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Joseph Hawdon Pioneer Drover
Joseph Hawdon had first taken cattle from the Murrumbidgee River country to the growing centre of Melbourne in 1837-8, but it was his ‘rash and quixotic’ plan to drove 340 cattle along the Murray from Howlong and across to Adelaide that made history. His journey was remarkable. Men were signed on ‘as if they were signing away their lives’; and some were. Some were blinded with heat and sand blight, and others narrowly escaped death by sunstroke, Aboriginal spears or drowning.
Hawdon signed on Charles Bonney, at Goulburn River, and with him came a wealth of bushcraft and experience, together with a happy disposition which enabled him to ward off potential attacks from the Aborigines. Hawdon records one episode ‘On my return I found Mr Bonney had fallen in with a tribe of blacks. When I came up the men regularly introduced me to their sons and grandchildren, the croaking of the old men and the chuckling of the young ones, and their wild grimaces of surprise and admiration...’
Hawdon’s journals are full of tales of the Aborigines and of the natural history of the region; of kangaroos that range in size from a mouse to 2.2 metres.
On 1 March 1838 the party swam the cattle and forded the drays across the Murray and Darling at low water by way of a convenient sandbank stretching out from the spit at the junction. Hawdon recorded that ‘While one wheel was in the turpid water of the Darling, the other in the dark, clear waters of the Murray’.
After another 110 km of pushing through river and sand-dune country they came across ‘a fine lake, of fresh water, about 30 miles in circumference, and on its margin we camped’. Hawdon named the water, Lake Bonney, ‘after my friend and fellow traveller…whose company contributed so much to the pleasure of my expedition’.
On 23 March 1838 after a journey of three months, they finally left the Murray and headed through the Mount Lofty Ranges to Adelaide to restock the settlers’ meat supply.
Two months after this feat the explorer Edward John Eyre followed the track on his way to the west, and later still the same track was followed by explorer Captain Charles Sturt.
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