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  • boab 3 Apr 2010 at 02:39
    This article about Cambridge Gulf has been corrected in an earlier issue of the West.Cite: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2996345

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3 corrections, most recently by Hughesdarren - Show corrections

THE NAVIGATION OF CAM-

BRIDGE GULF.

There can be but one opinion of the im- portance of the document prepared by Staff Commander Coghlan for the Govern- ment of this colony, and printed last Thurs days a supplement to the Gazette. We have but recently waked up to an appreciation of the valuable domains we possess at the back of King Sound and along the shores of the Great Bight. If one half the stories circulated by travellers from the Eastern Colonies be true, in the Cambridge Gulf district a third province, and the richest of them all, has been virtually added to Wes- tern Australia. Curiously enough, Cam- bridge Gulf and Eucla are alike in this, that both places nearly adjoin the 129th parallel of longitude which separates Wes- tern {cooa South Australia. There is this distinction, however, in favour of the port in Cambridge Gulf, that its advantages are as far. beyond those of King Sound as the latter is in its turn superior to Eucla water. Nor are the recommend itions of the Cam-

bridge Gulf country (our knowledge of it is so recent that it has not yet obtained a name), confined to its pastoral capabilities. There is, according to the competent au- thority of Mr. Hardman, the very highest

probability that a valuable gold field will be found lying within a moderate distance

of the port The Ord river, on whose   banks the Government geologist found his promising auriferous indications, lately commented on in these columns, flows into the Gulf at the southern point of the east- ern arm. And of other minerals, there is every reason to expect a fuller exploration will discover an ample store.

Leaving Lieutenants Dixon and Docknell in July of last year to draw up a much needed plan of the anchorage at the mouth of the Fortescue, Captain Coghlan obtained a passage to the Gulf in the steam yacht Cushie Doo, which happened to be lying at the time at Cossack. It is a drawback to find that owing to the strong easterly mon- soons there is likely to be considerable dif- ficulty in sailing ships from Fremantle making their way round the extreme north west coast of Australia. Being short of

coal and water, the yacht was forced to run for Fort Darwin, and afterwards shaped her course for Cambridge Gulf. As she approached the Gulf the vessel "steamed through many miles of what Captain Cook called ' sea saw dust,' some of which was collected, but under the mi- croscope it showed no signs of life, and merely looked like broken lucifer matches." Bounding the Melusa bank, which lies nearly across the mouth of the Gulf, they found themselves inside in comparatively smooth water, facing an ebb tide of five

knots an hour.

" Viewed from Lacrosse Island, Cam- bridge Gulf has the appearance of a mag- nificent river, from six to twelve miles wide, with straight reach of about twenty five miles in the direction of Adolphus Is- land. The Western shore consists of com- paratively high sandstone hills (from eight hundred to one hundred feet), fronted in parts by a low foreshore of mangroves. The eastern side of the Gulf is low and marshy, with dense mangroves lining the forsrhore, the back ground consisting of what appears to be scattered hillocks, but in reality are the summits of a range of distant bills (Onslow hills). Distant about twenty-two miles from Lacrosse Island, and when first seen appearing as a continuation of the hills forming the western shore of the gulf, is Adolphus Island (about seven hundred feet high), which divides the Gulf into two branches, known respectively as the West and East Arms. The West Arm is the principal navigable channel, but un- til the low eastern shore is distinguished, a vessel entering Cambridge Gulf for the first time would be disposed to steer for the East Arm, in the direction of a well-de- fined conical hill. Flat-top Hill in line with the northern fall of the high land of Adolphus Island, bearing S.S.W. i W., leads through the Gulf, clear of the shoals on the Western shore. Upon nearing Adol- phus Island, the low land forming its North-west extreme (Nicholls Point) will be distinguished, and the main channel, westward of Adolphus Island (West Arm), readily discerned. From the mouth of the Gulf to Landslip Point (the North-west ex- treme of View Hill), a distance of thirty five miles, the water is deep and available for an ocean-going steamship.

^Having steamed through the West Arm -against the last of the ebbtide (running about 7 knots), the vessel attempted to en- ter the South-east Arm (whieh may be considered as the estuary of the Ord river, and is separated from the West Arm by View Hill Peninsula), with !the view of proceeding as far as the confluence of the fresh and salt water, near House-roof Hill, which had been reported by Mr. O'Donnell as a practicable landing place for stock. In attempitng to pass between the.South shore of Adolphus Island and the Mangrove Islets a sandbank, dry at low water springs, was discovered to extend nearly across the channel ; but, by keeping close alongside the mangroves which fringe the South shore of Adolphus Island, a very narrow channel, carrying 7 and 8 fathoms, waa

found.1

It will be noticed that, so far as his ob- servations went, Captain Coghlan adopts the opinion that the best and most prac- ticable landing place for stores and stoek is to be obtained at View Hill, which rises at the extremity of a long tongue of land, inclining to the eastward shore of the Gulf. Of .this as a site for a landing place, Cap- tain Coghlan writes :

"A vessel laden with stock (carrying the necaasary appliances such as flats, &c.,) could I believe laud them easily at the View Hill landing. The horses brought from Port Darwin were swum ashore without difficulty, although the ebb tide was run- ning with some strength at the time.

"A patch of boggy ground about fifty yards long lies between the stony ground of the lauding place and the hard ground which skirts the foot of View Hill. This obstacle was overcome in our case, by sending some planks on shore from the vessel and walking the horsed across them. But with the re- quisite labour, a good causeway could be quickly thrown across the swamp as there is an abundance of material to hand on the side of the adjoining hill.

" Fresh water was observed trickling from the sandstone cliff at the back of the boggy patch. Having crossed the strip of bog, there was no difficulty (at the end of the dry season) in reaching a spring of fresh water, distant about four milos from the landing place. The position of the spring is indica- ted by the clumps of screw-pine trees grow- ing around it. Wherever we met clumps of these trees, fresh water was found either on the surface or within six feet of the ground. If several wells were dug in this neighbour- hood, I believe a good supply of fresh water could be obtained. But the one well (made by natives) gave out when thirty horses were watered from it These cattle had, therefore, to be taken to some brackish lagoons on the plain, distant about eighteen miles from the spring, which lie with Quoin Hill just open eastward of the eastern Bas- tion Hill and Flat-top Hill (or the mouth of West Arm) seen over the middle of the plain between the East and West Bastion Hills. From the brackish lagoon the fresh water lagoon (which lies to the eastward) is distant about seven miles, and thence the pools in the bed os the Ord can be easily reached. The horses sent to the station, distant about two hundred and forty miles by the track, went up in twelve days and returned in ten days. They kept mainly to the eastern side of the Ord, and found trav- elling in the bed of the river very difficult at times. Mr. McMaugh and his party were thus able to demonstrate for the first time that it was practicable for pack horses to proceed from the View Hill landing, mainly following the course of the Ora River, as far as the Negri, at a mean rate of about twentyfive miles a day. A better and more direct route may yet be discovered, westward of the ranges forming the Western

bank of the Ord River.

Neither the Ord nor its affluents (Fraser, Ac.) were running (Sept., 1884), but this was at the end of the dry season. The geo- logical formation of the country was report- ent to change eastward of House-roof Hill, and to give good indications of being auri- ferous ; so much so, that at the end of the wet season 1834-5 several prospecting par- ties intended to search tho bed of the Ord

River."

So far probably as steamers are concerned, Captaiu Coghlan and his mates may fairly

claim

' They were the first ' That ever burst

Into that silent sea.'

But within a month of their arrival the soli- tude of the Gulf was further disturbed by the puffing of the engine and the scream of the whistle of a companion boat, the large ocean going steamer Whampoa, which sailed iu and auchored in 17 fathoms off Adolphus Island. Probably not many people in Wes- tern Australia will recollect that the S.S. Whampoa, followed by her sister vessel the St Osyth was the first steamer that succes- fully attempted to introduce a direct steam service with Sydney. Just ten years ago, within a couple of months, the Whampoa steamed into Port Jackson, the precursion of,the Orients, the Messigeriea Maritimes,

and indeed of the Peninsula and Orientas of     the present day. And now we hear of her, as the pioneer of ocean going boats, testing the capabilities of our owu hitherto neglect- ed harbour of Cambridge Gulf. After speaking of the gut, a narrow winding pas- sage, but with plenty of deep water, which leads right up to the extremity of the West- ern, or principal arm of the Gulf, to the embouchure of the Pentecost and Durack Rivers, the writer of the report gives the following particulars as to the character of the natives, natural history and meterology of the region :

" Daring the vessel's stay ia Cambridge Gulf the natives appeared to closely watch our movements. As the boat ascended the Ord they lighted many bush fires along the banks of the river and tired the North-west side and summit of House-roof Hill. But otherwise we were not molested by thom, and had they wished to attack us they had every facility for doing so, as in many of the river, the banksjwere comparative!/ high, and a spear could have been thrown from shore to shore. On the Daly River, across the boundary, at this period, several white men were treacherously - murdered by the

blacks.

"The upper portion of Cambridge Gulf.(aud especially the estuary of the Ord Rivor) abounds in alligators. We rarely obtained a shot at them, as they slid down the mud banks immediately they saw or heard the boat approaching, They floated down the

stream with their bodies well submerged, exposing only the tip3 of snout and tail, and we mistook them at fifst for the branches of dead trees. On one occasion the real branch of a dead tree was so like an alligator that (brought by the tide near the boat's bow) it

caused much excitement to the bowman and an unnecessary expenditure of ammunition. One large alligator swain round the vessel for some d ays, appearing with great regular* ity, but avoided the line of fire of a carron- ade loaded with grape. A horse belonging to Mr. McMaugh's party was attacked dur- ing the night by an alligator, which appar- ently tried to drag the horse down, inflict- ing two severe wounds with the fore feet on the hind quarters of the animal. Very feet fishes were seen, except the mudfish. These were larger than I had before met with, some being from nine to twelve inches long, their semi-transparent silvery bodies remind- ing one of large smelts. They abounded in the neighbourhood of the sand barrier before mentioned (Ord Estuary), and appeared to leap with a frog-like movement upon their pectoral fins, with equal facility over water and dry land. We failed to catch any, as they hid themselves instantly, when pursued.

" The trammell net was set occasionally, without much success, a few small bream being the only haul, A fine specimen of the "sawfish" was caught in the trammel net off Lacrosse Island. This tish, from its formation, would seem to lie on the bottom like a "stingray,"' its "saw" projecting obliquely from its flat head. This was seen first live specimen of the "saw-fish " I had seen] Several very large sharks were seen as far up the Gulf as Adolphus Island. A scaleless fish, weighing about eight pounds, leapt into the gig one evening, Except that its snout turned up and teeth were small, it was not nnlike a snapper in appearance. It proved a wholesome well-fiavoured fish.

" Numerous birds were seen along the banks of the Ord River : Pelicans ; storks (in ap- pearance like the red and the white ibis); various pigeons; the whistling and the burdekin duck ; pigmy geese ; a brown bird with a long snipelike bill curving downwards larger in size than, but with the cry of, the curlew. A swallow, in appearance like the Java swallow (which furnishes the Chinese with the " edible bird's nest ") flew on board. A variety of birds were met with (including ducks and sparrows) having white breaste and throats, with a distinguishing black ring (occasionally two) round the throat. 1 regretted that one had not the means of preserving specimens.

" Flying-foxes or Fruit-bats are numerous on the shores of the Gulf. The only speci- men we obtained was very fierce, and died on board after two days confinement in a cage. When pulling down the Ord- River, the noise disturbed some flying-foxes, which rose silently from the mangroves in an im- mense flock and remained hovering over the point until the tide quickly carried the boat out of sight of them. They would probably prove a pest, should fruit be grown on the banks of the Ord. We alio met with the bowers or play-ground of the Bower bird. Mr. Hardman (Government Geologist) as- sures me that the Bower birds (males) seen by him on the Fitzroy River are dove-color- ed, with a blue crest; but the bird pointed out to me as the Bower bird had a glossy black satin-like plumage, and must be quite different in appearance to the birds seen by Mr. Hardman.

''Kangaroo and wallabi are plentiful on the shores of Cambridge Gulf. They are

of a reddish brown or cinnamon colour, as a rule ; but a larger species of kangaroo (called I believe Wallaroo) was met with, of a dark brown colour. A fine specimen of the hooded-lizard waaiseen, but could not be caught.

"The principal trees seen were the gonty stem, cotton, and red gum. Cambridge Gulf seems to be the special home of the gouty-stem tree. The natives apparently do not trouble themselves to gather the fruit. Numbers of the tree* were heavily laden with the lost season's fruit. As a rule, the trees I measured averaged about twenty-five feet in girth round the bottle portion of the stem ; but a fine specimen, with three buttresses, measured forty-three feet round including the buttresses. Com- mander Stokes, R.N., who saw the gouty stem tree in bloom, ia 1836, on the Vic- toria River (and I believe was the first to describe it) states that the blossom has the perfume and color of white jasmine and scents the atmosphere for long distances. The silk-cotton trees, with their yellow blossoms and last season's fruit, were at- tractive and plentiful along the shores of

the Gulf.

" The fan and cabbage palm3 were also met with. The screw-pine (Pandanus) was always a welcome sight, for we invariably found fresh water near where it grew in clumps. Captain Hayes informed me that the natives of the Marshall Islands pound the sweet inner portion of its fruit (some- what resembling a large ruddy pine-apple with many sections) into a paste and dry it, which furnishes them with a wholesome food and not unlike date paste in flavour. The natives of this portion of the North- west coast appear to eat the f rait of the screw-pine in preference to the fruit of the gouty-stem tree, as we always found por- tions of the roasted fruit of the former (but not of the latter) around their fire places. I regret that I was unable to make a bo- tanical collection. As opportunities offer- ed I made geological collections from the shores of the .Gulf and other places visited, in the hope that they might prove of some slight service in connection with Mr. Hard man's labors up the country. Mr. Hard- man has kindly consented to classify the specimens for me.

" Upon our first arrival in Cambridge Gulf (August) the climate was pleasant, a cool land wind blew down the Gulf from 3 a.m. to 11 a.m. and was succeeded about 1 p.m. by a sea-breeze. After the middle of September, however, the climate became trying and the heat oppressive. The ra- diation from the hills made the-upper por- tion of the Gulf even hotter by night than by day ; and the thermoAeter reached 96* F. During October and November (before the rains have set in and when the land and sea breezes are more or les3 suspend- ed), the climate of Cambridge Gulf cannot be pleasant.

The dry season (easterly monsoon) is from May to September, and the wet sea- son (westerly monsoon) from October to April. The prevailing direction of the wind during the former period is from E.S.E., hauling during the afternoons to E.N.E. In October and November heavy thunder-storms (" bulls-eye squalls ") oc- cur, in violence resembling tornadoes. In December the westerly monsoon gains strength, the atmosphere becomes thorough- ly saturated with moisture, and rain fulls almost daily,-an agreeable change after the intensely hot weather experieneed-in October and November. About the middle of March hot weather and thunderstorms

again set in, being succeeded at the end of April by the easterly monsoon and cool

weather.

" No rain fell in Cambridge Gnlf during August, September, and October (1884). Tbe average annual rainfall at Port Darwin iu 63 inches, but the quantity diminishes rapidly inland, there being only thirty-five inches at Pine Creek, distant about one hundred and fifty miles from Port Darwin, or an average loss of rainfall of one inch per five miles of distance from the coast. In the absence of recorded observations, the rainfall in Cambridge Gulf may be taken to be the same as that of Port Dar-

win.

" I believe Cambridge Golf may be consid- ered a healthy climate. We had some cases of fever and ague, but all the men attacked (including myself) had had intermittent fever before in other parts of the world. Sleeping in the boat at night, up mangrove creeks, probably caused these attacks. The cool weather season is the sickly season on this coast; the malaria is supposed to be brought down from the inland swamps by the easterly winds which pass over them."

Captain Cr-ghlan is unhesitating in his opinion that the Victoria River, just on the other side of the dividing line, in the North- ern Territory of South Australia will be found everyway inferior to Cambridge Gulf as a port and highway into the interior. Hfeidea is that Port Darwin, from its natural and acquired advantages, must form the central entrepot of North Australia, but that the principal depot of that great un- named bay, of which CambridgêxGulf is only an opening, must be established in the Gulf itaelf. As to its possible intercourse with distant ports we learn that Lacrosse Island, at toe mouth of Cambridge Gnlf, is distant by steamer track-From Port Dar- na about 210 3ea mitosf from King Swad

(Derby) about 489 do ; from Cossack about 930do; From Fremantle about 1850do; from Batavia (by-Sunda Strait) about 1450 do ; from Singapore about 1950 do ; from Hong Kong about 8300 do ; from Colombo about 3200 do; From Mauritius (Port Louis) about 4000 do. Cossack is therefore, practically, about half-way be- tween Fremantle and Cambridge Gulf, and King Sound about half-way between Cos-

sack and the Gulf.

It is to be regretted that the report con- tains so little relating directly to the pas- toral properties of the country. Authen- tic evidence on this point is very deficient, but we may anticipate from the surveying party about to embark for Cambridge Gun? accurate, exhaustive, and we may subjoin for our own part, favourable descriptions of the capabilities of the district. Meantime it is a matter of the highest importance to have had the conditions of navigating this splendid sheet of water determined even with approximate accuracy. That those conditions appear to be so favourable must be, to every one in this colony, matter of undneiable satisfaction. With the conclud- ing paragraphs of the report, which speak of other points on the coast visited by the Cushie Doo, we propose to deal on another

occasion.

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