Notes from Sturt's Diary

10 October 1938 Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga)

Explorer's Discovery of the Murrumbidgee North Wagga Flats Crossed. Vivid Description that Promoted Early Settlement (By 'Jinx')

The sesquicentenary celebrations held in Sydney early this year very vividly portrayed, by the reacting of the landing of Governor Phillip at Sydney Cove, and the cavalcade of events leading up to the establishment of a Crown colony, the growth of Australia to Nationhood.

In the first 40 years, Sydney became well established, and settlers began to move inland.

Then, with almost the keenness of a gold rush, the Murrumbidgee Vallev attracted settlement.

The circumstances leading up to this event become a matter of interest to us at this time in Wagga, and the question will naturally arise as to when this district was discovered, and by whom.

It will also be asked what was the incentive which impelled the pioneers to leave the comparative security of the more populated areas near Sydney, to take grave risks in this unknown and remote territory.

Take in head "Notes from Sturt's diary The discovery of the Murrumbidgee River and the magnificent country it serves, was inevitable, but if it had not been for the exploratory work, so promptly undertaken by Captain Charles Sturt, development in our part of the State may not here been so far advanced as it is to-day.

No history of Wagga or the district could be complete without first giving an account of his journey, for he played as important a part.

In this section of the country as Captain Cook in his discovery of Sydney Cove.

Stuart established a reputation as an explorer at the completion of his expedition down the Macquarie River in 1828, and in 1829 he was instructed to trace the course and ultimate destination of the Murrumbidgee River, the existence of which was known, but in very scanty detail.

There was a theory, in those days, that an inland sea exist-ed, and as this river was reputed to flow in a general south-westerly direction, and known to carry a substantial flow of water in its course.

Its destination became a matter of urgent and important speculation.

Accordingly, an November 8 Sturt left Sydney with a party consisting of Harris, Fraser, Hopkinson, Macnamee, Mullholland and Clayton.

After a day or so they were joined by Sturt's life long friend and companion, George M'Leay, son of Sir Alexander M'Leay, at Brownlow Hill.

Joyous Anticipation

His feelings, when on this adventure, were those of joyous anticipation.

In his diary be wrote: 'I found myself at 5 am. on that delightful morning, leading my horse through the gates of those barracks, whose precincts I might never again enter, and whose inmates I might never again behold assembled in military array, yet . . . . I was never lighter at heart or mare joyous in spirits.'

The equipment consisted of bullock drawn drays, saddle horses, and a dissembled whale boat.

The expedition made its way through Liverpool, Moss Vale, Goulburn, Breadalbane, Fish River, Gunning, then on to Mr. Henry O'Brien's Douro Station at Yharr, (or Yass) where they stayed a day or so to rest the horses.

They left this station on November 21 with the intention of making for Mr. Whaby's station on the Murrumbidgee, at what is now known as Mingay.

At this point the diary tells of their gratitude for the presents given by their hospitable host, of eight fine wethers, to supplement their food supply. The sheep, Sturt tells, were of no hindrance for they followed on behind the bullock waggon like well-behaved dogs.

He also makes mention of obtaining services of a native, to guide them to Mr. Whaby's station.

First Impressions

On this part of the Journey the expedition made its first contact with the Murrumbidgee, at Jugiong.

What a wonderful first impression they had of this beautiful river.

Sturt wrote in his diary:- "We crossed the Underallga Creek a little below the stock hut, and camped about a mile beyond it in the centre of a long plain.

We were surrounded on every side by hills, from which there was no visible outlet, as they appeared to follow the bend of the river with an uneven and unbroken outline.

The scenery around us was wild, romantic and beautiful; as beautiful as a rich and glowing sunset in the most delightful climate under the heavens.

I had been more anxious to gain the banks of the Morumbidgee on this occasion than I had on a former one to gain those of the Macquarie for although I could not hope to find the Morumbidgee all that it had been described to me, yet I felt, on its first appearance, I should, in some measure, ground my anticipation of ultimate success.

When I arrived on the banks of the Macquarie it had almost ceased to flow and its current was so gentle as to be scarcely perceptible.

'Instead, however, of a river in such a state of exhaustion, I now looked down on a stream whose current it would have been difficult to breast, and whose waters, foaming among rocks, or circling among eddies, gave promise to a reckless course.'

At Nangus

The expedition reached Whaby's station on the morning of November 27, end left next day on the first stage of actual exploration.

On Mr. Whaby's advice, they crossed the river near Jorn's Island, and later recrossed near Gundagai; then on through a route which ran through what te now Tarrabandra Soldiers' Settlement.

The first mention of a definite locality which can be identified was when he described the country as having rich flats, and a deep bight below an angle of the river. This place the natives called Nangaar.

In later years James and William M'Arthur took up 72,000 acres of land on this spot, and called their station Nangus.

After a few days of following the course of the river,

Sturt found that he could not journey much further along the river flats, for soon the hills closed in on tbe banks, necessitating detours.

It was after one of such detours that they found themselves back on an extensive plain, which the native guide called "Pon-debadgery," and from the camp here Sturt wrote of his delight at the ecstatic view and the luxuriant pasture land.

He expressed regret that this notable river should exist at such a distance from the city as to be 'unavailable.'

During their stay on the Pondebadgery Plains they caught many fish, which they described as 'perch,' some weighing 401bs., and a large kangaroo.

Approaching Wagga

From there they made across a valley which has been identified as Sandy Creek, gradually ascending the opposite line of hills where, on reaching the summit, they looked over a deep chain of ponds.

This now traces the expedition to the hilly country surrounding the Eringoarrah Flats, about 10 miles from Wagga.

They then followed the line of bills for some miles, the blacks showing a track that would ultimately bring them back to the river at a spot now known as Oura.

It was here that Sturt had his first trouble with the natives, for they showed signs of restlessness and where disinclined to go on any further.

Their reason for this was that along the river was the dreaded Bunony, a fearsome bully and, as they were a peace loving tribe, they did not want to fight. Sturt was, however, able to bribe them with promises of added gifts, and they set off along the river flats until they eventually came to the Bomen Lagoon.

Here they pitched camp, and rested their horses for several days. Sturt, in his diary, described this camp as being situated on the banks of a serpentine sheet of water at the south-west extremity of the range, and expressed the hope that the range, which had for some time been decreasing in height, might terminate here.

The natives were at this spot very restless, and showed signs of expecting trouble.

They walked as far as the Parken Pragen Lagoon, and it was evident that they thought to find other natives there.

Apparently the dreaded Bunony had ''gone bush," for they returned to the camp assured that there would be no mishap.

From there they traversed the North Wagga flats, and over these few miles, until be crossed the Malebo hill, they found the country uninhabited, and Sturt made special note of his surprise at finding so fine a country and the shores of so noble a river evidently unpopulated. As they came near to Malebo hill the wheels of the bullock waggons sank deep into the coarse sandy soil, and the tufty grass made the ground so uneven that the horses and drays had to proceed slowly to avoid tripping.

They camped that night at the foot of Malebo hill

Here Sturt described the interior as being wooded and un-broken, and the Murrumbidgee swollen to such a size as to keep alive their anticipation of it ultimately leading them to some important point.

He pointed out, from the shoulder of the hill, two singular elevations, one bearing S 82 W. This was doubtless Galore, and another that bore S.32 W. called by the natives 'Kengel' and now known as The Rock.

Sturt's enthusiastic description of this part of the country, so inspired the people of the colony, that they broke all rules and regulations and set out to obtain land regardless of all dangers.

It is interesting to note that George M'Leay, friend and companion of Captain Sturt on this expedition, was one of the first settlers in this district.

With his cousin he took up 50,000 acres of land at Borambola, 45,000 acres at Pullltop, and another 192,000 acres at Toganmaln.

Such vast holdings seem almost incredible, but it is on record that even larger amounts of land were at that time held by one man; William Guise controlled 330,000 acres and John Peter 210,750.

It is to such men as Sturt and his brave band of fearless pioneers that Australians owe their freedom, and from this stock a nation has grown.