Great Sandy Desert - A hard slog to Joanna Spring & a goal achieved.

Friday, Nov 13, 2009 at 19:05


There is nothing like the feeling you get when realising a goal achieved. This year, for three of us (myself and fellow EO members John & Suzette), that feeling was significant when on the 19th June, we found ourselves sitting round a campfiresome 400 km east of the northern WA coast. We’d slogged it through 4 days of treacherous terrain through thick scrub and often arduous conditions to reach our intended destination, Joanna Spring. While the actual location may not be as spectacular as one could wish for (I’m sure the brochure said resort and casino just over the sand dune!), there is a real feeling of achievement in getting to a place that holds significance in the exploration of Australia, and a place that is certainly visited by very few individuals in a year, if not a decade.

This video takes us west along old Cut lines (more off track than on), past Aubs bore to the Pegasus Drill camp and airstrip. At the eastern end of the strip is a memorial to Wells and Jones who perished nearby during the ill-fated Calvert Expedition of 1896 (See below). Some km further east we turned to the north for the final run to the area that Joanna Spring is located and after some interesting moments of scrub bashing, arrive late that afternoon. The following day we managed to locate Griing Spring some distance to the north west.


Laurence Alan Wells was appointed leader of the Calvert Exploring Expedition in 1896 with the intention of scouting the areas left unexplored by Elder expedition of 1891. Amongst the party of 7 men and 20 camels was Wells' cousin, Charles Wells and second in command, George Lindsay Jones. On entering the Great Sandy Desert, Wells decided to split the party. His cousin and Jones left the main party at Separation Well to reconnoitre country to the west of the main party with the intention of a rendezvous in at Warburton's Joanna Spring. Warburton had named the Spring, which had saved the lives of his expedition in 1873, after Joanna Barr-Smith, the wife of his sponsor, Thomas Elder. The Spring, however, had been wrongly located on Warburton's map, and Charles Wells and George Jones were lost trying to find it in the fearsome heat. The main party, with all Lawrence Wells' surveying experience, were also unable to locate the Spring. Several camels died in the heat while searching for it and on 31 October 1896, with only 160 litres of water left Wells decided to make a dash for the Fitzroy River.

On reaching Fitzroy Crossing, Wells immediately returned to the field in search of the lost explorers and on his second attempt located the elusive Joanna Spring, ascertaining it had been mapped 24 kilometres too far to the east. He failed to find any trace of his companions. Renowned bushman, Nathaniel Buchanan, led another search expedition and William Frederick Rudall, surveying in the vicinity of the Oakover River, was also diverted to the cause. Wells undertook another, the fifth search expedition, and eventually located the bodies on 27 May 1897.

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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