Canning Stock Route
In the 1880’s after men bought cattle from New South Wales and Queensland to the Kimberley, the North West corner of Western Australia was opened up for cattle grazing. By the 1890’s a strong cattle industry had developed. Cattle from the North were sent to the Kalgoorlie Goldfields, 2000 kilometres south, to support a growing gold rush population. The cattle were originally transported by ship from Wyndham and Derby, however this became increasing impractical due to the mounting cost of sea transport. The cost of meat soon became out of reach for the southern consumers, thus a need for a cheaper means of transport was recognised. A stock route that traversed the central deserts of Australia was thought the best and cheapest option. Before Alfred Canning was commissioned to survey a route in 1906, Lawrence Wells and David Carnegie both attempted to locate a route in late 1890’s, however both declared a route across the central desert impossible. The location of a route through the central desert was postponed due to the restriction of cattle movement from the Kimberley region. The purpose of this ban was to prevent the spread of cattle tick, boophilis microplus, which had been bought into Australia from Java in 1872. This ban caused a meat shortage in the Goldfields and newly established Central Wheatbelt. Cattlemen in the North also faced certain ruin if nothing was done to re-establish their once thriving industry.
In 1905 James Isdell put a proposal to the State Government for a stock route between Sturt Creek and Oakover River. There was much government opposition to this proposal due to the spread of cattle tick, however it was proven that the tick would only live and reproduce in tropical malarial country, so a trip over the central desert would surely kill them. It was decided that the route would traverse between Sturt Creek to Wiluna via Separation Well and Weld Spring.
On April 27th 1906 Alfred Wernham Canning was appointed chief surveyor for the creation of the stock route. Canning chose Hurbert Trotman as his second in charge, and together they selected a team of six people with differing expertise (cameleers, boring experts and cooks). Trotman and the team of 6 left Perth for Day Dawn, 1200 to assemble the required equipment at the Mines and Water Supply Depot before leaving to meet Canning in Wiluna. The team of eight left Wiluna on the 29th of May 1906 for the initial exploration survey of the stock route. The purpose of this preliminary survey was to establish whether or not a viable stock route, with plenty of feeding and water places for stock could be established. The group reached Old Halls Creek on the 30th of October of 1906, the Northern terminus of the proposed stock route. However, due to the wet season Canning and his party could not leave Old Halls Creek until February 1907. The party reached Perth in July 1907 to a hero’s welcome by the then State Premier, Sir John Forrest - another famous exploration surveyor. Canning reported that a stock route with fair feed and good water from 52 wells and watering points could be established.
Canning took almost a year to prepare for the well sinking trip. The well sinking trip involved the construction of 52 permanent water points, approximately 16 – 25 km apart. The expedition party consisted of 30 men, 70 camels, four wagons, 100 tonnes of food and equipment and 267 goats which were to be used for milk and meat. Leaving Perth in March 1908 it took the men two years to complete, arriving back in Wiluna in April 1910 after successfully completing their task. During the expedition the men split into three teams. Canning led the first team, surveying the land and locating suitable sites for wells. The other two teams would leapfrog, building wells, which meant at least two wells were being constructed at any one time, averaging a well every 15 days. The party reached Flora Valley in July 1909 having sunk 31 wells, with the remainder to be sunk on their return trip. Alfred Canning did this with a minimal amount of survey equipment, using only a theodolite, chain and accurate chronometers for surveying the route and sun observations to calculate his position.
George McIntyre was the first to traverse the route with stock in October 1910. McIntyre pushed 42 head of horses along the route, with only seven surviving. Following in McIntyre’s footsteps was William Mayberry, George Shoesmith, James Thomson, John McIErnon and Joseph Edward Wilkins, four of which were killed along the Stock Route. Due to the fatal reputation the Stock Route had gained, the route was not used to the full extent that the Kimberley pastoralists lobby had predicted. Between 1911 and 1931 a mere eight mobs of cattle had been moved along the route, and from 1932 to 1959 only 20 had been moved.
The Canning Stock Route, 2009.
(last accessed March 25, 2009).
Centenary of The Canning Stock Route, 2009.
(last accessed March 27, 2009).
Deckert, J,. and J. Ussing. 2006. Canning Stock Route Westprint Heritage Maps Pty Ltd.
HEMA MAPS Pty Ltd. 2007. Great Desert Tracks North West Sheet. 2007 Queensland: HEMA Maps Pty Ltd
Smith, Eleanor. 1998. The Beckoning West. Hesperian Press Pty Ltd.
Castro, Elizabeth. 2003. HTML For The World Wide Web 5th Ed. Peachpit Press.