History of the Eyre Highway
The Eyre Highway, named after Explorer Edward John Eyre stretches from Port Augusta in the mid north of South Australia to Norseman in the West. Eyre's epic journey of 1840/41covered country from Adelaide, through the Flinders Ranges, around Eyre Peninsula and along the southern coast of Australia to Albany in Western Australia.
There is not a river nor a creek along the whole route. Much of the journey crosses the desolate Nullarbor Plains, so named because of its lack of trees.
Captain Matthew Flinders
Captain Matthew Flinders in the converted collier ship the Investigator circumnavigated Australia in 1802. At the time it was not known if the land known as New Holland was one continent ot two, or if an inlet existed leading to the centre. Flinders sailed along the southern coast of Australia, naming many of the bays and inlets. Nine of the crew were lost at sea near Port Lincoln when their boat was overturned in the strong current when rowing ashore.
At the same time, a French expedition under Captain Baudin was also exploring the coastline and naming points of interest. The two expeditions met near Encounter Bay. Follow Flinder's journey that includes shipwrecks and imprisonment by the French. He does not see his bride of a few months for ten long years. Flinders maps and charts were so accurate, they were still being used in the 1940s.
Across Australia east to west with Explorer Edward John Eyre
During the early days of Colonial settlement the Centre of Australia remained the Big Unknown to the Europeans. The aridity of the country kept it's secrets. There was much speculation about what might lie in the centre of the continent. Was it an inland sea? Or a land rich with natural resources?
Eyre, a young overlander, thought he might be able to find a route through the Flinders Ranges in northern South Australia. Eyre met with South Australia's Colonial Governor Gawler and offered to fund half the expedition. This was an enormous effort for the young 24 year old.
Eyre had previously crossed various parts of the country droving sheep and cattle. Memorable trips had been to Adelaide from New South Wales and he taken stock by ship to Albany and then overlanded them to Perth, supplying the young colonies with much needed meat.
The little settlement of Adelaide was little more than tents and huts. The subsequent farewell breakfast held on the 18th June, 1840 for the exploration party was attended by most of the population of the young Colony. The explorers set off with packhorses and carts loaded high with provisions and kegs of water. The little ship Waterwitch sailed along the coast bringing further supplies. The party camped at different locations in the Flinders Ranges while Eyre and one or two of the men pushed north, exploring the country further than any white man had been before. Try as they might, their progress was continually blocked by what appeared to be an interminable salt lake of brine and mud on one side and the towering Flinders Ranges on the other. (We now know it to be Lake Torrens and Lake Eyre North and South).
Finally after gazing at the view from the top of what Eyre named Mount Hopeless in the north of the ranges, Eyre abandoned this route. The name he bestowed upon the mount relects his feelings. Eyre then turned attention to the west and the party changed direction Perhaps there was a river flowing from Central Australia into the Southern Ocean that would lead them inland. Or perhaps Eyre felt disinclined to return to Adelaide without any success to report.
By the time the party reached Fowlers Bay, near the western border of the Colony, summer had arrived and the days were scorching hot. Horses and men suffered under the relentless sun. They pushed west and reached the cliffs of the Great Australian Bight. The rocky terrain was hard going for the cart horses. Four horses perished in the heat. Eyre was determined to push west however and set off with a smaller party and packhorses, shepherding a few sheep ahead of them. The journey would be perilous.
The Europeans knew nothing of what lay behind the great Bunda Cliffs. Local Aboriginal people had told Eyre water was only available in two places and had to be dug for in the sandhills. Follow Eyre's journey west across the Nullarbor to Albany. Find out about the tragedy that occurred on the desolate limestone cliffs. Go to the Buy the Book section.
Twelve months after the jaunty party left Adelaide, two bedraggled figures, Eyre and Wylie eluded starvation and finally trudged into the small hamlet. of Albany to an incredulous welcome
The First Australians
Life went on for Aboriginal people as it had for thousands of years. They were hunter gatherers and the bounty of the land provided all their needs.
Populations were larger in the higher rainfall areas where fish and game were plentiful. There was little need to go far for food. In Albany, fish traps can still be seen along the coast.
Survival in harsher regions was dependent on water from scattered waterholes and seasonal bush tucker. Desert people needed great skill and knowledge of the land and its sometimes meagre resources. Aboriginal clans were scattered over huge territories.