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Anniversary of explorer John McDouall Stuart’s journey from south to north of Australia

Today is the 147th anniversary of the day that explorer John McDouall Stuart crossed the continent from south to north in 1862. He emerged from the mangroves to see the waters of the Indian Ocean after an 8 month journey from Adelaide.

DIY Tourguide tells of this momentous journey in Track 4 (part 1) of the Alice Springs to Uluru audio tour. The audio includes readings from his diary when he first saw the water! Here is a transcript of this track:

“So far we have mentioned John McDouall Stuart several times in reference to place names along your journey. This 19th Century explorer is one of Australia’s most famous, being the first person to cross the continent from South to North in 1862. Ultimately he became part of a race across Australia, with his rivals being the Burke and Wills expedition. Driving along the Stuart Highway, on the modern bitumen road, it is interesting to see who came before us, and how events happened. To get a feel for the type of country that daunted the early explorers, you only have to look left or right and into the distance – can you imagine yourself walking out there for months or years on end?

In the mid nineteenth century, the government was anxious to know of new country suitable to be opened up for pastoral leases or mining. Before John MacDouall Stuart successfully traversed the continent, many other early explorers had attempted the treacherous route. The harsh, hot and dry conditions and lack of food and water usually got the better of them, and they had to turn back. The South Australian Government, who at the time were in charge of the Northern Territory, offered a $4000 reward for the first man to find an access route from Adelaide to the North Coast of Australia.

John McDouall Stuart was born in 1815 in Dysart, Scotland. He studied engineering in Glasgow and at the age of 23, sailed to Australia, arriving in 1839. His first venture in exploration was as a draughtsman on Captain Charles Sturt’s expedition in 1844, where the goal was to reach the centre of Australia. So little was known about the Centre then, that Charles Sturt even took a boat on this journey, thinking the centre of Australia was an inland sea! Charles Sturt’s journey, discovered many new landmarks, but lack of water kept him from the centre.

John McDouall Stuart made his first attempt at traversing the continent in 1859 and again in 1860, each time getting a little farther north. His third and final expedition left Adelaide in October 1861, and 9 months later in July 1862 he finally reached the Northern coast.

Stuart had achieved what his rivals, Robert O’hara Bourke and William Wills could not, after having both lost their lives in November 1861 whilst trying to find their way from south to north to win the same $4000 reward as John McDouall Stuart.

Stuart’s health had suffered that badly from years of inadequate food, bad water and harsh conditions, that he arrived back into Adelaide on a stretcher hung between two horses. Stuart’s courage, persistence, discipline and careful judgement took him and his companions into miles of unknown territory and back again with no lives lost, however after the last journey his own health never recovered.

Upon his return to Adelaide, he was awarded the $4000 which was not enough to retire on, and in the last years of his life he returned to work as a surveyor. He sailed to London to publish his journals, and died four years after his momentous journey in 1866. Stuart’s explorations were some of the most important for Australia. The route for the Overland Telegraph line became a reality, and what followed because of its construction, really kick-started the development of Central Australia, and in fact the whole Northern Territory.”

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