Gondwana Link

Great Western Woodlands - Explorers in a dry land

Dutch explorers were the first Europeans to record the ancient landscapes of southern Australia, from the decks of vessels blown off course as they sailed between Europe and Java.

The first detailed mapping of the southern coastline was by Frans Thyssen on the Gulden Zeepaerdt in 1627, who named the area Nuytsland in honour of a Dutch East India Company official.

It was another 164 years before the next recorded visit, when British Commander George Vancouver took possession of the south-west corner of ‘New Holland’ for Great Britain. The French followed in 1792, landing near Esperance with their ships L’Esperance and Recherche, followed by the discovery and mapping expedition of explorer Matthew Flinders in 1802.

These explorers were followed by sealers, whalers and then settlers, but they all clung to the coast, and for good reason…

Shall go for the granite. Camped in scrub, nearly all done.
Three days and now three nights, not a drop of water, no
Damper. Horses nearly all done. My poor little dog I fear
will die. Have the camels tied down and horses tied up. No
rain here for months. Oh, what a damnable country. If we
do not get water tomorrow we will all be done. We are all
in a terrible state for water.

- Approaching Johnson Lakes from the south — from the diary of Frank Hugh Hann, explorer, 8 September 1901.-

Striking out into the great unknown—the parched interior of Western Australia—was a dangerous undertaking for recently-arrived Europeans. In 1848, Lieutenant Roe, Western Australia’s first Surveyor-General, traversed the country around Lake Cronin, which lies near the edge of the Great Western Woodlands. Although he was disappointed with the area’s prospects for agriculture, it did not deter several expeditions in the 1860s from exploring the land around Southern Cross and Coolgardie to assess it for pastoralism.

Exploration by C.D. Hunt in this vicinity led to ‘Hunts Track’ being cut in 1865, providing an access route to the region from Perth that ran roughly along today’s Great Eastern Highway.