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Taking it to the edge: Land: The Nullarbor

PE Warburton

Peter Egerton Warburton explored west from Fowlers Bay in October and November 1860.  With him were Corporal O'Shanahan, Troopers Kewson and Komoll. They passed through the Kondalippee and Wangunyah sandhills some 25 miles from Fowlers Bay (31 83'S 131 95'E) and found some water there, and also traces of Eyre's expedition of 20 years before. From here they travelled 75 miles to the Head of the Bight, through dense scrub and heavy sandhills.  They found the country to be easier to traverse than described by Eyre, with some good patches of grass for the horses. Water was found by sinking wells.  From the Head of the Bight Warburton and Komoll travelled for three days to the north, returning in an east-south-westerly loop. The country travelled over was far from promising.  Very little was seen of any animals apart from snakes and bustards. Warburton described the country as 'irretrievable desert; to traverse it would be dangerous; to occupy it impossible.' Several days later Warburton and Kewson set out again to the north-west and again found the country 'wretched'. Several other forays were made, but no better country was found. Warburton returned to Fowlers Bay: his report of the country covered was largely negative. (Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian Branch) vol 19, 1917-18 page 109-118)

Edward Delisser

''The chief feature of the country passed over is the immense plain, which I have called the Nullarbor Plain from its being destitute of any trees, …''
Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, volume 10, 1866-7, page 130

In January 1865 Edward Delisser set out from Melbourne for the Head of the Great Australian Bight to explore inland from the coast.  He sank a number of wells along the coast between Wangunyah and the Bight to make preparations for his later travels.  Then in June he took one member of his party and three packhorses intending to travel as far as the horses would go, if they were unlucky enough to not find water.  Water and food was cached along the route.  Travelling in a north-westerly direction from the Head of the Bight for six days, he then turned north over low, tree-covered hills - myall, sheoaks and sandalwood.  He was then forced to turn back as no water was found. Delisser reported:  'The chief feature of the country passed over is the immense plain, which I have called the Nullarbor Plain from its being destitute of any trees, and, which commencing a few miles from the coast, extends such a long distance that we went 150 miles from the Head of the Bight before we entered a dissimilar country. This plain, within 40 miles from the coast, is in general well covered with the saltbushes Atriplex and Kochia sedifolia which grow from 1 foot to 2 feet high, and in places is well grassed; the ground is undulating, and the higher portions generally covered with Eremophila scoparia [silvery emubush]. Throughout the whole plain basins, like clay-pans, from a few feet to 2 or 3 acres, occur, in which, within 60 miles of the coast, samphire grows, but after 100 miles on our tracks they were thickly covered with small trees…'

Delisser also reported on the numerous caves in the underlying limestone, and the currents of air forced out of them in hot weather. He also anticipated that some of the caves would hold water, but was prevented form proving this. (Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society London, volume 10, 1866 pages 129-30)

The following year he was sent out by the South Australian Government to survey the country around Eucla. He recommended that a port be surveyed on the coast to facilitate landing of supplies. The country was in comparatively good condition and he reported on the run off of water into the limestone caves. On the whole however he was unable to explore as much as he would have liked due to insufficient feed for his horses. In June 1867 Bloomfield Douglas, president of the South Australian Marine Board examined the suggested landing place and found it to be inside Western Australia's boundary; he did however hope that the joint governments would consider establishing a port here.  Douglas named nearby sandhills after Delisser. (South Australian Parliamentary Paper number 137 of 1867)

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