Tracking and Mapping the Explorers
by John Whitehead

Tracking and Mapping the Explorers



Prior to retiring John Whitehead worked as a Chartered Profession Engineer having had a 50 year career in local government in NSW. The last 38 years of his career was as the Shire Engineer of Coonabarabran Shire. This also included additional responsibilities as the Planner and Fire Control Officer. Earlier in his career he held positions with the local governments of Canobolas Shire, Gilgandra Shire, Cooma Municipal Councils, and afterwards Coonabarabran, Moree Plains, Brewarrina and the Warrumbungle Shire. He has had a long standing involvement as a Trustee of the Warrumbungle National Park and was a member of its advisory committee from 1972 to 1978, and a member of the advisory committee of the Northern Plains Region of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service for 42 years. Read more about the author …


These books should be in the libraries of all herbaria in Australia. They will probably also find a place in the personal libraries of those who have an interest in the early European history of Australia. They are far more than a dry account of localities, sightings, calculations of latitude, longitude and altitude. The author includes substantial extracts from Cunningham’s and Oxley’s journals, and brings these to life with an eclectic smorgasbord of asides, explanations, historical tidbits, and reproductions of sketch maps. They are the sort of books that one can dip into at random and become engrossed in. For example, in one place where it is recorded that Oxley had lost his horses (again!) it is pointed out that English explorers, at this early period at least, did not believe in hobbling them overnight. Later a system of loose hobbles was devised that allowed the horses to search for food overnight without straying too far. There are three very good reasons why I recommend purchase of these books. First, they are packed full of very detailed information which is unobtainable elsewhere. Good research deserves to be supported, and these books are meticulous in their attention to detail, arguments for the views advanced, and reasons why alternative views should be discounted. They represent a decade or more of intense investigation, and (pardon the pun) no stone has been left unturned. It is difficult to imagine that they will ever be surpassed. Second, privately published books or those by boutique publishers (as these are), are usually published in very small numbers. This has two consequences. Once they are gone they are gone, and the few copies that were sold will appear a very good investment in years to come. (Source: Extract – Review by Tony Orchard, “In the exact footsteps of Allan Cunningham” Australasian Systematic Botany Society Newsletter 166 (March 2016) pp42-45). Read the full review  …

When studying the coming and goings of geographical explorers you need a map, a very precise, detailed readable map along with clear geographic reference points. A map that shows where the explorers walked, where they camped, what they observed and what they reported in their journals. John Whitehead understood this when he walked in the footsteps of the explorers. He has taken the time to share his experience by recording geographic locations, providing maps and photos of a landscape that in some places still remains visually similar to what the explorers saw. Using the explorers’ original maps and journals, John found where they had been and with respect and dedication stood where these intrepid explorers once stood. His books are indispensable for those who take the time to walk in the footsteps of our early colonial adventurers.

These studies show where expedition routes are located in relation to the developed agricultural areas and the regional cities and towns of NSW. The details provided will be of interest to the people who live and work in those areas. It also provides information by way of indicating the routes on current topographic maps, together with supporting photographs to verify locations for the interested traveler.

Tracking and Mapping the Explorers

Volume 1 The Lachlan River
Oxley, Evans and Cunningham 1817

Tracking and Mapping the Explorers Vol 1Describes John Oxley’s 1817 Lachlan River journey when he and several men including George Evans and Allan Cunningham, explored beyond the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. It was the first time the British had explored so far inland.

Volume 1, First Published 2004, ISBN 978-0-6464303-8-6

Tracking and Mapping the Explorers

Volume 2 Macquarie River 1818

Tracking and Mapping the Explorers Vol 2Continues following Oxley and Evans in 1818 when they travelled down along the Macquarie River and finished their momentous journey at Port Macquarie. Along the way, they caught a glimpse of the Liverpool Range and Liverpool Plains from the Pilliga Scrub and proceeded past Gunnedah, Tamworth and Walcha across the Great Dividing Range.

Volume 2, First Published 2005. ISBN 978-0-9757163-0-1

Tracking and Mapping the Explorers

Volume 3 Cunningham’s Tracks
Journey Through the Gwydir and Inverell Shires 1827

Cunningham’s Tracks 1827 by John White HeadIn 2009, Fay Cains of Warialda asked me if I would be interested in helping her carry out an investigation into the location of Cunningham’s exploration route from the Hunter Valley in New South Wales to the Darling Downs in Queensland in 1827, and more particularly, a close look at both of Cunningham’s north and south routes that passed near Bingara and Warialda. She indicated that she had some difficulty in trying to establish the location of the various sites.

After two trips to and around the area of study with Fay and Laurie and with many hours of interpretation using State Archives and Mitchell Library records, we pieced together a fairly accurate description of Cunningham’s route through the Gwydir and Inverell Shires.

Volume 3, First Published 2011. ISBN 978-0-975716373-7-3

Tracking and Mapping the Explorers

Volume 4 Cunningham’s Pandora’s Pass

In November and December 1822, Cunningham had carried out some botanical and exploration work north of Bathurst to the Cudgegong River. He then returned to his plant preparation duties in Sydney and by February, 1823, he was thinking of another expedition in the same direction, but further north of Bathurst to Oxley’s Liverpool Plains through the Liverpool Range. After discussing this with Governor Brisbane he obtained permission to proceed on 1st March 1823.

The expedition commenced of the 15th April 1823 from Bathurst, proceeded via Rylstone and Cassilis followed by a traverse of the southern slopes of the Liverpool Range, then a circuitous route through the Scone-Merriwa district and then back to the Pandora’s Pass, arriving there on the 6th June 1823. He then returned to Bathurst on 27th June 1823, the whole journey taking 73 days.

Volume 4, First published in 2013

Tracking and Mapping the Explorers

Volume 5 Cunningham’s Expedition
Across the Liverpool Plains 1825

Volume 5 of the series “Tracking and Mapping the Explorers”, is John Whitehead’s third book covering Cunningham’s expeditions in colonial New South Wales.

Cunningham’s primary objective, of his 1825 winter expedition, was the south-western Liverpool Plains where he intended to collect botanical specimens and extend the Colony’s geographical knowledge of the area. In addition other objectives were to investigate Oxley’s theory on where the western rivers drained and the existence of an inland sea.

The expedition took 73 days to travel a distance of approximately 730 km. Cunningham’s tenacity shows in his climbing of seven mountains, and many other prominences.

John Whitehead has followed in the tracks of Allan Cunningham, using the intrepid explorer’s field books and maps, along with modern methods of navigation.  John sets out, in detail, the methods used for early navigation and how it was achieved. His book includes many photographs showing the geographic areas traversed by Cunningham, and matches them with Cunningham’s sketches of the area.

This book is a treasure filled with information for the intrepid traveller, who wants to walk in the footsteps of one of Australia’s most successful explorers. Or if you are a lounge lizard, it is a very interesting “active” read.

Volume 5, First published in 2017

Tracking and Mapping the Explorers

Volume 6
Cunningham’s Expeditions to the Western Plains 1825
Through Bathurst, Orange, Molong, Wellington, and Mudgee

This book is Volume 6 of the Tracking and Mapping series, it covers Allan Cunningham’s expedition from Bathurst to Orange to Wellington and then across the north-western plains of NSW and then back through Mudgee to Bathurst. This expedition is seldom mentioned in our history books.

The objectives of Cunningham’s 1825 summer expedition to the Wellington area were to carry out a botanical survey, to investigate the possibilities for grazing and agriculture, and to further investigate the destination of the north-western river system of the Colony.

Tracking and Mapping the Explorers

Volume 7
Cunningham’s 1827 Expedition to the Darling Downs

The objective of this book is to establish as accurately as possible, the location and plotting of Cunningham’s 1827 expedition route onto current topographic maps. At the same time, outline and explain the main references that Cunningham made in his Journal regarding the aborigines, the vegetation, geology and wildlife characteristics of the country through which he explored.

Cunningham’s primary objectives of his 1827 winter expedition to the Darling Downs were:
(a) to carry out a botanical survey of north-western NSW and the area west of Moreton Bay, and the collection of plant specimens;
(b) to investigate those areas for an extension of grazing and agricultural lands for the colony, and to evaluate the farming potential of the landscape;
(c) if time and the availability of provisions allowed, to further investigate the destination of the colony’s north-western river system.

Volume 7, First published in 2017 ISBN 978-0-646-97103-2

Tracking and Mapping the Explorers

Volume 8 Phillip to Sturt 1788 to 1829

This book has been created to provide a more detailed account of the routes taken by Australian explorers than has been done before. by earlier Historians.  Not only will this book show the route locations with some accuracy, they shall be supported by the text. Routes of explorers will provide details showing routes in relation to known features, landmarks and road with explicit mapping.

The contents of the book includes:

  • Governor Phillip’s Explorations 1788 to 1792
  • Governor Phillip’s Explorations 1788 to 1792
  • Watkin Tench – Cumberlain Plains 1788 to 1791
  • John Wilson – Southern Blue Mountains 1798
  • Frances Barralier – The first attempt to cross the Blue Mountains 1802
  • George Caley – Central Blue Mountains 1801-1804
  • George Evans – The South Coast of NSW 1812
  • Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth 1813
  • George Evans – The Blue Mountains Crossed 1813
  • George Evans – The Lachlan River 1815
  • John Oxley Expedition on the Lachlan River 1817
  • Benjamin Singleton – Northern Blue Mountains 1817
  • Thomas Parr – Northern Blue Mountains 1817
  • James Meehan and Charles Throsby – Southern Tablelands 1818
  • Benjamin Singleton – Northern Blue Mountains 1818
  • John Oxley – Macquarie River Expedition 1818
  • John Howe – To the Hunter River 1819
  • Charles Throsby from Wingecarribee to Bathurst 1819
  • James Meehan – from Tarlo River to Wellington 1820
  • Allan Cunningham – Pandoras Pass 1823
  • Hume and Hovel – To Port Phillip 1824
  • Allan Cunningham – Western Liverpool Plains 1825
  • Allan Cunningham – North West Plains 1825
  • Allan Cunningham – Darling Downs 1827
  • Charles Sturt – Discovery of the Darling River 1828

Volume 8 First Published 2019 ISBN 978-0-646-96976-3

Tracking and Mapping the Explorers

Volume 9 – Cunningham’s Gap
Cunningham’s 1828-29 Expeditions

The objectives of Cunningham’s 1828-29 winter expeditions to the Moreton Bay area were to carry out a botanical survey and to collect plant specimens; to investigate those areas for an extension of grazing and agricultural lands for the Colony and to evaluate the farming potential of the landscape; and to investigate the gap in the mountains discovered in his 1827 Expedition to the Darling Downs with the intention of connecting it with a way through the mountains.

Published January 2020 ISBN 978-0-6487518-0-9


The Warrumbungles
Dead Volcanoes, National Parks, Telescopes and Scrub

The WarrumbunglesJohn Whitehead has gathered the local history of the nationally known scientific establishments that have been located in the Warrumbungle Range, together with the many popular tourist attractions that have occurred as a result of these facilities.

At the same time, he explains why the natural and ecological features of the Warrumbungle Range including the Pilliga Forests and the surrounding National Parks were located in this area.

He provides us with a trip through the forests, plains and mountains of the Warrumbungle Range. The journey commences far away and long ago, and ends up in the awesome universe of the powerful telescopes, then, while contemplating these fascinating images and thoughts, you can sit back on a log and admire the magnificent scenery of our National Parks and Scrub.

Many areas of the Warrumbungle Mountains are renowned for their spectacularly shaped mountains, with volcanic scenery that contains towers, plugs and dykes of every imaginable appearance. This landscape eventually attracted humans for recreation and scenic pleasure, and, because of its unique landscape, its significance to Aboriginal people, its botanical and geological importance and its tourist potential, the mountain area was created as a National Park.

The heights of the peaks and the clear night skies proved advantageous to the establishment of astronomy sites. In 1959, the clear atmosphere and light free skies attracted the establishment of Siding Spring Observatory, 20 kilometres west of Coonabarabran.

First published in 2008, ISBN 978-0-9757163-3-5

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – John Whitehead