July 11.—To–day I left our course and rambled up the watercourse to examine its character and search for water, which however I could not find in its channel anywhere. Traces of natives were numerous and recent all the way as we went, till at last we came to where they had encamped the previous night, and where they had left a fire still fresh and burning.
Proceeding onwards we came upon a single native, a female, young, but miserably thin and squalid, fit emblem of the sterility of the country. We could gain no information from her, she was so much alarmed, but not long after parting with her we came to a puddle of water in the plains, and encamped for the night. Our stage had been a tortuous, but not a long one, and we halted early in the day, the latitude was 30 degrees 58 minutes S. by an altitude of the sun at noon.
After taking some refreshment, I walked to a rise about three miles off at N. 40 degrees E. from which I took several bearings, and among them I set Mount Deception at N. 25 degrees W., I then examined several of the gorges between the front hills, where the banks were broken away, and to my great dismay found in all of them salt mixed with the sand, the clay, and even the rocks; whilst in the bed of the watercourse, the salt water tea–tree was making its appearance, a shrub I had never before seen under Flinders range, and one which never grows where the soil is not of a very saline nature, and generally only where the water is too brackish for use.
The beds of the watercourses were in some places quite white and glazed with encrustations of salt, where the rains had lodged, and the water had evaporated. Some of the cliffs which I examined presented sections of 40 and 50 feet perpendicular height, in which layers of salt were embedded from the very top to the bottom.
In such a country, what accommodation could I expect, or what hopes could I entertain for the future, when the very water shed from the clouds would not be drinkable after remaining a few hours on the ground? Whichever way I turned myself, to the West, to the East, or the North, nothing but difficulties met my view.
In one direction was an impracticable lake, skirted by heavy and scrubby sand ridges; in another, a desert of bare and barren plains; and in a third, a range of inhospitable rocks. The very stones lying upon the hills looked like the scorched and withered scoria of a volcanic region; and even the natives, judging from the specimen I had seen to–day, partook of the general misery and wretchedness of the place.
My heart sank within me when I reflected upon the gradual but too obvious change that had taken place in the character of the country for the worse, and when I considered that for some days past we had been entirely dependent for our supply of water upon the little puddles that had been left on the plains by the rain, and which two or three more days would completely dry up. Under circumstances so unpropitious, I had many misgivings, and the contemplation of our future prospect became a subject of painful anxiety.