The Story of lasseter's Reef
|In the Alice Springs “National
Transport Hall of Fame” there is a battered old Land Rover. It was
used by Harry Lasseter's son and grandson for many years in their attempts
to locate Lasseter's Reef. Beside the Land Rover is a placard. Much of this
story was taken from that placard. Other details were taken from tourist
literature and a plaque on Harry Lasseter's grave.
In 1897, Lewis Harold Bell Lasseter - Harry to his friends - set off alone from Alice Springs to attempt to cross the Gibson Desert and reach the west coast of Australia, a journey of some four thousand kilometres. Harry was only seventeen at the time; he took with him two horses.
Maps of that period showed the MacDonnell Ranges extending all the way to the headwaters of the west coast rivers. However, the MacDonnell Ranges soon petered out into isolated mountain ranges separated by miles of desert. This vast expanse he continued to cross until hopelessly past the point of no return. His two horses died and Harry continued on foot.
Miraculously he was found by an Afghan travelling with camels in search of sandalwood. The Afghan took him to the camp of a surveyor called Harding, situated ‘somewhere in Western Australia’. When he arrived at Harding's camp, young Harry was carrying a small bag of samples containing gold from a quartz reef that he had come across somewhere along the way. Harding must have thought all his Christmases had come at once. He wanted Harry to return immediately to the reef, but Harry wasn't having any of that!
Some three years later, however, Lasseter and Harding did located the reef again. Their plans to develop the find would require substantial financial backing, but unfortunately the goldfields of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie were booming at that time. All their efforts to secure finance for this find, hundreds of kilometres out in the middle of a desert, were futile.
Harry Lasseter travelled abroad for some years until the Great War intervened. In 1918 he again attempted to reach the reef but not until 1930 was he successful, as recorded in his diary. Poor Harry, again fate conspired against him. During his return from the reef his camels bolted leaving him stranded alone near the present settlement of Docker River. Friendly Pitjantjatjara (Aborigine) people helped him to salvage some belongings which had fallen from the two bolting camels, and establish camp in a cave at the Hull River. Harry showed enormous endurance but, even with the Aborigine's help, dysentery, sandy-blight and the harsh conditions of mid summer took a severe toll. He attempted to walk to Mount Olga but died in the Petermann Ranges, about 50 kilometres east of the cave, on January 30th 1931.
To the grave he took the truth about Lasseter's Reef. On December 14th 1957 an expedition located Harry's burial place. His remains were brought back to Alice Springs which was to be his final resting place. His memorial, pictured, is to my mind, frankly grotesque.
So, was Harry Lasseter a courageous adventurer to be admired? Or was he just a fool with an over-active imagination? What became of Harding? Was there ever a ‘Lasseter's Reef’? Was the attempt to raise finance to develop the reef a con? Who arrived at the $2 billion present-day value of the reef . . . and how? Many attempts have been made to find this reef. With the availability of aircraft and advanced surveying techniques, it is strange that it has never been located.
The story still poses more questions than it answers. Perhaps that's what makes it such a good story. Harry Lasseter and his Reef have become something of a joke - though not so much of a joke that many haven't tried to find his gold. The Lasseter family intends to continue their search for the reef provided they can obtain permission from the Aborigines to operate on their land. They are confident of ultimate success. Harry's son and his grandson, both called Bob, together with friends, spent years during the period from 1966 to 1978 searching unsuccessfully for the reef.
They drove the Land Rover (pictured) in conditions far beyond what could reasonably be expected of such a vehicle. The engine, transmission and suspension all wore out and are now “made up of replacement or substitute parts”. They were attempting to retrace Harry Lasseter's footsteps and locate the landmarks he recorded (presumably in his diary). Their motive was not commercial gain, the sign says, but for the historical record and to vindicate Harry for the benefit of the Lasseter family. Hmm, altruistic to fault.
The seat on top of the Land Rover gave an elevated view over the scrub similar to that seen by a camel rider. The ride was very similar too. The radiator was repositioned behind the seat on the roof to eliminate problems with grass, flowers and seeds blocking the air flow. An electric fan was added to ensure good cooling during slow and hard travel. Another innovation was to couple two Land Rovers together via a four metre long rigid bar to make, in effect, an eight-wheeled vehicle. This proved very successful in difficult conditions.