Burke & Wills Web
The online digital research archive of expedition records
© 2020

[Second] Surveyor's Report

Original item held at the State Library of Victoria, SLV MS13071, Box 2082/5a.
Victorian Exploring Expedition Records, Statements sent by members of the VEE to the EC.
William John Wills' surveyor's report, 30 October 1860. 9 pages.

Survey from Menindie to Torowoto

From Mr Wills, Second in Command, Astronomer & Surveyor of the Party.
Forwarded from Torowoto, October 30th 1860

Surveyor's Report
The country, Bilbarka and Tolarno, in the immediate vicinity of the eastern bank of the River Darling, presents the most barren and miserable appearance of any land that we have yet met with. It consists chiefly of mud flats, covered with polygonum bushes, box timber, and a few salsolaceous plants, of inferior quality. Above Tolarno there is a slight improvement, and between Kinchiga and Menindie there is some fair grazing country. All agree in saying that there is fine grazing land back from the river; but the want of water will probably prevent its being occupied, except in a very partial manner, for many years; and I fear that the high sand ridges, twenty to forty feet, and in some cases more than sixty feet above the level of the river banks, will form almost insuperable barriers in the way of any one who may attempt to conduct water from the river by means of canals. It appears to me, from the information that I have been able to obtain that the difficulties with which settlers have here to contend arise not so much from the absorbent nature of the soil as from the want of anything to absorb. This last season is said to have been the most rainy that they have had for several years; yet everything looked so parched up that I should have imagined it had been an exceedingly dry one.

I noticed that the forests for about 30 miles below Menindie had been subjected to severe gales from W.N.W. This was so striking, that I at first thought it was the effect of a hurricane; but I could find no indications of a whirling force, all the trees and branches lying in the same direction; besides which, they seemed to have been torn clown at various times, from the different stages of decay in which they were found; and Mr Wright has subsequently informed me that almost every spring they have a gale from W.N.W., which lasts but a short time, but carries everything before it. It is this same strip of country, which is said to be more favoured with rain than that lower down.

Sand Drifting.
One can perceive everywhere in the neighbourhood of Menindie the effect of the winds in shifting the sand by the numerous logs in various stages of inhumation.

The Darling Pea
It appears to be a disputed question, even on the river, as to the effect of the Darling pea on horses, some asserting that they become cranky simply from eating that herb, and others that it is starvation that makes them mad. I could get no satisfactory information even as to the symptoms, which seem to vary considerably; but this I had from a reliable source, that horses will eat the pea in large quantities without being injuriously affected, provided they can obtain other food as well; but that when they are on portions of the river where they can get nothing else to eat, then they soon get an attack of madness.

Menindie to Scrope Ranges
The country between Menindie and Kokriega, in the Scrope Ranges, a distance of thirty-six miles in a northerly direction, is a fine open tract of country, well grassed, but having no permanent water. At Kokriega there is a well which may be relied on for a small supply, but would be of no use in watering cattle in large numbers. The ranges are composed of ferruginous sandstone and quartz conglomerate, and as to vegetation are of a very uninviting aspect. The plain to the south is covered with quartz and sandstone pebbles. About five miles to the N.E. of the Kokriega is a spot where the schist rock crops out from under the sandstone, and the rises here have somewhat of an auriferous character.

North of the Scrope Range
To the north of the Scrope Range the country has much the same appearance, except that there are more trees, and no stones until one reaches the Mount Doubeny Ranges, a distance of nearly forty miles. At a spot half way, named Botoga, there are some flats well calculated for collecting and retaining rainwater.

Mount Doubeny Range.
In this range there are, no doubts many places where permanent water may be found in considerable quantities. Two places I may mention where the water is certainly permanent -Mutwongee, a gully midway between camps 39 and 40; and Bengora Creek, the latter camp.

Country North of Mount Doubeny
From these ranges up to our present position we have passed over as good grazing country as one would wish to see; salt bushes of every kind, grass in abundance, and plenty of water. Amongst the ranges we found kangaroo grass as 'high as our shoulders, and on the plains the spear grass up to our knees.

Naudtherungee Creek.
At this creek, which takes its rise near Mount Lyell, and probably flows into the M'Farlane's Creek of Sturt, we found a small shallow pond of water, in the sandy bed of the creek. This did not look very promising, but on digging I found that the whole, bed of the creek was a mass of loose sand, through which the water freely permeated, and that the waterhole we found was only a spot where, the level of the surface of the sand being below that of the water, the latter oozed through. I am informed by Mr Wright, who was here in January last, that the creek contained much more water then than now.

Country North of Naudtherungee Creek.
For a few miles to the north of this creek the ground is very sandy, and timbered with pines, acacias, and several descriptions of trees with which I am unacquainted. There are two very handsome trees that I have never seen in any other part of the country -the leopard tree (called so from its spotted bark), and a tree which in general appearance much resembles the poplar. On these sandhills the grass is very coarse, but in the flats there is good feed. Beyond the sand rises the country becomes more open again; and at about twelve or thirteen miles one comes to quartz rises, from which there is a fine -view to the E., N., and W. Two creeks are distinctly visible by the lines of gum timber; they take their rise near some hills to the eastward, and passing around towards the north, join at a point about three miles N. W., from whence the resulting creek continues in a W.N.W. direction, as far as the eye can reach. The hills are composed of an argillaceous schist. On several of the lower rises, quartz reefs crop out, and some of the quartz which I examined had every appearance of being auriferous, except the, main one-the colour of the gold. There are some fine waterholes in the first creek (Teltawongee), but I cannot say for certain that the water is permanent. The whole of the country from here to our next camp, a distance of twenty six miles, is the finest I have seen for collecting and retaining water ; and the only question as to a permanent supply of that essential liquid is, whether this part of the country is subject to long-continued droughts; for the water-holes that we have met with are not large enough to last for any great length of time, in the event of the country being stocked. At ten miles from Teltawongee, we came to the Wonominta -a creek having all the characteristics of water-courses that take their rise in hills of schistose formation. At first, the numberless small waterholes, without the trace of a creek connecting them, then the deep-cut narrow channel, with every here and there a fine waterhole. The banks of the creek are clothed with high grass and marshmallows. The latter grow to an immense size on nearly all the creeks out here.

The Wonominta Ranges are high, bare-looking hills, lying to the eastward of the creek; the highest peaks must be between two and three thousand feet above the sea. The blacks say that there is no water in them -an assertion that I can scarcely credit. They say, however, that there is a fine creek, with permanent water, to the east of the ranges, flowing northwards. At the point of the Wonominta Creek where we camped there is a continuous waterhole of more than a mile long, which, they say, is never dry. It is from fifteen to twenty feet broad, and averages about five feet in depth, as near as I could ascertain. From this point Camp No. 43, the creek turns to the N.W. and around to N., where it enters a swamp, named Wannoggin; it must be the same that Sturt crossed in coming across from Evelyn Plains. In going over to Wannoggin, a distance of fourteen miles, I found the plains everywhere intersected by small creeks, most of theni containing water, which was sheltered from the sun by the overhanging branches of drooping shrubs, tall marshmallows, and luxuriant salt bushes; and at some of them were hundreds of ducks and waterhens. When crossing some flats of light-coloured clay soil, near Wannoggin, and which were covered with box timber, one might almost fancy himself in another planet, they were so arid and barren. The Wannoggin Swamp is at present dry, but I believe it is generally a fine place for water. Birds are very numerous about there, and I noticed that by far the greater portion of the muslka trees (a species of acacia) contained nests, either old or new.

At about twenty miles from Wonominta, in a N.N.E. direction, there is a fine creek, with a waterhole about a mile long, which we passed; and Mr Wright tells me there is a larger one further up the creek. The land in the neighbourhood of the Torowoto Swamp is very fine for pastoral purposes. It is rather low and swampy, and therefore better for cattle than for sheep. There appears to be a gradual fall in the land from Totoynya to this place, amounting to about 500 feet. This swamp can scarcely be more than 600 feet above the sea, if so much. The highest ground over which we have passed has been in the Mount Doubeny Ranges, from Langawirra to Bengora, and that appears to be about 1000 feet above the sea. Mount Bengora is, by barometrical observation, about 300 feet above the camp at Bengora, but it is not the highest peak in the range by perhaps fifty or sixty feet; and I think we may assume that the highest peak does not exceed 1,500 feet above the sea.

We have been very fortunate up to the present time as regards the weather, both in having had plenty of water and moderate temperatures. The thermometer has never risen above 88.5°' in the shade, and has seldom been below 50°; the average daily range having been from 58° to 80°. During our stay on the Darling, the temperature of the, water varied very slightly, being always between 65° and 67°. The winds have generally been light, frequently going all round the compass in the course of the day; but in any case it has almost invariably fallen calm after sunset. Cirri and cirrostratus clouds have been very prevalent during the day, and cummulostratus during the night.

Wells and Creeks
The temperature of the water in the well at Kokriega, at ten A.M. Oct. 21st, was 68.5°. being exactly the same as the temperature of the air. That of the water between the rocks, at Bilpa, at five p.m. on the same day, was 60° the temperature of air being 75°. The temperature of the water in the sand at Naudthertingee, at seven A.M. on the 26th, was 59.5°, that of the air being 62°. At five a.m. October 28th the temperature of the water in. Wonominta Creek was 63.5°, that of the air being 62°.

Note.-The temperature of the water is always taken within six inches of the surface.





The following is a list of the camps from Menindie to this place:-

Oct 19 - Totoyna, a waterhole on the plains Camp 35
Oct 20 - Kokriega, well in the Scope Ranges Camp 36
Oct 21 - Bilpa Ck ditto Camp 37
Oct 22 - Botoja Clay pans Camp 38
Oct 23 - Langawirra Gully Mouont Doubeny Range Camp 39
Oct 24 - Bengora Creek, Mount Doubeny Range Camp 40
Oct 25 - Naudtherungee Creek Camp 41
Oct 26 - Teltawongee Creek Camp 42
Oct 27 - Wonominta Creek Camp 43
Oct 28 - A clay pan on the plains Camp 44
Oct 29 - Torowoto Swamp Camp 45, Lat 30° 01' 30" S Long 142° 27' E
Oct 30 -

R O'Hara Burke, Leader


Provenance: A note from Burke & Wills Web.
Wills' 'Second Surveyor's Report' was written on nine sheets of the expeditions' blue foolscap note paper. He completed it on 29 October 1860 at Camp XLV at Torowoto Swamp and gave it to William Wright, third-in-command of the expedition, who took it to Menindee where he posted it to Melbourneon Wednesday, 14 November 1860. The Exploration Committee of the Royal Society of Victoria in Melbourne received this report on 3 December 1860.

www.burkeandwills.net.au Burke & Wills Web The digital research archive of expedition records
© 2020, Dave Phoenix