Saturday, 17 January 2009

Darwin at Govett's Leap

Govett's Leap and Grose River Valley, Blue Mountains, New South Wales
Eugene von Guerard, 1873


18th January, 1836: Darwin was still exploring the Blue Mountains.
Very early in the morning, I walked about three miles to see Govett's Leap: a view of a similar but even perhaps more stupendous character than that near the Weatherboard. So early in the day the gulf was filled with a thin blue haze, which, although destroying the general effect, added to the apparent depth at which the forest was stretched below the country on which we were standing. Soon after leaving the Blackheath, we descended from the sandstone platform by the pass of Mount Victoria. To effect this pass, an enormous quantity of stone has been cut through; the design, and its manner of execution, would have been worthy of any line of road in England, — even that of Holyhead. We now entered upon a country less elevated by nearly a thousand feet, and consisting of granite. With the change of rock, the vegetation improved; the trees were both finer, and stood further apart; and the pasture between them was a little greener, and more plentiful.

He visited a sheep station at the invitation of the owner. Later, he went on a kangaroo hunt, which ended well for the kangaroo, although everyone else was disappointed by the outcome.
Although having bad sport, we enjoyed a pleasant ride. The woodland is generally so open that a person on horseback can gallop through it. It is traversed by a few flat-bottomed valleys, which are green and free from trees: in such spots the scenery was like that of a park, and pretty. In the whole country I scarcely saw a place without the marks of fire; whether these had been more or less recent — whether the stumps were more or less black, was the greatest change which varied the uniformity, so wearisome to the traveller's eye. In these woods there are not many birds; I saw, however, some large flocks of the white cockatoo feeding in a corn-field, and a few most beautiful parrots; crows like our jackdaws were not uncommon, and another bird something like the magpie. The English have not been very particular in giving names to the productions of Australia; trees of one genus (Casuarina) are called oaks for no one reason that I can discover, without it is that there is no one point of resemblance. Some quadrupeds are called tigers and hyenas, simply because they are carnivorous, and so on in many other cases.

One of the platypus they chanced upon was not as lucky as the kangaroo.
In the dusk of the evening I took a stroll along a chain of ponds, which in this dry country represented the course of a river, and had the good fortune to see several of the famous Platypus, or Ornithorhyncus paradoxus. They were diving and playing about the surface of the water, but showed so little of their bodies that they might easily have been mistaken for water-rats. Mr. Browne shot one: certainly it is a most extraordinary animal; the stuffed specimens do not at all give a good idea of the recent appearance of its head and beak; the latter becoming hard and contracted.

Possibly because of the high lead content …

5 comments:

Dave Coulter said...

I love these old accounts of the local landscape. There was a big show about Darwin at the Field Museum last year - it was quite good.

Boobook said...

I've been enjoying your Darwin series.

Anonymous said...

I am enjoying your Darwin's Hourney enormously, Snail.
Thanks :)

Judith

Tyto Tony said...

What a pity that Darwin's swipe at thoughtless naming wasn't taken to heart!

Snail said...

It's interesting reading how little has changed (in some ways) over the last 172 years.

Tony, there was a distinct lack of imagination at the time. It seemed to have extended to place names as well --- apart from all those named after British and Irish locations, think how many Sandy Creeks and Shelly Beaches there are.