CHAPTER 19. FROM WEST TO EAST.
At Mount Welcome they found the water on the point of giving out, and weak and exhausted though they were, an immediate start had to be made to the Geraldine mine, a small settlement having been formed there to work the galena lode discovered by Gregory. That they would ever reach the mine the explorers could not hope; they and their horses were in a state of extreme weakness, the distance to the mine was one hundred and sixty miles, and to the highest point on the Murchison, where Gregory had found water, their first stage was ninety miles. They began their journey at midnight, and by means of forced marches, travelling day and night, they reached Gregory's old camp on the river. Fortunately they had found a small supply of water at one place on the way. From this point the worst of their perils were passed. They followed the river down, obtaining water from springs in the banks, and on the 27th of November arrived at the mine, where they were warmly entertained. Thence they returned to Perth, some by sea and some overland.
Austin's exploration had led to no profitable result. Cowcowing had proved only a saline marsh similar to Lake Moore, the large lake which had haunted Gregory; the upper Murchison was not of a nature to invite further acquaintance or settlement; and the whole of the journey had been a disheartening round of daily struggles with a barren and waterless district, under the fiery sun of the southern summer.
Austin thought that eastward of his limit the country would improve; but subsequent explorations have not substantiated his supposition. He had had singularly hard fortune to contend against. After the serious loss he sustained by the poisoning of his horses, a risk that cannot be effectually warded off by the greatest care, he had been pitted against exceptionally dry country, covered with dense scrub and almost grassless, in which the men and horses must assuredly have lost their lives but for his dauntless and heroic conduct.
Austin afterwards settled in North Queensland, and followed the profession of mining surveyor.
19.2. SIR JOHN FORREST.
John Forrest, the explorer who ultimately succeeded in crossing the hitherto impassable desert of the western centre, now made his first essay. An old rumour that the blacks had slain some white men and their horses on a salt lake in the interior was now revived, and gained some credence. A black who stated that he had visited the scene of the incident was interviewed, and Baron von Mueller wrote to the Western Australian Government offering to lead a party thither and ascertain if there was any truth in the report. The Government favourably considered the offer, and made preparations to send out a party. Von Mueller was prevented from taking charge, and the command was given to John Forrest, then a surveyor in the Government service. Forrest was born near Bunbury, Western Australia, on the 22nd of August, 1847, and entered the Survey Department of West Australia in December 1865.
On the 26th of April, 1869, Forrest left Yarraging, then the furthest station to the eastward. When camped at a native well, visited by Austin thirteen years before, he says that he could still distinctly see the tracks of that explorer's horses. Past this spot he fell in with some natives who told him that a large party of men and horses had died in a locality away to the north, and that a gun belonging to the party was in possession of the natives. On closer examination this story was proved to have its origin in the death of Austin's horses.
Forrest continued his journey to the east, and on the 18th came to a large dry salt lake, which he named Lake Barlee. An attempt to cross this lake resulted in the bogging of the horses, and it was only after strenuous exertions that the horses and packs were once more brought on to hard ground. Lake Barlee was afterwards found to be of considerable size, extending for more than forty miles to the eastward.
The native guide Forrest had with him now began to express doubts as to his knowledge of the exact spot at which he saw the remains. After considerable search, Forrest came across a large party of the aborigines of the district. These men, however, proved to be anything but friendly; they threw dowaks at the guide, and advised the whites to go back before they were killed. Next morning they had speech with two of them, who said that the bones were those of horses, some distance to the north; they said they would come to the camp the next day and lead the whites there, but they did not fulfil their promise. No other profitable intercourse with the blacks was possible. One old man howled piteously all the time they were in his company, and another, who had two children with him, gave them to understand most emphatically that he had never heard of any horses having been killed, though some natives had just killed and eaten his own brother.