Scientific & Ecological Surveys


Return of Burke and Wills to Coopers Creek, Nicholas Chevalier (1868), National Library of Australia

The Horn Scientific Exploration Expedition party at Abminga Waterhole, northern South Australia, 1894.

South Australian Museum Archives

The Australian Desert Expeditions (ADE) heritage stretches back to 1860/61 when camels were brought to Australia for the Burke & Wills Expedition. Prior to 1860 horses were used for major inland explorations and as the explorers encountered the great deserts it was very quickly realised that camels would be the only way to effectively explore the continent as they would be best suited to the dry conditions.


Even though camels had first been brought to the country in 1840, it was not until the Royal Society of Victoria instructed that camels be brought from the sub continent for the Victorian Exploring Expedition (later officially renamed the Burke & Wills Expedition).

The primary purpose of the Burke & Wills Expedition was to find a way north to the Gulf and thus become the first exploring party to succeed in crossing Australia, which would open up 'new country' for settlement and cementing the colony of Victoria as the pre-eminent outpost on the continent.


Although Burke & Wills succeeded in crossing the continent, the expedition ultimately ended in disaster as a combination of ill-timing and incompetence resulted in the deaths of several of the party including both Burke & Wills themselves at Cooper Creek in South Australia in April 1861.


Nevertheless, the value of camel based exploring was guaranteed and exploration of Australia by the 1890's was of a completely different nature from that of the preceding decades. The last unknown areas were now being closed in and the overall approach was changing to scientific research.


There were several major explorations using packcamels, the most notable being:


• Peter Warburton 1873

• Ernest Giles 1875/76

• David Lindsay 1885/86

• Elder Scientific Exploring Expedition 1891/92

• Calvert Scientific Exploring Expedition 1894

• The 1896 Horn Scientific Expedition

• Edward Kidson 1914

• Cecil Madigan's 1939 Simpson Desert Expedition


Private sources were also by then playing a considerable role in providing funding. All of John McDouall Stuart's expeditions were backed, in whole or in part, by Chambers and Finke (after whom the central Australian landmark and town are named respectively). John Forrest's expeditions were supported by a mixture of government funding, private donations and grants from scientific societies. Warburton was financed by Sir Thomas Elder, who also provided the camels for both his and Ernest Giles expeditions. Giles' five expeditions were funded by himself and his brother-in-law. Ferdinand von Mueller, and the South Australian Government.*


















Madigan's scientific expedition across the northern Simpson Desert was supported by Allen Simpson, the then President of the Royal Geographical Society in Adelaide, and a major financial backer of Madigan's work. This expedition contributed greatly to the scientific and popular understanding of the Simpson Desert.


On his various commercial camel expeditions in the early 2000s, Outback Camel Company owner Andrew Harper realised the obvious need for dedicated research expeditions to explore and document those areas of the map that are never visited by conventional means - and in most cases, areas that may never have been surveyed at all.


So almost 160 years after the first camel-borne scientific desert expedition, Australia now has a 'full time' scientific & ecological research organisation that can help to discover and document the diversity of the continents arid wilderness.



* Glen McLaren, Beyond Leichhardt













































































Camel string near Birdsville

Photograph used by permission.

National Library of Australia. pic-an 2430028

Camels carrying a boat, AIM photo.

Photograph used by permission.

National Library of Australia. pic-an 24382397

Central Australian anthropologist & botanist Olive Pink

Western Australia 1916.

National Geographic, photo by CP Scott

Camel team, Western Australia

Explorer Michael Terry

Camel team, Western Australian mines

Camels carrying poles

Madigan's 1939 Expedition

Anthropologist Herbert Basedow

Bejah Dervish of the Calvert Expedition

State Library of South Australia

Camels at Royal Park before the Burke & Wills Expedition, 1860.

Dixson Library, State Library of NSW.

Camels being unloaded at Port Augusta

Kidson's Expedition preparing to leave Wiluna in May 1914

A Muslim cameleer in outback Queensland, circa 1900. Picture: AFP/State Library of Queensland

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