The Argus at KellyGang 31/8/1860

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(full text transcription)



No. X.

UPPER DARGO , August 13

In my last letter I informed you that I in tended to accompany Mr Howitt to the Snowy Ranges and the source of the River Dargo. In conformity with that intention, I started with him and Aitken, one of his men, on Sunday, the 5th inst. We were obliged to select that day, not only on account of the small supply of rations remaining in the camp, but because we feared that the fine -weather would not continue long enough to enable us to prosecute our inquiries if we delayed a single day. The trip was a most satisfactory one in every respect, as we ascertained the sources of the rivers Mitchell and Dargo; and Mr Howitt took bearings which will prove very valuable to future travellers. It was also pleasant, for although we had each to carry his own rations, swag, tools, &c, the weather was beautifully fine, and the knowledge that we were treading ground seldom before marked by the tracks of white feet made every object one of interest to us. But I will give you a short sketch of our journey, divesting it of our various bearings as much as possible, inasmuch as, without a chart, they would be void of interest.

On leaving the hut, or No 5 camp, we crossed the river by means of a few saplings, and ascended a spur of Mount Pyke, bearing west 15deg S, through an open timbered country. So steep was the ascent, that it took us an hour to gain the top of the spur, a distance of about a mile. On our left hand we saw Birregun, which we had crossed in our journey to the Dargo. On the mount there was plenty of good grass for some distance until the scrub commenced, and we saw traces of horses having been there, but at some distant period. Our course was altered to a north-westerly point, and we continued travelling along the ridge. A very large pigeon, of a bluish colour, which we supposed to be the Wonga Wonga, has been seen in this locality, and we afterwards saw one on another range.

When about five miles from home we entered a basalt country, the first I have seen since we left Bushy Park; here white gum supplied the places of the messmate and other trees, which, so far, had met the eye on either side. On going on a mile or so further we came to a beautiful grassy flat, with a clear stream of water filtering through a portion of it. Of the latter we were glad to avail ourselves, as the sun was very powerful, and we did not know how long it would be before we should have another supply. After refreshing ourselves, we still continued our ascent, and soon saw Table Top Mount about 37 miles to the north of us - that is the same mountain which I saw covered with snow from Birregun. It looked very grand with the sun shining upon it, and I longed to have a closer view, a wish which was afterwards gratified. We still met with grassy flats, and the ridge was so wide that it was difficult to believe that we were 5,000 feet above the sea, and not in the lowlands. About 30 miles distant, 10 deg E of N., we saw another round-topped mountain, higher than Table Top - which, not appearing on the charts, we have named Mount Smyth - and many smaller hills, as they then appeared to us, all covered with snow.

Soon afterwards we distinguished the smoke arising from the Omeo basin, which we judged to be about 20 miles away. It formed a strange contrast to the white mountains all round, especially to the mighty Coborras which towered up in the back-ground. As the evening approached, the cold was very severe, and five minutes after sunset water we had procured for milking tea froze in the tin dish. A good large fire and a small mia mia before it served for our night's accommodation. Being the first evening, the ceremony of dividing our rations equally between the seven days we expected to be absent from the camp was gone through, and it was rather amusing to see the mathematical accuracy with which the damper was marked out; in fact, to borrow a phrase, it looked as if some person had been working a difficult problem of Euclid upon it. Several times during the night we were awakened by the intense cold, and I found that one blanket was but poor protection from it even with half of my body almost in the fire.

On the following day we altered our course to W 15deg S, and it was then for the first time that I found some of the mountain cactus, which grows in great abundance there. It is a shrub about four foot high, and much resembles the ordinary plant, except that the leaves are narrower, and not so spiracular. The trees now became more stunted, and occasional patches of snow warned us that we were approaching a more arctic region. What a crowd of old associations suggested themselves as I put my foot on the snow for the first time since leaving the old country. Many a hard-fought battle at school, many a boyish prank, passed before me, and I longed to throw down my swag, roll up a ball, and attack my companions. How pleasant it was to feel the fresh crispness as it gave way to one's feet; even there was a satisfaction in looking back at our track to see the impressions made; but it was only short - lived, for before long I began to wish for grassy flats instead of snowy mountains.

About an hour's walking in a westerly direction brought us to a basalt knob, a sort of narrow neck between the left-hand branch of the Dargo River and another stream on the right. I omitted, in my last, to mention that the Dargo branches to the westward at the foot of Birregun. The snow had now increased in depth considerably, and the air was so cold that all the birds, with the exception of lowrie parrots and grey magpies, had deserted us. The footmarks of wild dogs were visible, and we saw a ringtailed opossum, which was evidently trying to persuade itself that it felt quite at home in the branches of a withered old mountain gum.


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