(previous … New South Wales from 1808 to  1837)

John Oxley statue
John Oxley

After the passage over the Blue Mountains had been discovered in 1813 and the beautiful pasture land around Bathurst had been opened up to the enterprise of the squatters, it was natural that colonists should desire to know something of the nature and possibilities of the land which stretched still further to the west.

Exploring the Lachlan River

In 1817 they sent John Oxley, the Surveyor-General, to explore the country towards the interior, directing him to follow the course of the Lachlan River and discover the ultimate fate of its waters. Taking with him a small party, he set out from the settled districts on the Macquarie River and for many days walked along the banks of the Lachlan River, through undulating districts of woodland and rich meadow. But, after a time, the explorers began to enter a region of a totally different landscape. The ground was growing less and less hilly, the tall mountain trees were giving place to stunted shrubs and the fresh green of the grassy slopes were disappearing. At length they emerged on a great plain, filled with dreary swamps, which stretched as far as the eye could see, like one vast dismal sea of waving reeds. Into this forbidden land they penetrated, forcing their way through the tangled reeds and over weary miles of oozing mud, into which they sank almost to their knees at every step.

It soon became obvious that they would have to abandon their effort to follow the Lachlan River throughout its course. The small party traced their steps back to the south and succeeded in going around the great swamp. Again they followed the river for some distance finding even greater desolation. They again were forced back by a second great swamp. The Lachlan seemed to lose itself in marshes and as no trace could be found of its further course, John Oxley concluded that they had reached the end of the river. As he looked around on the dreary expanse, he declared the land to be “forever uninhabitable” and on his return to Bathurst, he reported that there was no opening for the enterprise. The Lachlan River, he said, flowed into an extensive region of swamps, which are perhaps the start of a great inland sea.

Discovery of the Hastings River

John Oxley was sent, following this expedition, to explore the course of the Macquarie River, but had the same deal of success. The river flowed into a wide marsh, some thirty or forty miles long and he was forced to abandon his journey. Oxley headed for the eastern coast, crossing the New England Range and descending into the long woodland slopes to the sea, discovering on his way the Hastings River.

(continues … Allan Cunningham)