600kms is a long way to hike on the Holland Track
Why the Holland Track exists
Back in the 1890s Victoria was in the grip of serious drought and a banking crisis had brought severe economic depression to the state. The discovery of gold by Arthur Bayley and William Ford, in September 1892, resulted in Bayley’s Rush. There was a mad panic by prospectors and diggers to be early on the scene at Fly Flat, near present-day Coolgardie. Bayley had previously walked into the Warden’s office in Southern Cross with 554 ounces of gold, immediately creating a new rush destined to be one of fabulous wealth. Depression had ravaged Australia and people were willing to risk their lives for the chance to strike it rich on the goldfields. Prospective miners could get to the Goldfields by taking a ship to Albany or Fremantle. The trip to Fremantle was far more expensive and the track from Fremantle to Coolgardie ill-defined and almost devoid of water. From Albany, the railway line headed northwest to Perth with Broomehill being the closest point to Coolgardie. Many people caught the train (either legally or illegally), jumping off at Broomehill and heading northeast for approximately 600kms hoping to find fabulous wealth.
Business people in Broomehill and Katanning soon saw the opportunity to open up direct routes and supply produce, equipment and transport to miners and began plans to establish a track connecting water points between Broomehill and Coolgardie.
A Katanning man named McIntosh left in November 1892, but was never seen again. Michael Cronin, also from Katanning, tried to find a way through but turned back. Broomehill residents approached John Holland, a well-known bushman, but he advised against travelling during summer. After careful preparation Holland left Broomehill on April 14, 1893. Travelling with him was Rudolph Krakouer, second in command, David Krakouer and John Carmody, all local men. They took with them five ponies, a light four-wheeled dray carrying a 500-litre water tank and provisions for five to six months.
John Holland, guided by a small compass, rode out each morning looking for water and horse feed. It is likely that the Krakouer brothers undertook most of the difficult and tiresome task of clearing a track for the dray. In some areas trees would only need to be blazed to identify the track but in areas close to the granite outcrops many trees would need to be cut off at ground level. It was then up to John Carmody to carefully guide the dray along the new track and care for the horses.
After a month the party eventually arrived at King Rock, now called Emu Rock, just a few kilometres south of the Hyden – Norseman road. Several days later they moved on through dense scrub devoid of water and feed. The party passed through Sandalwood Camp, Victoria Rock and came directly upon Gnarlbine Rock leaving an easy day’s travel into Bayley’s Find at Fly Flat.
A family connection to the Holland Track
For some years I had been aware of some of my ancestors, three brothers who at age 15, 16 and 17 made the trip unaccompanied. Their parents paid their ship passage of £8 each (now approx. $1200). From then on, they were on their own. With 18000 people walking along the track in the three years until the railway line was built from Perth to Coolgardie they wouldn’t have been alone on the track. Since the railway line was built in 1896 the track remained unused until a local resident with a tractor cleared a road as close as possible to the original track to commemorate the centenary in 1993. It has since been used by many intrepid four-wheel drivers.
My friend Judy and I decided to try to walk along the entire length of the track used by the boys.
The logistics of a walk of this length were quite staggering. At least 200 litres of drinking water was needed and so we decided to do this as a supported walk. Our support team consisted of Judy’s husband Rodger who was the team statistician, tactician and distance marker. Rodger marked out the entire distance in seven-kilometre blocks. Alan and Beryl Conquer joined the team providing back-up support, scouting ahead for suitable smoko stops and campsites and making sure the fire was always tended. John and Bev Deckert were in charge of logistics. They carted a small trailer filled with water, food and other luxuries. They also set up and dismantled camp and were in charge of first aid and injury treatment and all the other things parents do for which they get no thanks. The walk started at the Broomehill Post Office and finished at the Coolgardie Post Office 27 days later.
The first part of the walk was extremely hot with heat exhaustion and dehydration the main risks. Snakes were commonly seen but it was the mosquitoes that were more troublesome. They would descend in clouds and bite through clothing day and night. There was so much interest in why anyone would head into outback Western Australia to walk 600 kilometres we decided to use the publicity to raise awareness about brain cancer and raise funds for the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation. While overall survival rates for cancer have increased dramatically in the last 30 years, brain cancer still has very low survival rates with many who contract brain cancer dying within a few months of diagnosis. ‘Hiking The Holland Track for Brain Cancer’ became the official title of our trip