An expedition from Alice Springs into the deserts of WA and back again is an opportunity to revisit the story of explorer Ernest Giles and other pioneers.

Story + Photos Don Fuchs

"I called this terrible region that lies between the Rawlinson Range and the next permanent water that may eventually be found to the west, Gibson Desert, after this first white victim to its horrors.” These are the words of flamboyant explorer Ernest Giles in his book Australia Twice Traversed. His companion Alfred Gibson disappeared during their 1874 expedition while searching for water.

The two men were attempting to head west through the waterless sandhills that border the Rawlinson Range in the far east of central WA. Alone, Giles survived, making it back to a waterhole in the ranges called Circus Water. 

Giles named this valley the Gorge of Tarns. Despite its romantic name, the valley is harsh, stony country and the waterhole is dry, with camel bones littering the ground. Tour operator and expedition leader Andrew Dwyer loves it. “I do think the Rawlinson Range is pretty special … rounding the western point of the range at Lake Christopher exactly how Giles described it on that fateful day in 1874, when he and Gibson rode west,” he enthuses. 

Andrew runs the Victoria-based Diamantina Touring Company, which specialises in desert expeditions. One of his longest expeditions is a superb 17-day 4WD trip that goes from the Red Centre to the eastern Pilbara, travelling deep into the Great Sandy Desert, then traversing the Gibson Desert on the return leg. “The Western Deserts are the most remote in Australia,” Andrew says. “There’s something special about untouched places where nature rules and we are just visitors.”

The expedition into one of the most remote corners of Australia starts in Alice Springs and the first few days of the trip are rich in well-known highlights: the dramatic peaks and gorges of the West MacDonnell Ranges, the reed-fringed waterhole of Glen Helen Gorge, the jutting quartzite peak of Haasts Bluff, and the Aboriginal community of Papunya and its famous art centre. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #132

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2020