1972 Murray Rankin with John & Peter Waterfall

Murray Rankin, Peter and John WaterfallIn 1972, two English brothers, John (27) and Peter Waterfall (26), together with New Zealander Murray Rankin (28), built three carts using bicycle tyres and metal tubing, and began their walk from Wiluna on 03 July 1972, northbound. They sponsored the walk themselves, putting in $200 each for food and equipment.

Three days out, John's feet were so badly blistered that he could not put his boots on.

Six days out, at about 145km (90 miles) from Wiluna, one cart broke a welded joint. The cart eventually had to be abandoned before Well 7, approximately 230km from Wiluna. Unable to carry enough supplies on the remaining two carts for three people, John was the one to leave the group. A Sunday Independent  reporter  covering their story drove him back to Wiluna where they arrived 15 July.

Peter and Murray continued north pulling the two remaining carts, but when they hit sand dune country, they found the carts unsuitable. Sand fell into the wheel bearings causing failure and the narrow wheels dug in. First one cart was abandoned between Wells 13 and 14 on 23 July, and then the other between Wells 15 and 16.

The walkers continued on with backpacks carrying as much food, water and equipment as they could.  Upon reaching Well 20, Peter would go no further. He returned to Durba Hills and set up camp awaiting Murray's return, applying graffiti to the rock walls alongside Aboriginal and Drovers drawings.

Murray continued on alone for another week to Well 24, the 650km mark. He had been told that the worst of the dunes were between Well 17 and Well 25 and wanted to see them for himself. Upon reaching Well 24 he turned back, rejoining Peter at Durba Hills.

Peter and Murray then walked back together, arriving in Wiluna on 01 September 1972, after two months (59 days) on the Canning Stock Route. In 1972 a failed attempt did not mean you climbed into 4x4. It meant you now had to turn back and walk the way you came. Murray walked approximately a 1300km round trip.

The 1972 CSR walk attempt was progressive for its time, attracting a huge amount of negative press from people who feared the desert, the unknown, expressing doubt about the walkers' abilities to succeed and the potential loss of their lives. Constable Brian Williamson and Shire Clerk Peter Stugnell, both of Wiluna, twice attempted to convince the walkers to quit, emphasizing the dangers.

Outback walkers refuse to quit

In a newspaper article, Murray stated: 'I think the police and local people are over emphasizing the dangers. We have no ideas of pressing on if things get too tough. We have no intention of going beyond the point of no return. Despite what we are told, I am sure there is water in most of the wells, even if it is foul.' 

This attempt suggests that Murray did not know at the time what he was up against,  but he was to learn through experience. No-one had walked the Canning Stock Route before and few vehicles has had ventured forth; it was pioneering territory. One thing that is clear is that Murray certainly knew how to push the limits, whilst still being able to judge the safety of the situation accurately.  In exploring further north he researched the condition of the wells and the terrain. By walking to Well 24, Murray confirmed to himself that the CSR could be walked. A second attempt on the Canning Stock Route was already being planned!

The West Australian Weekend News, Saturday, 8 July 1972
Words by Jack Coulter
Pictures by Phil Martin

Outback Walkers Refuse to Quit

The West Australian outback will soon prove three young men fools or heroes of the caliber of our early pioneers. They are an enigma and their motives seem mixed as I found when i talked with them 9 miles up the track from Wiluna at first light yesterday.

'We are determined to walk along the Canning Stock Route from Wiluna to Hall's Creek,' they said.

But are their intentions so clear? They have told three different stories about their walk. To the police, who have twice gone out to warn them of the hazards, they would only say: 'We want to beat Canning's time.'

To the owner of the last station they will pass through before striking out into the Gibson Desert, they said: 'We are in it for a sort of wager. We will be calling in at Glen-Ayle Station.'

This is 60 miles off the stock route and at the end of a man made road which would bring them back to Wiluna.

To me, the leader of the expedition said: 'If we get through it might be worth a few bob to us in the way of selling our story.'

Those who know the now long disused stock route are highly critical of their equipment and their stubbornness in refusing to heed well meaning, possibly life-saving advice.

The three men are New Zealander Murray Rankin (28), who is obviously the leader of the group and the brothers Peter (26), and John Waterfall (27) both from England. Rankin has been here for four years and has North-West experience in mining camps. The brothers have been here less than two years and both are carpenters. They have had no outback bush experience until now.

Their motives?

The second cart was last seen and photographed in 1976 courtesy Ralph BarracloughSaid Rankin, solidly built, slow speaking: 'We met through bushwalking clubs. I thought it would be a good idea to try the stock route as a challenge.'

Peter chipped in with: 'It just seemed to be a good idea at the time.'

Murray Rankin said that they were not sponsored and that they had each put in $200 each for food and equipment. The three buggies they are pulling loaded with their food, water and gear they made themselves from 1in. conduit.

'We really are just playing it by ear,' said Rankin. 'I don't think we are taking any risks and I think the police and the local people are over-emphasizing the dangers. We have no ideas of pressing on regardless if things get too tough. We have no intention of going beyond the point of no return. If we find it too bad out there, we'll abandon our carts and come back with just our backpacks.'

When we caught up with the trio after a 9 mile drive from Wiluna, they expressed surprise at anyone wanting to give them publicity. They readily posed for still and action shots of them on the track. When they were told that London and eastern states papers had joined in a coverage of their story they seemed surprised. Asked why they had given their story to a local paper before setting out if they wanted no publicity, Rankin said: 'Oh, we just wanted to let people know we were going.'

The Waterfall brothers refused to give their parents' address, beyond saying that they lived in Somerset. Their equipment is derided by local bushmen who visualise them trying to drag it across some 300 high red sandhills in their path along the stock route. The buggies are fitted with racing bicycle wheels and tyres so narrow that they sink in even coarse wet river sand. A wheel on one of the buckled in a mud bog in the first ten miles. It has been roughly straightened but wobbles alarmingly.

"If it falls apart in the desert, we will re-spoke a bike rim we picked up on the Wiluna dump,' said Rankin. The full load of each buggy is 180lbs. and the men lean heavily into the towing bar as they walk. Rucksacks are on their backs. What training have they done for the hard trek?

The West Australian Weekend News page4

They're 90 miles out ... and there's 1000 to go. Walkers press on to the desert.

'Well, we have done a lot of bushwalking and already we have walked 9 miles from Wiluna and this is training.' they said.

But so far, all their walking has been on graded gravel road which we were driving on a 60 mph to see them. They had not in fact yet been on the Canning Stock Route at all and will not be cutting on it for another 100 miles yet.

They have two choices of footwear. Each man has a pair of tread-soled geologists boot and a pair of sandshoes. Their individual choice varies. The brothers were wearing sandshoes and the lead was in boots. Two of them wore shorts and one a pair of jeans.

What about sickness striking them?

'Oh, we are all very fit and we won't get sick. In any case, the old explorers got scurvy and things kept going.'

How would they cope with an injury?

'I don't see how we could be,' said Rankin.

What about a twisted ankle or a broken leg in a fall?

'Well, then we could join two of the buggies together to make a stretcher. We are travelling light and have not much of a first aid kit. Just a few bandages and a bit of disinfectant and stuff. We have vitamin C tablets to keep us healthy. No, we have not made any definite arrangements with anyone about what we will do if we are in real trouble. We have no signals or flares, but everyone knows that three fires lit means trouble.'

Murray Rankin was pressed for a definite destination.Fools? The outback will tell - Same story as the Weekend News

He said: 'Well, we intend to go to Billiluna Station and then Hall's Creek and have to be there in three months. We have worked out that our food will only last that long. We have 160 lbs. of it. The food is all full of protein which is wholemeal flour safflower oil, milk powder and wheat germ. We have a few ounces of dried meat, but don't really need it.

'Once we hit the desert we hope to average 10 miles a day. We will have to keep to schedule, but we haven't advised anyone when or where to meet us. If we strike trouble, we'll just keep enough food and water to carry in our packs and walk out, averaging 20 miles a day.

'Despite what we are told, I am sure there is water in most of the wells, even if it might be foul. I came up here the week after Easter and walked from Well 9 to Well 12 on the route. The water in this last well had an animal's body in it and was filthy, but I boiled it, let it settle overnight and drank it without any harm.'

To plot their course, the team are carrying army maps of 1in. to 4 miles and a Department of Interior map. The leader has a prismatic compass and the others, ordinary pocket compasses. 

One of the buggies is fitted with a mileometre on the wheel.

Said Rankin: 'I have read a lot of books on the Canning Stock Route and am sure I know all about it.'

The other side of the picture is given by two Wiluna men of considerable experience of the district. Mr Bill Green is the owner of Cunyu Station, the last home stead passed by the walkers before heading off for the desert.

'They have only gone 90 miles and they don't even know where they are on their map,' he said. 'Yesterday, they were seven miles behind where they thought they were and today they are 10 miles in front of it. That's not bad. I had a long talk with them and I think they are doing it for a wager. One of the brothers has already got blisters on his feet and the other one has been taking some medicine each day. I think they will swing off the track when they strike the really tough going. They said they were calling into Glen-Ayle Station and that's 60 miles off the stock route.'

Police Constable Brian Williamson has twice driven out to warn the trio of the hazards of their trip. They would not listen to him, but commented: 'You wouldn't know. You don't look as if you have ever walked far.'

Constable Williamson cannot comment, but Wiluna Shire Clerk, Mr Peter Stugnell can, and did make a forcible comment. He said: 'They won't even believe that Lake Disappointment is only a third of their way and not half of it; no matter how much we tell them.

 1972-Trekkers strike trouble on the first leg-Murray Rankin

Ignored appeal 1972 Canning Stock Route walkers

Ignored appeal

The Canberra Times, 5 July 1972

Perth, Wednesday ~ Three young men who are trying to walk the 1100 mile Canning Stock Route through the Gibson Desert, ignored a police appeal today to turn back.

The three men were last seen pulling their  three carts into country that has been abandoned by Aboriginal tribes, kangaroos and camels because of the lack of water.

The men are Mr Murray Rankin, 28, of Perth, Mr John Waterfall, 27, of Cottesloe and his brother Mr Peter Waterfall, 26.

Trekkers strike trouble on the first leg

The Canberra Times, 21 July 1972

PERTH, Monday ~ Three young men who are trying to walk the 1100 mile Canning Stock Route have struck trouble only six days out of Wiluna and while still on the main road.

Mr Peter Waterfall, 26, the youngest in the party has stomach pains. His brother John, 27, has blistered feet. After three days walking he could not get his boots on.

The third man, Mr Murray Rankin 28 is well so far, but one of the buggies has broken a welded joint.

The Wiluna Shire Clerk, Mr Peter Strugnell, said today that the men had difficulties before reaching the stock route and only about 90 miles from Wiluna. Because of the difficulties they declared Saturday a rest day and camped on the roadside for 24 hours.

The men ignored warnings by police and people who know the route that their planned trek was impossible. Mr Ranking said yesterday: 'I think the police and local people are over emphasizing the dangers. We have no ideas of pressing on if things get too tough. We have no intention of going beyond the point of no return. Despite what we are told, I am sure there is water in most of the wells, even if it is foul.'

Bushmen have derided their equipment saying they could not drag it across the 300 high sandhills in their path along the stock route.

The remains of the third cart were photographed by the 1974 Yamaha Dirt Bike Challengers with its wooden boxes still intact

1972 Trekker Gives Up On Walk - Sunday Independent


Sunday Independent, 16 July 1972

ENGLISH-BORN ‘suicide trekker’ John Waterfall has quit – beaten by the tough Canning Stock Route.

A disappointed Mr Waterfall made the 150 mile trip back to Wiluna last night from near the No 7 Well, after his hand-drawn cart was shaken completely to pieces by the rugged terrain of the desert.

The beginning of the end came for him when a party including Wiluna Shire Cleark Peter Trugnell left of Friday to head up the track in search of the trio attempting to conquer the killer Stock Route on foot.

The Three men who originally set off were Mr Waterfall, his brother Peter and New Zealander Murray Rankin.

Last week they ignored repeated pleas by veteran bushmen to abandon the attempt described by them as suicide.

And last night the locals were proved at least partially right – the country too rough.

At least one was beaten by the sever cold at night, frost in the early hours, and an early chill wind.

The bid to dissuade the trio was strengthened yesterday when Wiluna’s Constable Brian Williamson also headed up the track – ‘on routine business’- and met the returning party.

Constable Williamson’s wife said: ‘Brian wasn’t going out specifically to look for them but I know he was hoping he’d meet them on the way back to Wiluna.

After the party arrived back at the semi-desert town around 8pm last night, he spent some time organising transport to Meekatharra for the disappointed Mr Waterfall.

/1972_Death Walked the Stock Path combined - Sunday Independent

Sunday Independent, 16 July 1972

The sharp division of opinion over the three Canning Stock Route adventurers measures itself against whether the spirit of adventure is still alive in the young of whether is it only the right of the bold.

Three young migrants, Murray Rankin (28), John Waterfall (27) and his brother Peter are trying to walk about 1,000 miles from Wiluna to Hall’s Creek pulling buggies.

Surveyor A. W. Canning walked it, there and back three times. But there was a difference.

Canning and his party left Wiluna with certain knowledge that they were on their own. There could be no question of a rescue. There were no aircraft, no four wheel drives, no outback radio linkage.

Today’s walkers know that the first inkling of trouble will have them plucked out of the desert and set before a pile of good grub and a nice cold beer.

Their mistake seems to be that they think the route is a route – that the wells marked on the map are wells indeed.

The route runs roughly north-south. I have crossed it twice. The only reason you know you are crossing the stock route is because the map says you are there. I was the navigator and I knew we were crossing the route (we were going west-east on both occasions).

Prospector and explorer Ron Gray of North Perth who led a prospecting expedition into this country nearly two years ago had this to say of the three young men’s walk: ‘It is an unfair burden to hang on genuine explorers the possibility of having to rescue adventurers on an ill-equipped stunt.’

All the wells on the route have numbers. They also have names. Mr Gray at his own expense has taken six expeditions into the area and guided them. He has set up his prospecting exploration camp on the Rudall River.

The Gunbarrel Highway (so-called) passes within 40 miles of his camp. At the turnoff he has erected a sign warning any travellers: ‘It is 40 miles to Rudall River camp. No water on roads. It is 100 miles from the turn-off to Well 23 and not water on the way. The water is bad at Well 23. It is 100 miles west of Tallawanna and good water.’

It was early in 1906 that the State Government decided to send a party to explore a stock route between Wiluna and Hall’s Creek. The idea was to drive beef down it to the Goldfields. Forrest had condemned the route in 1874. Other parties had failed to penetrate it. Canning’s first trip, a proving journey, left Wiluna on May 29, 1906, and arrived at Hall’s Creek on October 27. They returned to Wiluna in July, 1907. The foreman driller, Michael Tobin was fatally speared by a native on the trip at Well 40 known as Waddawalla.

Canning and a construction party left Daydawn to build the world’s longest constructed stock route on March 17, 1908. The party comprised 70 camels, two wagons 23 men and a native called Nipper. They built 53 watering points of which 23 were at native wells.

A member of the party, Mr Fred W. Bateson, who had been with Forrest and also Canning’s No 2 Mr H. S. Trotman on exploration adventures, later told about the journey. He recalled that Forrest told him that no water was permanent, that he had relied on maps marking permanent water and on one occasion with only a gallon had retraced his steps 120 miles. Mt Bateson was with Trotman when he searched for explorers Wells and Jones, members of an ill-fated pioneering party. They never found Wells and Jones. They did find the buried bodies of two other white men who were never identified. Their remains were exhumed and taken to Perth. Trotman presumed they were the bones in a bag that were found forgotten in a basement of the old Treasury Building in Perth.

Larry Wells, another explorer made five abortive trips seeking his cousin Charles Wells and Jones, before he found them. Bateson recalls: ‘Shortly after leaving Killagurra (Well 17) you come to what are probably the worst sandhills on the route. The camels often sank to their knees in the soft sand. They had to zigzag’


Dave Morton photographed the cart in 1980, which by then, was only a metal frame with the wood laying on the ground

His journal records: ‘I could see my cousin’s iron grey beard and at last we were at the scene of their terrible death in its horrible surroundings. Where Charles Wells lay, half clothes and dried like a mummy we found nothing but a piece of rope hanging from a tree and some old traps hanging from some burnt bushes.

‘Where Jones lay and near his head was a notebook with a piece of paper fastened with an elastic band. It was addressed to his father and mother.’

This was a brave letter written by a 23-year-old to his parents when he knew he was going to die, almost apologetic and arranging to meet them in the hereafter.

Jones’ crisp, dry, shrivelled body was taken to Adelaide for burial. Crowds 10 deep lined the road for 2 ½ miles. Wells and Jones had missed finding the expected water they sought.

Trotman recalls of the construction journey after leaving Libral Well (37): ‘Now followed days of incredible hardship as we made our way over the larges sandridges on the route. Day followed night, the heat almost unbearable. Stupified, we continued on foot, moving because we must. Our throats were parched. When we forced ourselves to eat we could barely swallow the food.


‘We were in the middle of giant sand ridges from 100 to 120ft high. Considering the type of country and the appalling heat and the long dry stages a journey of 10 to 15 miles was a marathon of endurance and no wonder tempers flared. We seldom spoke and the only sound was that of our grunting camels as they strained to get over the sand ridges.

‘At times a Man could go no farther and dropping exhausted in his tracks was not missed until we were in camp at night. It was always Canning who returned with a flask of brandy to get him on his feet and coax him back to camp.’

But there was humour. Trotman was versatile and often mended dentures. He mended one set with a beaten and contoured silver coin. He warned the wearer they would not last. They did not. He recalls: ‘Then the unlucky owner, at whose side I walked, spat dispassionately, looked at the broken pieces lying in the dust and said: ‘Now you can walk, you bastards.’’

By 1930 the wells had disintegrated and Canning was asked to go over the route again reconditioning. He went.

The first drovers over the new route were both murdered by natives. They were named Shoesmith and Thompson. Their bodies were found by the next drover in the following year (1910). Police recovered the bodies and they were buried in the old East Perth cemetery.

The dangers of cattle from the Kimberleys crossing the pleuro line and infecting southern cattle, the uncertainty of the seasons and the trials of the journey ended the Canning Stock Route almost as soon as it began. It is now the Canning Ghost Route.

If the three men and their buggies were serving mankind like their pioneering predecessors, they could be heroes. Even if they should reach Halls Creek they will only show you can pull a buggy there – if you get the breaks.

Trekkers Murray Ranking and Peter Waterfall reach 250 mile mark


Trekkers reach 250 mile mark

The Canberra Times, Friday, 21 July 1972

Perth, Friday ~ After almost three weeks two men trying to walk along the more than  1000 mile Canning Stock Route from Wiluna to Halls Creek, have reached a point 250 miles from Wiluna.

Their last position was about 60 miles north of Glen-Ayle Station, near no. 11 Well. They are expected to strike the first of a long stretch of sandhills and spinifex today. The two men, New Zealander Mr Murray Rankin, 28 and Englishman Mr Peter Waterfall, 26, are equipped with buggies loaded with food and water.


1972 Canning Stock Route Walkers


Walkers not seen

The second cart was last seen and photographed in 1976 courtesy Ralph Barraclough

The Canberra Times, Monday, 28 August 1972

Perth, Monday ~ Two men trying to walk the 1100 mile Canning Stock Route from Wiluna to Halls Creek have not been seen for five weeks.

Mr Murray Rankin, 28, of New Zealand and Englishmen Mr Peter Waterfall 26 and his brother John, 27, set out eight weeks ago in an attempt to walk the route. They were last seen at No. 11 Well about 250 miles from Wiluna when Mr John Waterfall decided to return to Wiluna and hitchhike back to Perth. The Wiluna police have received no reports on the men.



Desert beats walkers



Desert beats walkers in WA

To this day the remaining cart between Wells 15 and 16 (below) is widely photographed and a point-of-interest to CSR travellers. Photo taken in 2014 by Big Red

The Canberra Times, Friday, 01 September 1972

Perth, Friday ~ Two young men who had tried to walk the 1100 mile Canning Stock Route returned to Wiluna this morning defeated but not dispirited. They estimated that they had walked 400 miles up the route in almost nine weeks before being forced to give up through lack of food.

The two walkers are New Zealand born Mr Murray Rankin 29, of Perth and English born Mr Peter Waterfall, 26, of Cottesloe. Mr Waterfall's brother, John 27, also planned to make the trek but returned to Wiluna about a month ago.

They abandoned their bicycle wheel buggies along the route and walked back carrying what they needed. They set out on their journey on July 3, despite warnings of the dangers of the desert.

When the two men walked into the town this morning they were dirty, bearded and deeply tanned. They said they were healthier that when they began despite their staple diet of damper.

They found only two wells dry and would have been able to live off the land if they had carried rifles.



Work Completed, Canning by Phil Bianchi


Ref: Work Completed, Canning by Phil Bianchi
Ref: Phil Bianchi - Notes with Murray Rankin, copies of several newspaper reports

Ref: The Canberra Times, Sunday Independent & The West Australian Weekend News, multiple articles

Ref: Canning Stock Route - A Travellers Guide by Ronele & Eric Gard

Ref: Photo of cart with 1974 motorcyclists - Phil Shubert and John Fitzgerald
Ref: Photo of Waterfall's graffiti and of cart in 1976 - Rex Shaw
Ref: Photo of cart in 1980 - Dave Morton
Ref: Photo of cart in 2014 - Big Red

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 March 2018 19:58

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