By 1854 the gold fever was running high in Australia, and each colony was eager to discover new diggings within its borders. Robert Austin, Assistant Surveyor-General of Western Australia, was instructed to take charge of an inland exploring party to search for pastoral country, and to examine the interior for indications of gold.
He started from the head of the Swan River on a north-easterly course, and on the 16th of July reached a lake, rumours of whose existence had been spread by the blacks, who had called it Cowcowing. The colonists had hoped that it would prove to be a lake of fresh water in the Gascoyne valley, but Cowcowing in reality was a salt marsh, no great distance from the starting-point of Austin’s expedition.
The lake was dry and its bed covered with salt incrustations, showing that its waters are undoubtedly saline. Thence Austin made directly north, and passing through repellant country, such as always fell to the lot of the early western explorers in their initial efforts, he directed his course to a distant range of table-topped hills. Here he found both grass and water, and named the highest elevation Mount Kenneth, after Kenneth Brown, a member of his party. Thence he kept a north-east course, traversing stony plains intersected by the dry beds of sandy watercourses. Here the party met with dire misfortune. The horses ate from a patch of poisonous box plant, and nearly all of them were disabled. A few escaped, but the greater number never recovered from the effects of the poison, and fourteen died. Pushing on in the hope of finding a safe place in which to recruit, Austin found himself so crippled in his means of transit that he had to abandon all but his most necessary stores.
He now made for Shark’s Bay, whither a vessel was to be sent to render him assistance or take the party home if required. The course to Shark’s Bay led them over country that did not tempt them to linger on the way. On the 21st of September a sad accident occurred. They were then camped at a spring near a cave in the face of a cliff, in which there were some curious native rock-paintings. While resting here, a young man named Charles Farmer accidentally shot himself in the arm, and in spite of the most careful attention the poor fellow died of lockjaw in the most terrible agony. He was buried at the cave-spring camp, and the highest hill in the neighbourhood was christened Mount Farmer. His death and burial reminds one of Sturt’s friend Poole, who rests in the east of the continent under the shadow of Mount Poole. Thus two lonely graves in the Australian wilderness are guarded by mountains whose names perpetuate the memory of their occupants. And who could desire a nobler monument than the everlasting hills?