The story of Australia — XXIII
Mitchell’s last expedition
Discovery of rich pastoral country
In 1845 Mitchell was again ordered by Sir George Gibbs, the Governor, to organise an expedition to explore the northern half of Australia. No better task could have been offered to this intrepid explorer. It had been his great ambition to cross the continent and open up a route to the distant Gulf, and, although fate ordained otherwise, his expedition was successful, and forms a memorable epoch in this history of exploration.
On December 15, 1845, Mitchell, accompanied by E. B. Kennedy, the unfortunate explorer, who several years later was killed by the blacks when leading a disastrous expedition in Cape York Peninsula, two dozen able-bodied men, and provisions for a year, left Buree. He had planned to journey northwards until he discovered a western flowing river, whose outlet might be in one of the great bays of the north-western coast.
A fine river
Travelling westward through country which was already occupied by settlers, he reached the junction of the Barwon and the Macquarie on February 28. In the immediate neighbourhood was Mount Harris, which had served as a guide to explorers since the days of Oxley. The Narran was then followed until the Balonne was reached. Mitchell described this river as the finest he had seen in Australia, with the exception of the Murray.
Resuming his journey he struck the Culgoa, and followed it until it divided into two branches, and then kept to the main stream which retained the name of Balonne. On April 12 he came to a natural bridge of rocks which extended across the river. Mitchell gave it the name of St. George’s Bridge, a name which it still retains in common with the township that has sprung up in the vicinity.
Rich pastoral lands
Here a depot was formed, and when completed Mitchell pushed on with a few men, instructing Kennedy to follow on later when the cattle had sufficiently rested. He followed up the Balonne until the Maranoa was reached, but as its appearance did not merit investigation he marched on as far as the Cogoon, which he now followed. The river led him through rich pastoral country, known afterwards as the Fitzroy Downs, near the centre of which the town of Roma now stands.
He ascended a hill and from its summit he saw on every side magnificent rich pastures, which suggested the name of Mount Abundance to the hill on which he stood. This name has been retained. It is worthy of note that it was here that he saw the first bottle tree. Leaving Mount Abundance he again met the Maranoa, where he established another depot, and waited for Kennedy’s arrival. Not far from this spot the town which perpetuates the memory of Mitchell was built.
Kennedy arrived on June 1, bringing with him despatches from Sydney, which had reached the party after Mitchell had left. Again following out his policy, Kennedy was left behind at the depot, and Mitchell with a small party worked westwards across the Upper Maranoa. He discovered the Warrego River, which he fondly hoped would lead him northwards, but he was soon convinced that the stream was running in the wrong direction.
On July 11 he crossed the Upper Nogoa, and on the 21st he discovered the Belyando. This river gave great promise of leading to the Gulf. He followed its course for more than 200 miles, only to find that it was a tributary of the Burdekin. Disappointed, he returned to the head of the Nogoa, where he formed a depot. Sub-dividing his party once more, Mitchell struck due west across the Nive Valley, and at last on September 15, found himself on a river flowing north-east, “the realisation,” as he wrote prematurely, “of my long-cherished hopes.”
The direction of the upper course left no doubt in his mind that this was the head stream of the Victoria River, whose mouth lay on the north-west coast, some 1200 miles away. He therefore bestowed that name on the Barcoo, which in its later stage is called Cooper’s Creek. It was while on the Barcoo that Mitchell noticed the famous grass which now bears his name.
Mitchell hastened back to Sydney to make known his wonderful discovery, but as he had not followed the river any distance to verify his report it was thought advisable to send a small party to ascertain its course and destination, and Kennedy was chosen to lead the expedition.
Sir Thomas Mitchell stands in the foremost rank of Australian explorers. His discoveries opened up a vast extent of pastoral country in the vicinity of the already settled parts; and they were eminently valuable, as they were suitable for immediate occupation by the people.
The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 18 November 1934, p. 29