CHAPTER 19. FROM WEST TO EAST.
After vainly searching the district for many days, Forrest determined to utilise the remainder of the time at his disposal by examining the country as far to the eastward as his resources would permit. It was now clear that the story of the white men's remains had originated in the skeletons of the horses that perished during Austin's trip. No matter how circumstantial might be a narration of the blacks, they invariably contradicted themselves the next time they were interrogated, and it was evident that no useful purpose would be served by following them on a foolish errand from place to place. Forrest therefore penetrated some distance east, but was not encouraged by the discovery of any useful country. Nevertheless, he started on a solitary expedition ahead, taking only one black boy and provisions for seven days. He reached a point one hundred miles beyond the camp of the main body, to the eastward of Mount Margaret on the present goldfields. He ascended the highest tree he could find, and found the outlook was dreary and desolate. The country was certainly slightly more open than that hitherto traversed, but it was covered with spinifex, interspersed with an occasional stunted gum-tree. Rough sandstone cliffs were visible about six miles to the north-east, and more to the north appeared a narrow line of samphire flats with gum trees and cypress growing on their edges. Of surface water there was no appearance.
On his homeward route Forrest kept a more northerly and westerly course, and crossed Lake Barlee and examined the northern shore; but he found nothing to induce him to modify the unfavourable opinion pronounced on the country by other explorers. He returned to Perth on the 6th August.
Forrest was next placed at the head of an expedition which was to cross to Adelaide by way of the shores of the Great Australian Bight, along the same ill-omened route followed by Eyre, and never trodden since his remarkable journey. This time the historic cliffs were to be traversed with but slight privation and no bloodshed. Though the information supplied by Eyre was considered to be thoroughly trustworthy, it was recognized that with the scanty means of observation at his command and his famished condition, a few important facts might have escaped his notice, and that if his route were followed by a well-equipped party, the terrors of the region might assume less gigantic proportions.
Forrest's company was to consist of the leader and his brother Alexander, two white men, and two natives, one of whom had accompanied Forrest on his former trip. A coasting schooner, the Adur, of 30 tons, was to accompany them round the coast, calling at Esperance Bay, Israelite Bay, and Eucla, supplying them with provisions at these depots.
On the 30th of March they left Perth. The first part of the journey to Esperance Bay was through comparatively settled and well-known country, so that no fresh interest attached to it. They arrived at Dempster's station at Esperance a few days before the Adur sailed into the Bay, and on the 9th of May, 1870, they started on their next stage to Israelite Bay.
[Map. Forest's Route 1869; Forrest's Route 1870; Forrest's Route 1874; Giles's Route 1873; Grey's Route 1836 and 1837 and 1839.]
From Esperance Bay to Israelite Bay the journey lacked incident, and it was not until Forrest again parted from his relief boat that he had to encounter the most serious part of his undertaking. He had now to face the line of cliffs which frowned over the Bight, behind which he had, as he knew, little or no chance of finding water for 150 miles. Having made what arrangements he could to carry water, he left the last water on the 5th of April. About a week afterwards he reached the break in the cliffs, where water could be obtained by digging in the sandhills. Luckily they had found many small rock-holes filled with water, which had enabled them to push steadily on. Forrest says that the cliffs, which fell perpendicularly to the sea, although grand in the extreme, were terrible to gaze from: -
"After looking very cautiously over the precipice, we all ran back, quite terrified by the dreadful view."
While resting and recruiting at the sandhills, he made an excursion to the north, and after passing through a fringe of scrub twelve miles deep, he came upon most beautifully-grassed downs. At fifty miles from the sea there was nothing visible as far as the eye could reach but gentle undulating plains of grass and saltbush. There being no prospects of water, he was forced to turn back, fortunately finding a few surface pools both on his outward and homeward way.
On the 24th they started from the sandhills for Eucla, the last meeting-place appointed with the Adur. During this stage he kept to the north of the Hampton Range, and through a country well-grassed but destitute of surface water. The party reached Eucla on the 2nd of July, and found the Adur duly awaiting them. Whilst at Eucla, Forrest, in company with his brother, made another excursion to the north; he penetrated some thirty miles inland, and found as before boundless plains, beautifully grassed, though destitute of any signs of water.
After leaving Eucla, the explorers had a distressing stage to the head of the Great Bight, where they finally obtained water by digging in the sand. On this stage the horses suffered more than on any previous one, having had to travel three days without a drink. From this point they soon reached the settled districts of South Australia in safety.