Canning Stock Route

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The Canning Stock Route is one of the toughest and most remote tracks in the world. It runs to Halls Creek from Wiluna, both in Western Australia. With a total distance of 1781 km (1113 miles) it is also the longest historic stock route in the world. For the first few hundred kilometres it runs concurrent with the Tanami Track.



In the beginning of the 20th century Kimberley cattlemen were looking for a way to traverse the western deserts of Australia with their cattle. Starting in 1906 a team led by Alfred Canning surveyed the route and sank a total of 52 wells. During the ensuing 14-month survey they trekked about 4000 km, often relying on the Aboriginal guides to help them find water.[1] The route was used for the first time in 1911, but all the cattlemen were killed by Aborigines along the way.

It was reported on the 7th of September 1911 that the first mob of cattle had arrived in Wiluna, apparently having gained condition on the long drove.[2]

Canning's party constructed the wells with the forced help of Aboriginal people whose land the route traversed, the Mardu. Canning himself found it difficult to locate desert water sources. In order to gain Mardu assistance in locating water along the route, Canning captured several Mardu men, chained them by the neck, forced them to eat salt, and then waited until they got thirsty enough to lead his party to a native well.

Before 1930 the route was not used regularly. In 1929 Alfred Canning (then aged 68) was commissioned once more to reopen the route after another contractor was unable to do the work.[3] With these improvements, the route between 1930 and 1950 was used on a fairly regular basis.

When horses became scarce in the Kimberley in the 1950's due to widespread losses because of the "Walkabout Poison", the stock route was used to drove horses north from around the Norseman area where they were sold to the stations.

Wally Dowling, a drover who had made nine droves along the stock route took what was probably the last horses northwards along the route in September 1951. [4]

In 1973 (before the route was successfully negotiated in four-wheel drives) an ambitious attempt to complete it on foot took place. Two English brothers, John and Peter Waterfall and a New Zealander, Murray Rankin, fashioned home made carts from bicycle tyres and metal tubing, and began their attempt. Although one of the brothers (John) turned back, Peter and Murray continued to Lake Disappointment, before returning to a food drop they had left along the route. They took two months to complete their trek. Murray Rankin eventually succeeded accompanied by Kathy and Rex, members of Perth Bushwalking Club. This attempt, assisted by food drops, took 1 week short of three months .

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