1988 Peter Vernon runs the CSR Cross Country

An interesting account from 1988, published in 4x4 Australia - Peter Vernon running the Canning Stock Route cross country utilising motorcycle and 4WD support. Peter is the only person, on foot, to have followed the original stock route mapped out by Canning in the early 1900's.
Peter Vernon runs the Canning Stock Route


Like many great adventures, it began as a passing comment, almost a joke at the time. Peter Vernon recalls, "It was September 1983 and I had just seen a TV documentary on Bob Beer running across the Simpson Desert. Knowing that Ron Grant had completed his 265 day run around Australia, my immediate thought was — it looks like the only thing left is the Canning."

Peter had been running marathons for a number of years. The perfect `training track' for Peter's run along the Canning lay waiting in the Western Deserts — the key road to Len Beadell's outback highway network, the Gunbarrel. Peter's first attempt on the Gunbarrel, in 1985, was abandoned at the 300km mark with two severely dislocated ankles.

He was back the following year, this time starting at Carnegie Homestead at the opposite end of the 1360km road across Central Australia. Len and Anne Beadell and daughter Connie travelled from Adelaide to meet Peter near the finish of his 23 day epic run. "It seems more fitting to have finished at Victory (Downs)," Peter has often said.

The scene was set to plan for the ambitious run along the Canning Stock Route in July 1988.  Many factors were immediately obvious and defined choice of the back up team and vehicles for the project. Peter wanted to run from south to north and be on the 8km wide stock route easement all the time naturally visiting all 55 wells along the way. To minimize the distance to be run, there would be numerous cross country sections, linking wells on a set compass bearing. Many short cuts were also planned where the track snakes back and forth finding easy crossing points of the 700 odd sand dunes through the Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts.

To be highly mobile as support for a runner across such difficult and remote terrain, the Canning traverse required special motor bikes and riders and well prepared Landcruisers, with a small but experienced and dedicated crew. The team was chosen for their various skills and talents:

•    Malcolm Hayes of North Blackburn, Melbourne; riding a Yamaha 600cc Tenere
•    Albert Bowden of Keon Park, Melbourne; riding a Yamaha 600cc Tenere
•    Gayle Crocker of Keon Park, the cook and driver of FJ45 Landcruiser cab-chassis with the long range fuel and water tanks
•    Peter Giafis of East Bentleigh, Melbourne; the expedition's professional photographer and driver of HJ 75 Landcruiser Troop Carrier carrying stores and equipment
•    Patrick Kenny of North Altona, Melbourne; navigator, support driver and running pacer
•   Peter Canning of Hobart, Tasmania; general hand and stock route historian. (Peter is the grandson of Alfred Canning who surveyed and supervised construction of the stock route, 80 years ago)

The logistics of the project seemed to be overwhelming – food, fuel, water and equipment to make it all happen grew to enormous quantities but were calmly handled by the experienced team.
Peter recalls “It is notable that we treated the project like our previous trips to the deserts, although we knew, if successful it would be a rather unique achievement.”

The group left Wiluna on July 2nd 1988, the Aboriginal population in town totally oblivious as to why some ‘whitey’ in strange clothes darted away from the Post Office, heading out of town in a north-westerly direction pursued by two motorbikes and two Landcruisers in a cloud of swirling dust. It only seemed like minutes and they were out at the windmill over well 1, a few kilometres from town. Following fences and station tracks back to North Pool for lunch, which for Peter was just another drink stop, Malcom and Albert then accompanied Peter through 20 kilometres of rocky gullies and hills on a compass bearing to Well 2, the vehicles taking the longer way by road.

Peter Vernon on the dunesPeter Canning, famous for his campfires on desert expedition guided a tired but enthusiastic runner into camp. A daily target of 50 kilometres or better had been decided upon. Peter Vernon was very strong with his philosophy that he would control the event and not let the event control him. The whole run was broken up into roughly three kilometre section (or ‘hops’ as the group called them), the ideal distance between an ultra marathon runner’s drink time and/or eat stops. The bikes would go ahead and wait at the next ‘feeding station’, where Peter had the choice of small quantities of tinned fruit, biscuits, chocolate and cordial, coca-cola, staminade or water. The vehicles could be anything from 6 km behind to 12km ahead drawing water from wells, collecting firewood (so that campsites could be virtually anywhere) or preparing the nightly campsites where Gayle Crocker would cook huge meals for ravenous crew and runner alike.

From day one, the slow pace of travel allowed far more of the country to be seen and absorbed than what would be on a conventional journey along the Canning. After a delightful camp near Well 3, the group met Mr Bill Green of Cunyu Station; word about the run was spreading fast, despite the group’s low profile manner. Over the following weeks, numerous groups of tourists met Peter running along the remote track, most having been informed of a ‘runner up ahead.’ The wells and many interesting and scenic points on the Canning proved to be valuable ‘psychological targets’ for Peter to run toward. Even though all the team had travelled the stock route at least once, water and condition of the wells were noted. Peter Giafis who recorded the event on slide film was never far from his Nikon cameras and special lenses. In fact, it became an expedition joke that Peter ‘G’ was never happy unless he had food in one hand and a camera in the other.

The sand dunes north of Durba Hills through to Well 19 proved to be very testing for runner, motorbike and vehicles alike. The vehicles made the detour into Onegunya Rockhole and nearby Terrace Hill for a rewarding view of the sparkling expanse of Lake Disappointment. Malcom Hayes, on the motorbike, usually carried enough food and drinks in the gearsack on the bike to supply Peter for 15km, although this could be (and on some cross country work was), doubled. The first cross country section from Savoury Creek to well 20 was so successful that the helium filled weather balloon and smoke signal arranged by the vehicles going ahead to the well via the track were abandoned as being unnecessary. Using high quality prismatic compasses and 1:100 000 maps allowed very accurate navigation.

Wells 21 to 22 are a typical example of how the stock route track winds through the sandhills; 55km versus 29km as the crow flies. The vehicles were taken across this section. Although suspensions were working heavily, this short cut could easily become a practical vehicle track if it had more use. Peter’s modified gaiters for leg protection from the omnipresent spinifex worked magnificently.

Trouble struck Peter near well 25 with sharp pains in both ankles – probably the horrid sandy corrugations around Well 23 taking their toll. A rest for a few hours combined with massaging with liniment and strapping with bandages seemed a good remedy. No further troubles arose.

The team was now into a proper routine and 50km per day was usually achieved even across difficult terrain. Three days on found them at the wonder of Mujingerra Cave south of Well 30 for a soothing swim in the mineral waters. Two days later after more sections of bad corrugations, an important point, 1000km from Wiluna (just south of Well 35) was reached.

The cross country section to Wardabunna Rockhole (Well number 38) was a great adventure and thrill – 25km on a compass bearing through confused, then massive unbroken parallel sand ridges to emerge on target at the string of low rocky hills. The team work between Malcom on the bike and Peter running was remarkable. Peter Canning, a keen bushwalker had for many years dreamed of walking this section and only took an hour longer to walk than it took Peter Vernon to run.

From Well 39 the track crossed Tobin Lake and on to Waddawalla, number 40. At Well 43 turnoff, help was sought from some tourists. Peter’s nightly hot shower after long days run had consumed more soap than planned for.

The team now entered the most difficult part of the project; Wells 43 to 48, all cross country linked together like a dot to dot over ridges resembling massive walls of sand. It was particularly exciting linking these wells. Several relics (horseshoes, buckles etc) were found by Peter as he picked his way through spinifex. The scene of Well 46 amongst white gums and termite mounds is a memory cherished by the whole group.

“Without a doubt, the highlight of the run was a section from well 47 past the mystical Southesk Tablelands and on to the majestic Breaden Hills – an awe inspiring colossus when viewed coming in from the west,” Peter reminisced.

This marked the end of the sand dunes. Peter had initially dreaded having to tackle big dunes, but had come to actually like them

Peter VernonAfter reaching Billiluna Station the group naturally followed the original stock route along Sturt Creek. Not far past Billiluna, another milestone was reached – 1000 miles from Wiluna in 32 days.

Navigation in the flooded country of the Sturt Creek proved very demanding. Tracks were either very faint or nonexistent. The pressure was on to be in Halls Creek in three days (240km by planned route) Luck was on Peter’s side when a new station track near Ima Ima Pool was found taking them directly to Sturt Creek homestead, by the pleasant Chuall Pool. It seemed that Peter’s fitness was about to peak when he clocked up 70km. The next day 80km were put behind in crossing the featureless Denison Plains and onto Duncan Highway, running into the night under headlights.

A massive effort by Peter saw 90km run on the last day, through the picturesque hills around Palm Springs and on to Old Halls Creek where the run officially finished. It was a round of hearty hand shakes that signalled the end of Peter’s 1865 km, 35 day adventure.

It was fitting that Peter Canning and Patrick accompanied Peter Vernon, walking the last section to the new town, 15 km away. After such a well planned and controlled run through the Western Deserts with a brilliant support crew, Peter Vernon deserves the title of “King of the Canning”.


Ref: 4x4 Australia magazine, June 1989, edition nbr 65
Story 'King of the Canning' by Peter Vernon's Support Crew
Photography: Peter Giafis
Article supplied by: Phil Bianchi, Historian and Author of Work Completed, Canning


Last Updated on Sunday, 13 May 2018 17:12

Go to top