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1 correction by peter-macinnis - Show corrections

THE GREAT AUSTRAL PLAIN.

[By ERNEST FAY EN C in the Sudntyl Mtrning

Herald.]

Between longitude 121 ° and 1.38° East we find in the interior an extent of teiritory in which no river nor creck has yet been discovered that could be traced for any great distance, or proved to have an ontlet into the sea. The past bM told as this. Wheic, then, does the drainage go ? It is a question for the present generation to solve. The Great Anstral Plain, then, ia almost without any defined river system. Truly, on the extreme western slope it is drained by rivers whose courses can be fol lowed ana mapped out until they are ab sorbed in the flats and marshes of Lakes Eyre and Hope; but once we cross the Queensland border, travelling westward, we are in a region where all the watercourses are, after a comparatively brief existence, loat in shallow lakes and immense flooded plains. We an fairly in a land without mountains or rivers, or where both are to be

toned in inch a modified form compared to the size of the continent that they may be .aid to be nnn-existent, >o far m their form* ing any Byitem of drainage may bo con corned. Over a great portion of the con tinent the elevations consist on)y of square topped hills and peaks ot red sandstone, all of the same shane, and cxactly the same height, hiding between them yon seem to be in a broken hilly region. Climb to the top of one-somo 80 or 90 feet as a role-and you will then teo that yon are standing on the remains of a tableland. All round yon the flat-topped hills and isolated peaks fellows to the one yon Btand on-form one uniform level line against the sky, broken only by the valleys and flats that have been formed by the long continued action of water. This absenco of any large river throughout such a great portion of the con tinent is dae mainly to the level character of the conn try, and the uncertain nature of the rainfall, if we take an imaginary trip from east to west wo shall see this plainly.

! The eastern extremity (from where wo

| start) is drained by tributary rivers of tbo

Darling, the main stream of Australia. Whilst on these rivers we are still in a coun try which, although at any time subjcct to drought, is on the whole visited by rain in regular seasons. Amongst these wo may counttho Lncblan, the Barwon, the Began, the Cuigoa, the Warrego, and its trihataries. All these streams flow through flat conn try, and the districts they water are only now rising into the importance they mast ovontu* ally assume in tno dominion of Australia. That all these rivers havo defined channels, and arc periodically flooded, is owing to thoir sources being near enough to tbo coast to sharo in tho yearly rainfall that those regions have tho benefit of. If we go a step farther west, and travereo tho country drained by the Paroo, the Wilson, Cooper's Cretk and its tributaries, tbo Barcoo and Thompson, we find ourselves gradually get ting amongst the dry plains and long strotchcs of prairio that tell us wo aro on tho outskirts of tbo Great Plain. But evon here wo are only jost getting into the true in terior. We atill have rivers and defined watersheds ; we must cross the Diamantina, and travel a faw hundred miles westward be fore_we are fairly on the great plain.

What do we sco around us ? A wido sea of land, with * dull hase bounding our view on all sides-a ban that magnifies every thing, turning a toft of grass into a bush, a bush into a tree. As we look round we can discern some half-doson objects apparently hovering in the air and quivering as though alive. They am trees some four or five to Ilea away, and they indicate a watercourse of some description, so we had better roako fur it. Crossing tbo plain wo find it treach erous riding. Fissures and cracks extend in every direction, and tbo rich chocolate soil is soft and pnffy; tbo gnse grows widely apart and ia almost white in colour, and tbo reflected glare of tbo vertical summer sun ia painful and trying to the oyc*. On nearing tbo timber, it resolves itself into a thin straggling lino of stunted, crookcd trees, growing around a lagoon of milky-looking water, A belt o( polygonum bushes inter venes between the water and the trees, and close to the odgo of tbo water tbero is A growth of short green grass. Ducks and other water fowl of all kinds rise up at our approach; the smoke of a native camp is visible on the other side, and as we ride round, to it some of the occupants clamour loudly, and hold up both bands

empty in a sign or peace. It is a miserable camp, a few boughs heaped up on the windward side form the shelter, and piles of fresh water mussels, stacked at the foot of a larger tree than the generality, seem the only store of food the denizens possess, Huge "coolamon" (vessels chopped out of soft wood for water-carrying purposes) are scattered about the camp, telling of many a dry tramp from one waterhole to the another. The men are tall and spare, with straight hair and rather good features, the gins hideously ugly and emaciated in appearance. It is anmmer timo, and the scarcity of water forces them into tho lovel flat oountry, where feathered game, and that only, is plentiful at the main watorholes. When tho thundor storms fall this tribe will break up into small families and scatter through tho spinifox country, where they moro easily

obtain rats and "such smaller deer." It is

strange upon what a scanty supply of water a family of natives can contrive to exist. After the thunderstorm season they remain as long as possible in the desert country, whioh consists mostly of spinifex forest, and provides them with the only flesh-other than fish and fowl-that they over obtain, namely, rats, iguanas, and the smaller kinds of kaagaroo. Many a white traveller has bepn lurod on to death by seeing tho imoka

of tho burning spinifex that indicates their j hunting ground. Oonerally it is a small

sooicty of seven or eight individuals who aro j living in a misorablo hand-to-mouth oxia* j tonco-eking out the wretched supply of j wator by eating their food in a half or quite I

raw state. The water they got in aomo shallow well scraped out whore a slight de pression baa cauaod a amall deposit of water to remain underground, Thia drains into their well at the rate of about a pint an hour, and even if the thirsty white traveller ahoaid bo lucky enough to tind it he will scarcely obtain enough to satisfy h>8 own thirst, apart from that of his horao.

The dfstanoo that the dark smoko of the burning apinifex can bo seen ia almost in credible. I have known a two days' journey to bu taken before ibe fire baa been reached, and then the result has been as above; in* stead of a watorhole of any also at all, a shallow gully, acarwly to bo callcd a crock, and at aomo bond or point whore tbo bed rock is slightly lower, a rudo holo with watei soaking in in lingering dropa. This probably S0Bt&iD9 life in nine or ten indivi duals, aa well oa a dog or two, for the blacks of tbo Interior huTo domesticated (?) the dingoes, and no matter the privations they are suffering under, manage tospaxoBomo

food for them,

Continuing oar imaginary joarney, wo find, after crossing tbo roo*t western tributary of Eyre'e Creek and tho Herbert, tbat we bave to depend greatly upon luck or accident to load n» to tbo rare watercourecs oi tho region wo ato in. So slight aro tbo elovntions of

the wiiterabcd* between tho crooks tbat ovon the aneroid barometer fatls to tell yon wbon yon ate ascending or descending.

Again, tbo scarcity of timber leads to an absence of drift deposit in tbo dry beds of the creeks, and tbo traveller often finds tbo poly gonum bushes laid almost flat by tho action of watei In a certain direction ; and, follow ing the guidanro of this indication, will, after a short time, find the bnshea laid ox. actly the opposito way, showing that tho water has mn both ways in the same creek. Nor ia this duo, as it often is on the coast, to its being an ana-branch op which a (lood in the main stteam has Locked tho water. Out here a hea\y thunderstorm descending upon a particular s{x>t in a crock tbat has no do cided fall in its bed will often make llie water run in opposite directions, as strongly against what appears to lie its natural couiiio

as with it.

Again, in tho shallow lakes-often of groat size-peculiar to this region, on every iide will be found the marks of an overflow setting towards all points of the compos.

Thus it will 1)0 seen how much nierc cnance has to do with the finding of water when striking across this country. The large well detincd creek the traveller starts to fallow in the morning may, in a few miles, disappear utterly, and leave him in the middlo of flat flooded country, where probaMy the only drift indications he finds seem to show that

the water pursues an entirely opposite course to that of the creek ho has just lost. Birds are here nature's sign-posts. Tho .. flock pigeons" and the parrots that find their feed ing grounds far away from tho water, and at sunnso and sundown hie in flocks to drink, these point out tho direction in which to look

for water. It is on these immenso tracts of conntry subject to inundation that tho water com sea of the great plain are aluorbed (vnd tost. When we corns to consider that an

average rainfall of only some six or eight inches yearly fall# on a country where there are endless plains and dry lakes that have been baked for twelve months under A tropical sun and scorching hot winds, the absencc of watercourses is not wonderfuL Again, embracing as this territory docs so many parallel* of latitude, there is, as a rule, no general fall of rain over it at one and the same time. Tho wet season of the tropical coastline only rinds its way on to the great plain in thunderstorms of greater or less violence, often consisting only of thunder,

liahtnina. and wind.

w\Ve have now left tho Queensland border some threo hundred miles behind us, havo passed through the country which probably witnessed the death of Leichardt and his followers, and aro almost on the overland telegraph line that bisects the continent. As we awake with the breaking dawn, wo see to the westward of us & dark ridge thai looks like high downs country. This disappears with the rising inn, so slight and gradual is the elevation j and yet this distant dark line, to little above the horizon, is the backbone of Australia, or all wo havo to represent it. As we near it, or the place where we saw it, we find ourselves getting into a sandy desert tableland, Bcrubby and bairen. Suddenly it

seems to break away at our very feet. Wo havo passed from tho eastern to the western slope, and the descent is abrupt and broken. Gorges and ravines that only want depth to be formidablo as any in the world, are be. nealh us, and boyond, stretching away right on to and across tho boundary of Western Australia, is a misty sea of gray-tho great

Elain once more. At our feet, at the

ottom of the range, lies tho tele

graph line-tho slender wire that connects us with Europe. Hut wo will not loiter at it IB unless we come across a party of natives employed in cntting tho biuding wire from tho insulators in order to mako tish-hooks

thereof, it would be as well to stop and disperso them if wo do, else will communi cation bo interrupted, and tho dwellers in Adelaide, Molbourne, and Sydnoy bo de prived of their usual cablegrams. As we

Ie&vo the line tahind us our troubles are thicker than ever as regards water. We nro in tho Great Sandy or Southern Desert, as it has been variously named. Nothing but endless spinifcx seems to surround it. At times a spring or native well will help us on j but these are rare, and rarer as we advance. At last wo are stopped by an expanso of dry country that uiiless under exceptionally favorable circumstances can only be crossed with the aid of camels. Here we aeo no sign of life at all savo only anta, and they aro in such swarms as to render sleep impossible. It is strange that though living ip a country utterly devoid of water, theso insects ravenously attack any vessel containing it that comos within their reach. Of natives we see hore no trace. The spinifex has been untouched by Are for years, and tho accumulated growth present auoh a formidable barrier of spikes as to almost ren der travelling impossible. At intervals we come across grassy plains and stretches of open country that appear inviting ; but we bavo no timo to waste hunting for water. We roust push on in an undeviating course, and trust to chanoo ; and if relief comes in timo wo may continue our journey over the aamo description of country uptil wo find ourselves on tho heads of the rivers flowing into the woatern coast, and off the great plain,

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