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John McDouall Stuart

John McDouall Stuart at Andamooka

The explorer, John McDouall Stuart, is well known as the first European to visit the centre of the Australian continent and as the first to cross the continent from Adelaide to Darwin, surveying the route of the overland telegraph, Ghan railway and Stuart Highway.


Trig Bluff - Andamooka


Trig Bluff, east of Andamooka. John McDouall Stuart passed this way on Wednesday 23 June 1858. His camp of the previous night is at the top left and White Dam Opal Field is just out of the picture at the right.

Mr. Stuart made six remarkable expeditions into Australia's interior. On all of the subsequent expeditions he traveled up the east side of Lake Torrens, between the lake and the Flinders Ranges, but on the first trip he chose a course that took him from the Flinders Ranges, across the southern tip of Lake Torrens, then north to the vicinity of Lake Eyre South, west to Coober Pedy, an indirect route south to Ceduna, then east, back to the Flinders Ranges.

On his first expedition, John McDouall Stuart passed quite close to present day Andamooka, having passed the limits of European exploration several days before. Here's the story:

Heading generally in a northerly direction, McDouall Stuart, accompanied by Mr. Forster and an unnamed Aboriginal youth, passed from Arcoona Station onto Andamooka Station around mid morning on Sunday 20 June 1858. McDouall Stuart wanted to head north west but was prevented by the sand dunes averaging around five to six metres high and the extreme lack of water.

McDouall Stuart was a surveyor, trained in the Scottish navy and well experienced in the areas being settled in South Australia. He had great bush sense, finding water where others failed. He generally navigated from hill to hill and by observing the lay of the land from hill tops and high country, he'd get an idea of where water might be found. He also observed kangaroo tracks and birds and looked out for the smoke from Aboriginal campfires. Kangaroos follow a fairly straight path to and from water, so their tracks are seen by the observant bushman, radiating like the spokes of a wheel, from a waterhole.

The Aboriginal guide turned out to be not very satisfactory, perhaps a station Aborigine with only secondhand knowledge of the country. 


McDouall Stuart's Route - Andamooka

"Map derived from Geocience Australia data"


McDouall Stuart's route near Andamooka, showing campsites and significant places.

But shortly after midday, he found a creek with two waterholes and made camp, about 35 kilometres south of present day Andamooka. On further examination of the creek, he found a third waterhole with the appearance of being permanent, so he made note of it as a refuge in case he was forced to retreat and wait for rain.

It was 9.30 on Monday morning before the horses were caught and the party moved off, passing a couple of flat topped hills and crossing some ironstone country.

After a stage of about 15 kilometres in a north easterly direction, he came to Andamooka Waterhole, which he also noted as permanent water of excellent quality to fall back on.

McDouall Stuart then traveled west for about 4 kilometres to investigate Wilaroo Lagoon, a dry, salt lake, maybe one and a half kilometres wide and three kilometres long. Part of the cliff on the north western side has been open cut mined for slate.

Returning to Andamooka Waterhole, the party camped for the night.

McDouall Stuart notes that there are areas of salt an inch and a half thick, in the dry creek bed, above and below Andamooka Waterhole, leading him to believe the waterhole is fed by a spring. These salt patches can still be seen today.

Traveling north on Tuesday 22 June, he caught a glimpse of Lake Torrens from a high point and took bearings to Mount North-west and Mount Deception, in the Flinders Ranges.

Passing a dry canegrass swamp, the party soon ran into heavy sand dunes and changed direction a little. From the heights, the vista of Crozier Creek, Teatree Creek and Trig bluff could be seen to the north. Passing about three kilometres to the east of White Dam Opal Field and the fabled Bill's Pub, they camped on a waterhole on Crozier Creek.

On the morning of Wednesday 23 June they got underway about 10 o'clock, the horses having strayed a long way.

Climbing Trig Bluff to survey the country ahead, McDouall Stuart and his party then passed about two kilometres to the north east of Andamooka and continued to the north west for a total of only 24 kilometres for the day.

McDouall Stuart was pleased to find a clay pan of rain water with ample fresh, green grass for the horses. Since he didn't know how long it may be till they found more water, and Mr Forster having a damper to bake, they were happy to camp early.

Additional notes:
*  Most of the places mentioned are on station controlled land. You can't go there without permission.
*  Tracks are 4 x 4 only and may become impassable after even light rain.
*  The complete journals of John McDouall Stuart can be read online at

Australian Explorers - John McDouall Stuart


*  A fully illustrated, expanded version of this article may be found at

Photo Outback - Explorers


*  Text and illustrations copyright Laurie McArthur 2009. 



Andamooka Press

Since it's first publication in 1973, the Andamooka Press has come a long way and adopted a brand new look in 2010. Please find links to issues below. We will endeavour to provide links for older issues also so watch this space! Links will open in PDF format.


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1987 Volume 9

Edition 6 - August 18 1987 20 Nov 1987