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Taking it to the edge: Land: Richard Thilwell Maurice

1897-1901

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Thelwell Maurice PRG 762 series 3 'Across the great thirst land': page 2 (typescript)

The exploration of Australia now appeared complete, but there were still some last remaining blanks on the map, and these would be resolved in the 20th century.

Although he himself described most of his explorations as 'pleasure trips' Richard Thilwell (sometimes spelt as Thelwell) Maurice provided valuable detail of South Australia's far west, establishing for certain the locations of many rockholes and native wells, whether permanent or not.  He also made valuable collections of ethnographic materials and photographed the Aboriginal people of the area and his observations of the flora and fauna of the area are greatly valued by biologists.

Expeditions in 1897 and 1898 had largely involved identifying Aboriginal water sources north of the Nullarbor Plain, in the Great Victoria Desert.  On these he was always accompanied by an Aboriginal man acquainted with the area.  Then in September 1898 he set out on a lengthier trip to the Everard Ranges to collect Aboriginal materials and to view ceremonies.  Despite trying conditions he returned safely to Fowler's Bay the following April.  Over the next two years he continued to explore this western region, then in 1901 decided to visit the Rawlinson Ranges and explore the country between Ernest Giles' route of 1875 and the Elder Expedition of 1891-2.  This time he took with him a Government surveyor to accurately plot the water supplies he found.  As well as the surveyor Bill Murray, Maurice was accompanied by Bill Voakes, and a part Aboriginal cameleer, Lambert and his wife.  With eleven camels the party set out from Ooldea 22 May, travelling north and then north-west to Pat Auld's Vat and Gills Soak in the Unnamed Conservation Park and continued on to the Rawlinson Ranges on the edge of the Gibson Desert in Western Australia.  They then proceeded eastwards back to South Australia through the Tomkinson, Mann and Musgrave Ranges and then south to the Everard Ranges, and onto Ooldea and Fowler's Bay.  They were out three months.  In December Maurice went to Adelaide, was interviewed and an account published in the Register 2 December 1901.  Bill Murray gave a lecture about their expedition to the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (SA Branch) and a summary was published in the Society's Proceedings volume 5, along with Maurice's account given at a later lecture. In his summary Murray described the construction work undertaken by the Aboriginal people to construct dams to retain water:  'Here the natives had made two excavations in the clayey bed of lowest portion of an open saltbush flat, the excavated clay being built up and interlaced with twigs and branches into a horseshoe-shaped embankment about 2ft high [60cms] and a bottom width of about 3 ft [1 metre]'.

1902

The following year Maurice prepared for another expedition, this time to cross from Fowler Bay to Cambridge Gulf in northern Western Australia.  The party consisted of Maurice, Murray with Harry Houscheldt as cook and general hand.  Mungena, an Aboriginal man who had accompanied Maurice on many of his journeys, was also an important member of the party, along with Yarra and Peter and Khasta Khan an Afghan camel-driver.  They had fourteen camels.  They travelled via Tallaringa, a native well, to Oolarinna in the Everard Ranges.  Khasta Khan deserted before this, taking the best camel.  The country showed the results of a long drought with dry waterholes and dying vegetation. Peter left them in the Everard Ranges, but this was planned as it was his home territory.  The expedition travelled through the Musgrave Ranges, to Uluru where Gosse's dray tracks were still visible after nearly 30 years and to Kata Tjuta skirting the south side of Lake Amadeus and then to the Cleland Hills.  Feral cats were much in evidence, as were rabbits.  In the Tanami Desert, six camels died from eating the poison bush Gastrolobium and the remaining seven were badly affected, but when rested at the next waterhole recovered.  The loads for the remaining camels were reduced by abandoning some of the gear.  Finally the expedition reached the Sturt Creek station on 25 August 1902 after four months travel. At Wyndham the party had successfully crossed the continent, and then broke up.  Murray returned to Adelaide immediately, and Maurice delayed until he had made arrangements for the camels. 

Bill Murray gave an interview to the Register in which he spoke of the success in mapping waterholes, and of the significant collection of mineral samples, and ethnographic and natural history specimens gathered.  When Maurice returned he arranged for the specimens to be handed to the South Australian Museum and the Department of Mines.  He presented a lecture on his expedition to the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian Branch) and his journals were published in 1904 in the South Australian Parliamentary Papers 

Maurice's expedition had added greatly to the knowledge of the remote areas that he loved; his collections of natural history specimens and his observations of the animals in the wild were and remain, immensely important, as are his observations of the Aboriginal people before their lifestyle was irrevocably changed by the Europeans.

 

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