The Last Explorers
One of the great Australian geographical challenge during the 1870s was the
region lying west of the telegraph line, stretching across to the Western
Australian coast. It was hoped that this region contained extensive grasslands,
and perhaps even an inland sea surrounded by temperate and fertile land. Such
were the stakes, that fame, honour and financial reward awaited the explorers
who could explore and describe these lands.
Between 1872 and 1889, explorers such as Ernest Giles, William Gosse, Charles
Chewings and William Tietkins were to push west from the Charlotte Waters and
Alice Springs telegraph stations. Giles succeeded in crossing to the west coast,
but all failed to find the lush lands that they hoped for.
There was evidence of an inland sea, but it had dried up many million
of years ago, leaving behind a system of salt lakes, which often blocked the
The explorers followed the watercourses and the main mountain ranges, to the
north of Mount Ebenezer, but it was left to later travellers to study and
understand the geographic story of the area.
The Pastoralist Richard Warburton, who settled at Erldunda Station to the east
of here in 1882, is thought to have been one of the first white men to travel
this way, probably following the tracks of straying cattle. However, it was
William (Bill) Liddle and his family who are considered to be the real pioneers
of development of this area.
Bill Liddle was born in 1882, his family were from Scotland’s Orkney Islands,
and came to South Australia in 1851. Bill worked on streamships for a time, then
on medical advice moved to a drier climate. He joined the Telegraph department,
working at Oodnadatta before going to the Alice Springs telegraph station in
1907. After a few years he took on bush building work, and then in 1919, he was
paid for a contract with 500 head of cattle. He took these out to King’s Creek
(Kings Canyon) and squatted there for a few years.
He camped in a cave much of the time, then built yards and a hut. He was to
father children Hilda, Milton, Harold, and Arthur with his Arrernte Aboriginal
wife Mary. His children were to make their own distinctive and positive
contributions to Central Australia, with the Liddle name becoming prominent
throughout the region.
In 1922 Liddle went exploring for better pastoral country south and west from
King’s Creek, resulting in his settling down with his family on the country he
called Angas Downs. He stocked his new station with sheep, as this was more
profitable than cattle.
During the late 1920s, Bill Liddle’s sons Milton and Harold carried the Angas
Downs wool clips by camel train, easterly tot he new railhead at Rumbalara. This
route took them over the country around Mount Ebenezer. So far, there had been
no pastoral settlement in the locality because of an absence of surface water.
However, the Liddles noticed the good pastures of the Mt Ebenezer area, and
they began to use it as an extension of Angas Downs, moving stock from Angas
Downs to Mt Ebenezer as the seasons permitted.
At about this time there was a great deal of Aboriginal movement in the country
between the new railway line (from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs) and the western
desert, beyond Ayers Rock. A terrible drought forced the western desert people
(the Pitjantjatjara and associated groups) to move east toward the isolated
station homesteads and the railway camps, in search of food.
White men were also coming into the country, often trading with the
Aborigines for dingo scalps on which the government then paid a bounty. As a
result of this movement and mingling of people, several languages are today
spoken in this area, including Pitjantjatjara, Luritja, and Matuntara.
New Road Routes
New pastoral stations were being established in the area from the 1930s,
including Paddy de Conlay's Mt Connor station. A track was cut from this station
to Erldunda in 1943, and this was later used by the first parties of scientists
and tourists who ventured to Ayers Rock in the late 1940s. Their route was often
from Finke railway siding to Erldunda, then to Ayers Rock via Mt Ebenezer and
In 1953 a more direct road route was opened from Alice Springs to Angas
Downs. This bypassed Mt Ebenezer for a time, but later the modern route via
Erldunda and Mt Ebenezer was re-established as the main access to Ayers Rock.
The roadhouse developed to serve the traffic on this route. From the early 1980s
the bitumen sealed Lasseter Highway was constructed on this route.
Mt Ebenezer Station Formed
In 1949, Harold Liddle left Angas Downs to form a station at Mt Ebenezer on his
own account. He was one of the first people of Aboriginal descent to take up a
pastoral lease. Harold Liddle sold the new station to Ted Kunoth in 1952, and in
more recent years the station (its homestead is opposite the roadhouse) has been
purchased by the Fogarty family.
In 1978 Ted Kunoth agreed to allow the Aboriginal people of the area to
establish a community living place at Imanpa, beneath Mt Ebenezer in the Basedow
Ranges. The people of the community have encouraged their artists and crafts
people to sell their work at the roadhouse.
The full story was on display at Mt Ebenezer Roadhouse - Pioneers’ Path.
Source: Mt Ebenezer - Aborigines, explorers, cattle, sheep and tourist. The
story of Mt Ebenezer
in recent times. Researched and written by Peter and Sheila Forrest.
Project commissioned by the Northern Territory Tourist Commission
and Department of Transport and Works (NT), March 2000
- historical display at Mount Ebenezer Roadhouse
(Photo taken October, 2006).