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John Gilbert diary entry

13 April 1845 - 14 April 1845

Page 72. Volume 2

[in left margin]


West Hill Camp500


First Tadorna rajah

which was tolerably good for about 2 miles, when we had again to cross the bare Whinstone rock and cross a very deep Creek501, with high reedy banks and Casuarina, from this we again had tolerably good travelling ground between the river bank, and a perfect wall of Basaltic Lava which ran along parrallel with the river not more than 300 yards back. To day for the first time I observed Tadorna rajah502. and I observed a pair of Ospreys, in a tree with a large nest, which from the actions of the two birds, I concluded contained young birds. it is certainly very remarkable that this a coast bird, should choose a spot so far in land for the purposes of incubation. The Ichthyaeetus leucogaster was also seen, the latter and the Tadorna503 were afterwards shot. I ob=served all the species of Common Ducks, to day, which have been killed from time to time, from the first setting out of the expedition. A species of Wallaby with which I am not acquainted, was seen, as also a very black variety of a brush Kangaroo, the Bettongia rufescens, and the Ornichogalea fraenatus are still seen504; about a mile down the river from our camp is a sugar loaf hill, bearing from Camp about East by North, this was the furthest west any hills or high land could be seen from the hills near Porphyry Camp; and has in consequence received the name of West Hill on its western side comes in a large Creek from the Northward well supplied with water505. Several species of Birds with which I am not acquainted made their appearance but during the afternoon I was suffering from a violent pain in the Stomach, caused I think from eating too many Figs which are now every where abundant, hanging from the boles of large trees in Bunches like grapes.

[in left margin]

Mon 14th.

Just before leaving Camp I observed the Collocalia ariel, Hawking above us in company of the Artamus minor506. We travelled on 10 miles up the Burdikin, our medium course about N.W. by W. at first the river went off for two miles

Note 500

West Hill Camp was placed by McLaren at GR 030 097 on the Dotswood 1: 100,000 map 8158, about a mile west of West Hill and between Fletcher Creek and the Burdekin River. As Gilbert wrote, West Hill (a limestone hill according to Leichhardt) had been named as such by the expedition as it had been “the furthest west any hills or high land could be seen from the hills near Porphyry Camp”, their camp of 9th April 1845. According to McLaren West Hill is also known as Mount Keelbottom. When McLaren visited the spot he found a monument to the expedition had already been erected at West Hill Camp, with a list of the names of the European members of the expedition but excluding those of Charlie Fisher and Harry Brown. This omission was rectified in 2006 during the Dalrymple Shire Council Leichhardt Rally, when a new monument was unveiled giving all the names of the expedition members but with special mention of Charlie and Brown, and with a plaque with information about the local Gudjal tribe of the Gudjalbara people, who were well represented at the opening ceremony. Indeed their party frightened the lives out of the Rally delegates by suddenly appearing at the top of the rise and rushing down the hill, yelling and screaming and brandishing weapons. They then posed for photos and helped unveil the monument.

Note 501

Fletcher Creek? They crossed it at about GR 052 079? Check with the Route Group.

Note 502

Here Gilbert wrote “Sarkidiornis regia” (Royal Spoonbill) but erased this and replaced it with “Tadorna rajah”, the Radjah Shelduck. This waterbird is often known as the Burdekin Duck, possibly because of Gilbert’s observations about it in this very diary. Unfortunately no skins of this duck appear to survive from the expedition, but then they were large and also good eating.

Note 503

“Sarkidornis” has again been erased by Gilbert and replaced by “Tadorna”. Eastern Ospreys Pandion cristatus leucocephalus are still seen in this area (check if they still nest here). “Ichthyaeetus leucogaster” translates as the White-bellied Sea-Eagle, but no specimens of this eagle from the Leichhardt Expedition have yet been found; they would probably have been too big to prepare and store as specimens. Murphy recorded, probably wrongly, that they had shot one of the Ospreys (Sprod 2006: 51, this was the last entry of Murphy’s surviving journal).

Note 504

Of the kangaroos Gilbert mentioned: “A species of Wallaby with which I am not acquainted” - possibilities for kangaroo species which exist in this area but with which Gilbert would not have been familiar would include: Whiptail Wallaby Macropus parryi, Spectacled Hare-wallaby Lagorchestes conspicillatus leichardti (the type specimens of which were collected by the expedition further north in the Valley of Lagoons), or one of the Queensland rock wallaby species. “A very black variety of a brush Kangaroo” was probably a Black Wallaby Wallabia bicolor. “Bettongia rufescens” is the Rufous Bettong Aepyprymnus rufescens, “Ornichogalea fraenatus” the Bridled Nailtail Wallaby Onychogalea fraenata. The latter is now endangered and restricted to a small area around Dingo in Queensland. The two kangaroos “of middle size, and of a yellowish grey colour” which Leichhardt saw on 13th April (Leichhardt 1847: 216) may well have been Bridled Nailtail Wallabies.

Note 505

The large creek which runs into the Burdekin River from the west side of West Hill is Keelbottom Creek.

Note 506

Fairy Martins Petrochelidon ariel and Little Woodswallows Artamus minor.