Early in 1870 Governor Frederick Weld commissioned surveyor John Forrest to make a careful examination of the pastoral possibilities of the unseen country inland from the Great Australian Bight. This transcontinental expedition would approximate Eyre’s epic 1841 journey.
No one had reached Western Australia since Eyre’s trip 30 years before, except by sea. Prospects of Federation made it desirable to find a land route and establish settlements along the way if possible.
Forrest planned that the schooner Adur be sent to Israelite Bay and Eucla with reserve supplies and wait until the overland party arrived.
His six man party included his brother Alexander as 2IC left Esperance on 9 May 1870, traversing poorly grassed plains to Israelite Bay. The party set out on the dangerous 500 kilometre journey to Eucla on 3 May 1870 carrying three months’ provisions on horseback. While most of the party stayed near the coast with the packhorses, Forrest made ‘flying trips’ inland searching for suitable pastoral country.
After arrival at Eucla there was still a gap of 250 kilometres to the nearest South Australian settlement at Fowlers Bay. A police trooper escorted the explorers from Colona Station to Fowler Bay and they then continued through known country to a rousing reception in Adelaide.
The expedition achieved little more than Eyre’s. They found many millions of acres of grassy country – all of it entirely destitute of permanent water. However, the political results were important. By 1877 the East-West Telegraph Line was completed, largely along Forrest’s track, putting Western Australia in touch with the eastern colonies and the world.
© Kim Epton 2016-2018
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