Austin’s Delusion

Once you go beyond what you learnt at school, there are many exciting episodes of Western Australian history.

In 1854 Surveyor Robert Austin led an expedition east and then north to the Murchison River. Disasters from a gun accident, poison plants, and thirst assailed them. After many tribulations they reached the Geraldine Mine on the Lower Murchison, after a journey lasting more than two months. Their exploration inspired others to prospect the desert for both grass and gold, culminating in the opening of the area in the 1880s, and the finding of rich goldfields. More than 150 years after his difficult and perilous journey Austin is placed among the premier explorers of the Australian outback. On the sixth day of his expedition he recorded:

This country gives rise to several streams, shedding into a large brook, which we crossed two miles from Goomalling, at the junction of a rivulet flowing from a granite and warrine hill called Kooranning, three miles N.E., at the north end of which the natives describe a permanent spring; the main brook trending to the south-west, and discharging the accumulated waters into the Salt River.

Its greatest breadth is about 3 miles; and 4 miles from Goomalling the only passage for a cart is through a narrow defile between two rugged hills, from which large granite rocks have slipped, and nearly blocked up the intervening space.  One of the largest of these rocks, Norcott informed us, was lying on a poor black fellow who was passing buried under it when it fell.

This melancholy story invested the stone with a degree of interest; so I examined and measured it, and found the length 52 feet, height 46 feet, and thickness 33 feet; and the sharp form and dimensions correspond so exactly with the depression in the adjacent escarpment from which it had fallen, that I satisfied the fracture is of comparatively recent date, and I am disposed to believe the sad accident occurred as stated, so that this rock, which contains 78,936 cubic feet, and weighs nearly 6000 tons, is probably the largest tombstone in the world.

The full report of Austin’s expedition is in the published book:

The Finest Gold Fields in the World : The Austin Expedition to the Murchison in 1854, Hesperian Press, Carlisle, WA, 2009.