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John McDougall Stuart – Book Review

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February 29, 2012

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John McDougall Stuart was one of Australia’s greatest explorers. He was relentless in his quest for a way through the centre of Australia and finding a route to the top end. He led six expeditions , each time pushing himself and his men to the brink of death. He travelled light with minimum provisions and horses, and just a few men.

Stuart’s expeditions started in 1858 in search of Wingillpin. Thinking there was an inland sea in the middle of Australia, the brave explorer forged his way from Adelaide to the centre. From there he moved ever northward, looking for the coast and the Gulf of Carpentaria. He discovered and accurately mapped land, ranges, rivers and water holes, enabling stock routes to be formed and the first overland telegraph to be laid from Adelaide to the north coast of Australia. His last expedition in 1862 took him a year and finally he forced his way through to the sea at Point Stuart, on the edge of Kakadu National Park. He had won the race for the first white men cross Australia from south to north.

John McDougall Stuart died in 1866, in England, a poor and sick man. He was 50 years old.

John Bailey has written an incredible historical account of a man who was grossly under-acknowledged for his achievements in the founding of Australia. The research and detail in the book are phenomenal. He managed to capture the essence of John McDougall Stuart, what made him tick, and portrayed the force within that pushed him, time after time, to keep returning to outback Australia and find a route from the south coast to the north.

The book is compelling reading, both in its narration and adventure of the story. It portrays a man totally driven, for reasons known only to himself, and how it finally destroys him. The skill with which John Bailey has documented the events are second to none. I wholly recommend reading this book – it will forever etch in your memory the great men who arrived in a hostile and arid land and, with force of will, beat the elements and mapped our future.

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