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Image John Forrest's 1874 expedition

TLF ID R3345

This is a 52.5 cm x 69 cm, black-and-white photoengraving, of John and Alexander Forrest, James Sweeney, James Kennedy, Tommy Windich and Tommy Pierre with their horses after crossing the Great Victoria Desert in 1874. On the far right is the Overland Telegraph Line, about 120 kilometres north of Coober Pedy in South Australia. One man points to the telegraph line and the other five have their arms raised in jubilation, two waving their hats and one holding up his gun. The image was drawn from descriptions of the scene.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset shows the group of six men who first crossed the Great Victoria Desert - led by John Forrest (1847-1918), the well-armed and well-provisioned party left Champion Bay (north of Geraldton in Western Australia) on 1 April 1874 with eight months' supplies to explore central Australia; Forrest was an experienced bushman who had spent over three months in 1869 searching for the remains of Ludwig Leichhardt's (1813-48) ill-fated 1848 expedition, and had also made the first land crossing from Perth to Adelaide via the southern coast; in 1890, John Forrest became the first Premier of Western Australia and was later elected to the first Federal Parliament.
  • It depicts the moment on Sunday, 27 September 1874 when the group first saw the Overland Telegraph Line - the group (travelling west) had aimed to meet the Line (running north-south, from Darwin in the Northern Territory to Port Augusta in South Australia) as they knew they would be able to get assistance from telegraph staff; Morse code signals fade over distance, meaning that telegraph repeater stations were necessary, and there were 11 such repeater stations along the 2,900 kilometres of the Overland Telegraph Line.
  • It includes surveyor Alexander Forrest (1849-1901) who charted the group's progress, sketched geographic features and collected specimens of rocks and plants along the route beside the Murchison River and across the desert - in 1879 Alexander Forrest led an expedition from De Grey River (north of Port Hedland in Western Australia) to Palmerston in the Northern Territory; like his elder brother John, Alexander later entered politics, becoming a Member of the Legislative Assembly and serving two terms as Mayor of Perth.
  • It includes two Noongar men, Tommy Windich (c1840-76) and Tommy Pierre, members of the largest Indigenous population in Western Australia - Windich was a highly-skilled tracker who accompanied John Forrest on several expeditions and became well known in Western Australia; in the early 1860s, Windich worked as an assistant in the police force at York in WA; in 1866 he was part of an expedition led by Charles Hunt, and he joined John Forrest's first expedition in 1869; Forrest named one of the few permanent water sources found on the journey 'Windich Springs' after him; while working as a guide with the team constructing the Overland Telegraph Line from Perth to Adelaide in 1876, Windich became ill and died of pneumonia; Forrest also named 'Pierre Spring' after Tommy Pierre, the other Noongar member of the expedition).
  • It depicts the group meeting the Overland Telegraph Line with just six horses, illustrating the fact that horses were not suited to the land traversed by Forrest's expedition - the group often had to divert from their course to find water and Forrest soon regretted his decision not to take camels; the group had begun with 20 horses and, of the six left on the day they met the Overland Telegraph Line, one died the following morning and one was lame; several times during the journey the members of the group were in danger from lack of water, but they were saved from death by Tommy Windich who was able to find water in the inhospitable land.
Year level

2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • History
  • Studies of society and environment

Other details

  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL:
  • Name: George Robertson and Co
  • Organization: George Robertson and Co
  • Description: Author
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: J Macfarlane
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements