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Now farms, these are the desolate plains Oxley saw.

History and Beginnings

John Oxley's 1817 Journey of Exploration

May 1817
June 1817
July 1817
August 1817

April 1817


On the twenty-fourth of March I received the instructions of his excellency the Governor to take charge of the expedition which had been fitted out for the purpose of ascertaining the course of the Lachlan River, and generally to prosecute the examination of the western interior of New South Wales.

On the sixth of April I quitted Sydney, and after a pleasant journey arrived at Bathurst on the fourteenth, and found that our provisions and other necessary stores were in readiness at the depot on the Lachlan River. We were detained at Bathurst by rainy unfavourable weather until the nineteenth, when the morning proving fine, the BAT horses, with the remainder of the provisions, baggage, and instruments, were sent off, we intending to follow them the ensuing morning.

Bathurst had assumed a very different appearance since I first visited it in the suite of his excellency the Governor in 1815. The industrious hand of man had been busy in improving the beautiful works of nature; a good substantial house for the superintendant had been erected, the government grounds fenced in, and the stack yards showed that the abundant produce of the last harvest had amply repaid the labour bestowed on its culture. The fine healthy appearance of the flocks and herds was a convincing proof how admirably adapted these extensive downs and thinly wooded hills are for grazing, more particularly of sheep. The mind dwelt with pleasure on the idea that at no very distant period these secluded plains would be covered with flocks bearing the richest fleeces, and contribute in no small degree to the prosperity of the eastern settlements.

The soil, in the immediate neighbourhood of Bathurst, is for the first six inches of a light, black, vegetable mould, lying on a stratum of sand, about eighteen inches deep, but of a poor description, and mixed with small stones, under which is a strong clay. The surface of the hills is covered with small gravel, the soil light and sandy, with a sub-soil of clay. The low flats on the immediate borders of the river are evidently formed by washings from the hills and valleys deposited by floods, and the overflowings of the watercourses.

Sunday, April 20.-Proceeded on our journey towards the Lachlan River. At two o'clock we arrived at the head of Queen Charlotte's Valley, passing through a fine open grazing country; the soil on the hills and in the vale a light clayey loam, occasionally intermixed with sand and gravel: the late rains had rendered the ground soft and boggy. The trees were small and stunted, and thinly scattered over the hills, which frequently closed in stony points on the valley. The rocks a coarse granite.

Monday, April 21.-Our journey for the greater part of the way lay over stony ridges, and for the last six miles over a country much wooded with ill-grown gum and stringy bark trees (all of the eucalyptus genus); the grass good, and in tolerable plenty, and much more so than the appearance of the soil would seem to promise. At three o'clock, the horses being very much fatigued, we stopped under the point of a rocky hill for the evening.

April 22.-A clear and frosty morning. Last night was the coldest we had yet experienced, the thermometer being at six o'clock as low as 26. We felt the cold most severely, being far beyond what we had been accustomed to on the coast; the difference of temperature in twelve hours being upwards of twenty degrees of cold. Our route lay through a dull uninteresting country, thickly covered with dwarf timber, daviesia, etc. Passed under Mount Lachlan, a hill of very considerable height; a stream of water runs north-westerly under its base. Turned off a little from our track to the right, and ascended Mount Molle, whence there is a beautiful and extensive prospect from the south by the west to the north. The country (except the dividing range between the Lachlan and Macquarie Rivers, which is very lofty and irregular) rising into gentle hills, thinly timbered, with rich intervening valleys, through which flow small streams of water. I think from Mount Molle, between the points above mentioned, a distance of forty miles round may he seen; the view to the west being lost in the blue haze of the horizon, no hills appearing in that quarter. The Mount itself is a fine rich hill, favourably situated for a commanding prospect; the valleys which surround it are excellent land, well watered with running streams. We descended its west side, and stopped for the night in the valley beneath, on the banks of a small rivulet.

April 23.-A fine clear morning. At two o'clock we arrived at Limestone Creek, passing through a beautiful picturesque country of low hills and fine valleys well watered: the timber, as usual of diminutive growth, and unfit for any useful purpose. The ridges of the higher eminences were invariably stony, and about a mile and a half from the Creek, there is a narrow slip of barren country covered with small slate stones: the soil until then was on the sides of the hills of a fine vegetable mould, the more level and lower grounds a hazel-coloured stiff loam, both equally covered with grass, particularly the anthistria. The timber standing at wide intervals, without any brush or undergrowth, gave the country a fine park-like appearance. I never saw a country better adapted for the grazing of all kinds of stock than that we passed over this day. The limestone, which is the first that has hitherto been discovered in Australia, abounds in the valley where we halted; the sides and abrupt projections of the hills being composed entirely of it, and worn by the operation of time into a thousand whimsical shapes and forms. A small stream runs through the valley, which in June 1815 was dry; the bottom of this rivulet was covered with a variety of stones, but the bases of the hills which projected into it, and from which the earth had been washed, were of pure limestone of a bluish grey colour.

April 24.-A fine mild morning. A small piece of limestone which had been put in the fire last night was found perfectly calcined into the purest white lime. At eight o'clock proceeded on our journey, through a very uninteresting but good grazing country: nature here seemed to have assumed her tamest and most unvarying hue. The soil of the country we passed through was generally excellent, but the timber was still as useless as we had hitherto found it. We arrived about one o'clock at a small pond of water, where it was necessary to stop, as there was no other water nearer than the Lachlan River, which was distant about fourteen miles.

April 25.-Our course for the first seven or eight miles was through a level open country, the soil and grass indifferently good. We now ascended a hill a little to the left of the road, for the purpose of viewing the country through which the river ran: it appeared a perfect plain encompassed by moderately high hills, except in the south-east and west quarters, these being apparently the points whence and to which the river flows. The whole country a forest of eucalypti, with occasionally on the banks of the river a space clear of timber: there was nothing either grand or interesting in the view from this hill, neither did I see in any direction such high land as might be expected to give source to a river of magnitude. When we quitted the hill, we went west, to make the Lachlan River, passing for nearly six miles over a perfect level, the land poor, and in places scrubby. At two o'clock saw the river, which certainly did not disappoint me: it was evidently much higher than usual, running a strong stream; the banks very steep, but not so as to render the water inaccessible: the land on each side quite flat, and thinly clothed with small trees; the soil a rich light loam: higher points occasionally projected on the river, and on those the soil was by no means so good. The largest trees were growing immediately at the water's edge on both sides, and from their position formed an arch over the river, obscuring it from observation, although it was from thirty to forty yards across. At four o'clock we arrived at the depot.

We had scarcely alighted from our horses, when natives were seen in considerable numbers on the other side of the river. I went down opposite to them, and after some little persuasion about twenty of them swam across, having their galengar or stone hatchet in one hand, which on their landing they threw at our feet, to show us that they were as much divested of arms as ourselves. After staying a short time they were presented with some kangaroo flesh, with which they re-crossed the river, and kindled their fires. They were very stout and manly, well featured, with long beards: there were a few cloaks among them made of the opossum skin, and it was evident that some of the party had been at Bathurst, from their making use of several English words, and from their readily comprehending many of our questions.

April 26.-Fine clear warm weather. The natives were still on the opposite bank, and five of them came over to us in the course of the morning; but remained a very short time. During the last night a few fine shrimps were caught; the soldiers stationed at the depot said they had frequently taken them in considerable numbers. During the day arranged the loads for the boats and horses, that they might be enabled to set off early the next morning.

April 27.-Loaded the boats with as much of the salt provisions as they could safely carry, and despatched them to wait at the first creek about seven or eight miles down the river until the loaded horses came, and then to assist in taking their loads over the creek; intending myself to follow with the remainder of the baggage early to-morrow morning. The observations which were made here placed the depot in lat. 33. 40. S., and in long. 148. 21. E., the variation of the needle being 7. 47. E. The barometrical observations, which had been regularly taken from Sydney to this place, did not give us an elevation of more than six hundred feet above the level of the sea; a circumstance which, considering our distance from the west coast, surprised me much. The few words of which we were enabled to obtain the meaning from the natives who occasionally visited its, being different from those used by the natives on the east coast, it way perhaps be interesting to insert them.

Nh-air The eyebrows
Whada The ears
Ulan-gar,Nat-tang The head
Anany The beard
Morro The nose
Er-ra The teeth
Mill-a The eyes
Narra The fingers
Bulla-yega The hair of the head
Chu-ang The mouth
O-ro The neck
Bargar The arms
Ben-ing The breast
Bur-bing The belly
Mille-aar The loins
Dha-na The thighs
Wolm-ga The knees
Dhee-nany The feet
Dhu-a The back
Mor-aya Bones worn in the cartilage of the nose
Mada Skins, with which they are clothed
Wamb-aur Scars, raised for ornament, or distinction, on their bodies
Gum-iil Girdles worn round the body
Un-elenar One night
Gow Woman
Mar-o-gu-la Another tribe
Mem-aa A native man
Wam-aa A kind of hornet's nest, which they eat
Warenur Fire
Curr-eli Timber, or trees
Galu-nur Thistles, the roots of which they eat
Gulura The moon
Yandu Sleep
Ori-al, Ta-wi-uth Stone hatchets

The above were all the words the meaning of which we could clearly comprehend: the words used by the natives on the coast to express the same objects have not the remotest resemblance to the above.

April 28.-Fine clear mild weather. Proceeded with the remainder of the baggage to join the boats down the river; arrived at Lewis's Creek, which, although nearly dry when crossed by Mr. Evans in 1815, is now a considerable stream. The distance from the depot is about nine miles; the country on both banks of the river low but good: the upper levels would afford excellent grazing, but the soil is of inferior quality: the points of the low hills end alternately on each side the river. The land up both banks of Lewis's Creek is very rich, and covered with herbage. The boats had come safely down the river, although the large boat grounded once; the river appears to me to be from three to five feet above its usual level.

Several specimens of crystallized quartz were found on the adjoining hills, also some small pieces of good iron ore.

April 29.-Proceeded on our journey down the river, directing the boats to stop at the creek which terminated Mr. Evans's former journey. The country through which we passed this day in every respect resembles the tracts we have already gone over. The crowns and ridges of the hills are uniformly stony and barren, ending as before alternately on each side of the river; the greater proportion of good flat land lies on the south side of the river; there are however very rich and fertile tracts on this side. After riding about eight miles, we ascended a considerable hill upon our right, from the top of which we could see to a considerable distance; between the south-west and north-north-west, a very low level tract lay west of us, and no hill whatever bounded the view in that quarter.

Three remarkable hummocks bore respectively S. 72. W., S. 51 1/2 W. and S. 34 1/2 W., within which range of bearing the country was uniformly level, or rising into such low hills, as not to be distinguished from the general surface. The tops of distant ranges could be discerned over low hills in the north-west, whilst, from north by the east to south, the country was broken into hill and valley. The whole of this extensive scene was covered with eucalypti, whilst on the rocky summits of the hills in the immediate neighbourhood a species of callitris was eminently distinguished. From this extensive view I named the hill Mount Prospect.

At five o'clock in the afternoon we arrived at the place where the horses had been directed to wait for the boats, but they had not arrived; the distance is at least doubled by following the immediate course of the stream, but I had calculated that its rapidity would make up for the distance, and enable the boats to keep pace with the horses.

At six o'clock the boats arrived safe, the men having had a very fatiguing row, and been obliged to clear the passage of fallen trees, and other obstructions; so that we determined to give them some repose, and halt here for the night. At half past eight o'clock proceeded down the river, intending to stop at the termination of Mr. Evans's journey in 1815, about five miles further, for the purpose of repairing the small boat, which had sustained some slight damage in coming down the river yesterday. I rode about three miles back into the country; the callitris was here more frequent, though not of large growth; the soil is not good. In returning to the river we came upon the creek which terminated Mr. Evans's journey, down which we travelled until we came to the river, about half a mile from which is a large shallow lagoon, full of ducks, bustards, black swans and red-hills. At twelve o'clock the horses arrived at the mouth of the creek, and the boats half an hour afterwards. The banks of the creek were very steep, and it was three o'clock before all the provisions were got over. The creek was named Byrne's Creek, after one of the present party, who had accompanied Mr. Evans in his former journey.

You can go back to the Introduction to Oxley's journal or on to May 1817

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