Ernest Giles

Ernest Giles (1835 – 1897) helped to find out what lay in the vast areas of the west. He was born on July 7, 1835 in England and first arrived in Adelaide from England in 1850 at the age of 15 where he first began digging for gold without success. He worked at various cattle and sheep stations where he developed his bush skills and ended up in 1861 in the area around Menindee in western New South Wales. In 1865 he explored the west of the Darling River in search of land that was suitable for pastoral use.

In 1872 the Overland Telegraph Line between Adelaide and Darwin was completed and stations built along this line provided convenient starting places for expeditions to the west. Giles was asked to lead a small expedition from the Charlotte Waters station near Chambers Pillar, and attempt to go overland to Perth. The party followed the Finke River and discovered Palm Valley. Further on they were forced back after encountering harsh deserts and a vast salt lake that Victorian governor Ferdinand von Mueller insisted be named Lake Amadeus after the king of Spain.

In 1873 Giles with another explorer Tietkins began at Alberga Creek and again left for Perth. This time they went further south but were stopped by harsh desert conditions. Giles named desert, Gibson Desert, after a volunteer stockman travelling with them, Alfred Gibson, who got lost in the desert and was never found.

In 1875 Giles most important expedition began from Beltana, north of Port Augusta. Giles took with him camels instead of horses along with an Afghan camel driver who had experience in desert expeditions. They trekked over the Great Victorian Desert, which Giles named after the British queen. The camels proved to be vital as they would travel 350 kilometres without needing to drink. Their water levels dried up and they backtracked in search of water. They were saved only by the skill of their Aboriginal guide who managed to follow emu tracks to a spring. When they reached the present day town of Kalgoorlie, they were attacked by a large band of Aborigines who dispersed only after the explorers fired at them. They eventually reached some West Australian sheep stations and then headed into Perth.

After a long journey he still decided to return to South Australia by crossing the Gibson desert. Some of his companions didn’t agree with this and returned by ship. Giles crossed the Gibson Desert and made it back to the Overland Telegraph Line taking about 6months to cross. In 1897 Giles died after contracting pneumonia whilst working as a clerk in the Coolgardie gold fields. He styled himself as "the last of the Australian explorers."