In the footsteps of an outback pioneer

STEPHEN SCOURFIELD explores an historic inland trek

On August 10, an Aboriginal man led David Carnegie and his party to a rock hole in the Great Victoria Desert.

They were just north of what is now the Great Central Road, way east of Laverton, desperate for water. Their camels could smell it, but it wasn’t immediately apparent.

There were three holes, quite unobvious in the desert, with a cave below.

Carnegie and Charles Stansmore, one of his companions, used a rope to get down into the cavern beneath the red, sandy landscape, but there was no water.

Then Stansmore found a narrow passage. He and Carnegie crawled down and along it, finding water at the end. They worked to get enough water for the party and to water nine camels twice.

Carnegie named the water hole Empress Spring, for Queen Victoria.

They stayed and rested and Carnegie writes “but for the flies, which never ceased to annoy us, we had enjoyed a real good rest, and were ready to march on the morning of the 16th”.

It was 1896 and 123 years ago today, they were on their way again.

Now I am on a track in the Great Victoria Desert, heading for Empress Spring. Some things have changed, of course. The track is called David Carnegie Road, has four-wheel-drive tyre-tread marks and a sign to Empress Spring.

Empress Spring is 60km north of Great Central Road but before that there’s a real treat at Breaden Bluff. Twenty-five kilometres north, a 44-gallon drum points travellers toward’s Breaden Bluff. Just a few more kilometres up the two-wheel track, there’s another drum, pointing to a camping area to the left and the bluff itself to the right.

Breaden, named for another of Carnegie's companions, Joe Breaden, is a 465m bluff overlooking gravel and bonsai grevillea, and around the walls beneath, an extensive set of caves. Many are joined and have pillars — nature’s catacombs. There’s evidence of the now extinct stick nest rat, and kangaroo and reptile life going on. Just ticking away. It’s a rewarding place to visit and explore.

Read the full story, and more, at

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