Constructed in the first decade of the 20th century, the Canning Stock Route runs for a distance of 1850 km from Hall’s Creek to Wiluna, in the top half of Western Australia. These days, it’s regarded as one of Australia’s more challenging 4WD journeys, but from 1910 to 1959 was a challenge for drovers bringing mobs of cattle south from the east Kimberley region.
The Canning was designed to break the monopoly that west Kimberley cattlemen had on the beef trade in the West. Construction involved the sinking of 54 wells, necessary to ensure adequate water for mobs of up to 800 cattle, as they travelled through the Great Sandy Desert, the Gibson Desert and the Little Sandy Desert. But it proved problematic, and after about 1930, there was seldom more than one mob a year brought down the Canning.
The construction phase had involved some controversial encounters with Aboriginal people living along the route, and Albert Canning, the surveyor in charge of the contract, came under intense criticism.
The Australian Museum in Sydney has a special exhibition about the Canning Stock Route showing at the moment, and until 29th April. It’s titled “Yiwarra Kuju”, meaning “One Road”. I saw the exhibition today, and highly recommend it. It features many stunning aboriginal paintings, plus graphic displays showing aspects of the construction, and some of the reprehensible treatment of aboriginal people. There’s also an amazing interactive map of the Route.
The exhibition will probably be shown elsewhere in due course. If you get a chance, don’t miss it!