Although Western Australia’s first gold rush at Halls Creek in 1885 was short-lived, it opened up the East Kimberley to the cattle industry.
Gold was discovered in Wiluna in 1896 and at its peak, the Wiluna mine became the largest in Western Australia, supporting 9000 miners. There was a huge demand in the mines for fresh meat. Most of Western Australia’s beef came from the Kimberley. At the time, however, East Kimberley cattle were quarantined due to an infestation of tropical ticks. This gave the West Kimberley pastoralists a monopoly on the beef trade — which caused prices to soar.
In 1905 independent MP James Isdell came up with a bold solution to the tick problem – develop a stock route through Western Australia’s harsh desert country, and drove the cattle to market. Isdell believed the ticks would fall off and die in the hot dry conditions. He was right.
Many in government considered the idea of a desert stock route to be impossible, however, H.S. King, who was the Under Secretary of Mines at the time, came up with a suggestion the government couldn’t refuse – marry the stock route survey to a search for gold. The respected bushman and surveyor Alfred Canning, who had just finished work on the Rabbit Proof Fence, was commissioned to survey a potential route and identify gold-bearing country.
Once the stock route was complete cattle were able to be droved from the Kimberley to the terminus of the stock route at Wiluna to supply the huge demand for fresh meat.
Work Completed, Canning by Phil Bianchi.