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Explorers of the Outback


  1. Thomas O'Hara Burke
  2. Edward John Eyre
  3. John Forrest
  4. Edmund Kennedy
  5. Ludwig Leichhardt
  6. Major Thomas Mitchell
  7. John Oxley
  8. John McDouall Stuart
  9. Charles Sturt

Burke - outback explorer

Robert O'Hara Burke (1821-1861), together with William John Wills were the first men to cross Australia from south to north. They both died of starvation in tragic circumstances on the banks of Coopers Creek.

Burke was born in Ireland. In 1848, he joined the Irish police. After migrating to Australia, he became inspector of police in the gold-mining areas. Wills, an Englishman, was a surveyor.

Burke and Wills were sent by the Victorian government to travel from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria. No one knew what was in the centre of Australia. Some people even believed that there could be an inland sea. They took enough food to last for 2 years and 6 tonnes of firewood. There were 28 horses and wagons and 24 camels. These camels were well suited to the harsh desert conditions through which they would be travelling. They took 80 pairs of shoes, 20 camp beds, 30 cabbage tree hats, 57 buckets, brandy, preserved fruit,vegetables and firearms. They also carried with them beads to use as gifts to give to the aborigines. The expedition was very well equipped. If Burke had been a better leader, perhaps it would have been successful.

It was surprising that Burke was chosen as leader. He was impatient and made some very bad decisions. He had no experience in exploration and was not a good leader. He had little knowledge of bushcraft and no experience of how to live off the land. When Burke quarrelled with his second-in-command, Landells, he appointed Wills as second-in-command. Wills was a good bushman.

The party set off on the long journey, but it was too slow for Burke. He started to leave supplies and equipment behind so that they could go faster.

Gregory, who was an experienced explorer had previously warned Burke not to travel until the middle of summer, to avoid the heat. However, Burke was afraid that Stuart who was sent by the South Australian government, would get there first and decided not to wait. When they reached Menindie (on the Darling River in New South Wales), Burke decided to go ahead with a party of 8 men to set up a depot at Cooper's Creek (half-way between Melbourne and the Gulf of Carpentaria). He left Wright in charge of the rest of the party and told him to follow in a few days.

Burke and his party reached Coopers Creek early in November. They set up a depot and waited for the others to arrive. However, 6 weeks later there was still no sign of them. Leaving Brahe, 3 other men and some of the animals, Burke decided to make a dash to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Brahe was told to stay at Coopers Creek and wait for them to return. He was told to stay for as long as possible and not to leave unless it was absolutely necessary.

On 16 December, Burke, Wills, King and Gray set off from Coopers Creek to set off on their dash for the Gulf. They had 6 camels, 1 horse and 12 weeks' supply of food with them. The men walked and the animals carried the supplies. It was a long hard journey and the men had to put up with incredible heat, thunderstorms and wet, boggy conditions. They reached the Gulf in early February and were the first to cross the continent from south to north. They then began their journey back. The men and the animals were exhausted and they only had one month's supply of food left. Gray became too weak to walk and died. After burying him, they had to rest for a day before they had the strength to continue. By now they were very weak. Finally on April 21 Burke, Wills and King arrived back at the depot at Coopers Creek, but it was deserted. There was only a message cut into a tree:


When they dug, they found a letter and some supplies. The letter told them that Brahe had left with the rest of the men just a few hours earlier. They had waited for four months and had left only that morning. Burke thought about going in pursuit, then thought it was hopeless. Burke, Wills and King were too exhausted to catch up with Brahe. The three survivors were in bad shape and their legs were almost paralysed. It was difficult to walk more than a few metres. They decided to rest, eat some of their supplies, and then head for a cattle station 240 kilometres away. They still had 2 of their camels left.

Meanwhile Brahe and his depot party met up with the main group and he decided to go back to Coopers Creek to make sure that Burke and Wills had not come back. When he arrived, everything seemed exactly as he had left it and so he decided to return to Melbourne to organise a search party. Brahe thought that the explorers had died and so unfortunately did not leave any horses or supplies.

Meanwhile Burke, Wills and King realised they could not make the long trip. Their supplies were running out and the last camel had died so they returned to Coopers Creek. In his diary written while he was dying, Wills bitterly blamed Brahe for not leaving pack animals and some provisions. At Coopers Creek, they were unable to find enough food and grew weaker. The three men survived for several weeks on nardoo seed and fish given to them by friendly aborigines. Burke and Wills died at the end of June while waiting to be rescued. King was later found by a search party. He was living with a tribe of friendly aborigines who had given him food and shelter. He died 9 years later at the age of 31. The bodies of Burke and Wills were recovered by the search party and buried in Melbourne.

This expedition was a tragedy. If they had not wasted a day burying Gray, they would have reached the depot before Brahe left. If the explorers had stayed closer to the aborigines, they could have survived. If Burke had been a better bushman, they could have survived on the banks of a creek stocked with fish. If Brahe and Wright had been more observant, they could have seen that the explorers had dug beneath the DIG tree. If Wright had brought up the supplies as ordered, they would have had enough supplies. Burke and Wills died a lonely death and are possibly Australia's most famous explorers.

(Copied from the website of G. McBryde)

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Eyre - outback explorer

Edward John Eyre (1815-1901), together with his aboriginal friend Wylie, was the first man to cross southern Australia from east to west, travelling across the Nullarbor Plain from Adelaide to Albany. Eyre was born in England where his father was a minister. He came to Australia when he was seventeen years old.

He conducted many small expeditions in New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia, combining droving sheep and cattle with exploring. Eyre was hoping to discover good sheep country. He opened up much of South Australia for settlement. Eyre wanted to open up a route to the centre of Australia. In 1839, he set off to reach the centre. Lake Torrens was covered with salty mud. His way was blocked by swamps in one direction and by sandhills in another, so he followed the Flinders Ranges to Mount Hopeless, where he turned back.

Meanwhile, back in Adelaide, plans were being made to form an expedition to open up a route between South Australia and Western Australia. They were hoping to find good land and to open up a route to take cattle overland from Adelaide to Western Australia. Because of his skills in the bush, Eyre was made the leader the expedition. He volunteered to lead it and pay half the costs. In 1840, he set out from Adelaide. The party was made up of 6 white men, including Baxter, his station manager, an aboriginal friend called Wylie and 2 other aborigines. They took with them 13 horses, 40 sheep and supplies to last them 3 months. They planned to be met at Spencer Gulf by a government ship with more supplies.

Eyre travelled westward across what is now known as Eyre Peninsula and along the coast. The harsh conditions and lack of water forced him to send all of the members of his party back to Adelaide, except for Baxter, Wylie and 2 other aborigines. Eyre thought that a smaller party would have more chance of success. The 4 men left Fowler's Bay with 11 pack horses and 6 sheep. They would have to travel 1 300 kilometres through harsh desolate country. Because the Nullarbor Plain had no trees, there was no shade from the fierce heat of the sun. There was little water and very few ways to reach the sea because of the huge cliffs.

By the time the expedition reached the top of the Great Australian Bight, they were desperately short of water and were saved by friendly aborigines who showed Eyre how to find water by digging behind the sand dunes on the shore. For five days they travelled, but were unable to find any water. They travelled along the Great Australian Bight, suffering terrible hardship. To the north of them lay the Nullarbor Plain. Eyre was the first man to cross this plain.

Water was becoming very scarce when they came upon some wells dug by the aborigines at the present site of Eucla on the border of South Australia and Western Australia. They stayed here for 6 days. After resting for 6 days, they travelled on, keeping close to the beach. Water once again became scarce and the aborigines showed them how to break off the roots of gumtrees and suck them to relieve their thirst.

The pack horses found it difficult travelling through the sand and so Eyre was forced to leave behind their firearms, horseshoes, spare water bags and even clothing. One by one the packhorses had to be left behind. Soon their water was finished.

The party used sponges to collect early morning dew from leaves. Food was becoming scarce and so they killed a sick horse for food. It made Eyre and Baxter very ill. The aborigines tried to go on alone, but returned a couple of days later almost starving.

They were now about halfway to the West Australian coast. It was winter and because they had been forced to leave their clothes behind, they suffered from the cold at night. It was around this time that 2 of the aborigines started to cause trouble, refusing to work. One night while Eyre was keeping watch he heard a gun blast and found Wylie running towards him in alarm. Two of the aborigines had murdered Baxter and had disappeared with most of the supplies and firearms. Wylie, however, refused to go with them and stayed with Eyre. They were now feeling desperate. Eyre had seen no water for three days and ahead lay almost 1000 kilometres of unknown barren country. The aborigines, now armed had taken most of their supplies. Eyre could not even bury Baxter as the ground was solid rock, so he wrapped him in a blanket and left him.

Eyre and Wylie trudged on and it was seven days before they found a native waterhole. They survived by killing and eating kangaroos. Wylie even ate a dead penguin he found on the shore. For over a month, Eyre and Wylie continued to walk to Western Australia. In June 1841, they came upon a French whaling ship anchored off the coast and were able to rest for a fortnight. The captain, an Englishman, named Rossiter provided them with food and even some wine and brandy.

After resting for two weeks, they were now both fit and strong, well clothed and had plenty of food. The journey became much easier. In July, they reached Albany, after travelling through heavy rains and cold weather. Their journey had lasted four and a half months.

Eyre was awarded a gold medal of the Royal Geographic Society for this incredible journey. Despite his hardship, Eyre lived to be 86. In 1846, he was made Lieutenant-Governor of New Zealand. He was also made governor in various parts of the West Indies. Eyre retired to England, where he lived until his death in 1901.

Wylie was rewarded with a pension, and he remained in Albany, happy to be among his own people once again.

(Copied from the website of G. McBryde)

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Forrest - outback explorer

John Forrest (1847-1918) was a surveyor who made several expeditions into the centre of Australia. Together with his brother, they became the best known explorers in Western Australia. Both John and his brother were born in Bunbury, Western Australia. Later, in 1890, John Forrest became the first Premier of Western Australia. He was later elected to the federal government in 1901 and was made Baron John Forrest of Bunbury in 1918. By now he was in bad health and on July 30, 1918 he sailed for England for medical treatment. However, he died on the voyage, before reaching England.

At the age of 22, John Forrest and his brother led an expedition to central Australia to explore the interior and to look for any traces of Leichhardt, a German explorer, who had vanished into the desert. Forrest and his men spent 19 weeks in the interior of Western Australia and they travelled over 3 200 kilometres of previously unexplored country. In this country there were dry salt lakes and red sandy desert. There were no permanent rivers and very few water holes. Each day, Forrest had to constantly search for water for his men and horses. When their supplies began to run out, they had no choice but to return, living on damper, tea and anything they could shoot. They at last arrived back in Perth on 6 August, , but had found no sign of Leichhardt's expedition. Forrest reported the likelihood of minerals in the region, and today some of the richest mines in the world are found there.

Across Western Australia: In 1870, the government decided to send Forrest on a new expedition to find a new route between Perth and Adelaide. Forrest took with him his brother Alexander and an aboriginal Tommy Windich to act as tracker.

The party left Perth and consisted of 6 men, 16 horses, several dogs and supplies enough to last them to travel the 720 kilometres to Esperance. Here they planned to meet a boat to obtain fresh supplies. Leaving Esperance they travelled on horseback and sometimes they walked. It was a constant battle to find feed and water before making camp at night. They slept in the open air with only 1 blanket for warmth at night. On this journey, water was always a problem. The horses were in poor condition and the men were exhausted.

They reached Fowler's Bay and continued on to Adelaide where they were given a warm welcome. After selling their horses, they travelled back to Perth by ship. They had discovered little useful land suitable for farming. However, they were the first to cross Australia from west to the east, having travelled overland from Perth to Adelaide, the opposite direction taken by Eyre some years earlier.

To Central Australia: Little was known about the centre of Australia, even though much of the rest of Australia had been explored. Part of the interior had been explored by Warburton, Giles and Gosse and they reported it as dry desolate land. In 1874, Forrest set off to travel from Western Australia to the centre of Australia. This expedition consisted of 6 men, 20 horses and enough food to last them 8 months. Again, John Forrest took with him his brother and Tommy Windich.

They left Geraldton, heading for the Murchison River. Each day, John or his brother would go ahead looking for a waterhole as the horses needed water every twelve hours. Forrest knew that he should have taken camels instead of horses. A horse needs water every 12 hours; a camel can go for 10 or 12 days without drink.

It was difficult walking through the heat, sand and deserts of spinifex grass. This grass was too dry for the horses to eat and it cut their legs. On June 2 they reached Weld Springs where they rested for a week because there was plenty of water and feed for the horses.

After leaving Weld Springs, they climbed high mountains overlooking the Gibson desert. While climbing a tree to look around, Forrest saw a war party of 40 to 60 aborigines, armed with spears and shields. The aboriginal party ran towards the explorers yelling and shouting with their spears ready. When they were 30 metres away, Forrest gave an order to fire. A native was badly wounded and the war party fled into the hills. It is thought that possibly the white men had camped on sacred ground. For protection they built a stone hut while they scouted around for water.

By August, they were in trouble. They were about 1 500 kilometres from the nearest settlement in Western Australia. They could not turn back, because they could not be sure that there would be water where they had found it previously. However, the land ahead was dry and waterless and both men and horses faced the risk of dying of thirst. Luckily for them it started to rain. This was very unusual in this country. The rain filled the rock holes ahead. However, the horses became exhausted and had to be left behind. One of the men had scurvy and his feet were so swollen, he could hardly walk. Their supplies of tea and sugar were all gone and theysurvived on flour-porridge three times a day.

On September 27, they reached the Overland Telegraph line. Three days later they reached the Peaks Telegraph station where they were given food and clothing. From here they were able to send news back to Adelaide and Perth. On November 3, they reached Adelaide where they were given a warm welcome by the crowds.

Forrest was rewarded with a land grant of 2000 hectares, which he farmed. A year later, even though he was only 28 years old, he was given the position of deputy surveyor-general. He later became the first premier of Western Australia.

(Copied from the website of G. McBryde)

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Kennedy - outback explorer

Edmund Kennedy (1818-1848) was born on Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands of the English channel. His father was a colonel in the British army. Kennedy was a surveyor and also a talented artist. He arrived in Sydney in 1840 where he joined the Surveyor-General's Department as an assistant to Sir Thomas Mitchell. Kennedy was to meet his death at the hands of hostile natives while trying to open up a route to the tip of the Cape York Peninsula.

Kennedy made many expeditions into unexplored areas of Queensland opening up many new areas. In 1845, he was second-in-command of an expedition led by Thomas Mitchell, when they discovered the Victoria River and rich grasslands in central Queensland. On another expedition in 1847, Kennedy discovered that the Victoria River did not flow into the Gulf as Mitchell thought, but was part of Coopers Creek. He renamed it the Barcoo River.

In 1848, Edmund Kennedy, together with 12 other men left Rockingham Bay north of Townsville to travel to Cape York. They planned to map the eastern coast of northern Queensland. The expedition was well planned. As an extra precaution, The HMS 'Rambler" was asked to cruise along the Cape York coast. Finally, after they had reached Cape York, they were to return aboard a ship called the 'Ariel". They took with them 28 horses, 3 carts and a flock of 100 sheep. They were well equipped and took with them pistols and double barrelled shotguns. Their supplies consisted of a tonne of flour to make damper. This was washed down by tea sweetened by sugar. They also ate salted pork. The sheep would also provide meat during the journey. The expedition faced the problem of thick rainforest and a high barrier of mountains, the Great Dividing Range. The animals and carts were a problem in the dense scrub of the rainforest through which they had to travel.

At first they went along the beach but this was very difficult with the carts. As they had no boats, they unloaded the carts and wrapped tarpaulins around them. These makeshift boats were used to ferry the sheep across the crocodile infested waters. When they came across creek banks 7 metres high, the carts had to be lowered with ropes.

They had to struggle through thick jungle and had to hack their way through dense scrub and creepers. It was a battle to travel 2 kilometres a day. In addition the country was not suitable for the heavy carts. Late tropical rains weakened the men and their animals and both men and animals were covered with leech bites. To add to their problems hostile aborigines trailed the party for hundreds of miles.

It was now obvious that they should have stayed close to the coast. If they had they would have been shocked to see the "Rambler" turn south for home. It had been ordered to patrol the coast only until August. Eventually there were forced to abandon their carts and some of their equipment that was too heavy to carry. Horses were dying under the strain of carrying what supplies were left. When they set off they had hoped to catch animals for extra food. But during the 3 months they had been travelling they had only managed to shoot 1 kangaroo, 2 emus and 5 wallabies. They caught a few fish and had eaten duck and pigeon once. They tried eating goanna and seeds from the trees. Figs that they ate made them very ill. The horses were becoming weaker because there was no good grass and when they became too weak they were shot and used for meat. After 5 months in the rainforest, they had covered only 500 direct kilometres, although they had covered twice that many in their wanderings. By the time they reached Princess Charlotte Bay, they were sick and weary and looked in vain for the 'Rambler".

It took them 6 months to reach Weymouth Bay. Here Kennedy left behind 8 of his men because they were too sick to go any further, while he and 4 men went on to Shelburne Bay. Before setting off, they killed the last of the sheep. Kennedy also left behind 2 horses which were too weak to be used for anything else but food. They shared up what was left of the dried meat, flour and tea. Kennedy took the rest of the horses, promising the eight sick men they would soon sail back on the 'Ariel".

When they reached Shelburne Bay, two of the men, Luff and Dunn decided they could go no further. Also, one of the party accidentally shot himself, so Kennedy decided leave him with the other two. Kennedy decided to make a fast dash to the Cape with the aboriginal called Jacky Jacky as his only companion.

At one time Kennedy became bogged up to his shoulders and had to be rescued by Jacky Jacky. Kennedy's feet were very swollen and he became ill, so they had to rest. Jacky Jacky would carry Kennedy on his back for a kilometre at a time. All their meat was now gone and Jacky tried to catch some fish.

The aborigines who had been following them had watched the party become smaller and now decided to attack. When they were just 20 kilometres from Cape York, Kennedy was speared. Jacky Jacky cut the spear out of Kennedy's back and carried him to the creek to bathe his wounds. Kennedy asked for pen and paper and tried to write, but died in Jacky Jacky's arms. Jacky Jacky stayed with Kennedy until he died. Though wounded himself, Jacky Jacky managed to meet the rescue ship which was waiting for them at Albany Bay. The crew of the ship were amazed to see Jacky Jacky run down the beach, more dead than alive. Wasting no time, the crew of the 'Ariel" headed south to rescue the men who had been left behind. However, the 3 men who had been left at Shelburne Bay were missing and 6 of the the 8 men at Weymouth Bay had died of hunger. Only 2 survived.

Now all that remained was to take Kennedy's body back to Sydney for burial. Jacky Jacky led the sailors to the spot where he had buried Kennedy, but the grave was empty. Kennedy's body was never found. Jacky Jacky was given a breast plate in recognition of his bravery by Governor Fitzroy. He returned to the Muswellbrook area to his tribe, but unfortunately, while drunk, fell into a campfire and was burned.

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Leichhardt - outback explorer

Ludwig Leichhardt (1813-1848) was a German explorer and scientist who came to Australia in 1842 to study its rocks and wildlife. He was born in East Germany and studied at the University of Berlin.

He explored parts of Queensland and Northern Territory. While attempting to travel from Moreton Bay (Brisbane) to Perth, his party disappeared. Many search parties went out to try and find traces of the party. Some of these found bones, but they were not able to prove that it was any of Leichhardt's party.

Some people believe that the party mutinied and killed Leichhardt and all were later killed by aborigines except for one member of the party, Adolf Classen. It was thought that he lived on among the aborigines. Other historians believe that Leichhardt's party was caught and died in sudden floods in the channel country in Queensland. Still others believe that he and his party may have died of thirst or that bushfires may have killed the party. For whatever reason, the expedition completely disappeared into the desert. His disappearance still remains a mystery today.

In October 1844, he left the Darling Downs with a party of nine men on an expedition to find a new route to Port Essington, near Darwin. He took with him 17 horses, 16 bullocks, 550kilograms of flour, 90 kilograms of sugar, 40 kilograms of tea and 10 kilograms of gelatine.

Leichhardt was a very poor bushman and the party was always becoming lost. To add to their troubles, food was always short. They ate all kinds of native animals, including lizards and flying foxes. Once when they dropped a bag of flour on the ground, they scraped it up with dried leaves and dust and made it into porridge. Two members of the party turned back shortly after the expedition started and another, John Gilbert was killed by aborigines. Seven exhausted men finally reached Port Essington after a journey of 5 000 kilometres. The journey had taken them 15 months. They had travelled through good country, naming the Dawson, Mackenzie, Isaacs, Suttor and Burdekin rivers, as well as Expedition Range and Peak Range. Further north he named the Lynd and Mitchell rivers. Leichhardt followed the coastline of the Gulf of Carpentaria, naming several rivers as he went. The party then travelled home by sea.

In 1846, Leichhardt set out on his first attempt to cross Australia from the Darling Downs in Queensland to the Swan River in Western Australia, but was forced to turn back because of the heat and drought.

In 1848, he tried once again to find a route from Moreton Bay (Brisbane) to Perth, setting off with a party of 7 men including 2 aborigines. This expedition was badly equipped as Leichhardt thought that they could live off the countryside. However, he was not a good bushman. The expedition left the sheep station where they were staying and simply vanished. It was typical of Leichhardt that he took only 7 horses, one for each man. Presumably he never thought about horses going lame, or escaping - even dying. Since then many other expeditions have tried to solve the mystery. During the next 90 years, nine major expeditions tried to solve the mystery of Leichhardt's disappearance, and there were a number of smaller expeditions. Various things such as skeletons, a coin, tomahawk and some bones were found, but nothing to link them conclusively with Leichhardt's party.

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Mitchell - outback explorer

Major Thomas Mitchell (1792-1855) was an explorer and a surveyor. He was Surveyor-General of the colony and as such, was responsible for laying out roads, bridges and towns. He was also responsible for surveying much of the eastern part of Australia. Born in Scotland, Mitchell joined the army where he learnt to be a surveyor and in 1827, arrived in Australia where he took over from John Oxley as Surveyor-General. Mitchell was the last person in Australia to challenge anyone to a duel. Fortunately he only shot a hole in the man's hat. Mitchell was a very talented artist and also wrote poetry. He was also a geologist and botanist. Mitchell wrote books about his journeys and these were very popular. In 1838, Mitchell was knighted and became Sir Thomas Mitchell. He was responsible for exploring vast areas of south-eastern Australia and opening up new grazing lands in the southern parts of Victoria. These he named "Australia Felix". He led four main expeditions. During these expeditions he often had to fight with aborigines, sometimes killing them and also losing some of his own men.

On his first expedition, Mitchell set off in 1831 to explore a river to the north west of Sydney, reported by an escaped convict. They passed a number of rivers and Mitchell believed that they were all part of the Darling River system. However, his path was blocked by a war party of natives who killed two of his men and stole their supplies. As they had no fresh supplies, Mitchell was forced to turn back and return to Sydney.

On his second expedition, he proved that the rivers crossed by Cunningham flowed into the Darling river. Mitchell planned to trace the course of the Darling River to the sea. In 1835, he followed the Darling for about 500 kilometres. Again aboriginals were sighted, and this time Mitchell's men opened fire. Several natives were killed and again he was forced to turn back.

On his third journey he followed the Lachlan, Murrumbidgee and Darling Rivers to where they joined the Murray. Crossing into what is now known as Victoria, Mitchell found the aborigines were friendly and traded a tomahawk for a beautifully woven native bag. The party killed 3 kangaroos and 2 emus. They also found a number of emu eggs which they used for breakfast for several days. Mitchell then mapped the western area of Victoria and named the Grampian Mountains. It was the middle of winter and the peaks were frozen. Across the mountains, Mitchell found excellent grazing land - land richer than any grazing land he had found in New South Wales and named this country "Australia Felix". Travelling south west, they crossed mountains and rivers that no white man had ever seen. They came to the Glenelg River and after rowing down it, reached the sea at Portland Bay. Mitchell was very surprised to meet here, the Henty brothers, who had settled there in 1834. He was amazed to find a thriving community complete with potato paddocks, roads and a ship at anchor in the bay. The Henty brothers were raising sheep and cattle as well as catching whales. They had been there for two years without telling the officials and had built cottages and sheds for their stock. The Henty brothers supplied food and other materials to the whalers who sailed these waters. On this expedition Mitchell had found excellent farming land and when he returned to Sydney with the news, it started a land rush. Mitchell was knighted for his discoveries in 1837.

Mitchell's fourth and last expedition was a 12 month journey into central Queensland. His party consisted of 29 men. Of these, 23 were convicts. There was a blacksmith, 2 carpenters and a butcher. Most of them behaved very well except for 6 of them. They took with them bullock drays and light carts. Mitchell also took 2 iron boats that could be bolted together whenever they needed them to cross rivers. They took enough supplies to last a year, including 250 sheep. The men had straw hats, woollen jackets and heavy coats for cold weather. They took with them 2 aboriginal guides. If Mitchell had had the time and supplies, he could have reached the Gulf of Carpentaria. After naming the Victoria River, he returned to Sydney. This expedition led to the opening up of rich pastoral areas of Central Queensland.

Mitchell had an unusual way of counting how far they had travelled. He would count the stroke of his horse's hoof. When he reached 100, he would put his hand into his pocket and remove a counter, such as a bean or a pea and put it into his other pocket. He claimed that 950paces of his horse made up a 1.6 kilometres and after this he would take a new compass reading and he would start counting again.

Mitchell caught a chill while surveying a road and this turned into pneumonia. He died in 1855. One of his sons also became a surveyor and mapped large areas of New South Wales.

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Oxley - outback explorer

John Oxley (1785?-1828) was a naval officer, surveyor and explorer and was born in England. Although he had little experience with land surveying, he was made Surveyor-General of the colony by Governor Macquarie.

Exploring the Lachlan: Once the Blue Mountains had been crossed in 1813, and the town of Bathurst established, the colony wished to expand. Wool had become Australia's first main industry and more land was needed for sheep. In 1817, Oxley set off to explore the country west of Bathurst. Evans had discovered the Lachlan River and so Oxley set off to explore this river. Some of the party rode horses while others travelled in boats. They had taken with them salted meat and at the end of each day's journey would camp and go fishing. This provided a change from the salted food. Tall thick grass made the going very difficult and eventually they found their way was blocked by marshes. Leaving their boats, they started off south west and came across very dry country. The horses became very weak and started to die. The men were forced to eat dingo, emu and snake. The explorers turned north west and again came across the Lachlan. They continued downstream until they were again blocked again by marshes, causing them to turn back. Oxley believed that the interior was marshland and unsuitable for settlement. Little did he know that he was a few days away from the Murrumbidgee and large areas of good land. Food was running low, so he returned to Bathurst.

Exploring the Macquarie River: The next year, in 1818, Oxley set off from Bathurst with 15 men to follow the Macquarie River. They used boats, but these had to be left behind when they struck marshes again. Oxley was beginning to believe that there was an inland sea. Turning east, the explorers came upon flooded country and often they had to walk waist deep through water. On August 26 they climbed a hill and saw before them rich, fertile plains, which they named Liverpool Plains. They continued east, discovering the Peel River, near the present site of Tamworth. Continuing east they crossed the Great Diving Range and came upon the Hastings River. Following it to its mouth, they discovered that it flowed into the sea at a spot which they named Port Macquarie. This expedition opened up large areas of new country, including the very fertile Liverpool Plains. However, Oxley did not achieve his main aim of tracing the Lachlan and Macquarie Rivers. He also misled others such as Sturt into thinking that the interior of Australia contained an inland sea. There are many memorials to Oxley along his track, the greatest of which is the Oxley Highway which finishes at Port Macquarie. He was rewarded with grants of land around Camden and Bowral.

Coastal surveys: . In 1819 he sailed to Jervis Bay but said that it was unsuitable for settlement. Also that year he sailed to Port Macquarie and recommended it as a place to send the worst convicts. His coastal surveys led him to explore Moreton Bay where he found 2 escaped convicts living with aborigines. They told him of a big river which led him to discovering the Brisbane River in 1824. He spent 5 days sailing up the Brisbane River and was very impressed by the rich soil and timber. His favourable reports led to the setting up a convict colony at Moreton Bay and he returned to supervise this in 1825. Oxley chose Redcliffe Point as the first site as there was plenty of fresh water, fertile soil and plenty of timber for building. Altogether, Oxley sailed 80 kilometres up the Brisbane River.

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John McDouall Stuart - outback explorer

John McDouall Stuart was born in Dysart, Scotland, in 1815 and came to Australia in 1838 to seek his fortune. A draughtsman, he accompanied Captain Charles Sturt on his 1844 expedition to Central Australia, after surveying extensively throughout South Australia.

The South Australian government was keen to open a route from Adelaide to the north coast and offered a reward of $4,000 to the first person to achieve it. In 1860, Stuart, accompanied by William Kekwick and Ben Head, set out on their first attempt. The party reached Attack Creek, north of Tennant Creek, before being forced back through lack of supplies and hostile natives on June 27th 1860.

Stuart, with Kekwick and 10 others, set out again on New Year's Day 1861, and reached Newcastle Waters, but was again forced to return, this time because of the dense bushland.

They left Adelaide again in December, 1861 and seven months later, on July 24th 1862, finally reached the north coast at a place which they named Chambers Bay, after a sponsor of their expeditions.

Stuart suffered from the gruelling effort required on these journeys and returned to Scotland shortly after, He died in 1866.

The highway from Adelaide to Darwin bears his name, as does Central Mount Stuart, almost the geographical centre of Australia. Alice Springs was first named Stuart after him, and there is a small museum in Dysart, Kirkcaldy, Fife, at the home where he was born.

The Overland Telegraph Line closely follows the route that Stuart took, and the National Geographic Society erected this monument to him near the Royal Flying Doctor Service headquarters in Stuart Terrace to honour his achievement. Another signpost outside the museum at the Old Timers Home, south of Heavitree Gap, recalls the history of Alice Springs.

© Copyright Peter W. Wilkins 1999

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Sturt - outback explorer

Charles Sturt was born on April 28, 1795 in Bengal, India.

He was known as an Australian explorer whose expedition down the Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers (I 829-30) is considered one of the greatest explorations in Australian history. The expedition disclosed extensive areas of land for future development in New South Wales and South Australia.

Educated in England, Sturt entered he British Army at the age of 18 and for the next 13 years saw service in Spain, Canada, France, and Ireland.

In 1827 he became military secretary to the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Ralph Darling. He took part in several exploratory trips; first in 1828 (with Hamilton Hume) to solve problem of western rivers which John Oxley declared flowed into an inland sea. He followed the Macquarie River past marshes that blocked Oxley; traced Castlereagh River to the junction with Darling River.

Hunger and lack of provisions forced him to return without finding source or outlet of Darling River.

In 1829 the Government requested that Sturt continue his journeys from the previous year after the discovery of the Darling River and he led an expedition down the Murrumbidgee River taking an 8m whaleboat (in sections) and a skiff. After difficulties with marshes, hostile Aborigines and shortage of provisions, he finally met the Murray River, some 350 feet wide and 15 - 20 feet deep at the junction. He then sailed down the Murray River and past the mouth of a river he guessed to be the Darling River, downstream to Encounter Bay in South Australia.

The return trip against current was accomplished after great hardships. In the journey of 88 days, the expedition travelled 3200 km and opened up well-watered area of southern New South Wales, further indicating course of inland rivers. Sturt's speculations were proved correct by Sir Thomas MITCHELL in 1835.

Exhausted and nearly blinded because of poor diet and overexertion on his trip, he spent 1832-34 recuperating in England, where he wrote Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia, 1828-31 (1833).

The book led to the choice of South Australia as the site for a new British settlement.

Sturt was granted 5000 acres (2023 hectares) in 1834 (later sold for less than £450) and again came to New South Wales in 1834 and made one of the early overland trips with stock to Adelaide in 1838.

Sturt set out from Adelaide in 1844 hoping to find good land in central Australia. He followed the Murray and Darling Rivers to Lake Menindee and then went north-west to the Barrier Ranges near Broken Hill. Drought conditions forced him to camp for 6 months at Depot Glen (temperature averaged 38ºC, nails and hair of men ceased growing, one member of party died). He then proceeded north west for a further 725 km before discovering Lake Blanche, Sturt's Stony Desert and tracing Cooper Creek.

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