Monday, May 26, 2014

In Search Of Ludwig Leichhardt

It is one of the great unsolved mysteries of Australian colonial history. When Ludwig Leichhardt and his expedition party set off from Darling Downs in Queensland in 1848 they were headed for Swan Colony – the city now known as Perth. Their route was unknown and it was estimated that the journey across the continent would take some 2-3 years. After stopping in at McPherson’s station near Muckadilla, they were never heard from again.

Apart from a few sparse clues, some only discovered as recently as 2006, and Aboriginal oral history that is thought to relate to the group, there has been no definitive explanation as to what happened and where they actually perished.

Some historians believe that Leichhardt made it to the Simpson Desert, near where the borders of Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory meet. Others point to the Musgrave Ranges closer to the border of Western Australia.

Other experts have asserted it is more likely they made it to somewhere near Lake Gregory in Western Australia before they met their unfortunate end.

Looking at the various regions that Leichhardt was thought to have travelled, the possibility exists that his party wandered, at some point, through the spectacular MacDonnell Ranges region, where Alice Springs is located today, and where I got to spend a week mountain biking recently.

The good thing about a mystery such as Leichhardt’s is that because so few actual clues were ever discovered, any type of uninformed speculation seems just slightly more credible than it would otherwise be.

Unfortunately for Leichhardt, Alice Springs wasn’t colonised until 1872 (when a telegraph repeater station was installed there linking Adelaide with Darwin), and the mountain biking trails were non-existent, along with mountain bikes.

Perhaps Leichhardt became so adept at surviving in the harsh Australian outback that he gave up the expedition goal for a simpler life living off the land.

Or maybe he’s still out there wandering, or settled down somewhere to enjoy the expansive Australian wilderness? I was kind of hoping that he might just amble in to Alice Springs one day after being presumed dead for the best part of 165 years.

If he is still alive, Leichhardt will be turning 201 years old in October this year, which would make him the oldest living human being in history. He would have mastered the art of survival to such an excellent degree that he would be regarded as the finest outdoorsman of all time.

Mike & Mal Leyland, Alby Mangels and Les Hiddins aka “The Bush Tucker Man” were some of the pioneers of Australian television adventure documentaries in the 1970s and 1980s.

Where are you Ludwig Leichhardt?

Imagine Leichhardt’s amazement if he should ever stumble in to Alice Springs. He would presumably not have had contact with any form of civilisation since 1848. Despite being noted as an incredibly intelligent man, he would probably struggle to come to terms with many of the modern developments in cultural norms, etiquette, technology and language. It’s entirely possible that Leichhardt never even saw a bicycle in his lifetime so the idea of a fully electronic 11-speed groupset would be completely foreign to him and it is unlikely that he would ever have considered a Lefty fork option for an Intense Hard Eddie.

The option to fit a Cannondale Lefty fork to an Intense Hard Eddie would be quite foreign to Ludwig Leichhardt.

Here are a few pictures of my recent trip to Alice Springs that got me thinking about how Ludwig Leichhardt would perceive modern Australia if he happened to stumble back in to it one day.

What would Leichhardt make of this settlement nestled between the MacDonnell Ranges?

Would Leichhardt be familiar with navigational aids such as this?

 Would Leichhardt take the doubles at the Red Centre BMX Club Track?

 Would Leichhardt know which way to ride around the Alice Springs Velodrome?

Would Leichhardt be surprised to see women in lycra?

 What would Leichhardt think of this homage to video game history?

 Just what would Leichhardt make of these curious laceless shoes?

If you want to read more about Ludwig Leichhardt, then have a look at this book:

The greatest mystery in Australian history


  1. Clarkson-esque in its tenuous link with cycling. Bravo!