Surrounding this magnificent landscape are the traditional lands of the Luritja
Aboriginal people, believed to have ancestral connections with this part of
central Australia for some 22,000 years. In fact Watarrka is a Luritja name for
an acacia species. (Acacia ligulata).
The Puritjarra rockshelter located in the Cleland Hills west of here has
archaeological records dating back some 25,000 years.
Following the declaration of Watarrka National Park in 1983, the lands were
handed back to the Luritja. They continue to live in small groups within the
park boundaries and have a strong voice in its management. They are also
involved in tourism, providing tours that give an insight into their rich
To the early 1870s there had been a concerted effort to undertake the
exploration of Australia but the terrifying central deserts had yet to be
penetrated and crossed. Ernest Giles was determined to prove they could be
crossed by Europeans.
He was supported by Doctor Ferdinand von Mueller, Victorian government botanist
and the botanist on A. C. Gregory’s epic journey from the Victoria River to
Moreton Bay in 1855-56. Von Mueller offered to finance an expedition to cross
the desert from east to west and the collection of specimens of any new plants
along the way. Giles was quick to accept the offer.
Tempe Downs was formed at the foot of the range, also by a previous explorer,
Charles Chewings, and by 1889 there were around 6,000 head of cattle on the
station. But the venture failed, due it was said to constant killing of stock by
Aboriginals. Other stations failed around that time with most said to be the
result of the attacks, but drought, depression and isolation were important
factors also. Only one station, Erldunda, continued without being abandoned for
any length of time.
from Tempe Downs was moved in to the Kings Canyon are in 1896 to try and avoid
the drought, but resistance by Aboriginals here was very real. hey killed cattle
in such numbers that they forced the abandonment of the country here around
1914. This paved the way for William Liddle and Sonny Kunoth - a pair with not a
lot of money but an urge to succeed.
They took up blocks, individually and later in partnership, around the George
Gill Range. Liddle worked as a contractor in central Australia from 1908, before
moving to a cave at Reedy Rockhole and then to the mouth of Kings Canyon, where
he built a cabin. He stocked his land with cattle accepted in lieu of payment
for work at Hamilton Downs before forming a partnership with Kunoth. The pair
ran cattle here until 1923 when Liddle sold out to establish Angus Downs as a
From about 1931 the area around King’s Canyon was rarely stocked after the
pastoral country reverted to Tempe Downs. It seems it remained so until 1973
when the Luritja people commenced a claim over their traditional lands.
It was the English family of Jack Cotterill, his wife Elsie and sons Jim and
John who first commenced a tourist enterprise here at Kings Canyon in 1961. They
established modest tourist accommodation on Liddle’s old Angus Downs at Yowa
bore, calling it Wallara Chalet.
During the heat, dust and drought of 1960-61 the Cotterills pushed a track
though to the canyon to pioneer tourism in the area. The sons, John and Jim
drove tourists in to the canyon and conducted tours here. After Jack and Elsie
died the sons expanded the Wallara Ranch Motel until 1990. It was that year that
they were served an eviction notice.
The Cotterills’ dreams were demolished along with the ranch and buildings. A
store and roadhouse replaced them in the Ernest Giles Road.
tourist ventures were proposed for Kings Canyon. A resort, tours and a proposal
for a safari lodge at nearby Kings Creek Station by Ian Conway, grandson of Bill
Liddle, and Tim Lander, the son of Mack Lander, a ‘jack of all trades’ and
prospector in the area from the 1920s.
These days Kings Canyon is a popular tourism destination on the spectacular
This article is part of the Pioneers’ Path Historical Display in Kings Canyon Cafe
Source: Researched and written by Bob Alford, MPHA, Heritage Consultant