Mitchell’s third journey: The Darling joins the Murray [chapter 22 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton]

[Editor: This is chapter 22 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton. Published in The Sunday Mail, 11 November 1934.]

The story of Australia — XXII

Mitchell’s third journey

The Darling joins the Murray

We have already seen that Mitchell was now fully convinced that the River Darling joined the Murray, but he had not actually seen the junction. The officials of the colony, however, were determined to have the matter settled, one way or the other, and Mitchell was instructed to organise another expedition without delay.

On March 17, 1836, this expedition, numbering 24 persons, left Orange. Mitchell was ordered to trace the Darling as far as the Murray, then to cross over the latter and explore its upper reaches. The country at this time was suffering from a severe drought, but this did not deter Mitchell. He followed the route taken by Oxley, and reached the Lachlan at the point where Oxley had left it. Here he found the marshes and swamps changed into grassy flats.

Still in doubt

It is remarkable that Mitchell, while on the Lachlan, again began to doubt the truth of Sturt’s statement that the Darling joined the Murray. In his diary he wrote:—

“I considered it necessary to ascertain, if possible, whether the Lachlan actually joined the Murrumbidgee near the point where Mr. Oxley saw its waters covering the face of the country, or whether it pursued a course so much more to the westward as to have been mistaken for the Darling by Captain Sturt.”

To set his mind at rest he took a long journey westward, but failed to discover the river for which he hoped. The Murrumbidgee was reached on May 12, and here he formed a camp, as it was his intention to return there as soon as he had actually seen the junction of the Murray and Darling Rivers.

Hostile Blacks

With a small party he marched across the country to the Murray, where he found the natives assembled in full force to dispute any further progress. Mitchell succeeded in pacifying them, but as they still continued to follow to party on their journey, with open hostility, he determined to drive them back. The attack was made, and it was a decisive one. No further trouble was given, and on May 31 the party came in sight of the Darling, not far from the Confluence.

Mitchell followed the upward course of the stream until he was satisfied that it was the time river that he had explored before, and then turned and followed its course down until he came to the actual junction, thus settling for all time one of the most debated questions of Australian exploration. He now made haste to return to the camp on the Murrumbidgee, and on arriving there found that everything was in order.

Rich pastoral lands

Having correctly ascertained the position of the camp, the whole party crossed the Murray to commence the exploration of this unknown side of the river. They proceeded on its southern bank to Swan Hill, which was reached on June 30. The country through which they had passed was the finest they had seen since leaving Sydney. Continuing the journey, the Lodder River was discovered on July 8 and the Avoca on July 10. At this point Mitchell determined to leave the river and strike out in a South-westerly direction. His object was to more thoroughly examine the country, which seemed to give promise of rich pastoral advantages. Mitchell next ascended Mt. Hope, a peak which he named because he expected to obtain a view of the Southern Ocean from its summit. He failed to do so, but he was rewarded by seeing a great expanse of the class of country which he had already discovered. Ascending another hill, which he called the Pyramid, from its peculiar shape, he was transported with joy at the magnificent stretch of country which met his eye.

“As I stood,” he wrote, “the first intruder on the sublime solitude of these verdant plains, as yet untouched by flocks or herds. I felt conscious of being the harbinger of many changes there, for our steps would soon be followed by the men and animals for which it seemed prepared.”

Garden of Australia

Convinced that he had discovered the garden of Australia. Mitchell called the region Felix Australia. Into this “paradise” he thought he was the first to enter.

But he was wrong, as later events proved. He now led his party until he came to the Wimmera, and on July 31 he discovered the Glenelg, which he followed partly on land and partly by boat to its mouth in Discovery Bay. Before returning to Sydney he turned eastwards to strike the Hume where it had been crossed, but on ascending the peaks he obtained a view of Portland Bay, and to his astonishment beheld a settlement of white men.

This proved to be the newly-formed station of the Hentry Brothers, from Tasmania. In December, 1834, they had taken up their abode at Portland with flocks, herds, poultry, and a whaling ship. Orchards, vines, and flowers were growing in Felix Australia before Mitchell, who had called it by that name, had left Sydney.

Batman’s site

The homeward journey was resumed, and on September 30 Mitchell reached Mount Macedon and saw on what is the site, or in the immediate neighbourhood of Melbourne, “a mass of white objects, which might have been either tents or vessels.” As a matter of fact, they were the encampments of Batman and Fawkner, who had forestalled him eastwards. In June, 1835, before Mitchell had started on his journey, John Batman had sailed up the river Yarra and exclaimed, “This will be a place for a village.” To-day Melbourne stands on this site.

Eventually the party reached the Murrumbidgee once again, having travelled over 2400 miles of country, and been absent seven months. Mitchell’s report of the fine pastoral country and farming lands which he had discovered aroused great enthusiasm throughout the colony and stimulated settlement. For his splendid service to the community he was rewarded with the honour of knighthood by the British Government.

The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 11 November 1934, p. 31

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