Dunmarra is a roadside stop between Elliott and Daly Waters. It was in the thick thorny bulwaddy / lancewood scrub near Dunmarra that Explorer John McDouall Stuart had great difficulty in finding water. He described it as "frightful country to be lost in". Stuart led a party of 10 men and 71 horses across Australia in 1862. His efforts secured the Northern Territory as part of South Australia.
Overland Telegraph Line
The momentous occasion of joining the two ends of the Overland Telegraph Line, linking Australia with the world, occurred just south of Dunmarra in 1872.
The 3178 kms Overland Telegraph line across Australia linked Adelaide to Palmerston (Darwin), and by undersea cable to Java (Indonesia), Europe and the world. Messages could now be sent by telegraph in hours instead of weeks by ship.
The South Australian Colonial Government seized the opportunity to build the Overland Telegraph Line. It was a massive project through the little known waterless Centre of Australia, with huge penalties for not completing the line on time.
Charles Todd planned and supervised the project. It was completed in less than 2 years. Some 30,000 poles were erected and 11 repeater stations built. The Telegraph Line opened up the Northern Territory to settlement.
The name Dunmarra is believed to be the Aboriginal pronounciation of Dan O'Mara, an overland telegraph linesman who was lost in the bush and perished.
Dunmarra was on the crossroads of Murranji, Barkly and North-South Stock Routes.
Drover Noel Healy established a cattle station here in the 1930s and discovered O’Mara’s skeleton in the bush. A hotel was later built.
In the 1940s, it was a welcome stop for troops on the military convoys heading north.
Little Boy Lost
In October 1993 eight year old Clinton Liebelt went missing from Dunmarra Roadhouse. He'd gone off on his motorbike to pursue his father to help find an escaped horse. He knew to "follow the sun" to get home from his adventures and to never never cross the Stuart Highway into the inhospitable country.
But on this occasion he did, sparking the biggest manhunt in the Territory.
As the search in searing heat progressed, it appeared Clinton was "following the sun" for the way home, unaware as he had crossed the highway, he was heading further away.
Hundreds joined in the search, from army volunteers and passing tourists, to footballers abandoning a match at Katherine.
All knew hours meant the difference between life and death. A make-shift camp of some 1200 people sprang up on the side of the road.
It began as a desperate search for life, but as one searingly hot day followed another, it became obvious they would now recover the body of a small boy from the wilderness. And so it was. The search ended in tragedy.
Years later the epic search has been recorded as true mateship – Australia’s national identity is alive and well. The story “The Lost Boy’ by journalist Robert Wainwright who was there at the time is available at Dunmarra Wayside Inn.