‘The Wiradjuri name for Lake Cowal’, recalled Dame Mary Gilmore, ‘could be translated almost as “the garden of Eden” it was such a place of singing birds and flowers.’ As an elderly woman she remembered ‘the flowers like a carpet, the wading and swimming birds in thousands, the bittern booming in the night.’ (Used with permission, Dr George Main from the Waterhole Project, National Museum of Australia).
In the lower reaches of the Galari / Lachlan, the landscape is so flat that what appear to be tributary creeks are actually flood-out creeks that take waters away from the river. The Booligal wetlands (Upper Gum Swamp, Lower Gum Swamp), is another large area of intermittent swamps comprising the floodplains of the Merrowie, Merrimajeel, Murrumbidgil and Muggabah creeks (15,000ha).
There are many references in Oxley’s journal to the scattered nature of the trees, and as they travelled with the sinuous, winding river, the vegetation changed. The eucalypts grew shorter and the Acacia Pendula began to increase as the climate became more arid as they continued westward. The vegetation changed again and the Cypress pine and Belar (Casuarina Cristata), became more prevalent.
The most common feature remarked upon by Oxley was the extreme flatness of the country and the observation that much of the landscape at times must be inundated when the river overflows its banks. Although the weather was dry, the river was full and eventually the explorers realised that the Aboriginal peoples had moved away from the river and their fires could only be seen on the rising ground of the few eminences available to take refuge in a flood. There had obviously been rain in the headwaters of the catchment that was making the river rise.
The wetlands of the Galari / Lachlan are more extensive than those of the Macquarie. In fact, as Oxley remarked from the top of the northern side of the Jemalong gap, the whole area towards the west was a vast floodplain.The abundance of life in the river and also in the extensive wetlands was frequently referred to in Oxley’s journal and also in the journal of Allan Cunningham the expedition’s botanist and collector.
The rising water was clear and the clear water in the swamps also carried huge flocks of black swans, duck, teal and many other species. The native companions or Brolgas and Plains Turkey, or Bustard as well as Emus, were abundant on the open ground.