Exploring the Stuart Highway and Oodndatta book


Explorer John McDouall Stuart


Known as "The King of Explorers"


Stuart was the greatest of the inland explorers. He waa surveyor and draughtsman and very exact with his map-making and notes. After being the first European to Central Australia, he tried a number of times to cross Australia from south to north. Leading a team of ten men and 71 horses, he finally reached the Northern shores in July 1862. They had a small ceremony and erected the flag on July 25th  and then started their perilous journey back to Adelaide.


Many of the waterholes they had established had dried up and Stuart became very ill with scurvy. He had spent most of his time searching for water. He was known as the best bushman in South Australia.

Burke and Wills


in 1861 there was a race to be first across the continent. The Victorian government had raised £12,000 for a Victorian Expedition led by Robert O'Hara Burke. Seventeen men, twenty-seven camels specially imported, horses and carts and the best that money could buy equipped the expedition. The expedition left from Melbourne, farewelled  by a crowd of 10,000 people.


Sadly 7 people died on this expedition, including Burke and Wills. Their story lives on in Australian folklore as a tragedy of errors.



The Great Northern Exploring Expedition


In less than a month after Stuart's unsuccessful 1861 expedition, most of the members were on their way to Chambers Creek Station (now called Stuart's Creek), near Roxby Downs. There they jerked (dried) the beef and prepared provisions with two sets of horseshoes for each horse. News had reached Adelaide that the explorers Burke and Wills had perished.


Stuart knew the dangers of leading an expedition into the Outback.  The responsibility of all their lives depended on him. Apart from lack of water and poisonous plants the horses could eat, they could be caught up in a wall of fire, or attacked by a large Aboriginal population. Once before the explorers had escaped these perils by galloping for their lives.


On 8th January 1862 Stuart's Great Northern Expedition left Chambers Creek. The procession of eleven men and seventy-one horses was an impressive site.


The Journey


The explorers were to have many adventures and challenges, not least in finding water. Stuart and companions were the first Europeans to see Australia's interior. Stuart  wrote glowing reports when he finally broke through the bulwaddy scrub to the lush sub-tropical country beyond. Many locations he named – Katherine, MacDonnell Ranges, Barrow Creek, Daly Waters and more.


The explorers finally arrived back in Adelaide  more than 12 months after they had left. They were gaunt and weary with emaciated horses. In all Stuart's expeditions, no lives were lost.


Stuart was the greatest of the Australian inland explorers. Because of his efforts, the Northern Territory was annexed to South Australia, the Western Australia border was shifted and the route was established for the Overland Telegraph Line.



The Overland Telegraph Line


Building the Overland telegraph Line was an enterprise of epic proportions– a single wire crossing the continent 3200 kms north to south, that brought Australia into communication with the world. The line linked to an undersea cable and revolutionised communication. News would take just hours to reach Australia instead of  weeks.


The Queenslanders had the line partly built, but when the undersea cable was pulled ashore at Darwin, it was a political triumph for South Australia to build the line across  Australia.


The project was immense. Charles Todd, telegraphic superintendent had estimated the cost and was in charge. As well as the telegraph poles, eleven repeater stations were set up manned by teams of operators to boost the signal.


Building the line took more than 12 months and was made possible by Stuart's achievements. The line assisted settlement as well as agriculture and industry with news of world markets.




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Exploring the Stuart Highway and Oodndatta book