1968 Dave Chudleigh, Russell Wenholz & Noel Kealley - The first complete 4x4 CSR traverse

This is an edited article written by surveyor David Chudleigh of his 1968 Canning Stock Route crossing with two Land Rovers, becoming the first vehicles to successfully make a full traverse from Wiluna to Halls Creek.

Additional information has been inserted in italics, courtesy of Phil Bianchi from his book, Work Completed, Canning.

Chudleigh and Kealley at Halls Creek after completing the first ever vehicle traverse in 1968. Courtesy R Wenholz and Phil Bianchi


To travel the full length of the Canning Stock Route, from Wiluna to Halls Creek, locating and visiting every well, becoming the first to do a full traverse by vehicle. The journey took 5 weeks and they travelled more than 2600km.

‘We knew that parts of the Canning had been driven over previously but as far as we could ascertain, no one had driven a vehicle from Wiluna to Halls Creek along that route, in one concerted effort.

This challenge seemed small in contrast to the one that lured Canning to the desert but nevertheless it existed and we were there to accept it.’



David Chudleigh: As the journey was a private venture the main problem was that of fuel. Experience had shown that four-wheel drive vehicles, operating under adverse sand-ridge conditions, returned about 6 mpg (miles per gallon). Map distance along the route scaled approximately 1,000 miles; therefore planning had to allow for a speedometer distance well in excess of this figure, so about 200 gallons per vehicle would be needed, in order to allow a fair safety margin.

A quick trip from Canberra to Halls Creek via Alice Springs and Tanami enabled one drum to be taken 200 miles down the stock route to Well No. 48. With the co-operation of the native welfare officers from Woomera, some more fuel was deposited at Well No. 35 approximately half way along the route. Another drum was taken out to Well No. 24 via Balfour Downs and then the journey itself commenced from Wiluna in July, 1968.

The party consisted of myself, fellow surveyor R. Wenholz from Queanbeyan, N.S.W, and N. Kealley from Perth, W.A, a man sufficient­ly interested in the desert to take his long service leave for the trip. Vehicles used were short wheel base (petrol) Landrovers with 7.50 x 16 highway tread tyres and extra fuel and water tanks, a two-way radio was hired from Perth and the Royal Flying Doctor base at Port Hedland used to cover any emergencies.

Food was selected with consideration for weight, staple diet being salted meat and damper, thereby reducing weighty tinned stuffs.

A Wild T2 theodolite was included for astro fixes, more from the hobby point of view than anything else.

The Journey

On the night of Wednesday, 10th July, 1968, we camped some 10 miles north of Wiluna.

CSR Wells 1, 3, 3A and 4A

Well Nos. 2 and 3 were found by following Cunyu Station tracks but owing to the extremely wet season great difficulty was encountered in crossing Lake Nabberu.

The Canning Stock Route in those days followed a different route from Well 3A to Windich Springs, crossing Lake Nabberu to the west of the mountain range, then turning parallel along the north of it. Due to this old route causing so many travellers to get bogged, much to the annoyance of the station owners called to extract many a hapless tourist over the years, the track was re-routed away from Lake Naberru, to follow a track along the south of the mountain range and over Snell’s Pass.

The 1968 crew were bogged twice on the Lake Nabberu crossing, on one occasion so badly that by evening they were forced to set up camp right where they were and extract themselves the following day. The method they adopted after that was slow but sure. One person would walk ahead testing the ground with the heel and, if doubtful, by digging with a shovel to see if it was solid or a mud trap. One vehicle would then wait while the other crossed. Work Completed, Canning by Phil Bianchi

On this section we had only the 1:250.000 map to navigate with and our being spoilt by a couple of years of experience with aerial photos made this task rather difficult. Across Nabberu and up to Windich Spring it was necessary to "scrub bash" in order to find Well No. 4A.

A few more miles of mulga country and the first historic spot for the trip was reached. The waters of Windich Spring were full and clear and covered with mountain ducks. This spring was discovered by John Forrest in 1874 when he explored from the west coast to the overland telegraph line. Tommy Windich was one of his faithful native boys and was honoured by the naming of the spring.

From Windich north a bush track runs all the way to No. 9 Well so it was an easy matter to locate No. 5. This is the deepest on the route, measured by Canning as 106 ft in depth.

CSR Wells Windich Springs, 4B and 5

CSR Wells 6, 7, 8 and 9

No. 9 Well is on the Weld Spring, this also being discovered by Forrest. Canning used waters found by Forrest as far as this point but their tracks diverged from here. Forrest had trouble with hostile natives at this spring so he constructed a small stone fort to protect his men and animals from attack. The rear of the fort was open and faced some 200 yards of open country whilst the front stonework faced the spring and the thick bushcovered creek that would provide cover for stalking natives. Beside the fort a small corkwood tree is growing and was probably the one blazed by Forrest with  46.  The blazed section had been removed and apparently can be seen in the Perth Public Library. The country around this spring was described by Canning as good pastoral land and it now forms Glen Ayle Station owned by Mr Henry Ward. As this was the last station on the route until Billiluna, a welcome stopover was made with the friendly and hospitable Wards. They kindly provided all the salted meat necessary for the trip, as well as a few fresh greens and meat that were luxuries for the first few days. Fuel was also topped up.

From No. 9 north, every Well was located, round Well 15 they were bogged again, No. 16 being 1 mile different from the indicated position on the 1:250,000 map. After that it was an easier drive to Durba Hills.

CSR Wells 10, 11,12,13, 14 and 15

CSR Well 17


No. 17 water or Killagurra Rock Hole in the Durba Hills provided the starting point for a number of interesting finds. The cairn Canning had constructed in 1906 on the western edge of the hills was still standing and the terraced creek bed of Biella Spring was a series of cascading waterfalls and it was hard to believe such a sight could be seen in the desert.

The Durba Spring (an alternative stock water for No. 17) and some 2 miles east provided an idyllic camping spot as we rolled out our swags on a mat of couch grass. This grass was in existence here when Trotman (Canning's second in command) first discovered the water in 1906. The spring is situated at the mouth of a rocky gorge, the walls of which now contain a role of honour as each drover has scratched his name and the year he was on the Canning. One kangaroo was seen. There was plenty of birdlife here as there was at most of the waterholes.


CSR Wells 18,19 and 20

At Well 19, they found a number of relics, including a sulky wheel and a box they thought was carried by camels.

Savory Creek was to prove a significant obstacle; they found Wenholz’s crossing point of the previous year was now too risky. They were forced to travel west along the bank of the Savory until it turned due north and here they crossed successfully.

From the Durba Hills to Well No. 24, detours were made to locate Diebil Spring, Onegunyah Rock Hole and Gunanya Spring, all of which were shown on Canning's plan.

CSR Wells 21,22 and 23

In trying to locate Well No. 26 confidence in our navigation became a little shaky. The map showed a sand ridge gap close to the well but, after carefully counting ridges and watching mileage, we could not find such a gap on the ground. After a fruitless afternoon trying to match up ridge features with map lines we camped and decided an astro fix may help to work out where we were.

CSR Wells 24, 25 and 26

CSR Wells 27, 28 and 29

Examining the map, it then became obvious that an anomaly existed and the gap in the ridges we were searching for did not exist. Confidence was then restored when we located No. 26 Well only a half mile different from the indicated map position.

This experience proved helpful as about 20 miles east of Well No. 27 we searched for and found Separation Well. Canning's description eventually led us to the well, just a slight damp depression at one end of a small claypan between ridges. This was half a mile north east of the map position and took the three of us a solid morning's walking to locate it. Digging down six feet in the sand and clay the old hole cut in the limestone by the Calvert Expedition was found and by morning it had "made" some 5 feet of water.

It was at this historic place that the Calvert Expedition split up in order to search more country. A rendezvous was arranged at Joanna Spring some 200 miles to the north but the two men (Charles Wells and George Jones) could not locate the spring and perished.

CSR Wells 31, 32, 33 and 34

At Well 33 they were resupplied with provisions by Frank Welsch and his stepdaughter Sue, of Yarrie Station WA, who travelled out from Marble Bar along the W.A.P.E.T. road. This in itself was quite a journey as with only one vehicle and no radio he had to drive through flooded Lake Auld where the previous months heavy rain had caused it to flood over the road.

At Well 35 they refuelled from drums delivered by Bob Verburgt, the Native Patrol Officer from Woomera. In doing the delivery he became became bogged for 7 weeks in unusually wet June/July conditions.

CSR Wells 35, 36 and 37


No. 37 Well, shown on Canning's plan as Libral Well but known to the drovers as the "haunted well", was another interesting spot. The remains of Shoesmith and Thomson, the first drovers of the Canning, rested here until they were exhumed and taken to Wiluna. WHAT DATE?



 No. 40 Well (Waddawalla) just on the northern edge of Lake Tobin is the resting place of Michael Tobin.

The 1908-09 well constructing party had taken a marble cross from Perth to place over the grave and it stands there to this day with the sides encased in galvanized iron to prevent natives from chipping the marble for spearheads and knives.

CSR Wells 41, 42 and 44

At Well 42 the only dingo on the entire trip was seen.

From Well No. 42 (Guli Tank) we detoured 50 miles east and found David Carnegie's Helena Spring. Carnegie, an energetic Englishman, completed a remarkable journey from Wiluna to Halls Creek in 1896, along a route well to the east of where the Canning Stock Route was eventually built. In his book, Spinifex and Sand,Carnegie described the Spring:

‘Between two sand ridges in a small outcrop of limestone was a little basin 2 ft 6 in in diameter and 3 ft deep holding approximately 70 gallons.’

Seventy-two years had filled the spring and covered the surrounding limestone with 6 inches of sand so that the spring was just a slight depression about the size of a kitchen sink with 3 inches of water in it when first found. Digging out the sand (to eight feet) revealed the basin in the rock and also unearthed an old tin pannikin from the very bottom of the spring.

The water level soon reached the surface, with water coming out of the limestone wall. A set of emu tracks were sighted near the Spring.

CSR Wells 45, 46, 47 and 48

At Well 46 they saw signs of recent Aboriginal visitation, first noted by fresh foot prints, fire ashes and windbreaks. A search revealed in a mulga tree, some Aboriginal artefacts, including two spears, a boomerang and various small items including ochre, scissors, a small bottle and other items wrapped in an old shirt. These were photographed and replaced, the owners possibly being natives on walkabout from Balgo Mission as this is only 200 miles northeast.

Reaching the South Esk Tablelands, they refuelled from the drum placed at Well 48 two months previously and enjoyed a walk to Godfreys Tank, Breadon Pool and Kunningarra (Diribirri) rockholes.

Again on the walls around Godfreys Tank a roll of honour had been formed by the names on the rock. The original C96 left by Carnegie was above all, then the next visitor H.S.T. 1906, followed by a series of drovers. The only evidence of any marking left by Canning himself was found here in the form of C23.

(This is not the original C23. It was re-carved by Trotman after the original cleaved from the cliff and fell into the pool)

CSR Wells 49, 50 and 51

They then headed towards Billiluna and Halls Creek.


Thirty-four days after leaving Wiluna we arrived at Halls Creek (12 August 1968), having travelled 1600 miles, the extra mileage being caused by detours to search for rock holes and historic spots or "running out" a bad ridge in order to find a crossing point.

(After completing the CSR, they travelled the Gibb River Track. It was a track back then and not the road it is today. They returned to Canberra in August 1968, via Arnhem Land.)

Land Rover Performance

Mechanically both vehicles performed well. They returned about 6 mpg in the heaviest conditions and broken springs were the only repairs necessary throughout the whole journey. Despite double covers on the radiators, both became clogged with spinifex husks and dust and over‑heated badly. Only after painstakingly pricking the core clean and then daily blowing backwards through the radiator with a reducing nozzle on a spark plug pump, were they kept clear enough to function efficiently.

Navigation and Track Notes

Canning Stock Route showing tracks of early explorers

Travel across spinifex and sand ridge country is slow and unbelievably rough. Each sand ridge has its own exclusive feature and many times it was necessary to shovel the spinifex humps clear so a smooth momentum-gathering approach could be made. With the front wheels nearly on top of a ridge and the motor dying, a few pounds by the others pushing often brought success and avoided that long roll backwards and another straining attempt. Travelling in this type of country it was difficult to average more than 40 miles for the days driving but once that was accepted as the daily limit, it was almost a pleasure to grind along at 4 mph and observe the intricate patterns of tracks in the sand left by the nocturnal desert animals and the swaying spinifex stalks.

Other than wells, little evidence of the stock route remains to-day. Just near Well No. 20 a stock pad was found but it faded out after a few miles. Each well was found by careful use of aerial photographs. The likely position was transferred from the 1:250,000 map and then ridge features watched carefully until the last ridge was crested. After reading Canning's description of the well, a search with binoculars from atop the vehicle from the last ridge often revealed a whip pole above the stunted cajaput or a section of troughing railing between clumps of spinifex. If this failed, a thorough search of the area on foot usually located the well. Some were only holes in the ground and it was quite easy to walk within 100 feet of a well and not detect it because of the tall swaying spinifex.

Navigation in the habitated areas was difficult because tracks went in all directions. Once they reached uninhabited areas they were able to rely on their maps and aerial photographs, only on a few occasions did they require astro fixes to determine their exact position. The location of the wells on the maps was accurate on most occasions. Surprisingly very little evidence remained of the original cattle pad, the last drove as recent as 1959, 9 years previous.

Russell Wenholz, remarked:…“From Well 35 we had the security of a track made by the Division of National Mapping surveyors in the early 1960s. Stock route wells are all within ten miles - either east or west - of this track”. 

Back in 1962, travelling between Wells 35 and 45, Johnson could not observe any sign left by the last (1959) herd down the CSR. By 1964 he notes that his previous (1962) wheeltracks had been “obliterated” and only his reconnaissance marks remained. The track made by the five 1½ ton Internationals between Well 35 and 45 in 1964, whilst the survey was being undertaken, was such that some 4 years later Wenholz, Chudleigh and Kealley could follow it.

Animal Life

One kangaroo was seen at Durba Hills, a dingo at Guli Tank and a set of emu tracks near Helena Spring. Along with the flocks of finches and budgerigars at each well or rock hole, these were the only signs of animal life observed.

Why did we do it?

Many people ask, "Why go out there for your holidays?" I think the answer to this lies in the words of Rus Wenholz, my travelling companion.

'Towns people can never appreciate the pleasure of camping where there are no tracks but those you have just made yourself, or spotting a whip pole in the spinifex and cajaput or having a bird bath in an icy cold rock hole, or rolling down a ridge it has taken an hour to ascend.'


David C. Chudleigh received the Bachelor of Surveying degree from the Uni­versity of New South Wales in 1964 and was registered as a land surveyor in N.S.W. and the A.C.T. in 1965. He has been engaged with the Survey Section of the Department of the Interior since graduation, on land development surveys in the A.C.T., gravity control traverses in Qld, N.T., and W.A. and hydrographic survey ship position control in the Timor Sea. He is an associate member of the Institution of Surveyors. Australia.

Published in THE AUSTRALIAN SURVEYOR, December, 1969 and reproduced with permission. © Copyright applies.

Ref: D. C. CHUDLEIGH - Retracing the Canning Stock Route and Other Early Explorers' Routes in Central Western Australia (XNATMAP) Story reproduced from XNATMAP with permission of Paul Wise.

Ref: Photographs by DC Chudleigh and Rus Wenholz are a combination of those taken in 1967 and 1968, courtesy of Paul Wise (XNATMAP)

Ref: Main photograph of DC Chudleigh and N Kealley at Halls Creek after completing the first ever vehicle traverse in 1968, courtesy R Wenholz and Phil Bianchi

Ref: Additional information has been inserted in italics, courtesy of Phil Bianchi





Last Updated on Thursday, 08 March 2018 10:40

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