John McDouall Stuart - Sixth Expedition


Friday, 9th May, Nash Spring. Sent King and Nash with the horses that carried the water-bags back to the depot, while I and the other two, at twenty minutes to eight o'clock a.m. proceeded on a bearing of 290 degrees, following one of the native tracks running in that direction. At about a mile they became invisible; for that distance I observed that a line of trees was marked down each side of the track by cutting a small piece of bark from off the gum-trees with a tomahawk. This I had never seen natives do before; the marks are very old. At eighteen miles and a half struck another track (the trees cut in the same way) crossing our course; followed it, bearing 10 degrees east of north, and at about two miles came on a native well with moisture in it. Followed the valley on the same course, but seeing no more appearance of water, I again changed to my original course, and, at a quarter to four o'clock, finding that I was again entering the dense forest and scrub, I camped at a good place for feed for the horses, but no water. The whole of the day's journey has been through a wooded country, in some places very thick, but in most open; it is composed of gums, hedge-trees, and some new trees--the gums predominating; there were also a few patches of lancewood scrub. For the first eighteen miles the soil was light and sandy, with spinifex and a little grass mixed. At the end of eighteen miles I again got into the grass country, with occasionally a little spinifex. Wind, south-east. Cold during the night and morning.
Saturday, 10th May, The Forest. Started at five minutes to seven o'clock a.m. (same course, 290 degrees). Almost immediately encountered a dense forest of tall mulga, with an immense quantity of dead wood lying on the ground. It was with the greatest difficulty that the horses could be made to move through it. At a mile it became a little more open, which continued for six miles. At seven miles I thought, from the appearance of the country, that it was dipping towards the north-north-west; I therefore changed my course to north-west, and in less than a mile again entered a dense forest of tall mulga, thicker than I had yet been into. Continued pushing, tearing, and winding into it for three miles. The further I went the denser it became. I saw that it was hopeless to continue any further. We were travelling full speed, and making little more than a mile an hour throughout the ten miles gone over to-day. The country is a red light soil and covered with abundance of grass, but completely dried up. No rain seems to have fallen here for a length of time. We have not seen a bird, nor heard the chirrup of any to disturb the gloomy silence of the dark and dismal forest--thus plainly indicating the absence of water in and about this country. I therefore retraced my steps towards Nash Springs; passed our last night's camp, and continued on till sundown, one of the horses being completely knocked up. Camped without water. Wind, south-east.
Sunday, 11th May, The Forest. This morning the horse that was so bad last night was found dead, which puts us in a very awkward position--without a pack-horse. We had to leave behind the pack-saddle, bags, and all other things we could not carry with us on our riding-horses. Proceeded to Nash Spring, which we reached after two o'clock p.m., with another of the horses completely knocked up. It was with difficulty that he reached it. I suppose the days being so extremely hot, and the feed so dry that there is little nourishment in it, is the cause of this, as they were horses that had been out with me on my last year's journey, and had suffered from want of water a longer time than on this occasion. I am nearly in a fix with a long journey before me, the horses unable to do more than two nights without water, and the water-bags losing half their contents in one day's journey. To make the Victoria through the country I have just passed into would be impossible. I must now endeavour to find a country to the northward and make the Roper. I am very vexed about the water-bags turning out so badly, as I was placing great dependence on them for carrying me through. I must try and push through the best way possible. Wind, south-east.
Monday, 12th May, Nash Spring, West Forest. Proceeded very slowly with the knocked-up horse to the Depot; he appears to be very ill, and is looking very bad this morning. Arrived there and found all right; they had been visited by the natives twice during my absence. They appeared to be very friendly, and were hugging Frew and King, for whom they seemed to have taken a great fancy; they were old, young, and children. Some pieces of white tape were given to them, which pleased them much. They still pointed to the west, as the place where the large water is, and made signs with a scoop to show that they have to dig for it in going through; which I am now almost sure is the case from what I saw of the country in my last journey in that direction. In upwards of fifty miles we did not see the least signs of a watercourse--nor could I discover any dip in the country; it has the same appearance all round; one cannot see more than half a mile before one, and in many places only a few yards. I have been deceived once or twice by what appeared to be a dip in the country, but it turned out to be only lower trees and scrub than what we were travelling through. With a small party I might make the Victoria from here, but there is every chance of losing the horses in doing so; and I should be in a sad predicament to be there without horses, and without the possibility of receiving supplies from the party at the Depot; I should have to perish there. Therefore, I consider it would be folly and madness to attempt it, and might be the cause of sacrificing the lives of both parties. Had the feed been green, or had it any substance in it, I would have tried, but every blade of grass is parched and dried up as in the middle of summer, and the horses have not the strength nor endurance to undergo much privation, of which I have had a proof in the journey I have just taken. After resting a day or two to recover the horses, and get ourselves a little refreshed, I shall move the party up to King's Ponds, and try to push through wherever I can find an opening. Day very hot. Wind, south-east. A few clouds came up from that quarter after sundown.
Tuesday, 13th May, Depot, Howell Ponds. Resting ourselves and horses. Day again hot, with a few clouds round the horizon. The natives had again set fire to the country all around, which increases the heat. I wish it would come on to rain, and put out their fires, and fill the ponds, which are shrinking a great deal more than I expected. Wind, south-east. Clouds.