Bush Tucker Man: Into The Vilest Country
(THEME MUSIC) This is Rockingham Bay, near Tam O’Shanter Point I’ve come here, halfway up the coast of Queensland, to follow an explorer I’ve always admired I’m setting out on an expedition right to the tip of Cape York When I was a kid at school learning about this, I never dreamed that one day, I’d actually come here Our schoolhouse was named after the expedition leader His name was Edmund Kennedy, and he was just 29 years old when he left the ‘Tam O’Shanter’ here in May 1848 All up, there were 13 in the party, including Jackey Jackey, an incredibly resourceful Aboriginal tracker from the Hunter Valley down in New South Wales There was also a botanist called William Carron A lot of what I’ve found out about the expedition comes from the journal that he kept along the way How Kennedy became a national hero and why 10 blokes died is what I wanna find out by following their route This expedition became one of the biggest disasters in Australian exploration history But why’? From the minute he got here, Kennedy realised that he had a real problem See, back in that era, the mapmakers had told him that this country here was all flat and lightly wooded and all the rest Of course, it’s not He wrote in his journal that a more vile country had never stared him in the face before Well, I don’t think it’s real vile In fact, a whole bunch of Australians come up here for holidays But you gotta remember what Kennedy was trying to do Imagine walking two drays and a hundred sheep through this sort of country No wonder he was absolutely staggered by it Well, if he thought this was crook, there was worse to come This is round about where I reckon he landed And it was from here that all his problems started For the first few weeks, Kennedy travelled up and down along the coastline here just trying to find a way inland Imagine trying to get through this stuff with 28 horses, 100 sheep, four dogs and a bunch of carts Ridiculous gear for this sort of country In this part of the world, coastal rainforest and mangrove often forms a barrier to anyone trying to get through Eventually, they found a way inland, here at Meunga Creek The idea was to make their way up the east coast of Cape York and get resupplied with a ship along the way and then turn round and come back down along the west coast Back in those days, rainforest like this stretched for hundreds of kilometres along this part of the coastline Dragging carts through this sort of stuff would have been a real pain for him Nowadays, of course, much of it has been cleared to make way for pastoral land, which was one of the main reasons why the authorities were so keen on the Kennedy expedition They wanted to know just how viable the area was from an agricultural point of view As far as we can judge, this is about the spot where Kennedy dumped his carts He stood here and he had a look over that way there And, of course, back in those days, it wasn’t clear like it is today It was all scrub country He’s actually about only 20km inland and it’s taken him ’10, 1 ‘1 days to get here- Why?
Because he had to cut a road all the way to get those carts through that scrub country Well, finally, the penny dropped “Get rid of the carts,” he reckoned That’s where he dumped ’em – down that creek there But when he stood on this knoll here, took his compass bearing up the Tully River Gorge there, you can see behind me, and had a look at the mountains and said, “There’s no way in the world I’m gonna get ’em up there.” Just take a look at ’em Even today, this country is extremely difficult to get through But Kennedy and his men refused to be beaten by it This is how Carron described it in his journal at the time “During these three days, “we travelled over an irregular, mountainous country “intersected by numerous creeks, running in every direction, “but all of them with belts of scrub on each side “We sometimes crossed the same creeks two or three times a day, “owing to the tortuous directions they took, “and our clothes were kept wet all day “Some of the rivers too had very steep banks, “which presented other obstacles to the progress of our horses “Between the creeks, small patches of open forestland intervened, “with large blocks of rock scattered over them “Most of the creeks had a rocky bottom “and were running to the eastward.” But eventually, they broke out to more open country They were coming into contact with the local Aboriginals all the time Mostly, there were no problems, but on at least one occasion, the expedition open-fired on a hostile group, and at least one Aboriginal was killed Now, it’s possible that this news spread rapidly ahead of them and may well have had a bearing on what happened to Kennedy later on As the expedition moved through this country, the Aboriginal people who lived here were obviously keeping a pretty close eye on ’em On this rock wall behind me, you can see this rock art, and it’s a horse Here we’ve got the neck Pair of ears going up here The head, and even a pair of reins racing off into the air there So somewhere along the line, they’ve seen horses moving through this country Now, whether this horse was one of Kennedy’s, I don’t know, but it obviously impressed the local Aboriginal people I don’t know – somehow, the idea that this horse was one of Kennedy’s, it’s got some appeal to me Perhaps it is It’s been suggested that some of the men were on pretty intimate terms with the local women without Kennedy knowing about it, which is not a real good way to go travelling round the countryside This trip is still one of the great four-wheel-drive adventures in Australia The track I’m on now is roughly about halfway up Cape York Peninsula By the time Kennedy reached here, the whole expedition were reduced to eating their horses just to stay alive With almost no food, the men and the animals were getting sicker by the day from malnutrition and diarrhoea and, of course, malaria These things here are those nonda plums Only grow in Cape York, these things, and they fall to the ground when they’re ripe, like this These little fruit have a real role to play in the Kennedy expedition If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be telling this story here today I’ll tell you down the track about that Kennedy was desperate to get to this spot on Princess Charlotte Bay so that he could meet up with the resupply ship called the ‘Bramble’ But he couldn’t make it because the rivers and the creeks and the mudflats, they all stopped him getting through to the coast If old Kennedy could see what happened here today, he’d turn in his grave It took him four months of struggle to get here I’ve done the same trip in that motor car in four days Well, he had no ‘Bramble’, no resupply
and nowhere to go except north And that’s what he did – up that way- Weymouth Bay was to be a turning point for the whole expedition Of course, Kennedy was a Pom, and you can see it coming through in the way he did things For instance, he insisted that every Sunday should be treated as a day of rest, with prayers, even though they were so far behind in their schedule By the time they got here, Kennedy realised they were in deep trouble They’d killed all their sheep, the men were on their last legs, and they only had nine horses left This location is extremely important from the Kennedy expedition point of view, because this is the spot here where he put Camp 80 – LXXX That’s how he used to write his camp numbers on the tree, in Roman numerals It’s a very remote part of Australia There’s no roads round here And to get here, you either hoof it on foot for miles and miles or get a helicopter, like that I know this is the right spot because firstly, they give us a latitude, and secondly, they tell us something about the creek line Come and have a look at this One of Australia’s biggest exploration tragedies happened right here This little sandy bar here is exactly the way Carron describes it He reckons it separates the brackish water from the fresh, and that’s what happens But it’s got more significance than just that, because it’s here that Kennedy and the four others crossed this creek and headed north And they left behind eight blokes under Carron Six of them ended up dying We lost six Australian explorers right here When you look around here, it appears terrific But these blokes just didn’t understand the bush Give you some idea of just how crook things were for these blokes in this camp here of (Barron’s One morning, Carron came down to this creek here and he found one of his blokes sitting on the bank, feet in the water, dead He’d obviously staggered down during the night and sat down and just died Meanwhile, Kennedy and the Aboriginal tracker, Jackey Jackey, along with three others, took off for Cape York The plan they had was to get the resupply ship to pick up Carron and his mob on the way back Really gotta take your chances when they present ’emselves in this country Poor old Kennedy wasn’t getting too many breaks, though Left half his mob back there in Weymouth Bay If he thought that was bad, there’s a lot worse to come yet This spot I’m heading for now means a lot to me
It’s the site of Kennedy’s Camp 84 I once led an army expedition here That was over 20 years ago How far would you say down to the camp’? Well, we can now put this hill on the map, which it wasn’t before I used to be a young fella then Interest in Australian history has been with me a long time He’s got this hill marked there on his sketch It’s too far south In front, he’s got two, three creeks One, two, three Up until that trip, no-one had found Camp 84, something that I was determined to do, because it marks a turning point in the whole Kennedy expedition So he sent Jackey up here, probably somewhere where we’re standing along this edge here now By the time they got here, only Kennedy and Jackey were fit enough to keep going It certainly feels a little bit weird climbing the same hill after all those years Way out there, we got Shelburne Bay And I’m about eight miles inland here on top of a great flat hill, about 600 foot up, and it’s pretty blowy today, I can tell you On the maps these days, this hill doesn’t have a name But I reckon it should be called Jackey’s Pudding Pan Hill, because he climbed up here Kennedy said, “Get up that hill there, have a look around the countryside, “and that way, we’ll know where to send the rescue boat “back to pick up the fellas at Camp 84.” Camp 84 was about one mile back that way And what happened there was that the three other men that were with Kennedy – Costigan, Dunn and Luff- were left behind, because Costigan had an accident with a rifle and shot himself through here So they left them there Those three blokes were never heard of again Meanwhile, Kennedy and Jackey Jackey, in a real bid of desperation, take off to the north, trying to get to the ‘Ariel’, the rescue ship Of the original 13 that set out together, there were now only Kennedy and Jackey still on the go The two men were now almost totally dependent on each other At one stage, Jackey fell into a bog and Kennedy helped him out, and later on, Kennedy was crook and so Jackey carried him for over two miles If you’re driving up here just before the wet, you’re gonna come across fires like this And they look very destructive, especially when they take out fully grown trees, but they’re invaluable in keeping the bush healthy This tree here could do someone a real damage, especially at night-time Dropped my trailer off back up the way there Might be just as well I did too This sort of thing here – burning off of the country..- happens every year up here in Northern Australia It’s been going on for years and years, since day one It’s all part of the seasonal cycle Get rid of all the ground cover – the litter and the grass and the dead leaves and everything – clear it all out, just before the wet season comes Rain comes along, dumps down, and suddenly, all the grass jumps up all fresh and new and the whole cycle begins over and over again Get rid of this log Kennedy and Jackey finally got here, to the mouth of the Escape River
They could just see the ship anchored up there near Albany Island, but they still had to get around the river to reach it, so they started to go upstream, to look for a crossing point Kennedy and Jackey had gone about half a mile when they came into contact with one of the fiercest local tribes, who tracked them for the next day and a half What the two of them had no way of knowing was that this mob were about to turn hostile Jackey Jackey only survived by firing his gun at the attackers As far as I can figure it, this is about the spot here where Kennedy and Jackey got attacked by the local Aboriginals They’d been following ’em up for some time, and they were very concerned about it, and then finally, late in the afternoon, the attack happened And Kennedy, he was speared almost straightaway The reason why I think this is the spot is because Jackey gives us an excellent description Not only that, but he comes back 12 months later with another group of people and brings ’em in here and says, “This is where Mr Kennedy got killed.” And they’ve written all the details down Apparently, there were three of these ant hills here in those days And in this whole plain today, there’s only one For the next 10 days, Jackey Jackey struggled to get to the ‘Ariel’ He often had to wade up to his neck in crocodile-infested water to try and avoid getting caught I tell you what, there’s no way you’d get me in that water round here, except in me tinnie Lost the bung out of me boat down the track there a bit, so carved up a replacement out of a bit of bush wood here See if it works in a minute I guess you really gotta ask yourself the question, “What did Jackey live off for those 10 days “when he was trying to get through to Cape York?” Obviously, he couldn’t use his gun – after all, he’s trying to keep a low profile, and he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself, so, what did he eat? Well, he tells us You remember way back down the Cape there, I showed you that nonda plum’? This thing here Well, it grows up here as well And that’s what he survived off, nonda plum, for the 10 days Just wonder how we’d get on if we didn’t have that up here – how Jackey would get on Anyway, see if this works Left on his own, Jackey must have been absolutely terrified See, you’ve gotta remember, he didn’t come from round here He came from New South Wales So this was not his country Jackey Jackey kept on going until finally, in December 1848,
he staggered out at the rendezvous point and he made contact with the ‘Ariel’ He was the only man from the expedition to actually make it to the Top Of the original party of 13, only 3 survived – Jackey Jackey, the botanist, William Carron, and a bloke called Goddard And what of Jackey Jackey’? He was hailed as a national hero, and rightly so He’d done all he could to help them survive and defended Kennedy to the very end