13 April

The night had been unusually warm, so much so that the thermometer stood  during the whole of it at 76 degrees (the usual noonday heat) and so  parching was the air that no one could sleep. A hot wind blew from the  north-east in the morning, and the barometer fell 4/10 of an inch; there  were also slight showers.

Leaving Mr. Stapylton in charge of the camp I went with a small mounted  party to Cudjallagong (Regent’s lake) which I found to be nine miles to  the east-south-east of our tents. We passed by the place where  Cudjallagong creek first leaves the river and by which this lake is  supplied.

The uniformity of breadth and width in this streamlet and its tortuous  course were curious, especially as it must lead the floods of the Lachlan  almost directly back from the general direction of their current to  supply a lake. Thus the fluviatile process seemed to be reversed here,  the tendency of this river being not to carry surface waters off, but  rather to spread over land where none could otherwise be found, those  brought from a great distance. The particular position of this portion of  depressed surface being so far distant from the general course of the  river and the communication between it and the river by a backwater so  shallow and small, the lake can only receive a small share of the river  deposits and this only from the waters of its highest floods. We found  the “noble lake” (as it appeared when discovered by Mr. Oxley) now for  the most part a plain covered with luxuriant grass; some water, it is  true, lodged on the most eastern extremity, but nowhere to a greater  depth than a foot. Innumerable ducks took refuge there and al situated in Lake George and Lake Bathurst, to what long periods the  extremes of drought and moisture have extended, and may again extend, in  this singular country.

That the lake is sometimes a splendid sheet of water was obvious in its  line of shores. These were overhung on the south-western side by rocky  eminences which in some parts consisted of a red calcareous tuff  containing fragments of schist; in others, of trap-rock or basalt which  was very hard and black. The opposite shore was lower, with water-worn  cliffs of reddish clay. By these cliffs and the beaches of drifted sand  under them, we perceived that the prevailing winds in all times of high  flood came from the south-west; the north-east side being very different  from the opposite, which was free from sand and bore no such marks of  chaffing waves.

At two places the banks are so low that in high floods the water must  flow over them to the westward and supply, as I supposed, Campbell’s  lake, called Goorongully, and that to the north-east of Regent’s lake.  Upon the whole it appeared that the trap which originally elevated the  western shore had either partially subsided, or that it was connected  with a crater or cavity of which the only vestige is this lake. The  calcareous conglomerate was unlike any rock I had seen elsewhere,  consisting in part of a tuff resembling the matrix of the fossil bones  found in limestone fissures. It is also worthy of notice that it appears  in some low undulations which extend from the lake to the river, and that  the channel conveying the waters to the lake lies in a hollow between  them.

On first approaching the lake we saw the natives in the midst of the  water, gathering the mussels (unio). I sent Piper forward to tell them  who we were, and thus, if possible, prevent any alarm at our appearance.  It began to rain heavily as we rode round; and although detached parties  of gins on the south shore had taken fright, left their huts and run to  the main camp, I was glad to find, when we rode up, that they remained  quietly there, under cover from the heavy rain. These huts or gunyas  consisted of a few green boughs which had just been put up for shelter  from the rain then falling. The tribe consisted of about a hundred.

The females and children were in huts at some distance from those of the  men. A great number sat huddled together and cowered down under each  gunya, their skinny limbs being so folded before their bodies that the  head rested upon the knees. Among the faces were some which, being  hideously painted white (the usual badge of mourning) grinned horribly;  and the whole was so characteristic a specimen of life among the  aborigines that the heavy rain did not prevent me from making a sketch.  While I was thus employed the natives very hospitably made a fire in a  vacant gunya, evidently for the purpose of warming poor Barney, our  guide, who seemed miserably cold, having no covering except a jacket,  thoroughly wet.    MEN.  The men were in general strong, healthy, and muscular, and among them was  one who measured six feet four inches, as we afterwards ascertained at  our camp. My chief object in visiting the lake was to cultivate a good  understanding with these natives in the hopes that one of them might be  induced to accompany me down the Lachlan. The facility with which Piper,  then at a distance of 200 miles from his native place, Bathurst,  conversed with these people showed that their dialects are not so varied  as is commonly believed; and I had little doubt that he would be  understood, even on the banks of the Darling.

He ascertained from one of these natives of Regent’s lake that after  eight of our daily journeys, according to his comprehension, the bed of  the Lachlan would contain no water, and that we must go to the right  across “the middle,” as Piper understood, reaching in four days more a  lagoon called Burrabidgin or Burrabadimba: that there I must leave the  carts and go with the native on horseback; and that in two days’  travelling at the rate we could then proceed, we should reach  Oolawambiloa, a very great water. They also said that water could be  found in the bush at the end of each of those four days’ journey by one  of their tribe who would go with us and who had twice been at the great  water. All this news made me impatient to go on; but we had to remain a  day or two for the light cart. It rained heavily during the whole  afternoon; nevertheless a body of these natives accompanied us back,  keeping pace with our horses.

Each carried a burning torch of the resinous bark of the callitris, with  the blaze of which these natives seemed to keep their dripping bodies  warm, laughing heartily and passing their jokes upon us, our horses and  particularly upon our two guides of their own race, Piper and Barney, who  seemed anything but at home on horseback with wet clothes dripping about  them.      COLOUR LIGHT.      These natives were of a bright copper colour, so different from black  that one had painted his thighs with black chequered lines which made his  skin very much resemble the dress of a harlequin.

Mr. Stapylton proceeded with a party to make a survey of Cudjallagong  lake and creek, an operation which could be accomplished with less  inconvenience as that gentleman’s equipment could not come up to us until  the 16th.

He extended his survey to the small lake to the north-east, the first  discovered by Mr. Oxley and named by him Campbell’s lake. Mr. Stapylton  found only a grassy plain without a drop of water. By an opening from  Cudjallagong lake he proceeded to another likewise seen by Mr. Oxley. It  had also become a verdant plain, nevertheless I thought it was necessary  to distinguish it on my map by its native name of Goorongully, as Mr.  Oxley had not supplied any to it.