John Forrest’s first journey of exploration [chapter 35 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton]

[Editor: This is chapter 35 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton. Published in The Sunday Mail, 24 February 1935.]

The story of Australia — XXXV.

John Forrest’s first journey of exploration

It was in connection with the ill-fated explorer, Leichhardt, that John Forrest began his career as an Australian explorer. Towards the close of the year 1868 a rumour was circulated in Perth that some white men had been massacred by the blacks some 20 years earlier. This report gained some credence when it became known that a native had stated that he had been to the scene of the tragedy, and actually seen the remains of the white men. Moreover, he volunteered to conduct a party to the spot where the event had occurred.

The story created a great sensation, and Barron von Mueller, of Melbourne, offered to lead a party there to ascertain if there was any truth in the report. The Government accepted his offer, but at the last moment he was unable to take charge, and the expedition was placed under the command of John Forrest.

On April 26, 1869, he reached Yarraging, then the most easterly station in the colony. From there he journeyed east, and on May 18 arrived at a dry salt lake which he named Lake Barlee, near which, the story went, Leichhardt had been murdered.

A futile search

The blackfellow who had accompanied Forrest now began to express his doubt as to his knowledge of the spot where he had seen the remains. An extensive search was made, but no trace of the missing explorer could be found, and finally it was clearly ascertained that the whole story had originated from the remains of a number of horses which had belonged to the explorer Austin that were poisoned in the district.

The blacks in the district became hostile, but Forrest determined to examine the country eastwards as far as possible. With one black boy he penetrated 100 miles into the desert to the eastward of Mount Margaret, on the present goldfields. The country was covered with spinifex, interspersed with open sandy plains. There was not a trace of surface water.

The uninviting appearance of the country gave no encouragement to proceed any farther, and Forrest started his homeward journey. He crossed Lake Barlee, and examined the western shore, but he found the country barren and desolate. He returned to Perth on August 6.

The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 24 February 1935, p. 29

Editor’s notes:
spinifex = any of various Australian grasses (belonging to the genera Spinifex, Plectrachne, or especially Triodia) which grow in clumps, and are particularly found on sand hills in arid areas

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