Tracks and roads
Dreaming tracks
Great Northern Highway
Dalgary Road
Wanarra East Rd
Mt Gibson Goldmine Road
Goodlands Rd
Run-throughs, gates and grids
Air traffic

Looking for country: exploration in the region of Charles Darwin Reserve

Hillman and Lefroy 1846 Gregory Brothers 1846 Robert Austin 1854
N.W. Cooke 1868 J.H. and G. Monger 1868 John Forrest 1869
Jimmy Mungaro 1868-69 MacPherson and Campbell c.1870 Ernest Giles 1875

…saw the tracks of two men and two horses, with two natives walking, and soon after found where they had bivouacked a few days before. Was much surprised at this discovery. Suppose it to be squatters looking for country. John Forrest Explorations in Australia Sampson Low, Marston, Low, & Searle, London 1875

'Country' was the term used by the British settlers to describe land suitable for farming or grazing that they could own by purchase or lease from the Government. This contrasts with the meaning of 'country' to its Aboriginal people: land to which the people belong, which owns them.

Although the region around Charles Darwin Reserve was well traversed by explorers, the property itself was not directly crossed or described. The stories of exploration of the surrounding areas, however, give some idea of how the country looked when it was under the management of its Aboriginal occupants before the effects of pastoralism changed the landscape. The explorers’ reports, although sketchy, give important clues as to the colonial attitudes of the day and the beginnings of the process of transfer of control of the country from the laws of the Dreaming to the laws of the imported financial and commercial system.

The explorers were either private individuals who paid their own way in search of pastoral lands, or government surveyors on official expeditions. Sometimes they were both officially supported and privately funded. From its beginnings as the Swan River Colony in 1929, Western Australia relied on exploration parties to find new resources and new farming and pastoral country to stimulate its weak economy.  Official explorers were typically instructed:  

You will bear in mind that the primary object of this expedition is the examination of a new tract of unknown country for practical purposes, by practical men – that, in fact, the discovery of new land of an available kind for pasture has become a thing to be desired, of paramount importance, and an object in the attainment of which the interests and perhaps the fate of this colony depend.
Instructions to A.C. Gregory, Esq., Assistant – Surveyor, November 20 1848, from Colonial Secretary, for the Settlers Expedition to the Northward of Perth. A.C. & F.T. Gregory, Journals of Australian Exploration, Government Printer Brisbane 1884 (Facsimile Edition, Hesperian Press 1981) p13

Unlike some of the heroic but amateur and disastrous exploration expeditions in central and eastern Australia , the western explorers were experienced settlers or colonial born, and were good bushmen and horsemen, although the success of some rested heavily on their Aboriginal guides. These guides were invaluable. They knew the tracks through dense scrub and across boggy salt lakes, could find scarce water in ‘native wells’, soaks and rockholes, shot game, and established friendly relationships with the Garimia, Badimia and Widi people whose country they were crossing. They also provided the Aboriginal names to landscape features now seen on the maps of the country. Those who went without guides often had difficulty finding water, and named places after their relatives, friends and sponsors. One of these guides, Jimmy Mungaro, served on three expeditions, but remains relatively unknown.

There are few records available for reconstructing the detail of the explorers journeys and observations. Some left no records. Even the official explorers left few records apart from simple diaries. Some, such as Forrest, apparently held their field notebooks for later private publication.

After pastoral settlement in the late 1860s, a new type of professional explorer came to the region. First came the government surveyors like Robinson and King who in the 1880s traversed and pegged the country. They recorded it accurately so it could be mapped and divided into parcels for the new settlers to ‘own’.  The conversion of ‘country’ from Aboriginal to commercial land was then almost complete. It only awaited those who came to map the country for its resources, whether minerals, vegetation, pastoral condition or water.

Back to top

Alfred Hillman and Gerald De Courcey Lefroy, 1846

The first recorded exploration into the southern margins of the Lake Moore – Mongers Lake area was in July 1846 when Alfred Hillman and Gerald De Courcy Lefroy reached the salt lakes they named Hillman, Lefroy and Grady. This set of lakes has beeen renamed De Courcy, Hillman and O’Grady. This was a joint official and private expedition. Alfred Hillman was a government Assistant Surveyor, Lefroy and his brother Anthony O’Grady Lefroy were prominent Irish pioneering sheep graziers from the Walebing area on the Victoria Plains , and they came seeking more country on which to expand their holdings and flocks. What they found must have disappointed them. It was only salt lakes and dense shrublands.  Later, in the 1870s and 1880s, Anthony O’Grady Lefroy’s son Henry Bruce Lefroy took up four 20,000 acre pastoral leases further out on the eastern arms of Lake Moore, on what became Mouroubra and Bimbijy Stations (Department of Lands and Surveys, Public Plan 13M No.s 1-3, Victoria East 1873, State Records Office Cons 5018-19)

Exemplifying the economic and social status of pastoralists in Western Australia, Gerald De Courcey Lefroy was Colonial Treasurer from 1856 until self-government in 1890, and his nephew Henry Bruce Lefroy became Premier from 1917 to 1919.


Exploration Plan 33 shows that in 1846 Hillman & Lefroy found at the southern end of Lake Moore only dense shrublands and salt lakes. There was nothing to interest sheep graziers. Kwangan is the Nyoongar Aboriginal term for sandy shrublands.

Back to top

Gregory Brothers, 1846

In 1846 the known country had become so nearly stocked to the full extent of its capability that the leading question of interest with the settlers was, where new runs could be discovered; and among many others, the Messrs. Gregory proposed to attempt the further exploration of the interior. Messrs A.C.and F.T.Gregory, who were attached to the department of the Surveyor – General, applied for three months’ leave of absence for the purpose; but it was eventually arranged that the expedition should be under the auspices of the Government, which provided four horses, and voted £5 for the purchase of equipment, the remainder being supplied at private expense. A.C. & F.T. Gregory, Journals of Australian Exploration, Government Printer Brisbane 1884 (Facsimile Edition, Hesperian Press 1981) pp1-2.

Augustus Charles Gregory was the leader. He and Francis Thomas Gregory took a third brother, Henry Churchman Gregory. They were excellent horsement and travelled light with four horses and seven weeks’ provisions. Their expedition took them from Toodyay on the Avon River, north east about 600 km to a chain of salt lakes and Mt Jackson on the 17th August.

There was a small water course through the patch of grass, but no water, and the country was suffering from prolonged drought.

They turned north-westerly and came up against the eastern side of Lake Moore, which Augustus named after George Fletcher Moore, the colony’s Advocate General and a supporter of the expedition.

From near Mt Churchman on 23rd August 1846, A very remarkable hill bore 316 degrees, about 35 miles distant. This was Nyingaarn or Ninghan (echidna in the Nyoongar language), the landmark hill for the region around Charles Dawin Reserve. Gregory later named Mt Singleton after a prominent Swan River Colony settler. They did not reach the hill. They bogged their horses attempting to cross the lake on the 25th August, and had to extricate them with two hurdles or platforms made from poles cut from small trees, tether ropes and saddle bags. The trees were cut from the western side of the lake, on what is now Mt Gibson Sanctuary. Not having a local guide, they appear to have missed a major Aboriginal crossing near Mardaburder Hill, their campsite for the 25th .



Mt Singleton, or Nyingarn (Ninghan), was to become a magnet for explorers and surveyors, just as it was a landmark and cultural icon for the traditional occupants of the country. 

Unable to reach Mt Singleton, Gregory headed around the northern end of Lake Moore, and swung north westerly, passing near what is now Paynes Find, crossing the northern reaches of Mongers Lake . His party again ran out of fresh water near what is now Yalgoo, before heading south-westerly to reach the coast.

  Department of Lands and Surveys, A.C. Gregory, Exploration to the Northward and Eastward of Toodyay, August & Sptember 1846 (Eastern Sheet). State Records Office of Western Australia, WAS 50, Cons 3423/18

Gregory was one of the first to cross and describe the vegetation across what was later defined as ‘the mulga-eucalypt line’ between the South West winter rainfall vegetation and the arid zone. His journal provides the first descriptions of country similar to Charles Darwin Reserve. Near lake Moore on the 23rd August:

Steering in the direction of the direction of this hill [Mt Singleton], found the country covered with almost impenetrable scrub of acacia.

This is the acacia shrubland on yellow sandplain, now called the Joseph Land System, which Giles later cursed in his 1875 crossing of Western Australia. On the 24th: passed over a nearly level country timbered with cypress and eucalypts. This describes the Yowie Land System, dominated by the native pine (Callitris glaucophylla) and the York gum (Eucalyptus loxophleba).

Back to top

Robert Austin, 1854

In early August 1854 Assistant Surveyor Robert Austin travelled up eastward of Lake Moore on a government expedition to explore further north into the upper reaches of the Murchison river. He crossed Gregory’s 1846 path at Mt Churchman, lost several of his horses to kite leaf poison pea further north at Poison Rock, but pushed on determined to succeed despite the drought and lack of water. He took his party to Mt Magnet and then north-westerly to the Murchison River. His journey took him to the brink of death and he lost of most of his horses and equipment.

The editorial in the Perth Gazette and Western Australian Times, Friday October 9th, 1868, reported on the successful exploration in the region by the Monger brothers, and compares the Austin explorations with those conducted by Gregory:

Mr Gregory found plenty of feed but no permanent water; Mr Austin was less fortunate, his visit to the district having happened during a long drought which he conjectured must have lasted three years; but still he found it covered with grass, although it was dry and dusty, and he also saw numerous water-courses, but was often put to great straits for want of a sufficient supply of water. Exploration Diaries Vol. 6. Battye Library

The Monger brothers, searching for grazing land, questioned the natives upon the subject; they however confidently asserted that plenty of water is always to be found in the locality, adding ‘if no water how natives live, natives die then’, and said that Mr Austin did not find water because he did not know where to look for it, and that a short distance on either side of his track there was plenty.

Austin ’s mistake appears to have been rejecting the Aboriginal occupiers’ overtures: the only native who approached the party was shot at and wounded.

The land in Austin’s estimation had little to offer for farming settlement or pastoralism, but he was enthusiastic about its mineral potential. Although pastoralists moved into the upper Murchison region in the 1860s, his predictions about gold were ignored and the major discoveries in the Murchison region were not made until the 1890s, and not until the 1920s on Charles Darwin Reserve.

Austin moved to Queensland for the rest of his career as a surveyor, having added little to the existing knowledge of the Lake Moore region. His report may have confirmed in settlers’ minds any doubts about the pastoral potential of the region that Gregory may have instilled, as the next recorded venture into the area was not until 1868.

Back to top

Nathaniel William Cooke, 1868

In 1850 the Swan River colonists had negotiated a supply of British convicts to provide labour, and the British Government supplied funding, both of which they desperately needed to develop the colony. Now able to generate more income, especially from the sale of wool to Britain, farmers and pastoralists were keen to expand, and private expeditions were mounted to search for new grazing land. The merino sheep thrived better in the drier shrublands than the wetter south-west, adding impetus to the move into the drier country.

Nathaniel William Cooke was the son of a farmer who had in 1857 secured a grazing lease at Arrino on the Irwin River, in response to Gregory’s favourable reports of the area. The Cookes, like the Lefroys, were one of the Victoria Plains families who were expanding their holdings to occupy new grazing and farming areas. On the last of four self-funded forays into the hinterland looking for new pastures, N.W.Cooke passed a little to the north of Charles Darwin Reserve in August 1868. His reference to the Aboriginal names of places suggests he had a local guide.

August 18 1868
Started this morning in a south-east direction to cross the marshes [i.e. Mongers Lake] at the narrowest place, about 300 yards wide, along the edge of which the feed is very good in patches, and then came to a very high and precipitous hill, termed by the natives Binahleen, to the top of which I climbed. From this eminence an immense distance in all directions could be commanded; the prospect was far from cheering. To the south the country appears to be all thickets. Exploration Diaries, Vol 6. Battye Library

Cooke, unlike Gregory and subsequent surveyors and explorers, did not leave accurate survey coordinates for his journey, and some of his place names were not transferred onto subsquent maps, so it is not clear exactly where he was. ‘To the south’ is in the direction of Charles Darwin Reserve. Perhaps this was the first description of the northern end of Charles Darwin Reserve.

After leaving this hill, travelled south-east into an open country, consisting of marshy land of red colour, bearing a description of tea tree, growing amongst which was an abundance of oat-grass and samphire. Ibid

Cooke remained unimpressed, stating that his search for land suitable for pastoral purposes was a failure. He must have had second thoughts, however, as he became the first to hold the Ninghan pastoral leases for a short time where he ran cattle. He made a name for himself shortly after by discovering goldfields in the Pilbara and holding pastoral leases there. Palmer, A. Paynes Find 1988.

Back to top

J.H. and G. Monger, 1868

Immediately after Cooke, John Henry and George Monger, prominent farmers in York and merchants in Perth, journeyed from the south through Wongan Hills and traversed the area in September 1868. They reported the discovery of a fine pastoral country.

Sept.16 1868 – Travelled for six hours over good country, but thick with myall trees and salt bush; all open spaces covered with grass and flowers, the grass thick and tall under the trees; about six miles before camping entered a very hilly country, the hills very richly grassed and abundance of salt bush, soil a fine loam; camped on the rise of the hill ‘Ninghan’ by the side of a small running stream.J.H. Monger, Discovery of a Fine Pastoral Country, in  Perth Gazette and W.A. Times, Friday October 9th 1868 in Exploration Diaries Vol 6. Battye Library

After an excursion from Ninghan to the large freshwater spring and pool at Goodenow (later to become the Coodingnow station lease of Thomas Augustus (Gus) Clinch), the party headed westward on 22nd September, crossing Mongers Lake to the north of Charles Darwin Reserve - probably at Lucky Crossing - and reaching Damperwarra (Damperwah) and returning to York.

Monger recorded the place names as they were given to him by his Aboriginal guides. He also gave due credit to his guides for steering him across the country and the salt lakes, and safely from water hole to water hole, using the network of ‘native tracks’. The only named guide, Jimmy Mungaro, later accompanied both John and Alexander Forrest on exploration expeditions.

To persons unaquainted with the locality it seems the district is peculiarly difficult of access, owing to the dense thickets which to a stranger appear to bar all passage, but through which native guides found easy paths….without the assistance of natives belonging to the locality Mr Monger believes the country could not be penetrated, and hence perhaps the reason why it has not become known before…  Editor, op. cit.

Sept. 13, saw from an ironstone hill our destination – a large hill called by the natives ‘Ninghan’;  crossed with difficulty guided by the natives, a large salt lake, in which the horses sank deep into the sediment mud composed of gypsum and salt; should never have got through had it not been for the natives who were acquainted with the firmer tracks.

Sept.16  –... At 2 p.m. after dinner, I with two other natives ascended the hill, which took us one hour and half; the grass reaches to near the top, which is bare and covered with stones… Piled a heap of stones to mark the spot from which I took bearings for the purpose of applying for a lease of the country.

Sept. 22nd. On the 22nd September the party started upon the return journey, travelling 16 miles towards Damperwarra, the first six or eight being through splendid country, with grass up to the horses’ flanks, afterwards the myall scrub became thicker; but still plenty of feed. Crossed a large salt lake, surmounted with good country well adapted for sheep.  Fifteen miles of good sheep country, but thick in places, to Bournay, a spring one mile from Damperwarra.J.H. Monger op. cit.

Monger is describing his crossing of Mongers Lake at Lucky Crossing where he later held a pastoral lease. This leg of his journey brought him just nine kilometres north of Charles Darwin reserve.  

The editor of the Perth Gazette and Western Australian Times enthused that as a result of the expedition, a vast area will be opened, giving space for unlimited expansion of our flocks and herds.

In a reversal of their respective stated intentions, Monger appears to have ceded to N.W. Cooke the privilege of being the first to claim the Ninghan lease, and did not take it over from Cooke until some years later.

Back to top

John Forrest

The following year in 1869 John Forrest was Government Surveyor at age twenty-two. He led an exploring expedition in search of the remains of the late Dr Leichhardt and party, undertaken, by order of the Government of Western Australia, with Mr George Monger as second in command, Mr Malcolm Hamersley, as third in command; probation prisoner David Morgan, as shoeing smith; and two natives (Tommy Windich and Jimmy Mungaro). The latter native gave Mr Monger the information respecting the murder of whitemen to the Eastward, suspected to have been the Leichardt party. John Forrest,Explorations in Australia - Sampson Low, Marston, Low, & Searle, London 1875

Forrest's outward journey from Perth took him to the east of Lake Moore along Gregory’s track, from where he could see Mt Singleton.

Forrest records in his Journal of Preceedings of an Exploring Expedition in Search of the Late Dr Leichhardt and Party on 5th May 1869:

From the summit of Mt Churchman, Ninghan of Mr Monger, or Mount Singleton of Mr A.C. Gregory, bore N 312 deg. 30 min. East mag. This evening a party of 9 natives (friends of our native Jimmy) joined us, …. John Forrest Explorations in Australia - Sampson Low, Marston, Low, & Searle, London 1875

The party headed north-eastward to find that bones reported by Aborigines were those of the 9 horses of the explorer Austin which died from browsing on poison shrubs (kite-leaf poison) at Poison Rock. The party then headed eastwards beyond Lake Barlee on a fruitless search for Leichhardt’s remains. On the return journey, near Ninghan, Forrest saw the tracks of two men and 2 horses with two natives walking, and soon after found where they had bivouacked a few days before.  Was much surprised at this discovery. Suppose it to be squatters looking for country.

The identity of the ‘squatters’ (pastoralists) remains unknown. 

The following day Forrest went, in company with Mr Monger and Jimmy, to the summit of Mount Singleton, which took us an hour to ascend; but on reaching it I was well repaid, for my trouble, by the very extensive view and the many points to which I could take bearings. Far as the eye could reach to the East and S.E. was visible lake Moore, Mt churchman &c; to the North conspicuous high trap-ranges appeared; while to the West, within a radius of 6 miles, hills covered with flowers etc. gave the country a very pretty appearance. Further to the West, a dry salt lake and a few trap hills appeared. Returned to camp, which we reached at 2 pm. On our way shot two rock kangaroos. Forrest is describing, to the West, the view across the northern side of Charles Darwin Reserve to Mongers Lake.

From his bearings, he establishes Mt Singleton as a major survey point for Western Australia.  Local tradition has it that Forrest placed a survey peg on the top of Mt Singleton that perished over a hundred years later. Macpherson, the owner of Ninghan Station, appears to have brought it down and put it in the shed to restore it. One version has it that it inadvertently ended up on a barbeque fire, but another version suggests that it ended up in the fire after a difference of opinion between Mr and Mrs Macpherson.    

After resting on the Sunday on which Forrest read divine service, on the 26th July the party steered a little to the north of west towards Damperwar following Monger’s route (which in turn was presumably a ‘native track’) across Mongers Lake, again travelling only about nine kilometres to the north of Charles Darwin Reserve. They camped on the 27th at Damperwar Springs, a clear grassy spot of about 300 acres, on the west side of low granite hills. The spring was dry, but by digging a few feet we obtained an abundant supply. From the appearance of the country there has been hardly any rain in this neighbourhood for many months. This is in contrast to the splendid green feed they had found around Mt Singleton, providing an early observation of the erratic rainfall in the region. At Damperwar spring they met a party of friendly natives.

Forrest followed the west bank of Mongers Lake southwards on his return to York and Perth.  At Murrungnulg, he named Lake Monger after his second-in-command.

Forrest had found nothing to satisfy the Colonial Secretary’s desire for a new land of an available kind for pasture.  He reported:

With reference to the country travelled over, I am of opinion that it is worthless as a pastoral or agricultural district; and as to minerals I am not sufficiently conversant with the science to offer an opinion, except that I should think it was worth while sending geologists to examine it thoroughly. Explorations in Australia - Sampson Low, Marston, Low, & Searle, London 1875;

After several more expeditions including crossing Western Australia through the Murchison in 1874, and promotion to Surveyor General, Forrest went on to become the first Premier of Western Australia in 1890 when full parliamentary government was established. With Federation in 1901 he moved into the national Parliament and later became Lord Forrest.

Forrest as an explorer and surveyor left a legacy in the region of Charles Darwin Reserve by literally putting it on the map, and as Premier, by promoting revisions of the Land Regulations under which the pastoral development of the area progressed.

Back to top

Jimmy Mungaro

The British settlers' peaceful exploration and occupation of tribal lands in the Mongers Lake to Lake Moore area in the late 1860s might well be attributed to Jimmy Mungaro. As an Aboriginal guide he navigated through the region for the Monger brothers in 1868 and then John Forrest in 1869. Mungaro then went on to assist Alexander Forrest in his explorations. Despite his excellent service to the settlers and explorers, nothing has come to light on Mungaro apart from Monger’s and Forrest’s journals, and one photograph.

We first meet Jimmy Mungaro in the diary of York farmer J. H. Monger’s as he recorded his exploration in 1868 from York to Mount Singleton. He is referred to only as the native Jimmy, and Monger estimates his age to be from 30 to 35 years old. He is one of three natives in the party. Monger gives due credit to these men who guided him across the salt lakes, through or around the dense shrublands, and took him to springs for water.

In the writings Mungaro relates to Monger the story of the white men killed by the natives about twenty years ago …eleven days journey from Ninghan which subsequently inspired the John Forrest expedition the following year in search of the remains of the Leichardt expedition. Monger records Mungaro’s description of the site of the supposed killings as at a spring near the bank of a very large lake, so large he said it looked like the sea as seen from Rottnest. At the time Rottnest Island off Fremantle was a prison for Aborigines, to which none went of their own volition. It might be conjectured that Mungaro served time as a prisoner and was released as a guide and interpreter, or that he was employed as an interpreter. It might also be simply another case of the British settlers failing to comprehend what they were being told. Mungaro may have been simply describing the distance to Rottnest as seen from the coast.

The name Mungaro is not recorded in any of the Neville Green lists of Aboriginal names (typescripts, Battye Libary). It might be conjectured that it was a corruption of ‘Monger’, the family for whom he appears to have worked. It might further be inferred from the journals that he was Nyoongar, one of the south-west people. He appears to have bestowed the name Ninghan to Mt Singleton – Nyingaarn is Nyoongar for Echidna, and the hill is part of an important Dreaming for both Nyoongar and the Badimia in whose country it lies. He had ‘friends’, according to Forrest, in the Badimia and Widi countries north and west of Charles Darwin Reserve, and he knew the land well. Nyoongar were accustomed to travelling into the area for trade and ceremony. 

Monger climbs Mt Singleton, or Ninghan as he calls it using its correct Aboriginal name, on 16th September but unfortunately it rained so hard that I did not get so extensive a view as I otherwise should have done. Jimmy pointed out to me the situation of many springs and running streams which he says are permanent. J.H. Monger Discovery of a Fine Pastoral Country, in  Perth Gazette and W.A. Times, Friday October 9th 1868. Exploration Diaries Vol 6. Battye Library

The next day Monger and two natives, one of them Mungaro, headed for a place called Goodenow to the north-east of Ninghan. Monger stated:

On rounding Ninghan I saw with surprise that the hill we had ascended yesterday was not the top of Ninghan, and on noticing it to Jimmy he very coolly assented, saying we went quite high enough for people who were wet through.

This was not the only example of Mungaro’s dry observations. The editorial in the Perth Gazette and Western Australian Times, Friday October 9th, 1868, reporting on the successful exploration in the region by the Monger brothers, states:

Mr Monger’s men informed him that they could take him a long way eastward, that when beyond their own knowledge of the country, they could readily obtain guides from other tribes; all they said that is required is kind treatment, and the expedition to be accompanied by some native known to those whose country is to be passed through: one of them referred to Mr Austin’s expedition, during which when in the neighbourhood of Mt Kenneth, the only native who approached the party was shot at and wounded, and asked very pertinently, if that was the way to make friends with them.

In 1869 Jimmy, or Jemmy, Mungaro was one of two natives in John Forrest’s expedition that went searching for the remains of Dr Ludwig Leichardt’s party. The party disappeared in 1847 after leaving Moreton Bay on the east coast and attempting to cross the continent to the west coast. The other was Tommy Windich who is, unlike Mungaro, well embedded in popular exploring history in Western Australia.

Forrest describes Mungaro as a first rate fellow, but is frustrated by his apparent propensity to invent stories. In his summary of the conduct of the members of the expedition he states: Jemmy Mungaro was also a first-class bushman, and invaluable as a water finder. He was in many ways useful, and very obedient. His great failing was that he exaggerated - no tale ever losing anything in his charge. Nevertheless, I have many things to thank him for, and therefore he deserves praise...

The natives were, as they generally are, except when food is scarce, or their anger excited, on the best terms with everybody and everything, and Jemmy Mungaro, so far as could be judged from his demeanour, might have been the most veracious guide who ever led a party of white men through difficulties and dangers on an expedition of discovery…

Moreover, the fine country he described we never saw, what a native calls good country being where he can get a drink of water and a wurrong [hare wallaby]; and if there is an acre of grassy land they describe it as a very extensive grassy country!

These misunderstandings probably illustrate the failure of the settlers to comprehend the Aboriginal view of the country, rather than mendacity by the latter. Forrest’s writings demonstrate the ethnocentricity of the British settlers:  Natives found in the remote interior were questioned; they told vague stories of the murder of white men, but all investigations resulted in the conclusion that the statements were as untrustworthy as those generally made to explorers who question uninformed, ignorant natives. The white man's experience is usually that a native only partially comprehends the question; he does not understand what is wanted, but is anxious to please, as he expects something to eat, and he says what he thinks is most likely to be satisfactory. The view that the original inhabitants with their vast store of intimate knowledge of the country were uninformed and ignorant has ultimately been very costly.  The newcomers’ failure to understand the land they were attempting to exploit led to land degradation on a grand scale, and the brushing aside of the people as having nothing to offer to the British way of life, except food and water and friendly contact with local people when required on exploration expeditions: 

Jimmy shot six gnows [malleefowl] and a wurrong. 2 May 1869, at Danjinning south-east of Lake Moore.

Here we met a party of twenty-five natives (friends of my native Jemmy and the nine who joined us at Mount Churchman) who had a grand corroboree in honour of the expedition. 12 May 1869, at Warne River, north-west of Lake Moore and well into Badimia country.

Jemmy commenced cooeying, and was answered by the natives; after which he advanced and showed himself. As soon as they saw him, the bloodthirsty villains rushed at him, and threw three dowaks, which he luckily dodged; when fortunately one of the natives recognized him (having seen Jemmy at Mount Elain when a little boy), and called to the others not to harm him. Seeing Jemmy running towards the horses, Mr. Monger and I thought it was time to retire, as we saw the mistake we had made in leaving the horses. The thickets being dense, we had difficulty in finding the horses quickly. On reaching them Mr. Monger found he had dropped his revolver. Had not Jemmy been recognized, I feel sure we should have had bloodshed, and might probably have lost our lives. 31 May 1869, in the vicinity of Mount Alexander, east of lake Barlee, in Wongai country.

My native Jimmy stayed behind to-day in order to catch a opossum (in company with some of his friends) and did not join us this evening. 28 July 1869, at Murrungnulgo on Mongers Lake.

Praise appears to be almost all Jimmy Mungaro got for his contribution to the settler’s cause. When rewards were handed out by the Governor to the the members of Forrest’s party, Tommy Windich and Jemmy Mungaro, the natives, had each a single-barrel gun, with his name inscribed, presents which they highly valued.

Unfortunately we know little more about this unwitting facilitator of the contact between the explorers and the original inhabitants of the country which ultimately led to the latter’s dispossession.

Back to top

Macpherson and Campbell

Macpherson and Campbell are names appearing among those of the early leaseholders in the area. They were major landholders from the Victoria Plains district over 100 km to the south of Charles Darwin Reserve, around the Benedictine mission at New Norcia. John Campbell was Donald Macpherson’s nephew.

Soon after the Mongers or the John Forrest expeditions, Campbell appears to have done a reconnaissance of the area between Lakes Moore and Monger on which he selected several 10,000 and 20,000 acre leases for himself and his uncle, centred on small natural springs, like all the leases of the time. Forrest records


Macpherson held two leases in the early 1870s: A826 of 10,000 acres around Berguna Springs (Beergoona Well), now part of Wanarrra Station; and A4962 of 20,000 acres on the eastern shore of Mongers Lake.  Campbell held A4234 at Kurige Swamp .  These leases were only several kilometres west and south-west of the then vacant area which is now Charles Darwin Reserve.

The 1873 plan is not accurate. It was drawn from rough descriptions of the area before G.D. Robinson’s survey in 1887.

From Public Plan Victoria East, 1873, State Records Office of Western Australia Cons 5018-19

Back to top

Ernest Giles

The last of the recognised explorers to enter the area was Ernest Giles who crossed the deserts from South Australia to Perth in 1875 using camels. He then returned by a more northerly route through the Murchison in 1876.

On his westward approach to Mt Churchman, the hill used by Gregory, Austin and Forrest before him, Giles complained that the scrubs were so frightful we could not get there by night, though we travelled without stopping for twelve hours… The country between the cliff and Mount Churchman was filled to overflowing with the densest of scrubs; Nature seemed to have tried how much of it she could possibly jam into this region. (Giles, E. Australia Twice Traversed Hesperian Press 1995) These are the sandplain shrublands of the Bannar and Joseph land systems also found on Charles Darwin Reserve, and described by Hillman in 1846 as ‘kwangan’.  A good supply of malleefowl eggs, and water in the rockholes on the granite outcrops were some compensation. 

On 27th October 1875, Giles ascended Mt Churchman from which Forrest had seen the hill Ninghan.  On Mt Churchman he met Charlie, one of  a party of natives who knew the country all the way to Perth, and also to Champion Bay.

He told me the nearest station to us was called Nyngham, Mount Singleton on the chart, in a north-west direction. The station belonged, he said, to a Mr. Cook, and that we could reach it in four days, but as I wished to make south-westerly for Perth, I did not go that way. The day was very warm, thermometer 99°  in shade.  ‘Mr Cook’ was a reference to N.W. Cooke.

On 30th October Giles reached the shores of the dry salt-lake Moore. In about thirty miles we found some rock water-holes, and encamped on the edge of the lake, where we saw old horse and cattle tracks. We next crossed the lake-bed, which was seven miles wide. No doubt there is brine in some parts of it, but where I crossed it was firm and dry.  Giles was luckier than Gregory who had bogged his horses attempting to cross the lake further north.

Nearing the outer edge of the settled country to the south-west of Lake Moore , Giles came upon some shepherds’ camp.  He provides a rare description of the sort of outstation arrangement which would have been seen on the leases surrounding the area further north which became Charles Darwin Reserve:  an outlying sheep station; its buildings consisting simply of a few bark-gunyahs. There was not even a single, rude hut in the dingle; blacks' and whites' gunyahs being all alike. Had I not seen some clothes, cooking utensils, etc., at one of them, I should have thought that only black shepherds lived there. A shallow well, and whip for raising the water into a trough, was enclosed by a fence, and we watered our camels there.

Giles then entered the settled areas of the Victoria Plains where he met some of the people who feature in the story of Charles Darwin Reserve and its surrounding pastoral lands. He met the Macphersons and Lefroys, and Bishop Salvado of the New Norcia Monastery, and in Perth, John Forrest who had done the west to east crossing with horses the year before.

Back to top

Bush Heritage Australia Logo