning, on the east coast, in latitude 29° south, thence sparingly towards the tropics, within which it is very abundant, forming upon several islands the only timber. This is probably the nearest approach of the species to the equinoctial line; and although it occupies an area of nine hundred miles, it is probably limited in Terra Australis, to its immediate shores; and as appears appears to be the case with Pandanus, exists only within the influence of the sea air."
This last remark of Mr. Allan Cunningham quite agrees with my own observations: the pine I have never seen growing any where, except in brushes bordering on the salt-water estuaries of rivers, or salt-water inlets near the coast; and the Australian Pandanus, which closely resembles the African Pandanus, (and which bears a large golden-coloured fruit, of the size of a pumpkin, and somewhat resembling a pine-apple in its external appearance,) grows only on the grassy headlands along the coast, and on the sandy hillocks which extend along the low beaches.
The next river, the native name of which is Bellengen, was first found in the year 1841, by a party of sawyers who went out on an expedition to discover new rivers to cut cedar at. On their return, they said, that after travelling four days from Kempsey, on the MacLeay, keeping as near the coast as they could, they came to a salt-water inlet, as large as the MacLeay river at its mouth. On questioning the Yarra-Bandini tribes of blacks, at the MacLeay river, I learnt from them, that, in their Corroberrees, or dances of ceremony, with some of the tribes from the Nambucca, they had heard that there was another river, always containing plenty of fresh water, farther on. Having been at that time constantly engaged, for nearly twelve months, in the survey of the MacLeay river, I determined to give the men assigned to me for my surveying party, a little repose; whilst I started with our stockman—an active intelligent fellow, on whose coolness and courage I knew I could rely, in case we encountered any hostility from the blacks—on an excursion over the mountains towards this new river, keeping inland as much as possible, as by so doing I should be better enabled to judge if it were a stream of any importance. I will here insert my journal of this excursion, written at that time, as it will serve to give some idea of the nature of the broken mountainous country north of the MacLeay river.
March 6th. 1841.—Got ready a small sack of flour, ten pounds of cooked bacon, a bag foil of tea and sugar mixed together, a stone bottle of rum, some tobacco, three hatchets, and a pair of blankets. Having arranged these articles securely on the back of the most sure-footed pack-horse I had, I started on the excursion, with Miles our stockman, both of us being mounted on strong bush horses, and well armed with carbines, pistols, and swords.
Having left our cattle station, at Yarra-Bandini, late in the day, we did not get further, before dusk, than twenty miles from it. We stopped for the night at a brushy water-course, a few miles on the other side of the main range, dividing the basin of the MacLeay river, from that of the Nambucca river, to the north of it. The country thus far was grassy forest land, thickly timbered with gigantic black-butt gums, and other eucalypti, and abundantly watered with numerous permanent chains of water-holes, and gravelly water-courses in brushy hollows. Having unloaded the pack-horse, tethered out our horses, and lit a fire, we suddenly heard the loud shrill couis of the natives, who turned out to be some old friends of mine belonging to the Tanban tribe. Having heard that they were now at peace with the tribes we should have to encounter on our journey towards the Bellengen, I persuaded a couple of them to accompany me, by the promise of a red shirt each, and plenty of smoke, (tobacco,) whilst they remained with me; for I was well aware that they would be of great utility in searching out the best crossing places for our horses over the creeks, cutting a passage through the entangled creepers of the brushes, and acting as interpreters to the wild blacks. They had just succeeded in killing a kangaroo, and good-naturedly offered us some of it. Having finished our supper, we laid down to sleep with our saddles for pillows, but were much teased during the night by the clouds of which issued forth from the dense brush to attack us.
March 7th.—Having boiled our tea, and breakfasted on toasted bacon, and bush biscuit, (thin cakes of flour and water baked on hot embers,) I started on our journey soon after six o'clock. After a ride of half an hour, we crossed the first large brook which flows into the Nambucca river. I gave it the native name of Oankihi creek; it was flowing on a bed of dark blue rock, which appeared to be limestone. In the thick brushes which skirt this stream, I saw a great number of gigantic ferns, which are common enough at lllawarra, and many other parts of the colony, but which I had never seen in the MacLeay river brushes. After proceeding a few miles farther, over a country of alternate low ranges, and gravelly water-courses in brushy hollows, we crossed a high leading range of grassy forest hills; a descending spur of which brought us to, the brink of a rapid stream, dashing along in a very irregular bed of slaty rock, the strata of which had a great inclination. We had some trouble in getting our horses across the jagged and pointed rocks, which rose out of the water. The native name of this stream was Algomerra. On the other side of the Algomerra, we entered a dense brush, which continued unbroken for several miles. Here we had to dismount, and assist the blacks in cutting a passage for our horses through the masses of briars and creepers, that bound the trees together. On emerging from this brush, we continued crossing a never-ending succession of densely- wooded ranges, and brushy gullies, containing small gravelly watercourses, and at length reached one of the main streams flowing into the Nambucca. It was about one hundred feet wide here, being a limpid, shallow stream, with a gravelly bed. On entering the brush bordering on this river, we experienced considerable annoyance from the- great quantity of nettle-tree saplings. My hands and arms soon ached from the poisonous touch of its leaves, and our horses suffered very much; one of them threw himself on the ground, snorting convulsively with pain. The nettle-tree attains a very large size at the MacLeay and Nambucca, being often six feet in diameter, and of a corresponding height; its wood is very soft and spongy, and its leaves, which are of great size, resemble in shape the leaves of the mulberry, and at the same time possess the bright green velvet appearance of the geranium leaf. The slightest touch of one of these leaves occasions a most acute stinging pain; but horses suffer infinitely worse, than men from contact with the leaves of the nettle-tree, as their skin rises in large blisters, and great temporary constitutional derangement seems to take place. Our blacks killed a large carpet-serpent near here, which was carefully preserved for their next repast. Having already halted for one hour, for our horses to have some grass, and to take some refreshment ourselves, we pushed through the brush, and emerged on some good undulating forest land, intersected by small brushy water-courses; and at length began ascending a long thickly-wooded slope, which led us to the summit of a high range, extending to the westward in an undulating outline of conical summits. This range was timbered by very large black-butt trees, and covered with
A halt near a Fern-tree scrub
luxuriant grass; we passed also through a long patch of plants in full bloom, resembling the English vetch.
We had a beautiful view from the summit we were now upon. To the westward, amidst a confused mass of mountains rising beyond mountains, covered with universal forest, the eye could trace the deep, scarcely taken the saddles off our horses when it began to rain heavily; however, we set ourselves busily to work, and by the light of the fire, for it was now quite dark, we soon managed to strip off two or three sheets of bark from the surrounding black-butt trees, and erect with them a precarious shelter from the rain. After having collected enough wood to keep up a large fire all night, and eaten our supper, we lay down to sleep. About midnight we were awakened by the loud barking of my dogs, and starting up, were very much astonished to see a number of blazing torches advancing towards us. We thought, at first, that we were going to be attacked, and accordingly snatched up our pieces to be in readiness for our supposed enemies; however, it proved to be a false alarm, for it appeared that our black companions, whose keen senses had detected the smell of the smoke from the fires of a black tribe in our vicinity, had slipped off, after we were asleep, to see them, and these wilder blacks, unable to restrain until morning their impatience to see the "white fellows," thought proper to pay us this nocturnal visit.valleys full of brush, of the streams forming the Nambucca, curling into the deep mountain recesses. Looking towards the north-west, the direction in which I wished to proceed, tier beyond tier of mountains rose in serrated ridges of steep, high conical summits; the view in that direction being bounded by the dim, blue outline of a level crested range of surpassing altitude. Looking east, the eye embraced the dense forest and swamps on the Nambucca river, the silvery glare of its tranquil reaches, and the blue surface of the boundless Pacific Ocean, which was about twenty-five miles distant. To the south-east, the isolated position of Mount Yarra-Hapinni made it stand forth in bold relief; and as I had fixed the position of both Yarra-Hapinni, and Arakoon Hill, in my surveys I now, with a pocket compass, took the bearings of these hills, which of course would enable me to obtain a very rough approximation of the position on which I then stood. We descended from this range, along a narrow spur, with shelving gullies on each side, and after crossing two or three small water-courses running north-east, we halted at night-fall on a low grassy forest range. We had
March 8th.—Having got our clothes somewhat dry, we started early in the morning, and soon encountered the whole tribe of natives. They drew up in a body as we passed them, and after gazing on us in silence, they commenced following us, keeping about one hundred yards in our rear; however, they soon came close to us, talking loudly with my two tame blacks. They seemed inclined to be pretty friendly, and were of great assistance in enabling us to get rapidly through the entangled briars in the brush, which they beat down with their boomerangs; and in showing us the best crossing places over the rocky, steep-sided creeks and gullies, which we continually encountered. We soon crossed another large stream flowing to the Nambucca over a pebbly bed, with magnificent cedar trees in its brush; and after travelling over a succession of low, brushy ranges for several miles, we crossed another stream of similar size, with abundance of cedar on its banks. The enormous fig-tree was very common here; the fruit was now ripe, and scattered in great quantities under the trees. We ate plentifully of these figs, as their flavour was agreeable enough, being of an acid sweetness. Large numbers of the crested flock-pigeon were feeding on this fruit. We halted a little distance beyond this stream for a short time, during which there was a violent thunder-storm. I amused the natives very much by placing my compass on the ground, and making the needle move about with the point of my sword; they laughed uproariously at this, as though it were a good joke. This tribe now left us to go on a pademella hunt; five of their number remained, however, with my tame blacks, and were of the greatest assistance, for without them I could never have reached the Bellengen river with horses. I am sorry to observe, that this tribe, which behaved so well to me, was the one which subsequently attacked and murdered the cedar sawyers on their first migration to the Nambucca river.
We had been rising from the last stream along a brushy, narrow ridge, with dense brushy hollows on both sides of us, and we now came to a very steep ascent. Although my pack-horse had a very light load, we were here obliged to take it off, and distribute it among the blacks, who carried their burdens on their heads; and dismounting ourselves, we toiled up to the summit, leading the horses after us. I now perceived I was on a high range, dividing the last crossed stream from the deep, narrow valley of another stream, which lay at my feet enveloped in brush. Beyond this was an abrupt range of much greater altitude than the one I was upon, rising in very steep pointed summits, and densely wooded all over;whilst, between each of its narrow, razor-backed spurs, deep gullies, and chasms full of brush, dived down into the glen below. Beyond this range I could distinguish two other chains of mountains, of still greater elevation, and running parallel to it, in an east and west direction; the 'most distant being the elevated level ridge of mountains already noticed, and which evidently divided the Bellengen river from the Clarence river. We descended the range we were on by a steep, grassy slope, which became invaded by the brush as we got lower down; and we now arrived at the last stream which flows to the Nambucca. Here we had great trouble in crossing, as the banks were high and steep, and composed of rotten, decomposed vegetation, in which the horses sank deeply, whilst the bed of the stream was foil of huge round masses of rock. We now crossed a low, brushy hill, and descended into the bed of a mountain torrent, which was at least thirty feet wide, and full of shingles and large boulders of rock, worn round by attrition. Our course now lay along the rapidly ascending bed of this torrent for some distance, until masses of fallen trees, choked together in one inextricable mass, forced us once more to enter the brush. We found it so dense that we were obliged to cut every yard of our way; night was coming on, and to increase our discomfort, it began to rain heavily. The brush-leeches, issuing forth from the dank rotten leaves, soon attacked the calves of our legs; at length we got into a more open brush, and finally reached the forest on the narrow spur we were ascending. Dwarf palms, and ferns, however, usurped the place of grass; it was now night, but still indispensable that we should reach a place where grass was to be had. We were, therefore, obliged to unload the pack-horse again, to attack the formidable ascent up the narrow ridge before us. The rain had now increased, and the wind sounded hollow and dismal as it swept-up the ravines on either side of us; at length, after great fatigue, we dragged ourselves and horses up to the very crest of the range, which was about two thousand feet above the level of the sea. Although the ridge we were now on was so razor-backed as to be only a few feet wide, and then shelved down like the roof of a house to the glens, the grass on it was of the utmost luxuriance, and large black-butt and turpentine trees grew along its crest. Having tethered our horses, while the blacks were still toiling up the lateral ridge with the provisions, we struck a light, and soon established an immense fire in spite of the rain. When the blacks arrived we stripped some sheets of bark from the turpentine trees, and with the aid of a few boughs, soon erected a shelter from the rain. Having given the blacks some flour and tea, and made some hot rum and water, we stripped off our wet clothes, and enveloping ourselves in our blankets, soon felt quite comfortable. The night was very tempestuous, many a tree, uprooted by the wind, fell with a thundering crash down the precipitous ravines; whilst the trees over our heads rocked fearfully under the influence of the violent gusts which swept over that exposed mountain top. I frequently expected that our frail erection of bark and branches would be blown over the side of the range by the force of the wind.
March 9th.—Having dried our clothes as well as we could, we started soon after sun-rise, and travelled to the westward along the narrow ridge of the range on which we had passed the night, until it rose in a steep cone; we then turned to the north-west down a steep descending, lateral ridge, covered with the common fern, the tree-ferns, and low dwarf palms, the timber being mahogany and turpentine. At the subsidence of this lateral range we came upon a gravelly brook, which the natives called Deletalmia. We traced it down through the brush to its junction with a fine stream, to which I gave the native name "Odalberree." This stream is a tributary to the Bellengen. In the brushes here I saw the finest cedar and rosewood trees I had yet noticed; I also saw several creeping plants, climbing among the trees, which were quite new to me. We were here caught in another heavy thunder shower, which soon drenched us to the skin. On leaving this stream we began ascending a steep, brushy range, the forest trees having a dense underwood of the gigantic fern; this was the only lateral range which seemed accessible to climb up, with horses, to gain the crest of the next main range. At length we gained the summit of a high, grassy cone, which, however, was only an angle in the outline of the lateral ridge. As it had now ceased raining, we halted on this green cone, and refreshed ourselves and our horses, which we found a great source of inconvenience in this mountainous country; for the last twenty miles we had been constantly on foot, one side of the ranges being too steep to ride up, and the other too steep to ride down, whilst the blacks had to divide the pack-horse's load among them. It was only among the crests of the main ridges, and now and then in the brushy hollows, that we could ride for two or three hundred yards without dismounting. Having descended from this conical summit, we climbed up a steep, narrow, razor-backed slope, flanked by precipitous, brushy gullies, and gained the crest of the main range at about four o'clock. This range, which was composed of soft micaceous talc, was covered with luxuriant grass; in fact, notwithstanding its steepness, there was so much soil on it, that just over the side I half buried the ramrod of my carbine in loose earth. This range was serrated by a chain of conical summits, the average height of which I estimated to be about two thousand five hundred feet above the level of the sea; this range divides the Bellengen river from its tributary, which we had lately crossed. We scrambled along the serrated crest of this range, for about four miles to the westward, before we found a lateral spur, by which 'We could descend without difficulty to the valley of the river. The view from the range was magnificent. At our feet was the narrow glen of the Bellengen, choked up with dark green, impervious brush, whilst immediately opposite to us, on the north side of the river, a gigantic range rose up in perpendicular buttresses, three thousand feet high, and the total altitude of the range itself could not be less (judging from analogy) than five thousand feet. Opposite the point we had attained, the outline of this high range was a level table land, but nearer the coast it became broken into an undulating outline of steep, conical summits. Exactly opposite to us, in a deep cleft, a beautiful cascade dashed down a fall several hundred feet perpendicular, like a long band of silver, glittering in the rays of the declining sun; to the east we could discern the dim outline of the horizon over the Pacific Ocean; and turning to the west, mountains beyond mountains rose in varied contour, whilst snow-white clouds floated in serpentine wreaths among the narrow glens, and dark mountain recesses. We had some trouble in getting down the lateral spur descending into the valley, as it undulated in steep, short, pointed hummocks; it was night before we got half way down, but as the moon was shining brightly, and the blacks had made torches of turpentine bark, I determined to push on to the brink of the river before I halted. We now crossed a small, gravelly brook, and in ascending the steep bank on the other side, one of my horses rolled backwards into the brook; he would have been killed, had not his fell been arrested by some creepers. We next traversed a thicket swarming with fire-flies, and with luxuriant fern reaching to my shoulders as I sat on horseback; and after passing another gravelly brook, we found ourselves on a beautiful grassy forest bank, overlooking the river Bellengen. We fortunately found here a deserted blacks' camp, so that we had abundance of bark to build a secure shelter for the night.
March 10th.—As soon as I awoke I ran down to the river, which I found to be a rapid stream, upwards of one hundred feet wide at this point, and flowing over a bed of large shingles. After breakfast, I had the horses saddled to commence ascending the river. Upon crossing a brushy creek, we got down into the bed of the river and forded it, entering a dense cedar brush on the other side.
In a straight line of ten miles, we crossed and recrossed the river no less than twelve times; this was unavoidable on account of the steep, inaccessible, forest banks, which formed tangents to the convex bends of the river on either side. Our course, therefore, lay from necessity along the alluvial land, which consisted of brush, cedar plains, and forest flats. The brush contained the finest cedar and rosewood I had ever seen; the trunks of these trees were often six feet in diameter, and ninety feet high, before they threw out a single branch. The Casuarina also grew to such an uncommon height, and its foliage assumed such an unusual form, that I thought at one time it was a species of Pine. . The small clear plains, just mentioned, were covered exclusively with coarse broad-bladed grass, growing as high as a man's middle, and having the appearance of small wheat fields; the grassy forest flats were principally wooded by that species of Eucalyptus called Forest Mahogany. I halted for the night on a grassy flat on the brink of the Bellengen. An annoying accident had happened to me this day; in crossing one of the fords, my pack-horse slipped backwards down a slippery bank into the river, and wetted every thing on his back. On examining what damage had been done, we found that all the sugar was melted, and a large portion of the flour caked together; our blankets also were quite wet.
March 11th.—I continued my course up the river, over the same kind of ground as the day before, until I attained a point where the brush seemed to be almost entirely superseded by narrow, lightly wooded flats; with patches of the Swamp oak (Casuarina paludosa) growing among the shingles of the stream. I now thought it useless to go on farther, towards the source of this river. My provisions were decreased 'from yesterday's accident, and we were separated from the MacLeay by numerous lofty ranges, almost inaccessible for our horses. I had now ascertained the existence of a fresh-water stream, between the MacLeay and Clarence rivers, little inferior in size to the Hastings, but was much disappointed at its total inutility; for, notwithstanding the romantic beauty of the scenery at the Bellengen, and the rich luxuriance of the vegetation on its banks, the steep lofty ranges which hem it in on every side, and contract its valley to the most insignificant dimensions, render it perfectly unavailable for grazing purposes.
March 12th.—This day we descended the river, until five o'clock in the afternoon, when we stopped to refresh our horses and ourselves, on a small grassy plain of about fifty acres in extent. I amused myself, whilst waiting for our pots to boil, in cutting out my initials on a tree at this place. As our horses did not seem very much fatigued, I now determined to gain the crest of the high range dividing the Bellengen and Odalberree before stopping for the night; for as the moon was nearly full, it would be more pleasant to ascend the range in the cool of the evening, than to wait until the morning at the Bellengen; besides, the grass on the mountains was younger and sweeter than that in the valley. The blacks, however, were much displeased at my determination; for the poor fellows were excessively fatigued, as they had undergone the most severe toil, during the last few days, in carrying our baggage on their heads, up and down those mountain slopes which were too steep for horses. I had very great trouble in persuading them to go any farther this evening, but at length, by promising them an extra quantity of tobacco, and half the remainder of the rum in the spirit flask, I succeeded in rousing them up to resume their march. We now commenced ascending the range along a steep spur of undulating outline, wooded by large black-butt trees, and covered with a luxuriant growth of common fern; whilst the tree-ferns and a dwarf kind of palm formed a thick underwood. After a smart clamber we gained the summit of the ridge, about an hour after the rising of the moon. When we arrived here, panting and perspiring, the cool bracing breeze seemed very refreshing; but we soon found it too cold at so great an elevation, and were glad to make a large fire, and throw ourselves at full length before it. My black companions had procured some honey in the course of the day, and had killed an opossum and a large dew-lizard, which is very well tasted, somewhat resembling the flesh of chickens in flavour. I gave to the blacks a larger portion of flour than usual, in exchange for their honey, which I employed to sweeten my tea, as the sugar was lost when the pack-horse fell into the river. We brought sufficient water to the top of the range in the baskets of the wild natives with us. These baskets were made of the leaf of a large aquatic plant, and were perfectly water tight. As to our horses we allowed them to drink plentifully at the foot of the range. The blacks being in good spirits, on account of our return towards the MacLeay, indulged for two or three hours in loud singing as they lay extended on the grass. It is astonishing what a fondness the Australian natives display for the tribes to which they belong, and the localities in which they are accustomed to roam; they cannot bear even a short separation from their fellows, and their usual haunts, without feeling a strong desire to return to them.
The glen of the Bellengen, and the surrounding mountains, appeared singularly romantic from the high range on which we bivouacked, beneath the dear moonlight sky. The deep narrow valley yawned in misty obscurity, like a fathomless abyss at our feet, whilst the lofty mountains, which bounded it to the northward, stood forth in bold, well defined outline against the illuminated sky Around us, and down the steep slopes of the range we were upon, the dazzling whiteness of the branches, and upper parts of the trunks of the huge black-butt trees, and the grassy slopes bathed in mellow moonlight, formed a strong contrast to the pitchy darkness of the glen and the mountains opposite. The weather being beautifully serene, and there being no musquitos, ticks, or other noxious insects on the mountains, I enjoyed an unbroken invigorating sleep until daylight.
March 13th.—This morning we descended from the range, and watered our horses in the Odalberree river. We saw a number of fish in the waters of this clear pebbly stream, being of that kind vulgarly called in the colony, "fresh-water herrings." We next crossed the range bounding the Nambucca, some miles lower down than we had done before, and after crossing one of the Nambucca streams, we stopped for the night on a high range. Our supply of provisions was almost expended, as I did not calculate on having so many blacks in my train; we had only a small quantity of flour and a piece of cheese left, so I had taken the opportunity, before we left the range, on which we had passed the preceding night, to shoot a number of parrots, which had alighted in swarms on the black-butt trees. This evening we broiled them on the embers, and I now intimated to the Nambucca blacks that they must leave us next morning, as I could not afford to give them any more flour, for which they had formed a great predilection.
I was sorry to see that the horses, which were first-rate ones, and possessed extraordinary powers of endurance, frequently exemplified on previous occasions, were nearly knocked up, although we had walked on foot all this day, with the exception of a short distance on the more gently inclined lower slopes of the ranges: they had abundance of good grass and water during this excursion, but the steepness of the hills was almost too much for them, and they had, on two or three occasions this day^ made stumbles at the sides of gullies, into which they narrowly escaped falling.
March 14th.— This morning we crossed another of the Nambucca streams. As we entered the brush we heard the loud shouts of the blacks who were busily engaged in hunting. The plan adopted by the natives in this pursuit, was somewhat similar, on a small scale, to the mode of hunting pursued by some of the Indian princes. The blacks first of all dispersed, and formed in the brush a circle of a quarter of a mile in diameter, and then, on a given signal, they all commenced shouting and advancing towards the centre, gradually lessening the circle. The brush-kangaroos or pademellas were thus gradually enclosed, and driven into a small space, where, being surrounded on all sides, they were dispatched by the natives, who carried for this purpose short cylindrical pieces of wood, formed from a species of tree growing in the brushes, and which is of greater specific gravity than any wood I am acquainted with. This tribe was the same we had met a few days before, and to which the five blacks, whom I had just dismissed, belonged. They had apparently been performing a corroberree dance on the preceding evening, as their bodies still preserved traces of the pigments with which they adorn themselves for that occasion. Among these blacks were several old men with white beards, and one man surprised me very much, as his skin was variegated by white patches. On inquiring from my two tame blacks the cause of this, they told me he had been burnt, but in what manner I could not ascertain. On emerging from the brush, we passed the encampment of these natives, where we saw a number of women and boys, who seemed excessively alarmed at our appearance. We now travelled back along our former track, and refreshed our horses on the grassy conical hill I have previously mentioned. Whilst here we encountered the tribe to which my two blacks belonged, and who were en route, either to dance a corroberree, or else fight with the Nambucca tribe. These blacks crowded round the two natives with me, to hear the news respecting those whom we had lately seen; they were all acquaintances of mine, and spoke fluently the jargon in which the whites and blacks converse. They gave to the natives accompanying me a wooden bowl full of cobberra, a long white worm, eaten by them, which is found in wood that has been immersed for some time in the brackish water, in those parts of rivers affected by the tide. One of the most violent thunder-storms I ever saw, occurred whilst we rested here; and after it had passed away, it still continued raining during the remainder of the day. We now crossed the middle arm of the Nambucca, and began to see the large forest kangaroos again, which we had not encountered on the steep ranges we had passed over, although the brushes abounded with the small brush kangaroo. It was late in the evening when we entered the wide brush on the north side of Algomerra creek, and it was quite dark soon afterwards. I therefore regretted that we had not stopped at the last water-course, as it was raining heavily, and we would have to cross the jagged and pointed rocks in the bed of the Algomerra, before we emerged on open forest land again. We now wended our way slowly through the brush, preceded by the blacks, to avoid being entangled in the matted creepers. We experienced, as I had anticipated, great difficulty in getting our horses across the Algomerra by night, especially as this stream was much swollen; and as I was dragging my horse over the rocks, he made a sudden spring, and struck me violently with his forefeet, but I was not hurt. We then stopped on the open forest, and tethered out the horses. This was the most uncomfortable night we had passed during the excursion, as we had scarcely anything to eat, and could not get any good bark to protect us from the rain; and when the rain did at length cease, we were surrounded by the densest crowds of musquitos I had ever before met with. Miles, the stockman, narrowly escaped injuring his hand here, as he thoughtlessly discharged a horse pistol with the swivel ramrod remaining in the barrel.
March 15th.—The sun rose in an unclouded sky this morning. We arrived, in the middle of the day, at my tents near Woollombucca creek, where I had left my surveying party. I here made a vigorous inroad into a mess of salt beef and peas, which my tent-keeper had prepared for his own dinner, and revived my horse with a good feed of maize; after which I rode on to our cattle station, and rewarded the blacks with the promised red shirts, and a large supply of tobacco and pipes.
In the year 1842, I determined to ascertain whether the Bellengen river was navigable, and to examine the country round its mouth; as I intended, if the land was well adapted for grazing, to form a cattle station there.
About that time the blacks, from the sources of the Nambucca and the Bellengen, had committed several outrages on the sawyers, who had lately proceeded to the former river to cut cedar. One lawyer had been murdered most cruelly by the savages, who attacked him and his companion whilst felling a tree. When his body was found, it was ascertained that he had received more than fifty spear wounds in different parts; one spear had transfixed his kidneys, and even the very soles of his feet had been pierced. His arms were dreadfully fractured, evidently whilst he was in the act of raising them to protect his head from the clubs of the natives. A retaliatory expedition was accordingly organized to pursue the aggressors, and endeavour to seize those who had been chiefly concerned in this murder. In the course of the chase, the sawyers, aided by some of the MacLeay river blacks, succeeded in approaching the encampment of the natives in the dead of night; and next morning, on their making resistance, the whites poured a volley of ball and slugs among them, and killed and wounded several. If I may credit the report of an eye-witness, most of the wounded blacks sprang into the water, where some of them were apparently seized by sharks attracted by their blood. Several other affrays had taken place about this time, between the natives and parties of white men, in which the former were the aggressors.
Being aware, that one of the chief causes of the hostility of the wild blacks to parties travelling through the bush, was their indignation at the encroachment of white men on the prescribed haunts of the tribe; which cause would occasion a quarrel between different tribes of the natives themselves, unless their objects in so trespassing were formally explained by an avant courier, or herald; I resolved on taking with me some Yarra-Hapinni blacks, with whom I had become acquainted during my surveys, as I knew they would prove of great service in explaining to the Bellengen blacks the object of my intrusion into their country. They would also assist my men in carrying their knapsacks, as I intended travelling on foot this time. Accordingly, I supplied two of my men with the requisite provisions, and armed them with carbines and pistols. I then put on the bush dress I usually wore in such excursions, which consisted of a scarlet woollen shirt, and light kerseymere trowsers, doubled in kangaroo leather down the legs, secured by a leather belt round my waist, supporting my cartouche box and pistols. In small excursions of a week or a fortnight's duration, in a brushy country, difficult to traverse, and in which it is absolutely necessary to carry as few things as possible, and bivouac at night on the bare ground, I found a simple dress, such as I have described, more convenient than any other; for, being entirely of woollen materials, it encouraged insensible perspiration, and was consequently not too warm during the heat of the day, whilst at night, when one has to sleep without any covering, it is more comfortable than common clothing. Besides, as it is frequently necessary to wade through rivers and swamps, and be exposed to rain, a thorough soaking in these woollen garments does not occasion that uncomfortable feeling of dullness, which it would do in the usual dress.
1st day.— We walked to Gurrasembi creek, the south ann of the Nambucca. I stopped for the night at a cedar dealer's store; and as the Yarra-Hapinni blacks were encamped m the neighbourhood, I paid them a visit after dark, to ascertain whether I could persuade some of them to accompany me to the other side of the Bellengen. As a grand corroberree was in the act of being performed, I had to wait patiently until its conclusion, before I could sound the natives on the object of my visit. At length, when a cessation took place in the obstreperous singing, and frantic gesticulations, which create such intense excitement in the Australian savage during this dance, and the performers had cast themselves down exhausted before their fires, I explained to them what I wanted. After some trouble, I persuaded three of the blacks to accompany me, by the promise of a tomahawk to each of them on my return, and plenty of tobacco whilst travelling with me. These three natives gloried in the following names, which had recently been conferred on them by the sawyers, viz. Wongarini Paddy, Billy, and the Bullock.
2nd day.—We started after dinner, and reached the mouth of the Nambucca at nightfall. We stopped for the night on some sandy ground, where I was severely bitten by the stinging-ants, called Jumpers, which leap like grasshoppers, and inflict a sharp pain. Being, moreover, pestered by sand-flies, our sleep was not very refreshing.
3rd day.—As soon as it was light I sent Wongarini Paddy to spear some fish for breakfast. He soon caught some bream, which my man, Matthew Boot, an old bushman, quite au fait in such matters, contrived to broil very tolerably on the hot ashes of the fire, flavouring these fish, in the absence of choicer condiments, with thin slices of grilled pork. This, with the usual bush fare, quart pots full of tea, damper cake, and salt bacon, constituted our breakfast. A party of cedar sawyers, who had descended from Werral creek in a boat, luckily enabled us to cross the Nambucca, without waiting for the blacks to construct a bark canoe. On landing on the north side of the Nambucca, about a mile above Scott's Island, I ordered my men to load their carbines; and having made the blacks string the tin pots round their waists, we started across a grassy tea-tree flat. After crossing two or three water-courses,, and some good grassy undulating forest land, we arrived on the sea beach, about a couple of miles north of the bar of the Nambucca. We now walked easily along the smooth sands, left bare by the tide; crunching under our feet, by thousands, the small blue crabs, which issue from their holes in countless multitudes at low water. When we had walked about six miles along the beach, we saw on the heights a large party of blacks watching us. I therefore stopped, and sent Wongarini Paddy, and Billy, to pialla, (tell the news,) to them. After a short time, they returned with one of these blacks, whom it appeared they had induced to accompany us, It being excessively warm, both the blacks and myself frequently walked into the surf to cool our feet, which was very refreshing. The waves which broke on the beach were full of mullet, and salmon, that seemed to swim among the breakers in search of prey. The blacks made several attempts to spear some as we walked along, and at last succeeded in transfixing a salmon, weighing upwards of twenty pounds, which subsequently served for our dinner. The headlands along the coast were of coarse slate, until we arrived at the rocky points, answering to the ranges of mica, which I had crossed in my previous excursion. About one o'clock, we turned inland from the beach, until we found a water-hole; halted there for an hour, and cooked the salmon. We now travelled over an undulating grassy tract, timbered by stringy bark, and forest mahogany; and after crossing several hollows, we arrived on the salt water estuary of the southern tributary to the Bellengen, which I had called Odalberree, near its source. We here heard the natives; so I kept back my men, whilst the blacks with me went forward to have a conference with those we were approaching. After a short time they returned, and informed me that the Bellengen corees, (black fellows), were belcoula, (not angry), so we advanced towards them. As we passed them the men preserved a very solemn and dignified demeanour; whilst the women, who had all scaled the neighbouring trees, sat like monkeys among the branches jabbering 'white fellow! white fellow!' to each other. These blacks were very fine men, with the exception of one elderly gentleman, who, if he had been in Europe, would have made the fortune of an exhibitor of wonders; for owing to some internal hurt or disease, he was reduced to a mere skeleton, being nothing but skin, bones, and integuments. I could not indeed imagine how, with such an apparent absence of muscle, he still possessed the power of locomotion. This old fellow, though on the brink of the grave, had made one step towards civilization beyond the rest of his companions, in having acquired a knowledge of tobacco, probably from some of the tribes near the MacLeay. The Australian black has an innate predilection for smoking, for the wildest native, on being shewn a pipe for the first time in his life, and instructed how to draw up the smoke into his mouth, his first whiff with a grunt of satisfaction.
We now advanced to the brink of the water, which was here about 200 yards wide; the wild black, who had accompanied us from the beach, and whom my men had named Bellengen Billy, in contra-distinction to Yarra-Hapiimi Billy, now indicated to us a long diagonal ford, nearly half a mile in length, which it was necessary to pass to arrive on the other side of the inlet. Making this black go before as a guide, and following his track, we were just able to cross over without actually swimming, as the water reached our shoulders; and Yarra-Hapinni Billy, a mere boy, had to swim some distance. We carried our guns, ammunition, and provisions, safely across by holding them high above our heads. On emerging from the water, we soon entered a dense brush, in which were pines, palms, and various kinds of myrtle trees, bound together by a sort of climbing cane, which does not grow in the MacLeay river brushes. We disturbed several Wonga-wonga pigeons in threading our way through the brush, one of which I shot.
After walking a few miles over a brushy country, we encountered another party of blacks, among whom were several of those men who had visited the cedar sawyers at the Nambucca, and been engaged in the affray with the whites already alluded to. They however seemed inclined to be very amicably disposed towards us; although there was one man among them, who, if I can give credit to my tentkeeper's and bullock-driver's account, had planned, with some other blacks, an attack on my tents, whilst the rest of my party was engaged in surveying up the Nambucca; but a black woman belonging to a different tribe, having given my two men timely warning, they were enabled to catch up a couple of loaded muskets, and drive them off. Having given some tobacco to these natives, I struck across the country to the northward, and arrived on the main branch of the Bellengen, exactly opposite a verdant plain of very pleasant aspect, about 200 acres in extent, covered with broad bladed grass and high reeds. The river was very narrow here, and we crossed it without difficulty. As it was now dusk, I prepared to stop for the night at the nearest fresh water the blacks could find, which was unluckily a small quantity that had temporarily lodged in the hollow formed by the uprooting of a large tree in the alluvial brushy and was at this time perfectly putrid, from the quantity of dead insects and rotten leaves which had accumulated in it. It was so offensive both in taste and smell, that, although I was excessively thirsty, I could not touch a drop of the tea made from it, and it was equally rejected by my men. The blacks, however, were not so scrupulous, and drank the tea which had been prepared for the whole party. As the saltness of the water was not yet perceptibly diluted by the river, and the surrounding land being alluvial, I could not hope to find any better water near our resting place. The best proof that no other water was near, was the variety of birds which had congregated on the overhanging trees to quench their thirst: the white cockatoos with yellow crests, black and scarlet macaws, red and green parrots, flew up in great numbers when we disturbed them. Thirst quite spoilt my appetite, so I threw myself down supperless, among the grass and fem, for the night.
4th day.—As soon as it was daylight I refreshed myself with a bathe in the river; and as it was of no use breakfasting until we found better water, we started across the reedy plain, on the borders of which we had spent the night, towards the lofty mountains separating the Bellengen from the Clarence. These mountains, which are of bold and beautiful colour, of great elevation, and heavily wooded to their summits, formed a grand feature in the landscape, from their abruptness and proximity, as the rising sun bathed them in a flood of purple light. Having traversed this verdant plain, and some tolerably grassy forest, we entered a dense brush, and after crossing several steep brushy ranges, and some rocky water-courses, I turned west-south-west, to meet the Bellengen again. After traversing some brush, we came suddenly on a reedy flat near the river, containing a lagoon. A large snake was in the water when we arrived, but swam into the sedge on seeing us. We stopped here to breakfast. The Bellengen black who had accompanied us from the beach seemed to like sweet tea and damper very much, but did not approve of bacon. Having repacked our traps, we journeyed on through continuous intricate brushes, which, on the north side of the Bellengen, seemed to prevail equally both on the alluvial lands and the ranges; cedar, rosewood, fig-trees, nettle trees, and plum-wood, predominating on the alluvial land; black-butt, myrtle, turpentine, corkwood, and mahogany in the mountain brushes.
The cedar and rosewood grew to a very great size on the banks of the Bellengen; the red cedar, (Cedrela toona) was remarkably tall and straight, for this kind of tree is in general more gnarled than the common Australian trees. One cedar, which was lying prostrate, was measured by my men, and its straight trunk was found to be eighty feet in length before it threw out a single branch. The alluvial brush was intersected by numerous brackish creeks of great depth, which we either waded through, or crossed by means of trees lying over them. When we again met the Bellengen it was still salt, but not more than 280 feet wide.
Bellengen Billy amused me very much by his curious method of diving to the bottom of the river in search of cobberra, the large white worms resembling boiled macaroni, which abound in immersed wood. He swam to the centre of the river with a tomahawk in his hand, and then breathing hard that his lungs might be collapsed, he rendered his body and tomahawk specifically heavier than water, and sank feet foremost to the bottom. After groping about there for some moments, he emerged on the river's edge, with several dead pieces of wood, which he had detached from the mud.
Although I have tasted from curiosity various kinds of snakes, lizards, guanas, grabs, and other animals, which the blacks feed upon, I never could muster resolution enough to try one of these "cobberra;" although, when I have been engaged in the survey of salt water creeks, and felt hot and thirsty, I have often envied the extreme relish with which some black would stop and gorge himself with this moist living marrow.
We continued our course through the same brushy country; the level river brush being intersected by small inlets affected by the tide, and at length arrived at the fresh running stream, which was flowing as clear as crystal in a narrow bed of large shingles. A pretty bush, with bright crimson flowers, grew among the shingles in those parts uncovered by the water. As it had been excessively sultry, it was quite delightful to drink of the pure waters of the river. We now continued travelling through the dense brushes to the northward of the Bellengen, until four o'clock in the afternoon, when we again made the river, and stopped to take some refreshment. The timber, as is generally the case, was much finer on the banks of the river above the influence of the tide; cedar was abundant, and the swamp oak (Casuarina paludosa) attained a larger size than I had ever before seen in any part of the colony. Having made a fire, Matthew Boot once more had an opportunity of exhibiting his skill in bush cookery by broiling a pigeon which I had shot as we came along. The blacks also were provided with game, as they had killed a guana and a dew-lizard.
Having finished our repast, and being once more ready to proceed, I observed that the blacks began to shew many symptoms of uneasiness, talking incessantly together in a low voice, and minutely examining the ground. On my inquiring what was the matter, they at length told me, with some unwillingness, as they did not like me to see that they were afraid, that they had found the tracks of some of the mountain "black fellows," who had recently been there, and who, they maintained, were close to us. Both my Yarra-Hapinni natives, and the black from the sea coast, were considerably alarmed; as the tribe from the high mountains on the north side of the Bellengen was hostile to their respective tribes, and had come down considerably below their usual beat. Although I wished to ascend the Bellengen as high as the lowest point to which I had examined it in my former excursion, I thought it best to comply with the solicitations of the blacks, and proceed no farther up the river; especially as the Yarra-Hapinni natives told me that the much dreaded invisible tribe would "durallee," (fight us.) Besides, the country had proved perfectly useless for stations, being nothing but alluvial brush land, or heavily timbered abrupt mountains.
We therefore crossed the river, and after traversing the entangled brush, emerged on a rising range of grassy forest, which was a spur from the range dividing the Bellengen from the Odalberree. After we had ascended this spur some distance, the blacks pointed out to me in the valley, about three miles beyond where we had dined, some thin wreaths of smoke, proceeding, they said, from the camp of the tribe they were unwilling to meet.
At sundown we had reached the crest of the range, between the Bellengen and its southern branch; it was here of very inferior altitude to what it was more inland, where I had crossed it before, as its elevation above the sea did not exceed fifteen hundred feet. To attain the summit, was however toilsome enough for us, after our long day's walk, which had been infinitely more fatiguing than the same distance would have been on ordinary ground; for, in addition to forcing our way through entangled briars and creepers, we were incessantly compelled to clamber over huge fallen trees, and other obstructions in the brushes. We had a fine view from this point of the noble chain of mountains on the north side of the Bellengen. Here, like the view I had of these mountains more inland, universal brush seemed to clothe them to the summits. From their great height and abruptness, they appeared quite close, but even on making allowance for this, their summits could not be more than seven or eight miles from the river. This range preserved a very great altitude even close to the coast, for several summits, not more than eight or nine miles in a direct line from the ocean, seemed to be upwards of three thousand feet above the sea, and they gradually increased in altitude as they receded from the coast. I was the first to notice this range in my previous excursion. There is no other lateral range from the great main chain dividing the eastern and western waters, which, so far as I am aware, is equally conspicuous and important, and which extends so high and unbroken to the coast as this; and it is worthy of remark that it exactly coincides with the Nundawar range of Sir Thomas Mitchell, which is the only great lateral range thrown off on the opposite side of the main chain into the comparatively level country, that characterizes the interior to the westward of it.
When we had arrived on the summit of the range, dividing the Bellengen and Odalberree, I perceived that we were about sixteen miles distant from the sea. We now walked about a couple of miles eastward, along the crest of the range, and then turned down a spur leading to the Odalberree. This slope was covered with good grass, and variegated by the graceful tree-ferns, which formed a beautiful underwood to the large black-butt trees, predominating on these hills of micaceous talc. It was quite dark before we had descended into the brush of the valley, and as the blacks with me wished to ascertain whether there were any strange natives in our vicinity, Wongarini Paddy set up a most dismal and prolonged howl, being an exact imitation of the atrocious noise made by the Australian Dingo, or wild dog; for he knew that if there was a tribe in the neighbourhood, the dogs would begin barking on hearing the howl. We entered the brush at the subsidence of the spur, by which we had descended, Bellengen Billy being the leader, as we trusted to him to find water in the brush; for my blacks told me I had come too low down, as the Odalberree was brackish here. We soon found a channel containing some indifferent water; and having discovered a spot free from the thorny creepers, and entangled canes, we cut down the tall fern which grew there, and lit a fire on the cleared space.
After we had taken some food, and composed ourselves to sleep on the fern we had cut down, I heard the rumbling of distant thunder. The stars soon after became overcast, and the pattering of the rain on the dense mass of foliage over our heads, and the vivid flashes of lightning announced the approach of the storm. It was some time before the rain reached us through the thick' foliage of the tall trees and matted creepers, but when it did at length penetrate through this temporary protection, it was worse for us than if we had been in the open forest, for after the storm had passed over, the trees continued to distil large drops of water on us during the remainder of the night. Those disagreeable reptiles the brush-leeches, were also roused into activity by the rain; they are similar to the leeches of stagnant ponds, and abound in the dank rotten masses of leaves, and decomposed wood, of the brushes. These leeches attach themselves to the boots of persons traversing the brush, and soon manage to crawl under the trowsers or gaiters and find the skin. They then gorge themselves with blood, whilst the small punctures they make, remain painful and inflamed for several days afterwards. I have frequently, after standing at rest for a few moments in a brush, picked off a dozen leeches at a time from my legs, which they had commenced sucking; and my feet generally became covered with blood, whenever I had to survey rivers or creeks along their brushy banks.
5th day.—After breakfast we proceeded through the brush to the banks of the Odalberree. We forded this stream at the point where it becomes affected by the tide, and then travelled down its right bank towards the sea.
The country we passed over, consisted of narrow alluvial brushes, and heavily wooded forest land, well clothed with grass, and rising in a high range of hills. In keeping as near the river as possible, we passed several deep salt creeks, which were the outlets for the water-courses from the hills. As we approached the coast, bangolo palms and cabbage palms became very prevalent in the brushes, and we cut down some of them to obtain the white solid heart, which very much resembles the chesnut in taste, and is used as an article of food by the blacks. Having at length arrived at that part of the river, where we had seen the natives two days before, we crossed a tea-tree swamp covered with sedgy grass, and then followed down a narrow tongue of lightly wooded grassy forest land, between the river and
Natives spearing fish in the Bellengen River
the sea. This conducted us to the bar of the Bellengen, which is joined by the Odalberree close to its mouth.
The Bellengen river, viewed from the grassy point on which we now stood, formed here a wide and extensive reach, fringed by mangroves, and backed by tea-tree and myrtle thickets. The main river stretched away to the northward of the bar, for two or three miles before it turned inland, and was upwards of a mile wide, containing extensive sand-flats, covered by curlews, white cranes, spoonbills, and other aquatic birds. The water appeared to be very shallow, and the bar did not seem to be practicable for the ingress of any but very small vessels. The high range, dividing the Bellengen and the Clarence river, throws off, near the mouth of the former, a lower range of hills, extending along the coast, and which continued past the Solitary islands. The country between these hills and the sea, appeared to be grassy forest land.
As there was a large mangrove creek between the point on which we stood and the beach, we now traced it up, in order to head it, and arrive on the sands. This creek abounded in fine oysters, and I was glad to follow the example of the blacks, and swallow some of them. We were now caught in a violent thunder shower, which drenched us completely, and rain continued to fall during the remainder of the day. We travelled south again towards the Nambucca, but a little before nightfall I turned inland towards the high conical forest-hill, on the range to the northward of Coohalli creek.
6th day.—We saw this morning the principal body of the Bellengen tribe of natives. Among the number were several blacks, who had been noticed, as foremost in the outrages upon the whites, already referred to. One man, in particular, had been pre-eminently remarkable from his tallness and herculean proportions; the sawyers up the Nambucca, had distinguished him by the name of "Cobbaun (big) Bellengen Jack."—I never saw a finer specimen of the Australian aborigines than this fellow; the symmetry of his limbs was faultless, and he would have made a splendid living model for the students of the Royal Academy. The haughty and dignified air of his strongly marked and not unhandsome countenance, the boldly developed muscles, the broad shoulders, and especially the great depth of his chest, reminded me of some antique torso. These blacks were quite ignorant of the jargon, which the stockmen and sawyers suppose to be the language of the natives, whilst they suppose it to be ours, and which is the ordinary medium of communication between the squatters and the "tame blackfellows." Bellengen Billy left us here to join the tribe; as he had been of some service to me from his knowledge of the brushy country north of the Bellengen, I presented him with an old red handkerchief, in which the tobacco had been tied up. Not having expected a present, he was quite taken by surprise, and grinned with satisfaction. We now descended a water-course running into Coohalli creek, which we traced down to the long narrow salt-water lagoon, into which it empties itself. Some beautiful pine grew to a large size in the narrow brushes bordering on this lagoon, and in some parts the young fine saplings formed an underwood to the larger timber, giving quite a novel appearance to the landscape. We now crossed the brackish creek, over a huge tree of extraordinary length, which had fallen across it. Between Coohalli creek and the Nambucca, the country that we passed over, consisted of undulating grassy forest land, heavily wooded by iron bark, stringy bark, black-butt, and casuarinæ, and intersected by many deep salt creeks, which we waded through, or sometimes got over by means of fallen trees. The soil was of an inferior description, being overgrown by many Xanthorrheæ.
When we arrived on the banks of the Nambucca, within half a mile of the bar, we could not find any trees from which we could procure, a sheet of bark sufficiently compact to make a native canoe; for the weather having been very dry, and not being the proper season for stripping bark easily, we could get none without breaking it. Our only plan therefore of crossing the river here, was to swim it, which we could easily do, as it was not more than half a mile wide. Unfortunately one of my men, Matthew Boot, was unable to swim. I therefore ordered them to cut some blanches of white-cedar, and other brush-trees, (for all the forest trees, are of greater specific gravity than water), and make two small rude rafts; one being for our guns, clothes, and ammunition, and the other for the accommodation of Boot. Having instructed two of the blacks to tow Boot's raft across, the third black, and my man, who could swim, started with the other raft; and having waited myself to see Boot safely launched, I swam after the others as quick as I could on account of the sharks, which are extremely numerous, both in the MacLeay, Nambucca, and Bellengen, near the mouths of these rivers. When I had landed, and looked back, I was surprised to see the blacks swimming across without Boot, whom I could perceive on the shore. It appeared that after I left him on the raft, on which he was kneeling, it suddenly broke loose, as the branches, which composed it, were only bound together by long pieces of the creeping cane, which grows in the brushes. Of course Boot was soused headlong into the water, but the blacks brought him up in a twinkling, and conveyed him on shore, and then swam over to tell us of his mishap, I was now in a great dilemma, for I saw it would not be safe for him to be brought over on so frail a raft, especially as a north-east wind had just sprung up, which furrowed the surface of the river with splashy waves, it was essentially necessary that I should communicate with him, that he might know what to do; as the river was not fordable until ten or twelve miles higher up, and he would be then obliged to cross its other two arms also. It was in vain that I tried to persuade the blacks to go over to him; promises and threats were equally disregarded. At length, having told them that they should not have the reward I had promised them, "the Bullock" was at last induced to swim across. I directed this black to remain with Boot, and ascend the Nambucca with him to the ford on the north arm. I also gave "the Bullock" the remains of our damper, and bacon, in a small bag, which he fastened on the top of his head, among his long hair, that it might not get wet as he swam.
Whilst I was watching "the Bullock's" progress across the water, the other blacks speared some fish. I had sent the last remnant of our provisions across to Boot, as we were now only eight miles from the cedar sawyers* huts at Werral creek; but as I felt rather hungry from our walk and swim, I was glad to eat a broiled fish, without either bread or salt. We now walked along the sea beach, on which I shot a couple of that beautiful kind of sea-bird which the colonists call Redbills. We slept this night at Werral creek, and next day reached my station at the MacLeay. Boot arrived two days afterwards.
This excursion of mine to the Bellengen, was of no use with regard to the object I had in view, in proceeding thither, for both the valley of the river, and the mountains enclosing it, were covered with such dense brushes, as to afford very little country fit for grazing purposes. If agriculture were sufficiently profitable in New South Wales to cover the expenses of clearing land of heavy brushes, the rich narrow glen of the Bellengen, might in that case be highly available, especially if rice, cotton, tobacco, &c. were the objects of cultivation.
Just before I left the colony, I heard that the cedar dealers at the MacLeay had succeeded in getting a vessel across the bar of the Bellengen, and that the sawyers had gone over there, from the Nambucca, to cut cedar.
- Red cedar, Cedrela Toona, is quite different from the Lebanon cedar, Pinus Cedrus, and also from the American Pencil cedar, which is a species of juniper. The White cedar, Melia Azederach,, appears to be identically the same as the Pride tree of Asia. The foliage of both red and white cedar is deciduous.
- The Australian trees, popularly named Rosewood, Mahogany, &c. belong to totally different genera from the American trees of those appellations, the names having been given from the similar appearance of the wood.
- This very beautiful tree is dissimilar in every respect to the Tamarind tree of the Indies; it has obtained its popular appellation from the grateful acidity of its fruit, which hangs in large clusters of transparent, amber-coloured berries, of the size of small grapes.
- The berries of several trees of the Myrtle tribe are edible, and are sometimes used for tarts, preserves, &c. by the settlers.
- Notwithstanding the richness of the alluvial soil on some parts of the hanks of the Hawkesbury, it is not a good agricultural district, as the settlers there frequently suffer from the two opposite evils of successive droughts, and destructive floods.
- Dr. Lang has travelled extensively in America since he published his work on New South Wales. He has said, since his return to Sydney, that he saw no land in the United States superior in fertility and productiveness to that at many parts of the lower Hunter and its tributaries.
- Tobacco also grew with much greater luxuriance than at the river Hunter.
- The tree called box in the northern districts, is totally dissimilar to the tree so called in the interior districts of Australia; the former is a tree of very large dimensions, and umbrageons foliage.
- This variety of pine is totally different from that of the interior (Callitris pyramidalis).
- A medical gentleman in Norfolk Island measured an Arancaria excelsa, the dimensions of which were as follows:—Diameter, near the ground, twelve feet; and at the height of eighty feet, nearly nine feet. The total height of the tree was two hundred and sixty-seven feet!
- Native call.
- It may seem strange that the Belleogen blacks, although so near to the cattle stations at the MacLeay, to the southward, and those at the Clarence, to the northward, should have seen 80 little of the whites. It was, perhaps, owing to the more stationary habits of these natives, from the abundance of food in their haunts, and the broken intervening country.