The story of Australia — XXXVI.
Forrest’s second and third expeditions
John Forrest returned to Perth on August 6, 1869, and almost immediately was called upon to equip and organise a second expedition. The Government was desirous of learning something of the country between Perth and Adelaide, with a view to connecting the two cities by telegraph.
Eyre had travelled across the shores of the Great Australian Bight 30 years before, and the story of the privations and sufferings which he had undergone had not been forgotten. No one had since attempted to cross this inhospitable land. But during the intervening years Eucla, a valuable port at the head of the Great Australian Bight, had been established.
John Forrest readily accepted the command. The party consisted of his brother, Alexander, two white men, and two aborigines, one of whom had accompanied him on his former expedition. The Adar, a small schooner of 30 tons, was commissioned, and dispatched to accompany the party round the coast, and to wait with supplies at Esperance Bay, Israelite Bay, and Eucla.
The party started from Perth on March 30, 1870, and the journey to Esperance Bay and Israelite Bay was accomplished. After leaving Israelite Bay the real difficulties of the journey commenced. Forrest knew that beyond the frowning cliffs which border the Great Bight little or no water would be found for 150 miles.
Carrying as much water as possible the party followed the reverse direction of Eyre’s route, and after a week’s journey they reached an opening in the cliffs, where water was found by digging in the sandhills. While the party rested Forrest pushed north, and found that at no considerable distance from the sea there was good country, but deficient in permanent water.
On April 24 the party set out for Eucla, and, although surface water was found occasionally, both men and horses suffered terribly from thirst. Eucla was reached on July 2, and there was found the relief ship awaiting them.
The party moved on, and after a distressing journey the head of the Bight was rounded. Soon after they fell in with a party from South Australia, who had come out to meet them, and on August 27 Adelaide was reached.
A practicable route for a telegraph had been discovered, and on December 1, 1877, 2046 miles of telegraph was available between Adelaide and Perth.
John Forrest had already proved himself to be an explorer of ability, and when he suggested to the Government that he was prepared to lead an expedition across the Western Central desert land to the overland telegraph line that was being constructed his offer was immediately accepted.
On April 1, 1874, Forrest, accompanied by his brother, Alexander, five whites, two aborigines, and 21 horses, left Geraldton, Champion Bay. By April 16 the outlying stations were left behind, and for some time they followed a course south of the Murchison River, until it was joined on April 23. At this point they entered well-grassed country, eminently suitable for pastoral purposes.
Following one of the branches they proceeded to the head of the watershed. Soon the appearance of the country changed, and they found themselves facing a dry, barren land, which held out little promise of the finding of water. They struck to the south-east, and for a day or two they were dependent for water on springs which they found after strenuous searchings.
On June 2, as they were travelling north-east, Forrest discovered the spring which in no small measure contributed to the success of the expedition. He named it the Weld Springs, in honour of Governor Weld, who had done so much to encourage inland exploration. A camp was formed to enable the party to regain strength for the great task that lay ahead. It was while here that the party was attacked by hostile blacks; upwards of 60 natives, dressed in war costume, made a determined attack on the camp, but fortunately Forrest was ready for them, and a well-directed volley caused them to disperse.
The journey across 600 miles of barren, waterless desert proved a nightmare to the explorers. Every day scouts had to be sent out to the east and north-east for water, and when it was found the party moved in that direction. In this manner they struggled on. The last 100 miles proved a terrible end strenuous task, and despair was filling the hearts of the gallant men when a providential shower of rain filled some rock holes, and allowed the party to cross.
At last to their great joy they reached an old camp of Giles, who had only a short time before reached this spot from the west. From here the tracks of the preceding explorers were followed, and finally, on Sunday, September 27, 1874, the weary travellers reached the overland telegraph line.
The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 3 March 1935, p. 27
[Editor: Corrected: “gallent” to “gallant”.]