A trip down the Canning is like nothing you could ever imagine. One solitary set of wheel tracks setting out across the Great Sandy Desert eventually connecting with Wiluna, 2000 km to the south making it the longest and most remote stock route in the world. It is a place of great natural beauty, with land systems ranging from spinifex plains to wetlands, dune systems, desert oak forests, spectacular ranges and escarpments and salt lakes. It is also the longest heritage trail in Australia, containing Aboriginal rock art galleries, lonely graves of stockmen and explorers, and the series of wells that punctuate the route. Some of these have been restored, and good water can be obtained. Others lie in ruins. This is a fully catered expedition. You can choose to travel in our vehicles or tagalong in your own. The Canning today is one of the worlds greatest 4X4 adventures that combines a rich cultural heritage, extraordinary natural history, and an exciting remote area tour. Unlike most commercial operators, we travel the ENTIRE length of the Canning Stock Route. This tour also includes the Tanami Track and The Gunbarrel Highway.
Diamantina have been operating on the Canning Stock Route since 1992. Travel with the acknowledged and recognised experts!
The European history of the stock route is one of extraordinary endurance and hardship. Imported African Zebu cattle introduced to the Kimberley in 1872 were infected with the tropical disease babesiosis, which is spread by the boophillis tick. The tick had hitchhiked across the Indian Ocean with the cattle and rapidly spread the disease throughout the Kimberley. Infected cattle would wade into waterholes and rivers to try to cool down. The blood in their urine turned the water red, and the disease became known as ‘redwater fever’. The government promptly banned the export of live cattle from the ports of Broome, Derby and Wyndham, sending the economy of the Kimberley into a tail spin. It was known that the tick did not survive in the sandhill country, so pastoralists started lobbying for a stock route south across the vast Great Sandy Desert to the markets of the Eastern Goldfields and Perth. This country had previously only been penetrated by a few explorers.
The traditional owners of the country along the Canning Stock Route are collectively known as Martu (pronounced Mardoo) thier cultural background is part of the Western Desert cultural bloc. The oldest rock art on the Cannning Stock Route is found in the Carnarvon Ranges, and occupation is estimated to have been for the last 25,000 years. Rock art in the Calvert Ranges dates back some 5,000 years, however the weathering on some of the stone engravings suggests that habitation could have been back to the Last Glacial Maximum, 18 - 30,000 years ago! The Martu people today live and travel over a large area of the Stock Route and surrounding countryside and still share a strong cultural bond with the physical features along the stock route. Today there are Martu people living in all the major towns surrounding the Stock Route, as well as in some of the isolated communities along or nearby the Stock Route, including Punmu, Parngurr and Kunawarritji.
In 1896, explorer and prospector David Carnegie, who was the youngest son of the Ninth Earl of Southesk led a self funded expedition across large sections of the Great Sandy and Gibson Deserts, intersecting the stock route at several places. Also in 1896 the ill fated Calvert Expedition led by South Australian surveyor Larry Wells travelled through the Great Sandy Desert. They suffered severe privations resulting in the deaths of two of the party. Cannings survey party and the well digging party travelled largely through unexplored country. Later there were numerous mineral and oil exploration companys on the move through the country, but its remote and difficult terrain mean that there are still areas around the stock route that have not been visited by Europeans.
Both Carnegie and Wells had described the area as unsuitable for a stock route but regardless of this, the government in 1906 appointed surveyor Alfred Wernam Canning (pictured) to lead a survey expedition. It took six months for the party to cross the 2000 km of trackless desert. Aboriginal ‘guides’ led Canning and his men to numerous wells and waterholes en route. From 1908 to 1910 he led a well-sinking party. Labouring under extraordinary hardship, they managed to sink and construct an average of one well every fifteen days. It was an incredible feat, given the harsh terrain and searing heat. Against all the odds, suffering from thirst and starvation, Canning managed to open a viable stock route through some of the most remote and inhospitable terrain in the outback. Fear of attack by ‘hostile natives’, the rugged terrain, the isolation and the sheer length of the stock route deterred most drovers from using it. By 1929 there had only been half a dozen cattle drives, astonishing given the construction had cost the Government a staggering £22 000. Nonetheless, the government commissioned William Snell to lead a reconstruction party in 1929. Snell’s expedition failed to fully complete the task, and in 1930 Canning came out of retirement and returned to the stock route to lead a reconstruction party northwards. He arrived back in Wiluna eighteen months later, having completed his sixth crossing of the Great Sandy Desert. He was seventy years of age! In 1942, Japanese air attacks and the sinking of the Koolama forced the closure of Wyndham, and another lengthy and expensive reconstruction of the Canning Stock Route was undertaken.
Drover Tom Cole led the first known cattle drive in 1911, and in 1959, drover Mal Brown led the last. There were only thirty-five known drives, which seems incredible given the huge amount of resources taken to construct and maintain it. Through the war years Ben Taylor led numerous drives, and in the 1950's several drives were led by the colourful Wally Dowling, who wrote poetry under the nom de plume "The Mad Desert Rat".
In the early 1960s, the area around the Percival Lakes was the dump zone for rockets from the Woomera Range. Surveyor Len Beadell cut a series of roads through the desert which allowed access to this region, resulting in several "first contacts" between Aboriginal people and Europeans. The last known "first contact" was in 1974 just west of Lake Dissapointment. Since the 1980s visitation has increased, with modern day adventurers like Peter Vernon cutting tracks to interconnect Cannings Wells, meaning that the stock route can now be travelled its full length in a 4X4.