Strelezki on New South Wales

The Sydney Morning Herald

27 March 1846 Close


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The main object of Mr. de Strelezki's visit to this colony, was, he says, to examine its mineralogy.

The paucity, however, of simple minerals disappointed him; but he discovered, instead, that "the country presented a vast field for a most exciting and interesting geological investigation."

Viewed through "the medium of Geology, it at once assumed the aspect of an historical ground, where, in the absence of monuments and records of human generations, nature unfolds annals of wonders; not, indeed, that they can be so called, as furnishing new lights thrown upon the origin of things; but as yielding additional evidence that the structure to which they relate is analogous to that of the rest of the globe."

The survey eventually was confined to the country "parallel with and stretching inland from the sea-coast, and comprehended between the 30th and 39th degrees of south latitude," or to 81,000 square miles of territory, a tolerably large space for the investigation of an unassisted individual, who, in its accomplishment, had to travel on foot, laden with instruments, not less than 7000 miles.

Neither perseverance nor devotion to the pursuit was wanting.

But these (he adds) have procured me the consciousness of how little I have done, and how much is still needful to complete such a delineation as the geology of the present day requires.

And all that I have collected during five years of labour I can view only as rudiments of what science may expect at a future period, from the division of labour, and from the unparalleled progress of intellectual and commercial development of New South Wales and Van Dieman's Land.

To illustrate this, the author prepared a geological map, 25 feet long and 5 feet wide, on a scale of four miles to an inch, a reduced copy of which, geologically coloured, is appended to his book. In addition in that, a sheet of sections on equal scales, 26 feet by 3 feet, was also prepared: this is not yet published.

The colouring is on an original plan of the author. It may be suspected, that future investigations will show the necessity of considerable modifications of some of the divisional boundaries of his territory.

The reduced map embracing only general features, must be, by far, the safest.

The third section of the author's outline embraces the general physical and geological aspect of the two colonies, and is chiefly occupied in tracing the features pointed out on the map.

It cannot he expected that we are to transfer this (though a very interesting statement) to our columns. But it may be mentioned, that it contains a history of the great dividing ranges, as they are called, from New England in 30 south to the southern extremity of Tasmania.

The interest attached to this exploration of a mountain range, which has been compared to the Cordilleia of America, and the Oural chain of Russia, is considerably heightened by the poetical language in winch the author has clothed his scientific conclusions.

As a fair specimen of the author's powers as well as describing a locality but little known, we may take the following account of the part of the dividing chain called the Australian Alps.

The cluster of broken peaks which mark the sources of the Murrumbidgee, Coudradigbee, and the Doomut; the ridges which form walls as it were for their respective courses; indeed the whole structure of the spurs about this locality imparts to them the character of bold outworks in advance of that prominent group of mountains, known in New South Wales under the name of the Australian Alps.

Conspicuously elevated above all the heights hitherto noticed in this cursory view, and swollen by many ragged protuberances, the snowy and craggy sienitic cone of Mount Kosciuszko is seen cresting the Australian Alps, in all the sublimity of mountain scenery.

Its altitude reaches 6500 feet, and the view from its summit reaches over 7000 square miles.

Standing above the adjacent mountains, which could either detract from its imposing aspect or interrupt the view, Mount Kosciuszko is one of those few elevations, the ascent of which, far from disappointing, presents the traveller with all that can remunerate fatigue.

In the north-eastern view, the eye is carried as far back as the Shoalhaven country, the ridges of all the spurs of Moneiro and Twofold Bay, as well as those which, to the westward, inclose the tributaries of the Murrumbidgee, being conspicuously delineated.

Beneath the feet, looking from the very verge of the cone downwards almost perpendicularly, the eye plunges into a fearful gorge, 3000 feet deep, in the bed of which the sources of the Murray gather their contents, and roll their united waters to the west.

To follow the course of the river from this gorge into its further windings, is to pass from the sublime to the beautiful.

The valley of the Murray, as it extends beneath the travellers feet, with the peaks of Corunal, Dargal, Mundiar, and Tumbarumba, crowning the spur which separates it from the valley of the Murrumbidgee, displays beauties to be compared only to those seen among the valleys of the Alps. From Mount Kosciuszko, the chain resuming its south-west direction, still maintains the same bold character, but with diminished height.

To the right and left, its ramifications are crowned by peaks, rendering the appearance of the country rugged and sterile. With the vicinity of Lake Omeo, and a part of the Mitta Mitta Valley, lying between the space crowned by Mount Yabbara and that surmounted by Mount Ajuk, a tract resembling a vast basin, without trees, and scantily supplied with water, but covered even during a parching summer with luxurious pasture, the whole region westward of the chain, towards Western Port, is rent by narrow gullies almost inaccessible, either by reason of the steepness of the ridges which flank them, or by the thick interwoven underwood which covers the country. (Page 61-63)

We have space for but one more short extract:-

At Wilson's Promontory the sea interferes with the visible continuity of the range, but does not terminate its course.

On a fine day that course may be traced from the top of the headland beautifully delineated by the chain of islands in Bass's Strait.

Those islands, whether high and crowned with peaks, or low and crested only by the white sparkling foam of the sea, appear in their winding and lengthened array like the glittering and snowcapped domes of the Andes.

When seen above the region of the dense, clouds which bathe their lower regions, (Page 64.)

Having described the physical characters of the chain, the author refers the phenomena reinvestigated to four epochs of terrestrial revolutions; concerning which arrangement it is foreign to our purpose to say more than that, however correct the details may, for the most part be, much remains to fill up the outline thus given.

And, perhaps, one of these so called epochs will be merged in the others.

The author has, however, shown a very philosophical spirit in thus speaking of the geological formations of Australia; for it is the height of rashness to bind down the conditions of a new country to the predetermined arrangements of a theory which originated in the development of phenomena exhibited in another hemisphere and under different conditions.

On this point, there is a valuable paper by Mr. Jukes, of H.M.S. Fly, in the Tasmanian Journal.

In fact, had Australia been discovered years ago, it is not improbable that geology would have been much modified by, the results of investigations into the physical features of its extensive islands, before the present systems of Europe had been established.

All those persons, however, who have, with any pretence to judgment, investigated these features, have come to nearly the same conclusion as our author's; and have, far from adopting the vulgar prejudice as to the recent origin of New South Wales, expressed their conviction that it is chiefly composed of rock formations that lie in the exact parallel of the carboniferous rocks of Europe and the underlying Devonians, which overlie deposits and amorphous rocks of ages equivalent with those of Silurian and partly primary systems.

The very remarkable fact is, that all the deposits above the English great coal formation - in short the whole of the lower and upper secondary systems are wanting in Australia; the only younger rocks being of the most recent tertiary age - a circumstance of great importance, and which, perhaps, the author has not sufficiently weighed.

It is very certain that tertiary deposits do exist on the Murray, not far from Port Phillip, and in other spots; but the only notice given in this work is of one or two localities in Van Diemen's Land.

The number of proofs of elevation in comparatively recent times, collected by the author, (and which are but few in comparison with the number known to be accessible) added to the preceding facts, lead to the inference, that New South Wales and Tasmania were above the ocean during the whole period, in which the greater part of Europe was yet under water, and that it did not descend except in few and distant localities, until the whole enormous mass of the European secondaries, from the new red sandstone to the chalk inclusive, and part of the tertiaries, had been deposited; after which some portions descended and received partial accumulations of marine detritus, since which the country has risen again to a higher level.

These conclusions, deduced from independent surveys, are confirmed by the contents of Mr. De Strelezki's work, and by the examination of the Fossil Fauna and Flora collected by him, as described in an elaborate essay by Mr. Morris.

That the elevation is yet apparently going on is a corroborating fact; and these phenomena, whilst they give enormous antiquity to the singular classes of indigenous animals and plants inhabiting Australia, point to succeeding changes in the superficial conditions of the soil, which, conspiring with human labour and cultivation, bid fair to change the whole aspect of a once moist but now drier, and to become still drier, country.

The facts detailed by the author exhibit a wide-spread existence of carboniferous deposits; will other observations confirm the opinion, that nearly the whole of the great sandstone territory of New South Wales, so sterile and dry above, contains vast deposits of that useful mineral which is the produce of a former abundant vegetation, and which hereafter may be employed by our descendants in extending the boundaries of civilization, arts, and manufactures, and in assisting the spread of scriptural truth.

It is indeed a remarkable fact, that wherever the Anglo-Saxon race have established themselves those depositaries of fossil fuel are found to exist; and to the contemplative mind, this thought may be found productive of much interesting and useful enquiry into the probable future destiny of these vast insulated regions inhabited by the descendants of those who were in ancient times denominated "toto divisos orbet Britannos."

The subject of the coal formation in Van Diemen's Land was well investigated by the Count De Strelezki; but we think he has been too hasty in concluding (as he does at p. 129) that the " variegated sandstone about Sydney, with the variegated sandstone and yellow limestone, with bulimus and helix of Hobart Town, and above which no other foundation has yet been found, constitute the highest beds in geological series of the two colonies.

There are beds of coal unquestionably younger than much of this variegated sandstone, which is, we are certain, part only of a series of beds in which coal is interpolated.

In notices of such a work as that before us, it is not possible that the columns of any journal can be appropriated to a sufficient investigation of any points of doubt suggested to the reader or reviewer; but it would be injurious to our object, if we on this occasion hastily dispatched a matter of great importance to our fellow colonists.

We must therefore defer to another occasion the remainder of our remarks on this part of the subject.