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Peach’s Explorers – East to West (1984)

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Saved by a well

Original classification rating: G. This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

Close to death from lack of food, but mostly parched with thirst, Edward John Eyre (Paul Mason) and his loyal companion, Wylie (Athol Compton), are saved when the towering cliffs open up near Esperance and they struggle down to the sea. Their luck changes when a French whaler, 'The Mississippi’, finds them and restores them with nourishing food, good wine and provisions to help them on their way for the last leg of the journey.

Curator’s notes

Peach’s well-written and delivered narration, and the simple recreation footage, dramatically and effectively communicates the immensity of Eyre’s journey and how close he came to failure. Peach also nicely mixes a light tone where he can, here using the comment about 'generous supplies of French wine and brandy’ to cap the great story of Eyre’s rescue by a passing whaler.

Bill Peach is right to point out that Eyre’s stubbornness in refusing to return to Adelaide after his initial disappointment was a huge factor in the near tragedy of the trip. He foolishly chose to travel during the terrible heat of summer when the temperature hovers around 40 degrees Celsius on the Nullarbor. Although he salved his conscience by taking only volunteers, one wonders whether the three Aborigines knew they were volunteering.

The journey took one year and three weeks and must count as one of the great 19th century British expeditions, rivalling those through Africa and Antarctica. Eyre became Protector of Aborigines in later life, while Wylie settled down in his own lands around Albany with a government pension for life.

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