Last changed 1 August 2021

Whitlock tracks 1941-42

Whitlock's 1941 and 1942 traverses to the west of what became the Stuart Highway are part shown by manuscript additions to Army 8 mile to an inch maps CP4619 and CP4620 (only two of three parts extant, of which I have a copy thanks to Vern O'Brien). The tracks were shown on the 1945 and 1956 NT Pastoral Maps, and on 1:1 000 000 aeronautical charts published in 1950, 1952 and 1953, but presumably became overgrown and were not shown on later editions. Curiously the tracks are also shown on a 1953 Northern Territory road map.

One man who worked for Whitlock on one of the tracks was Frank Glastonbury (1915–84), who I talked to in Alice Springs around 1980. From him I gathered that the tracks were completed under arduous conditions, and despite many breakdowns in the equipment. (Glastonbury enlisted in the Australian Army on 19 April 1942 at Alice Springs, so his experience was likely of the 1941 construction of the southern track.)

excerpt from 1945 NT Pastoral Map
excerpt from 1945 NT Pastoral Map

Northern track

The northern track, linking Muckaty and Wave Hill, is mentioned in two letters in files in Australian Archives (NT Branch):
letter from Administrator to AS Bingle, 21/12/1942
letter from AS Bingle to Administrator, 2/1/1943
(Alison Seymour Bingle (1895–1971) was Manager of Vesteys; the general background of Vesteys work with the Army, but not these tracks, is mentioned in his 1986 memoirs.)

In 1947 an eastern part of the track was the location where tow Aboriginal women perished, and then located by police from Newcastle Waters:

7-5-47:     ‘Const’s Bowie & Ryall at stn. Mrs Ulyatt phoned at 11.30 am and reported two lubras bush for 2 weeks whilst travelling from Helen springs to Muckadee. Tracks last seen going into waterless country and both females believed to have perished.‘
10-5-47: ‘Tracker Tommy located bodies late in evening about mile apart. Both appear to have died of thirst. Bodies found approx 24 to 30 miles west of Muckadee. Nearest water about 8 miles away. Camped at Labadah W-H.’  [Newcastle Waters police journal, NT Archives F493]

A cattle pad said to be on the eastern end of the track west from Muckaty was pointed out to us on 14 October 1980 when travelling about a mile west of Muckaty homestead.

In 1982 an enamelled metal 'Kodak Film' sign was encountered just to the east of the summit of the Renehan Ridges. A possible source is Whitlock's party.

Southern track

The southern track is apparently the one referred to in a 1942 newspaper report of an interview with Ena Whitlock:

On one trip Mrs. Whitlock, in a convoy of slow-moving trucks and tractors, went through sand and spinifex country where water was not known for 300 miles. She made camp twice a day, cooked for six men, and rode on a tractor. Her seat was a bag of potatoes. She wore flannel shorts and khaki shirt. (Dawes 1942)

The eastern end of the track west from Three Ways past Wilson Creek (to Gordon Downs) was a landmark for the forced landing of a B25 D-10 'Mitchell' bomber on 25/1/1945, and allowed the retrieval of the crew and cargo. (That plane was not recovered until June 1974 and is now displayed at the Darwin Aviation Museum).

warning sign c1948
Sign near eastern end of southern track, near Alluvial area
apparently photographed in 1948 by David R. Hocking
from page 20 of

Eric Olsen took a colour transparency in 1959 showing a sign which marked the eastern end of the track near Alluvial Bore (north of Warrego); the sign was then lying on the ground and read something like "Gordon Downs 300 miles. No water". According to the Rev. Arch Grant [letter of 7/3/92] there once was a similar sign he says near Attack Creek. (This may have been near Morphett Creek where the Army camp was, and from where station tracks would link to the Whitlock track to Wave Hill.)

warning sign
Sign near eastern end of southern track, near Alluvial area,
photographed (lying on ground) by Eric Olsen, 1959

In May 1964 Max Cartwright (1995:66-67) came in a Landrover from Duck Pond and encountered the southern track perhaps 40km west of Alluvial. A few days later theLandrover and Bedford truck followed the track west from Alluvial, but turned back. Then in July 1964 with five Aboriginal men Cartwright (1995:68-69) drove from Tennant Ck to Hooker Ck.

In mid-1964 the surveyors Vaughan and de Lemos recorded signs of what they had been told was Whitlock's track on gravelly rises between Alluvial and Wilson Creek: at bench mark DE19 (86.5 miles west of the Tennant Creek Telegraph Station), at 90.2 miles west, faint traces at bench mark DE20 (91.9 miles west), at bench mark DE21 (96.4 miles west), and at bench mark DE40 (194.1 miles west) [BMR Gravity Traverse Description, Traverse DE, Jun-Aug 1964, pp.36,38].

"Grader Jack made a track from Tennants Creek to Gordon Downs. That was during the war" (Stan Jones, interviewed at Katherine by Darrell Lewis, 23-24th August 2000).

I would like to hear from anyone who has more information about these two wartime tracks.


Wilfred Hercy Dominick 'Gerry' Whitlock was the son of William Wilfred Lawson Whitlock and Florence Bessie Curtis Walker, and was born on 1st May 1898, at Georgetown (or possibly Chatswood) WA (or St Leonards, Sydney). He was in Canada from c1911. Whitlock apparently had some experience as an army engineer before he arrived in the NT after the First World War. During WWII he played a role in the routing of the Barkly and Stuart Highways in the central NT, and is said to have chosen the site for the intersection (Three Ways). Whitlock married Mary Ena Lucas or Culquhoun (Colquhoun) (born 1907) in Sydney on 23 May 1941. He was well known after WWII as the founding proprieter of Frewena roadhouse on the Barkly Highway, named after the Frew River and his wife Ena.  It was established from the WWII staging camp at 6A Bore, with equipment acquired by Whitlock at the sale at the end of WWII. "At the end of 1948 Mt Whitlock disposed of all his interests at Frewena to Mrs Whitlock then left the district." (Liddle 1990:228) A 1949 photograph showed him with a survey party beside a northbound Ghan train ( Fig. 13, p13). That year he was said to be working with 'Astro Survey National Mapping' or 'C.S.T.R. Mapping Section'.
In 1963 he bought an Agricultural lease in the farming area south of Heavitree Gap, Alice Springs. He died at Alice Springs on 25 May 1978 aged 80 years and is buried in the Alice Springs General Cemetery.


Australia. Department of the Interior. Property and Survey Branch. Northern Territory of Australia pastoral map 'Pastoral holdings as at 30-6-1945'

Australia. Division of National Mapping. and Australia. Department of the Interior. Property and Survey Branch. Northern Territory of Australia pastoral map [stock routes] [cartographic material] 1956

'Fire plough tracks'. Victoria River Downs' CP4619 and 'Tennant Creek' CP4620 based on 1941 Army 8 mile to an inch map sheets. Ref. S83/1112/4. Northern Territory Department of Lands.

1949 'Around The Territory.', Northern Standard (Darwin), 5 August, p.6

1949 'BRUNETTE DOWNS RACES.', Centralian Advocate, 15 July, p. 3

Bingle, A.S. 1986. This is our country. Turramurra, NSW: J. Bingle. 169pp. ISBN 1862527407. Limited edition of 200 copies.

Cartwright, Max. [1995]. Missionaries, Aborigines & Welfare Settlement days in the Northern Territory. [Alice Springs, N.T.]: Max Cartwright.

Dawes, Allan. 1942. Outback woman is pioneer. Adelaide News 15 July 1942, p.5

—. Woman is outback pioneer. The Daily News (Perth) 15 July 1942, p.4

H.E.C. Robinson Pty Ltd. 1945. Map of Northern Territory showing Pastoral Stations &c. 30.6.1945

H.E.C. Robinson Pty Ltd. 1953. Northern Territory road map.

Liddle, Robyn. 1990. Historical survey of European settlement on the western Barkly Tableland for the National Trust of Australia (Northern Territory). Funded by the National Estate Grant Program. June 1990. xiii+245+[2]pp.

McLean, Laurie. 2021. Wilfred Hercy Dominick (Jerry) Whitlock (1898-1978).

Highway Surveyor dies at age 80. Centralian Advocate 1 June, 1978.

Wilfred Hercy WHITLOCK. 1 page PDF

National Archives of Australia

CRS F1 Item 1942/112 Stockroutes & Bores, 321 folios

CRS F1 Item 1943/10A Stockroutes and Bores General File, 164 folios:
letter 2 Jan 1943 AIA Pty Ltd, Sydney (ASB/NMG) to Administrator, Alice Springs

CRS F1 Item 51/489

Thanks to Trevor Whitlock for family information, to Vern O'Brien, and to Laurie McLean.

Karlantijpa history page

Karlantijpa home page

1992 2003 2020 David Nash

Created 10 January 2005
Last changed 1 August 2021