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Explorers Journals (Bushcraft & Aboriginal Contact)


Nest In the Hills
Staff member
May 2, 2011
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Central West, NSW
This is a continuation of this thread on the History of Australian Bushcraft.

Aside from the obvious pass down of information from Aboriginal people, arguably the next best set of information is in the form or anecdotal evidence from Explorers journals. I have posted some links to free online explorers journals. In many of these there is great information relating to contact with Aboriginal people. Unfortunately many of the meetings are conflicts rather than productive, however there are some explorers who knew how valuable the local knowledge was and took the time to try and learn and document their bush skills.

Im hoping this thread will act as a collection for journal entries which contain useful information which can help us continue to uncover some knowledge or information which may be lost or forgotten.


I will start with this entry.

July 9 1845.

--We travelled thirteen or fourteen miles south by west to latitude 17 degrees 0 minutes 13 seconds, at first crossing a box-flat, and after that a succession of greater or smaller plains, separated by a very open Grevillea forest. These plains were well grassed, or partly covered with a species of Euphorbia, which was eaten by our horses and cattle; and also with the long trailings of the native melon; the fruit of which tastes very tolerably, after the bitter skin has been removed; but when too ripe, the fruit is either insipid or nauseous. The bustard seems to feed almost exclusively on them, for the stomach of one, which Brown shot, was full of them.

The apple-gum, which we had missed for some time, again made its appearance, accompanied by another white gum, with long narrow leaves. As we approached the creek, at which we afterwards encamped, the vegetation became richer, and the melon-holes enlarged into dry water-holes, which were frequently shaded by the Acacia with articulate pods (Inga moniliformis). The two species of Terminalia, of the upper Lynd, were numerous; and a small green looking tree, which we found growing densely along the creek, had wood of a brown colour, which smelt like raspberry jam; and, upon burning it, the ashes produced a very strong lye, which I used in dressing the wounds of my companions. This tree was found in great abundance on all the rivers and creeks round the gulf, within the reach of salt water; and when crossing Arnheim Land, though less frequently.

Sandstone cropped out in the banks of the creek, and formed the reservoirs in its bed.

Last night, and the night before, we experienced a very cold wind from the southward.

The laughing Jackass (Dacelo cervina, GOULD) of this part of the country, is of a different species from that of the eastern coast, is of a smaller size, and speaks a different language; but the noise is by no means so ridiculous as that of Dac. gigantea: he is heard before sunrise, and immediately after sunset, like his representative of the eastern coast. The latter was observed as far as the upper Lynd, where the new one made his appearance.

We crossed a bush fire, which had been lighted just before we came to the creek, but we did not see the incendiaries. In the morning of the 10th July, however, they had discovered our tracks, and followed them until they came in sight of the camp; but retired as soon as they saw us: and when they met Charley returning with the bullocks, they ran away. After half-an-hour's travelling towards the south-west, we came to the Van Diemen, which is marked in Arrowsmith's map in latitude 17 degrees. It was about seventy or eighty yards broad, with steep banks and a fine sandy bed, containing detached pools of water surrounded by Polygonum, and extremely boggy. My horse stuck in the mud, and it was with great difficulty that I extricated him.

As our meal bags were empty, and no sign of game appeared, I decided upon selecting a good open camping place, for the purpose of killing our last little steer. The country was a fine open grassy forest land, in which the apple-gum prevailed, and with many swampy grassy lagoons covered with white, blue, and pink Nymphaeas. The box tree grew in their immediate neighbourhood.

In the bed of the Van Diemen we saw some well constructed huts of the natives; they were made of branches arched over in the form of a bird-cage, and thatched with grass and the bark of the drooping tea-tree. The place where we encamped had been frequently used by the natives for the same purpose. Our attention was particularly attracted by a large heap of chaff, from which the natives appeared to have taken the seeds. This grass was, however, very different from the panicum, of the seeds of which the natives of the Gwyder River make a sort of bread; and which there forms the principal food of the little Betshiregah (Melopsittacus undulatus, GOULD).

The night was calm, clear, and cold.

The kites became most daring and impudent. Yesterday, I cleaned the fat gizzard of a bustard to grill it on the embers, and the idea of the fat dainty bit made my mouth water. But alas! whilst holding it in my hand, a kite pounced down and carried it off, pursued by a dozen of his comrades, eager to seize the booty.

We killed our little steer in the afternoon of the 10th, and the next day we cut the meat into slices, and hung it out on a kangaroo net: the wind was high, the sun warm, and our meat dried most perfectly. Whilst we were in the midst of our work, some natives made their appearance. I held out a branch as a sign of peace, when they ventured up to hold a parley, though evidently with great suspicion. They were rather small, and the tall ones were slim and lightly built. They examined Brown's hat, and expressed a great desire to keep it. In order to make them a present, I went to the tents to fetch some broken pieces of iron; and whilst I was away, Brown, wishing to surprise them, mounted his horse, and commenced trotting, which frightened them so much, that they ran away, and did not come again. One of them had a singular weapon, neatly made, and consisting of a long wooden handle, with a sharp piece of iron fixed in at the end, like a lancet. The iron most probably had been obtained from the Malays who annually visit the gulf for trepang. Some of their spears were barbed.