joined 19 Jun 11
Posted - 03 Feb 2019 : 14:33:15
Larry Perkins’ crusade to solve the mystery of explorer Ludwig Leichhardt’s disappearance
Where, when and how Ludwig Leichardt perished has baffled researchers for 170 years. Photo: Trove
Six-time Bathurst 1000 winning driver Larry Perkins has joined the race to solve the mystery of long-lost 19th century Australian outback explorer Ludwig Leichhardt.
The German scientist and his party of four fellow Europeans and two Aboriginal trackers disappeared in 1848 attempting to cross the country from the Condamine River in Queensland to the Swan River in Western Australia.
Despite numerous searches and a slew of books published on the subject, virtually nothing is known of what became of Leichhardt or the men, horses, bullocks, mules and hundreds of kilograms of equipment that accompanied him.
Theories include the party being killed by Indigenous people, starving to death or even being eaten by sharks in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Others suggest members of Leichhardt’s team mutinied against him, or that he survived into old age living with Aboriginals in the outback.
Perkins, an all-time motorsport great who raced in Formula One internationally as well as touring cars in Australia, retired as a driver in 2003 and a team owner in 2013.
Raised on a farm at Cowangie on the northern border of Victoria’s Big Desert, Perkins has become absorbed in following in the footsteps of Australia’s many early explorers into the outback.
Former V8 driver Larry Perkins at the Sandown 500. Photo: Getty
He is convinced he knows where Leichhardt’s remains are, and will resume the search for them in western Queensland in May.
“I am very interested in Leichhardt. He’s probably the most famous missing explorer of them all,” Perkins said.
“We are very convinced based on the information we have now established that the guy ended up in the western part of Queensland not far from the Simpson Desert.
“In Leichhardt’s case there are many conflicting historical records and you have to figure out which ones are logical,” he says.
“A lot of people have done an awful lot of research than I have, but at the end of the day you still have to get out and look.”
Born in Prussia in 1813, Leichhardt studied philosophy, language and natural sciences in Gottingen and Berlin before pursuing his interests in the natural sciences at the British Museum and Jardin de Plantes in Paris.
He came to Sydney in 1842 with the aim of exploring the inland and conducted several short expeditions.
Australian explorers inclding Dr Ludwig Leichhardt. Photo: Getty
In 1844-45 he successfully led a privately funded expedition 4800km overland from Moreton Bay in Queensland to Port Essington in the Northern Territory.
In 1846 he made his first attempt at the continental crossing, but was forced to turn back after only 800km due to heavy rain, malarial fever and famine.
He set out on his fateful final journey in early 1848 and was last seen on April 3 at a station on the Darling Downs.
The trip was expected to take up to three years so a search party wasn’t sent out until 1852.
It found a tree marked with ‘L’ – a Leichhardt trait – but nothing else. An 1858 search party found another tree marked with ‘L’ and in 1864 explorer Duncan McIntyre found two trees with ‘L’ markings.
The most significant find was a tiny brass plate marked ‘Ludwig Leichhardt 1848’ near Sturt Creek just inside the West Australian border with the Northern Territory.
This brass tag’s discovery only deepened the Leichhardt mystery.
When found in 1990 it was attached to a partially burnt shotgun slung in a boab tree which was engraved with the initial ‘L’.
If the ‘L’ carvings are a true guide, then Leichhardt was following a northerly arc from east to west, rather than going straight through the middle of the outback.
A counter theory is that the plate could have ended up in WA after being traded by Aboriginals who are said to have massacred Leichhardt’s expedition on the shores of the Maranoa River in south-western Queensland.
Perkins, 68, became interested in solving the mystery of Leichhardt’s disappearance after finding hundreds of kilograms of equipment left by explorer Henry Barclay in the Simpson Desert in 1904.
Racing driver Larry Perkins in a Stanley BRM racing car in London, 1976. Photo: Getty
That cache evaded discovery by both formal and informal searches for more than 100 years, despite directions to where it was supposed to be.
Perkins studied the case and decided the directions were inaccurate and identified another spot about 100km away which he thought a more likely location.
After four-and-a-half days searching with his brother Peter, Perkins found Barclay’s equipment sitting on the sand where it had been undisturbed for more than a century.
“I can go and win Bathurst, but anyone can do that,” Perkins said.
“This was a tremendously good feeling. It was just fantastic to think we had actually found it after multitude of searches over more than 100 years.”
After the Barclay discovery Perkins was inundated with requests to help solve other outback mysteries. One came from a group which has spent more than 30 years trying to find evidence of Leichhardt’s fate. Perkins is now working with them.
“The big advantage of today is metal detectors. I am working with a couple of colleagues in Brisbane … we are working on old documents with metal detectors and we are starting to come up with some good (results).
“I am very hopeful we can put proper facts on the table.
“We think we know where Leichhardt has ended up, but we want to find evidence. It would be great to find a tooth that DNA-ed out.
“We have already found mechanical items that fit the timeline of Leichhardt but that’s all in the unfinished business.”