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August 2001 Archives

August 1, 2001

Short Rations

The year is 1873. You are about to set off for the Palmer River gold fields, the distance from Cooktown to the start of your adventure is a week’s walk. What supplies would you take to last you several months away from any supply centres? What would be the most important item you’d gladly pack?

Murdo Cameron was a seasoned veteran of the early gold rushes. He had pushed upriver about thirty five miles and, as it was a Sunday evening, he found a promising spot, unpacked his horses and prepared to make camp for the evening. He wandered to the river to fill his billy for evening tea when something caught his eye. Glittering among the river rocks was gold. Cameron panned four ounces in his first attempt! As there wasn’t another man for miles, he lit his fire, made a billy of tea and ate the last of his damper. Cameron was about to start the rush…

For all of the hardships of the early miners, short rations of food played the biggest role. Of the necessary ingredients to have on hand, flour was the most important and damper was the staff of life. In Cooktown, a three pound bag cost three pounds. On the Palmer River, it would start at around twenty pounds per bag.


Purchasing flour in the gold fields was by no easy means. William J. Webb wrote, “ Mrs. Neil stood on the dray cart and conducted the sale of flour at half a crown a pound. If the lady didn’t like the looks of you, or found fault with your manners, or thought she could read in your eye any question as to whether the battered pannikin she measured with really held a pound of flour, you went without and that was all about it.”

As the Wet season approached, miners stayed in the gold fields until the last possible moment before heading back to the coast. Unlucky was he that didn’t have a ration of flour to start the journey. Webb reported short rations on the track, which reduced those in his party to eating ‘bango’, boiled flour and sugar. As conditions became more difficult, many would gladly trade their hard earned gold dust for a pound of flour to see them through.


August 5, 2001

A Railway Constructed by Hand

Imagine being handed a pick and a shovel, a section of jungle and mountainous terrain, and being told to build a railroad. The year is 1886, the location, Cairns, and the first shovel full of dirt to begin this engineering feat is overturned by the Premier of Queensland, Sir Samuel Griffith. Construction of the Cairns-Kuranda Railway had begun!


Why the need for a railroad? Miners in the Atherton Tablelands were desperate for supplies and were on the verge of starvation. The boggy road leading inland from Port Douglas was impossible to travel in the Wet season and angry settlers voiced strong opinions as to the need for a railroad.

This job would require strategy, fortitude, hand tools, dynamite, buckets and bare hands. Great escarpments were removed from the mountains above the line. Loose rock and overhanging trees had to be removed by hand. Slopes could average forty-five degrees and the entire surface was covered with layers of disjointed rock, rotting trees and loose soil. At conclusion, the deep cuttings and extensive embankments that were removed totaled a volume of over 2.3 million cubic metres of earth.

Out of poor and dangerous working conditions, the Victorian Labour League was formed to improve relations between the railroad navvies and the contractors. Due to the magnitude of the job, relationships between both remained harmonious to complete the task before them.

In celebration of the completion of the early sections to Kuranda, a banquet was prepared for a visit to the site by the Governor of Queensland, Sir Henry Norman. The full banquet was served atop the Stoney Creek Bridge, swaying dizzily at a spectacular height above the gorge. Speeches for the occasion were suspended due to the roar from the waterfalls below!

Within a month, the Cairns-Kuranda Railway line was opened to passenger travel. Future sections constructed to the west created a reliable supply of goods and freight to the early settlers. The Tablelands blossomed into a wealth of rich grazing lands to the west and beyond.

Suggested learning activity: investigate an engineering feat (e.g. a road/railway/bridge) local to you and find out its history: how it was constructed, by whom and for what purpose. What tools and technology did they have available to them and compare how things might be different if they were to build the same feature today?


August 7, 2001

Storing Water - the Early Pioneers

Excavated earth tanks (dams) were first made in the mid. 19th century. This excavated earth tank that we are camping by would have been created around 30 to 40 years ago, for cattle farming. They were made to take the place of wells, which were not as efficient, opposed to an excavated earth tank. One reason that the tank is more efficient is that it doesn’t require humans to fill it. During the wet season the tank fills and holds sufficient water to last until the following wet. This is the reason why the mass of water is called a tank.


This tank is essential to farmers who have large amounts of cattle; one mass of water would not be enough for some 30000 cattle. A farm like Wrotham Park would have to have at least 40 different watering points; around 20 of these would be excavated earth tanks.

Tanks affect the ecology of the land for good and for bad. Many animals don’t have to travel as far to get water, for example kangaroos and black cockatoos; because of this the animals reproduce much more and can become a pest in some areas. Though this may be a problem, tanks don’t take 100% or even 90% of the river, it takes approximately 2% of the tributary and can supply a small herd of cattle drinking water all year.

Feed your children wheat. Joshua

August 13, 2001

A Group’s Story

Day 21
Central Queensland

We’re camped tonight next to a bore, a water-well feeding into a cattle watering hole. The cattle have finished drinking enough to survive for another day in this dry climate, and we moved in for some much needed washing-up. Fresh and clear water, boosting our spirits and cleansing our bodies.


History can be defined as that which happens to a group of people, a country or a culture, or even an individual, and the changes that occur over time. Each person also has their own history. In the general update tonight Crister is giving you an idea of our Expedition 360’s daily schedule, by looking at today as an ‘average’ day. It’s a sort of 24-hour history.

Our Expedition has had quite a history and experienced many evolutionary changes through the past 21 days. Let’s take a look at a bit of our 1000 km history.

Morning preparation: I’m thinking back on the shores of the Coral Sea where we started our cycling adventure, getting everyone’s individual gear packed and next to ‘Blue Dog,’ our support truck, took hours. Then there was the job of putting it all in the back of the truck, orchestrated by John, who had some idea of what was in there and where it should go. (Which changed form everyday for the first week.) Some mornings it took several hours for John to finish loading the truck after we left camp and cycled down the track. Now, we are so organized that we can have breakfast and tea, clean up the kitchen supplies, pack all our own personal gear, get it to the truck, and then, as a team, get it all in the truck in organized piles in one hour. We then circle-up with our bikes and head down the road, Blue Dog and cyclists, at sunrise. The first few days we didn’t hit the road until after 8:30 and the truck didn’t catch-up with us for hours. It’s much better the way it is now, and much safer.


Food on the road: at first, we weren’t sure who wanted or needed what personal fuel while cycling. For some, they didn’t need much. For others, burning calories is a serious business and food stops are vital. We’ve evolved, through meetings, discussions and practical experience, the routine Crister is showing on his timeline, where we have Billy Tea and Johnny Cakes after about 40-50 kms, which is usually around 11:30 or so. Each person has their own stash of scroggin (mix of nuts and dried fruits) and maybe a granola bar or two to munch through the day. When we find our camp and carve out a home for the evening in the bush, we snack a bit and begin dinner preparation.

Get-up time: still evolving, and ready for a change as of tomorrow morning. At first, no pattern at all, people just sort of staggering around in the first light, cleaning dishes and cups from last night’s dinner so they could drink some tea or coffee if anyone had found the Billy Can to boil some water in. Some ate breakfast, some didn’t. Some cleaned, most didn’t it seemed. Then it was time to ride and all kinds of stuff wasn’t washed or put away, and no one seemed full enough to say they’d really had breakfast. Now, we’ve got a fine pattern. I get up early, well-before first light, stoke the coals in the fire with the wood put aside from the previous night specifically for that purpose, but the Billy on, which was filled the night before, as well as three pots of water, two for porridge, one for washing-up water. By 6:15 a.m., we’re fed and sitting by the fire sipping our cups of Billy Tea as first light dims the stars. Pack it up, and we’re on the way by 6:50. What a difference! It’s like looking at ancient history remembering back 21 days ago.


And since I will be leaving the Expedition, regretfully, in one more day, we’ve begun a rotating shift of members obligated to get up at 4:30 a.m. Tomorrow, in a humorous vein, is Josh’s day. Josh takes at least 45 minutes each morning to get up from the moment he is told GET UP!, which usually means he staggers to consciousness with barely enough time to do anything. It should be interesting, and will provide early morning entertainment to see how he does on the pre-dawn starlight duty. It will be history in the making to have Josh get up first.

There are many levels to history, what we do, where we’ve come from and where we’re going. Not the least of any of these is our own personal history, how we’ve grown through the experiences we’ve had, the people we’ve met, the challenging terrain we’ve experienced. History, in many ways, is an interpretation of events and the causes, which link them. My perspective is that there has been much growth in our group in the past 21 days, the first quarter of Expedition 360’s Australian journey. We’re making history.

Suggested activity: how about recording your own history? What changes have you gone through, what events led to those changes? Try writing a timeline first of major events in your history, or your family’s, and then turning it into a story. How about trying to write your own history from someone else’s perspective: what would your parents or brother or sister or best friend say about your history?

Or, try looking at your town’s history from several different perspectives: from the settlers’ viewpoint, or from the people’s who lived there before it became a town or settlement.


August 16, 2001

The Burke and Wills Expedition

“…in the west lay the tremendous unexplored tract, an area some 1600 miles long by 800 miles wide, bounded by the 20th and 32nd degrees of latitude and the 115 and 140 degrees of longitude: an area more than half the size of Europe. This was ‘the ghastly blank’.” (Cooper’s Creek, Alan Moorhead)

Although the regions on the eastern coast of Australia grew rapidly, the interior of Australia had proved an intimidating challenge for exploration. ‘Terra incognito’ was a formidable place and it wasn’t until 1845 that an intrepid explorer by the name of Charles Sturt was successful in penetrating the continent as far north as the Simpson Desert.

You may be asking yourself, “Why bother at all? This is a new country to the European settler with plenty of land for farming with easy access along the coast.” However, these southern settlements were separated from Britain and Europe by a two months’ sea voyage. There also remained the possibility of opening trade with southeast Asia from a northern port, if the country could be traversed from south to north, to establish one

On August 20, 1860, Robert O’Hara Burke, a former policeman, and William John Wills, Burke’s second-in-command, set off from Melbourne, bound for the Gulf of Carpentaria. The expedition team consisted of an assorted group of surveyors, botanists, and camel drivers. This use of camels was a ‘first’ in the exploration of the new territory, validated by the fact that they had been used successfully in the Sahara and other arid regions.

Upon reaching Cooper’s Creek near the border of present Queensland and New South Wales, it was determined that Burke, Wills, Charles Gray and John King would continue the journey north, while William Brahe and the rest of the team waited at Cooper’s Creek. As this was Burke’s only link with the outside world, he instructed Brahe to remain at the location for at least three months. Burke thought this ample time to complete the trek. The four set off, a 1500 mile walk to the Gulf and back. “They could not simply move ahead on a previously mapped-out course. They had to alter their direction when swamps and ridges blocked the way, they had to watch the flight of birds that might lead them to a waterhole, they had to know the right moment when it was time to call it a day.”

On February 10, they reached an area a few kilometers inland from the Gulf. However, thick mangrove swamps prevented their progress; brackish, undrinkable water and an eight inch tidal flow in from the sea was their only clue that they had reached their destination. They set off for the return to Cooper’s Creek, one month’s food rations to sustain them on a trip that would take them over two months’ time.

Imagine the hardships that they faced, the most intimidating being the lack of food. Gray died on April 17. They buried him the next day. Resuming their travel, the remaining three men struggled into Cooper’s Creek on the afternoon of April 21. The camp lay silent, but the signs pointed to a recent occupation. The words ‘DIG, 3 FT. N.W., April 21, 1861’ were emblazoned on a tree. Upon the removal of the box at the base of the tree, Burke found rations of food and a note from Brahe indicating that he and the rest of the expedition had left Cooper’s Creek. Burke observed the date on the note. It was April 21! Brahe and his men had departed for the south only a few hours earlier!

Unable to connect with Brahe’s team, Burke, Wills, and King existed in the area of Cooper’s Creek until their food ran out. Repeated attempts to strike south toward the settled areas around Mount Hopeless prove fruitless. Burke and Wills perished while King was the only survivor. He was discovered by a rescue party living with an Aboriginal group in the area. It was determined that he, too, would have died within days if not discovered.

The tragedy of the Burke and Wills Expedition has lifted them to a higher place in the annals of exploration. Overcoming great odds, they successfully traversed the continent south to north. Missing rescue by only a few hours and the subsequent tragedy on the Cooper has become, perhaps, more important than their conquering of ‘the ghastly blank’.


August 21, 2001

Last Stand of the Kalkadoons

"When a member of the Kalkadoon tribe, standing over six feet high and
broad in proportion, was done up ready for a ceremonial corroboree he
was a fearsome object indeed. With several large emu or eaglehawk
feathers decorating his head, his already tall stature is increased.
His broad face, stretched wide open in a resounding yell, is banded around
with minute white feathers stuck on with dried blood. Only the eyes are
showing." W.J.H.Harris

Throughout the 1870s, Aboriginal resistance to the loss of their
ancestral lands became stronger as that land became smaller due to
mining interests and pastoral claims. This resistance was particularly
stubborn around the rugged hills of Cloncurry and Mt. Isa.

The fiercesome and warlike Kalkadoons were one of the last tribes to
resist white settlement. Forming disciplined units of warriors, the
Kalkadoons made constant guerrilla warfare on the regions' settlers and
Native Police. Armed with stone clubs and razor sharp stone pointed
spears, they continued to ambush and attack the invaders.

In September of 1884, Frederic Urquhart, the Sub-Inspector of the
Native Police was sent to the region to get the situation under control. He
gathered his troops and local squatters armed with carbines, then
positioned them at the base of a rocky outcrop which later became known
as Battle Mountain.

When the Kalkadoons saw the troops, they formed up into ranks,
preparing for the attack. In a series of disciplined charges down the hill, they
rushed Uquhart's troops. Their antiquated weapons, however, were no
match for the modern weaponry of the soldiers. The Kalkadoons' ranks
were mowed down and they were practically wiped out. Only a handful of
warriors survived and, with their families, scattered to the outlying
areas. The massacre marked the end of the Aboriginal resistance in the

Suggested activities: Investigate the impact of settlement on an area's
indigenous people. How do both cultures adapt to allow for differences
in land use, practices of local customs, and exchanges of ideas?
What changes have to be made for each group to live in harmony?


August 30, 2001


“Scattered around you are some evocative reminders of the extreme hardships that the early gold miners had to endure. Imagine spending your day hunched over in a low, dark tunnel as you hack away at a rock face with your pick. Finally it’s time to down tools and head home dirty and exhausted to your makeshift camp in the scrub. Water is scarce and expensive, so a cleansing shower is out of the question, likewise a ‘refreshing glass of beer’ to wash the dust out of your throat…”

The vein of white quartz, in sharp contrast to the red rock it snaked through, stood out in the low light of the mineshaft. On hands and knees, four metres below ground level, Crister and I inched our way through the tunnel’s narrow opening. Old Fred and his counterparts had tunnelled out an amazing underground network , following the white quartz path which contained the gold.


The Christmas Reef Gold Mine, the first in the Arltunga area, was established in 1896 by German Frederick Messaur. Fred had discovered the gold ore in an outcropping of white quartz. Digging 7.5 meters below ground, he used a pick and shovel to excavate the quartz. A rope, pulley, and bucket hauled the rock to the surface where Aboriginal women sorted the stones. Using baskets and tins, the ore was carried to a horse-drawn wagon for extraction of the gold ore at nearby Claraville where the crushing and extraction of the gold was completed. In 1898, Fred left the Christmas Reef bound for the White Range gold fields. He died in 1913 from complications of breathing deadly quartz dust in poorly ventilated mine shafts.

In 1898, Henry Luce and partner Micheal Vikson established the MacDonnell Range Reef. Working the mine intermittently from 1892 to 1908, it produced 248 ounces of gold from 353 tonnes of ore, which made it one of the area’s largest and richest mines outside of the White Range mines. Three- ounce nuggets of gold ore were discovered in the area (the size of one ounce is equal to one square of chocolate) Henry then went on to discover the White Range goldfield in 1898.

Quartz lay scattered across the ground as far as the eye could see as Crister and I climbed up from the mineshaft. It was easy to imagine how gold fever affected the miners who would gladly put up with the harsh conditions of Outback mining in the hopes of striking it rich.

Suggested activities: Investigate mining in your area. How does it impact the economy? What metals are being mined and what are they used for? Examine the types of rock that veins of gold have been extracted from in your region.


About August 2001

This page contains all entries posted to Australia Lesson Activities - History in August 2001. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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