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Surveyor’s report: The McLeay, Nanbuccra, and Billengen river basins

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Monday 19 September 1842, The Sydney Morning Herald


To the Editors of the Sydney Morning Herald.

GENTLEMEN, – I beg to submit to you, for insertion in your columns, if you can find room for them, the following desultory remarks, derived from personal observation, respecting the geological character, natural features, and available lands of that portion of country extending from the county of Macquarie to the Clarence river, and which comprises the basins of the McLeay, Nanbuccra, and Billengen rivers.

The McLeay River disembogues in Trial Bay, by a bar continually shifting in position ; the depth of water on it being also subject to considerable variation, but always sufficient for the small coasting craft engaged in the cedar trade.

In the immediate vicinity of the mouth of the river the land is unavailable, being very sandy, and covered by stunted forest and scanty grass, Banksia scrubs and mangrove jungles. This sandy surface has been caused by the wind raising the sea-sand in hillocks round the Bay, where being but imperfectly bound down by the arundo-arenaria, and other sandy creeping plants, the sea-breezes have dineminated the sand over the adjacent levels. At Trial Bay and the mouth of the McLeay River the principal strata are sienite, overlaid occasionally by a dark-coloured trap rock ; the sienite shoots up on the south-eastern side of the Bay, at Smoky Cape, into a rugged hill of considerable elevation, furrowed by steep gullies, containing cabbage-palm brushes ; and on the north side of the McLeay it again shows itself on the Yarra-Hapinni range, the highest point of which is about four miles west from the entrance of the river, with steep slopes, clothed to the crest of the ridge with dense lofty brush timber.

After proceeding a few miles up the McLeay, it becomes bordered on both sides by continuous dense alluvial brushes, backed by vast swamps; this aspect continues the same to the village of Kempsey, which is twenty-eight miles from the mouth of the river. The greater part of the land between Kempsey and the entrance of the McLeay may be considered quite unavailable in the present state of this colony : for although the brush land is of inexhaustible richness, the expense of clearing it for cultivation would be enormous. It is true that some portions of the open swamps beyond the brushes having become raised above the surrounding swamp level by local accumulations of matter, deposited by successive floods, are available for agricultural purposes without any preliminary expense for clearing and stumping, and they are indeed now occupied by some persons as cultivation stations ; but I believe I am warranted in asserting, that from the unwonted labour which this description of land requires to keep under the luxuriant growth of weeds, joined to the crops lost by floods and distance from a market, those thus engaged have been generally losers. To this may be added, the certainty of at least half the men on an establishment being laid up with ague and marsh fever, which has rendered sulphate of quinine as indispensable an article at the stations on the lower McLeay as any of the common necessaries of life. In fact, there is no part of the globe where intermittent fevers are more prevalent than on the Lower McLeay, which is not to be wondered at, when we take into consideration the miasma arising from one hundred thousand acres of stagnant swamps, and the deleterious gases generated by the putrescent vegetation of the alluvial brushes.

The grazing land in the vicinity of Kempsey and the head of the navigation, is not very good on either side of the river, the low ranges of iron-stone being thickly timbered and often scrubby, but somewhat redeemed by the intervening narrow well-watered grassy flats. The stations on this part of the rivers are, on the north side, those of Salmon, Chapman, Smith, and Steele ; and on the south side, Euroka and Callitini, being all cultivation and cattle stations. A short distance above the navigable part of the McLeay River, which extends about six miles beyond Kempsey, the river is joined on the south side by a running brook, called Dungay creek. In the narrow valley of this stream are McLeod’s, Baxter’s, Geary’s, and Kemp’s stations ; the land is some of the best on the McLeay, consisting in the valley of the richest alluvial flats, very lightly timbered by gigantic blue gum ; the surrounding ranges being of great fertility and rising in grassy cones lightly timbered by apple-trees, (Angophora lanceolata) and generally composed, as far as I could judge, of trap and clay slate. Some of the ranges are entirely clothed with brushes, in which case they generally consist of granular limestone, superposed on the other rock, and occasionally exhibiting caverns full of stalactites. This limestone would appear to belong to some of the more ancient secondary strata, and would not be likely to contain fossil organic remains, with the exception of fossil shells, though in a cave near the source of Hindmarsh’s Creek, I found one bone encrusted with stalactite, which however probably belonged to some recent animal. It would be very desirable, in a scientific point of view, whenever caverns occur in strata more likely to afford organic remains, if a close examination was given to them : for much additional evidence might probably be elicited to prove that New Holland has undergone precisely the same revolutions, and been subject to the same laws in the subsidence of the different strata, as other parts of the globe, which fact some philosophers have been disposed to doubt. Blumenbach indeed even conceived the strange hypothesis of New Holland being originally a comet, which approached so near the earth that the force of the attraction of the latter became superior to the projectile force of the comet, which consequently fell to the earth. The communications of the illustrious Sir Thomas L. Mitchell to the Geological Society have, however, dispelled all such fanciful theories.

Tracing the McLeay River upwards from the head of the navigation, we pass on the south side Brigg’s cattle station, and several sheep stations, and on the north bank the cattle stations of Messrs. Steele, Ducat, Hill, Joblin, and Hitchcock ; the country being very well watered, independently of the river, and affording good feed, but limited in extent by a back country of broken ranges and gullies. At Joblin and Hitchcock’s station a small brook, known as Hindmarsh’s Creek, meets the McLeay River from the south-west. The rich narrow valley of this small stream is like Dungay Creek, free from brush, and very lightly timbered, the fertile apple-tree ranges which hem it in, being, although very steep, always covered with a rich loose mould, eminently adapted for the growth of the vine. On this creek are several sheep stations belonging to Major Innes, and a cattle station of Major Kemp’s.

Beyond Joblin and Hitchcock’s station the mountains on the north side of the McLeay come down to the river-bank as far as Henderson’s Creek, which joins the McLeay River from the northward, near a heavily timbered brushy table mountain, of an altitude of three thousand feet. On the south side of the river the country is very good, being a succession of lofty apple-tree ranges composed of clay-slate, mica-slate, and red talc, generally disposed in nearly perpendicular strata, the disintegrated surface of which forms, with the vegetable mould, a soil which might be found good for vines. On Wabro Creek, which joins the McLeay here on the south side, are Betts’s stations, and a little higher, near Oreen Creek, is Henderson’s cattle station, which is as high as the surveys of the Government contractors have extended. Beyond this the country is so mountainous as to leave very little land available for grazing; what there is has been taken up by the heifer-stations of Messrs. Mackenzie, Steele, Betts, and Hitchcock. Beyond the station of the latter gentleman, at Conderang Creek, the river exhibits to its sources a continual succession of falls and cataracts, dashing through narrow basaltic glens of fearful depth, amidst a wild and rugged Alpine scenery.

In returning to the coast, at the mouth of the McLeay, we next meet the Nanbuccra River, formed by numerous streams, rising in rugged brushy gullies, in a broken mountainous country, which when they have fallen to so low a level as to be affected by the tide, become navigable for boats, in three or four arms, which uniting, communicate with the sea by a narrow rocky impassable bar, twelve miles north of the entrance of the McLeay. As the cedar in the McLeay River brushes has been exhausted for some time, the the cedar dealers and sawyers have latterly migrated to the Nanbuccra, where they have been considerably embarrassed by the murderous attacks of the blacks, which have been attended with loss of life on both sides. The cedar is rafted down the Nanbuccra and conveyed in drays along the beach to the McLeay, from whence it is shipped to Sydney.

There is no land whatever fit for grazing purposes in the basin of the Nanbuccra River, with the exception of some tea-tree flats between its navigable arms, forming a small cattle run, in the occupation of Mr. Taylor.

The entrance of the next river, the Billengen, was discovered by a party of ship-builders and cedar-sawyers near the Solitary Islands; and in a fortnight’s expedition, which I undertook a short time afterwards, in a north-west direction from Kempsey, on the McLeay, I crossed near their sources the various streams forming the Nanbuccra River, and the intervening ranges of mountains, and met the Billengen at a point forty miles from the sea, flowing rapidly on a bed of shingles in a deep narrow glen, full of fine brushes, and shut in by two lofty parallel ranges of mountains ; that immediately north of the Billengen rising from the river’s edge in successive perpendicular buttresses of ?? ??, to an altitude of upwards of five thousand feet, it being in some parts of the ridge of superior altitude to the main great coast chain from which it branched off to form the dividing range between the basins of the Billengen and Clarence Rivers. When on the range south of the Billengen, I saw on the opposite range just alluded to, in a perpendicular cleft, a tributary stream falling in a cascade, and presenting the appearance of a long white thread ; judging from the apparent breadth of the intervening valley, and the angle subtended by the top and bottom of the full, its height must have been several hundred feet.

From the very mountainous and inaccessible nature of the country at the Billengen, the land, although covered by a vegetation of surpassing luxuriance, will be totally unavailable, unless in the immediate vicinity of its mouth.

I had forgotten to mention, that between the Billengen and Nanbuccra is a long narrow valley, containing a fine running stream, which discharges itself into the sea ; in the vicinity of this and the mouth of the Billengen, Messrs. Verge and Taylor have driven a quantity of stock about a month ago.

I have the honour to be, Gentlemen,

Your obedient servant,


Late Contractor for the Survey of the North Bank of the McLeay River.

Written by macalba

March 7, 2010 at 8:03 pm

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