Following Sturt

Explorer’s Diaries have greatly influenced my love of travelling Australia over the years. A waterhole, hill or ridge-line takes on a whole new meaning when you know who gave it its European name and a bit of detail about the calamities or heroism that occurred at various locations. Recently we’ve been following Charles Sturt’s trail through the central desert country on his 1844 search for an inland sea.

He’s not that well known an explorer, when compared to the infamous Burke and Wills, but his journals bring to life (and death) this harsh part of Australia where Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia meet amidst inhospitable sand dunes and stony gibber plains.

It sounds cheesy but as you drive past in your air-conditioned fourby you’ve got to have the utmost respect for anyone with fair British skin that trudged through this unknown country in search of a better future for the nation.

Sturt's stony gibber plains , described by  Browne, the expedition doctor, as: " This plain was all stones - not rough and uneven but so closely and firmly compacted together that one might have played marbles on it. Not a blade of grass or herb could force its way between these stones".

Sturt’s stony gibber plains , described by Browne, the expedition doctor, as: ” all stones – not rough and uneven but so closely and firmly compacted together that one might have played marbles on it. Not a blade of grass or herb could force its way between these stones”.

Some facts about Sturt:

1. Sturt was 49 when he set out from Adelaide in 1844. He was short-sighted and his body ailing from the demands of previous journeys.
2. The party left Adelaide and travelled a route now settled as Broken Hill, Milparinka, Tibooburra, Innamincka and Birdsville.
3. He argued with his wife Charlotte the night he left for the desert and spent a lot of his time worrying about whether she forgave him or not. She, meanwhile, had given him up for dead.
4. His exploration party began with: 17 men, 11 horses, 32 bullocks, 200 sheep, 5 bullock drays, 1 light cart and one 22 foot boat complete with oars, rigging and sails. Sturt was absolutely convinced he would sail that boat on a vast inland sea and hired skilled sailors to join him on his journey.
5. The sheep became so tame during the expedition that they returned to Adelaide “following the drays from habit as quietly and regularly as a rear-guard of infantry”. The sheep were the only members of the party that truly thrived on the expedition due to the abundance of saltbush – the beginnings of pastoralists taking sheep into desert country.
6. Sturt was well known for his understanding of and kindness to Aborigines. He knew they could help him find water and was careful to avoid or instigate any animosity.
7. The expedition was eventually forced back by blazing deserts (Strzelecki and Simpson) but discovered many important water supplies still used today, including Cooper Creek where Burke and Wills perished many years later.

A replica of the boat Sturt hauled across the country with him

A replica of the boat Sturt hauled across the country with him

James Poole, the expedition's Assistant Leader died from the effects of scurvy in 1845 near the town of Milparinka. His initials, blazed by the expedition, are still visible next to the site of his grave.

James Poole, the expedition’s Assistant Leader died from the effects of scurvy in 1845 at Depot Glen (near present-day Milparinka) after the party were trapped here for months. His initials, blazed by the expedition, are still visible next to the site of his grave.

'JP 1845'

‘JP 1845’

In January 1845 (summer) the party were trapped near Mount Poole for 6 months. Lack of water prevented retreat or advance. To keep his men busy and in good health Sturt got his men to build this pyramid on the top of the hill by carrying a stone each up there every day.

In January 1845 (summer) the party were trapped at Depot Glen near Mount Poole for 6 months. Lack of water prevented retreat or advance. To keep his men busy and in good health Sturt got his men to build this pyramid on the top of the hill by carrying a stone each up there every day. The pyramid became a monument to Poole after his death.

The view from the pyramid on Mount Poole. One of the party, Brock, noted: "Our boots suffer fearfully through the stones which are as many as knives. Busy rearing the stonework of the pyramid - eleven and a half ounces of bread per day gives us but little strength to lift stones of 4 and 5 cwt (250kg) into their places'.

The view from the pyramid on Mount Poole. One of the party, Brock, noted: “Our boots suffer fearfully through the stones which are as many as knives. Busy rearing the stonework of the pyramid – eleven and a half ounces of bread per day gives us but little strength to lift stones of 4 and 5 cwt (250kg) into their places’.

Cooper Creek. A life-saving waterhole near modern day settlement Innamincka. Roan Plains, nearby are named after Sturt's horse who they left here as he was so sick. 16 years later he was spotted, still roaming the plains, by Alfred Howitt.

Cooper Creek. A life-saving waterhole at the modern day settlement Innamincka. Roan Plains, nearby are named after Sturt’s horse who was left here in a state of collapse. 16 years later he was spotted, still roaming the plains, by Alfred Howitt while he was searching for Burke and Wills.

Sturt country is harsh country for man and beast.

Sturt country is harsh country for man and beast.

Sturt National Park is named after its famous explorer. Fort Grey campsite was the site of Sturt's 'Park' Depot and a tree with his name blazed in the trunk is still visible.

Sturt National Park is named after its famous explorer. Fort Grey campsite was the site of Sturt’s ‘Park’ Depot which he used as a base so he could push a bit further north. A tree with his name blazed in the trunk is still visible. This area was filled with water when Sturt first arrived but was almost dry by the time they retreated.

'White clay as bare and destitute of vegetation as a rock or a street in London, if I except a few polygonum bushes which grew in the watercourses" (Browne)

‘White clay as bare and destitute of vegetation as a rock or a street in London, if I except a few polygonum bushes which grew in the watercourses” (Browne, expedition doctor)

 

Sturt: "I shall never forget its withering effect. I sought shelter behind a large gum tree, but the blasts of heat were so terrific that I wondered the very grass did not take fire"

Sturt: “I shall never forget its withering effect. I sought shelter behind a large gum tree, but the blasts of heat were so terrific that I wondered the very grass did not take fire”

 

 

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