Western Victoria to Darwin - by horse

MODERN-ERA adventure will start today in western Victoria when a group of horse riders set off for Darwin to retrace the route of their ancestors 142 years ago.

A group of horse riders will retrace the 1872 journey to Darwin of six drovers.

A group of horse riders will retrace the 1872 journey to Darwin of six drovers.

They are organised to leave Apsley about 7am for a two-month trek through the outback aiming to reach the northern city by late August.

Back in 1872, five men and a 15-year-old boy left the former Bringalbert Station near Apsley with 120 horses hoping to cash in on the high market prices buoyed by demand from the British Army and northern goldfields.

It was a gruelling 3000-plus kilometre trip plagued by drought, thirst and hunger plus attacks by Aborigines and crocodiles.

 They arrived in Darwin minus seven horses and two dogs, which died en route, and sold 108 horses at £50 a head. One of the men died later from malaria.

It is believed to be the first transcontinental droving expedition in Australia.

Today’s group will have only six horses. They will be better prepared with supplies and have back-up vehicles following, but there will still be unexpected challenges.

Four participants will be riding and two will drive vehicles towing floats. They hope to average 100 kilometres a day with each horse traversing about 25km daily in relay. A longer rest is scheduled every fifth day.

“We are ready and excited to be on our way after much planning,” said Hannah Moore, who will film the trek and hopes to have it screened on television as a documentary.

“I’m certain there will be unexpected adventures along the way. 

“We’ve researched the route, but there’s no way of knowing exactly what conditions will be like, so we’ll have to play it by ear.”

Her father, Jeremy Moore, along with Apsley’s Richie Foster, Sue Close and Laurie Close are related to William Kealy who was on the original trek.

Others in the party leaving today are Helen and Gary Tucker.

“We’ll be camping out, using supplies we’ll bring with us or acquire along the way,” Ms Moore said.

Unlike the 1872 trek which went via the Coorong in South Australia, the modern adventurers will head in a more northerly direction via Pinaroo until north of Adelaide where they hope to follow most of the original route.

The teenager on that first journey was William Hamilton, who persuaded his father to allow him to skip boarding school to join his uncle Tom Hamilton on the adventure. 

William later sailed to Timor for more horses and sold them in Mauritius before sailing to Melbourne and travelling back to western Victoria.

He married his first wife Annie McKellar in Warrnambool in 1878, but she died shortly after giving birth to their first child at Sinclair Station near Heywood.

William later married Margaret Ritchie in Geelong and settled in Melbourne where he became a businessman with interests in mining and real estate. He lived to the age of 77.

One of his six children described some of the original trip in an article published in The Age in 1932. It revealed William went blind for 10 days with sandy blight (trachoma), fired warning shots at Aborigines who ambushed their campsite, and avoided being taken by a crocodile which snapped at his dangling legs while he fished in the Katherine River.

At one stage they rode 112 miles in two days and nights without pausing and without water. It was so hot they rode naked at night.

Their supply wagon had fallen apart in the Finke River bed and at one stage they survived on a tablespoon of flour per day per man and supplemented their diet with bush tucker, rats, mice, snakes, lizards, grubs and yams while suffering dysentry and scurvy. 

Tom Hamilton died shortly after the trip from the ordeal and the effects of malaria.

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