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Mount Ebenezer History

Mount Ebenezer Roadhouse & Campground
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Mt Ebenezer Roadhouse
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Mount Ebenezer is part of the Basedow Ranges and can be seen north of the roadhouse. It was in 1871 that Ebenezer Flint, who was only 17 at the time, joined the first party of men bringing supplies overland from Port Augusta to the new telegraph stations. Flint then  served at Alice Springs and Barrow Creek telegraph stations until his death in 1887 from rheumatic fever.

The Overland Telegraph herald the increase in exploration and settlement across Central Australia. The establishment of the telegraph line from Adelaide to Darwin during the period 1870 and 1872 followed on from the triumphant south-north crossing of the continent in 1862 by John McDouall Stuart.

In 1863, the area to the north of South Australia (which at the time was part of New South Wales) became ‘The Northern Territory of South Australia’. This period saw South Australia begin developing this region with the Overland Telegraph being their most ambitious and successful undertaking.

In an age when we take communication for granted, where mobile, email and SMS provides almost instant communication, the ‘Overland Telegraph’ was a momentous achievement, comparable with the construction of the Suez Canal, which provided an quicker route between Britain and Australia. For the first time, the Overland Telegraph was to provide a quicker way of communicating with the rest of the world. Now, instead of letters taking months to reach Britain by ship, messages were flashed along the overland telegraph and cable system, reaching their destinations in just hours.

Charlotte Waters Telegraph Station

Charlotte Waters Telegraph Station
Source: Picture Australia - File 03\03731 PH0057/0002

The impact in remote Central Australia was even more dramatic. Telegraph stations were established about every 250 km along the route of the telegraph system. These stations were manned by new settlers who lived and worked at the telegraph stations, whilst European explorers used the station as a base from which to explore the inner region of the Australian continent.

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 explorers’ progress.

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.

Pastoral Settlement
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.

William (Bill) LiddleBill 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.

Aboriginal Movement
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 Angas Downs.

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

Pioneers’ Path Historical Display - historical display at Mount Ebenezer Roadhouse (Photo taken October, 2006).
Pioneers’ Path historical display - historical display at Mount Ebenezer Roadhouse
(Photo taken October, 2006).

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