Australia in the 1870s


Exploring the interior


Exploring the interior of Australia was difficult even for experienced explorers such as Ernest Giles (18351897). In 1872 he abandoned his attempt to travel overland to Perth from Charlotte Waters Overland Telegraph Station (near the South Australian and Northern Territory borders). Before abandoning the expedition due to extreme heat, he had already travelled 2,000 kilometres, finding mountains such as Mount Olga and a vast salt lake that he named 'Amadeus'. In 1875 Giles led his fourth and most important expedition. He set off from Beltana, north of Port Augusta, and travelled through and named the Great Victoria Desert, eventually reaching Perth.

In 1873 Peter Warburton (18131889), using camels as his main means of transport, left Alice Springs for the west coast of Australia. Camels proved to be far better than horses in the harsh, arid desert. After eight months of high temperatures, which forced the group to travel at night through difficult desert terrain, the explorers were left with little food and water. Although starving, the expedition managed to reach a permanent waterhole and one member of the party, John Lewis, left them to seek help. He unexpectedly returned with horses and food. This was the first expedition to cross the continent from the centre to the west and the first to cross the Great Sandy Desert.

A surveyor, William Gosse, with five other Europeans and three cameleers, set off from Alice Springs to reach the west coast. He reached what is today called King's Canyon in the Northern Territory and along the way he saw Uluru and named it 'Ayers Rock' after the then chief secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers. Gosse and his cameleer Kamran were the first non-Indigenous people to see this huge monolithic rock.

In 1870 surveyor John Forrest (18471918) completed the first crossing of Western Australia from west to east. He took just over five months to complete the journey. In 1874 Forrest was commissioned by the governor of South Australia to investigate the potential for pasture land around the Great Australian Bight. He led a party that crossed the desert from Geraldton to Peake Hill on the north-south Overland Telegraph Line in South Australia, a distance of about 3,600 kilometres.


A snapshot of 1878

  • January
    • The construction of the Ghan railway line commenced at Port Augusta in South Australia.

  • February
    • The telephone was used for the first time in Melbourne.

  • April
    • The Stawell Easter Gift, a professional foot-racing competition over 120 metres, was run for the first time on Easter Monday.

  • May
    • One thousand unemployed men marched up Collins Street in Melbourne demanding relief work.

  • November
    • The song 'Advance Australia Fair' was presented for the first time.

  • December
    • Seamen in Sydney went on strike against the employment of low-paid Chinese crews on ships. The strike spread to other ports in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. A mass anti-Chinese meeting was held in Hyde Park, Sydney.

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