He was a self-made man by age 24 but risked it all for fame and fortune. Unfortunately, the gamble did not pay off.
Edward John Eyre left England alone aged only 17 to escape what he saw as a constraining military career.
Age 22 he became the first to cross the land from Sydney and Adelaide, not once but twice –the second time with a mob of 1,000 sheep and 600 head of cattle in tow. That bold move earned him an enviable reputation and a dirt load of money.
Age 23 he crossed two of the three sides of what I refer to as the Eyre Peninsula triangle. It is nothing like the Bermuda Triangle, but for Eyre and his party, it would have summoned a similar level of dread and anxiety. The year was 1939 and somewhere in mid-September he passed the Gawler Ranges and an area that modern-day travellers have come to see as paradise. More on that in a minute.
Age 24 he completes his second trek around the Eyre Peninsula, becoming the first person to forge a land route between South Australia’s two most prominent settlements – Adelaide and Port Lincoln.
Age 25 he crosses the Nullarbor on foot, a 2,080-kilometre trek from Port Lincoln to Albany in WA. It took him almost a year and leaves him bankrupt.
Eyre was quickly compensated with a new position as Special Magistrate and Protector of Aborigines, with a homestead along the Murray River. Many believe it was an “out of sight, out of mind” style appointment, and in the end it was the colonists who awarded Eyre a testimonial gift of money to show their appreciation for his contribution to South Australia. That gift was bestowed in 1844 as Eyre prepared to leave for England. He was 29 and would never return.
The man who arrived as an adolescent, after whom our longest single-stretch highway and SA’s largest peninsula is named, who’s light has not dimmed 180 years later, spent only 12 years in this country!
Arguably his greatest legacy is one for which he is rarely acknowledged. Edward John Eyre walked from Sydney to Adelaide – twice, then Adelaide to Port Lincoln, and finally Port Lincoln to Albany. That means that he was the first European to cross our mammoth continent. It is a journey of 4,271 kilometres.
Making that crossing today you would be well advised to stop halfway for at least a few days – not just to recuperate and replenish supplies, but also to enjoy the 2021 BEST GREY NOMAD COUNCIL FREE-STAY in Australia.
Yep, the Kimba District Council donation camp at the Kimba Recreation Reserve is just off the Eyre Highway on the Eyre Peninsula. And that means that it’s conveniently located smack bang halfway across Australia. There’s even a huge sign where you can celebrate your progress!
There’s also the Kimba and Gawler Ranges Historical Museum, functional artistry at Workshop26, and the town is on the doorstep of those Gawler Ranges I mentioned earlier. Those mountains are not the only big things you’ll find in this town of 500 friendly folks. There’s a trio of titanic tributes too – stunning silo art across six stacks, the newly revamped eight-metre-high Big Galah, and in a nod to the man himself, a giant sculpture of Eyre high on an ironstone conglomerate outcrop. Next to him is Wylie, the Indigenous tracker who accompanied Eyre on later expeditions. You will not need to search long to find Eyre as he’s at White's Knob Lookout, just up the road from the donation camp.
That campground is where you will discover two large gravelled areas, two modern amenities blocks with $1 hot showers, picnic tables, and a new Camp Kitchen with free BBQs, numerous sinks, heaps of bench space and oodles of seating. There's even baking paper dispensers to make cleaning the BBQ easy!
“Better than many caravan parks!” That is the consensus among the many travellers who have left reviews on camping apps, and I concur, but best that you adopt Edward John Eyre’s take on life: the only way to know for sure is to see it for yourself.
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