|221. QUEST EXPEDITION.|
was a happy idea to place on record, in so acceptable a manner, the
doings of the Quest Expedition."
|Basedow, H. page ix. Foreword to Lasseter's Last Ride.|
Herbert Basedow completed the foreword to Lasseter's Last Ride on 15/08/31 and Ion Idriess's bestseller was on the bookshelves a fortnight later, perhaps in the rush to meet publishing deadlines an important and somewhat confusing mistake was overlooked. In his introduction, Basedow refers to the, "the doings of the Quest Expedition" when he obviously meant the 'doings' of the C.A.G.E. Expedition that had backed Lasseter in the search for his fabulous gold reef. While there are no direct links between the two expeditions there are several interesting connections through the people involved and the territory they explored. Of course both expeditions had the same objectives, to prospect for gold and other minerals and to discover new pastoral land in the hope of opening up and populating the vast interior of the continent.
Apparently the Quest Expedition was a combination of the resources of the Emu Mining Company and the Austral Mining Company. The expedition, in charge of Larry Wells, (Basedow's boss on the 1903 Government North West Prospecting Expedition) left Adelaide on the 4th of September 1930 and travelled by train to Curdimurka near Lake Eyre South. Wells companions were Ben McGillick, Spence Gall and Henry Domeyer and two Aboriginal camelmen, Pompey and Jacky. With sixteen heavily laden camels and six months provisions, the party travelled north west of Coober Pedy to the Musgrave, Mann, Petermann and Tomkinson Ranges then into Western Australia. It was an arduous journey in the heat of a rising summer and the same monsoonal thunderstorms that frequently bogged Michael Terry's Endeavour Expedition. At Mount Gosse the Quest party was stalled for three days digging out bogged camels.
Nothing was heard of the expeditions progress for several months until Wells arrived in Laverton, W. A. in March 1931, "having walked the last fourteen miles before breakfast as the camels had got away". The scant records indicate that Wells had to return to Adelaide for personal reasons but rumour suggests that there was a disagreement within the party. The expedition, now under the lead of Spence Gall, returned to the Warburton Ranges to continue prospecting, leaving White Cliffs on March the 26th and arriving at Hazlett's Well on April 18th, a very good trip of 350 miles in 24 days, from there the expedition travelled north east to the Jamieson Range then to the Barrow Range and returned to the Warburtons and in early June made contact with Michael Terry at Hazlett's Well.
Terry, always ready to share knowledge and experience with other prospectors met in the field, spent some time discussing the fortunes of both expeditions with Dromeyer and Kelly, (Kelly seems to have joined the Quest Expedition at Laverton) and from Dromeyer first heard the rumour surrounding the murder of Lasseter's mates, Johansen and Smith. "An item of somewhat disturbing news was uttered. Through Pompey, their camel boy, they had been informed that it was the gossip of the Bush that two white men had been murdered by blacks in the Rawlinson ranges very recently". Terry dismissed this rumour as nothing more or less than a 'Mulga Wire'. Later that day Spence Gall and Pompey arrived at Terry's camp leaving him somewhat nonplussed, "As a matter of fact I was greatly puzzled at the arrival, for quite a different stamp of man had been anticipated". Terry did not elaborate on the type of man he expected to lead the Quest Expedition, but did learn that Gall intended to report the rumoured murder to the Laverton Police.
Western Australian Police Records show that, "Spence Gall, member of Quest Prospecting Party reported rumour of murdered men 26.6.31". In due course the Police dispatched an expedition to the Rawlinson Ranges to investigate the rumour and confirmed it was just that, nothing more or less than a campfire yarn with antecedents to the 1916 Government expedition lead by Talbot where he and his companion, Johnson, were speared by Aboriginals, Johnson later died of his wounds. Perhaps the similarity in names between Lasseter's mate, Johansen, and Talbot's companion, Johnson are more than co-incidental, for Ion Idriess turns rumour to fact in Lasseter's Last Ride, where he attributes Johansen's failure to meet Lasseter at Lake Christopher to an Aboriginal curse that had, "marked out Johannsen and his mate to be speared by the blacks in the Rawlinson Range".
There is no record of a log book kept by any member of the Quest Expedition during its explorations through the Petermann and Rawlinson Ranges, a loss to history, as the readers of LASSETERIA, or most other Lasseter literature, could hardly fail to notice that the expedition passed through this country at the same time as Lasseter. And it was not until 1968, some 30 years after the event, that Henry Domeyer wrote to the Perth Daily News commenting on the suspicious number of Lasseter diaries that had been produced over the years. Domeyer also mentioned that he had, "put in three years in that country, searching for the reef, but never got the colour of gold. I was out there in 1930-33. In fact, the natives took Lasseter past our camp - within three miles - a few days before he died. We were the first white men to find his grave". Unfortunately not much credence can be placed on Domeyer's article as he goes on to write, that at the time the Aboriginals were assisting Lasseter east and passed close by, the Quest Expedition was camped at Sladen Water, thus placing them at the waterhole in December 1930 or January 1931, yet they did not mention this notable incident to Michael Terry when they met in June 1931, finding the rumoured murder of two white men in the same location and time more noteworthy.
But the Quest Expedition may have had only a very slim record to produce, like many before them they found only barest traces of gold in the Warburton Ranges and none elsewhere, and the pastoral lands can be spectacular, but only in very rare seasons. Not the bountiful resources on which to open up the centre of the continent. Perhaps Idriess profited most from the 'doings' of the Quest Expedition.
© R.Ross. 1999-2006