180. MARREE.

"Then, like a few white specks nestling in the middle of a brown saucer, came Marree, formerly known as Hergott Springs."

Errol Coote, Hell's Airport. pg.63.


Marree is a small town located about 425 air miles north of Adelaide and was an occasional refuelling and resting point for Errol Coote, the pilot on the First C.A.G.E. Expedition, he did not record any fond memories of the place. The settlement was originally known as Hergott Springs named after J. A. Herrgott, the German botanist on John McDouall Stuarts 1859 expedition. A shanty town of sorts grew around the seven mound springs discovered by Herrgott and its fortunes depended on the cattle industry, a risky business in a drought prone land. Some stability arrived with the Overland Telegraph in 1872 when Herrgott Springs became a maintenance depot for the linemen.

In 1883 a town was surveyed about a mile to the south west of the springs at the end of the newly completed railway and named Marree, apparently a Dieri Aboriginal word meaning a place of many possums. Marree knew good times for a while as the population quickly rose to six or seven hundred, depending on who was counted in the census, so many Afghans based their camel transport operations in Marree that it became known as Little Asia and claimed Australia's first mosque. Although proclaimed Marree the town was generally known as Hergott Springs until 1916 when anti German sentiment demanded the name of the springs be changed to Marree, a ridiculous and petty arrangement that was quietly ignored over time and the status quo confirmed.

Errol Coote visited Marree four times, he first landed there on 21/07/1930 and committed an Outback faux pas by landing on the wrong side of the railway tracks, it took a firm reminder from the Postmaster that parking his aircraft in Ghan Town was not the done thing in Marree. Coote relocated the Golden Quest to the racecourse and noted that much that had been written about Marree was sentimental drivel, "I refer particularly to those descriptions of the romantic unions of the Afghans with white women ~ Stark human tragedy is written in the records of these places." On this occasion he and Philip Taylor were on their way to Alice Springs to rendezvous with the other members of the First C.A.G.E. Expedition.

Coote returned to Marree on the 5th September, with Pat Hall piloting the Golden Quest II, and their overnight stay at the Great Northern Hotel would not be reason to celebrate, at least for Coote. At the wrong end of the Expedition it was discovered that the plane had inadequate range for outback travel and was now on its way to Adelaide to have an extra fuel tank fitted and other modifications, a delay and expense the Syndicate could ill afford. Also Lasseter's only reconnaissance flight in the plane with Hall had inconclusive results. That evening Coote took the opportunity to question Hall closely about his flight with Lasseter two days earlier, the only detail Hall could add was that at a point about an hour and ten minutes into the flight Lasseter became very animated about something he had seen and signalled Hall to return to Illbilla, Hall was too busy flying the aircraft and keeping his bearings to pay any attention to the cause of Lasseter's excitement. Coote learnt very little from Hall and concluded that if Lasseter's story was a waterbag it might leak somewhat.

The third visit was inauspicious, Coote was returning to Alice Springs from Adelaide on the 19th September when over Farina he started feeling drowsy and then squeamish, he could smell petrol fumes, "and looking down at the floor I saw it was wet with benzine. In the corners of the cross members were little pools of benzine. No wonder I was feeling sick." He struggled into Marree and perhaps made one of his more hasty landings, "I had no sooner crawled out of the machine than I was violently ill." A leak was found in the recently installed auxiliary fuel tank and took a day to repair.

Coote paid his last visit to Marree on the 20th November, passing through on his way to Sydney, and on this occasion he would have the least reason to remember Marree, he had been ignominiously  sacked by the 'Sydney Crowd' for incompetence and for the publics safety and ordered to return immediately.

On the other hand, one of Australia's genuine 'Last Explorers', Cecil Madigan, found Marree, "a most interesting place and is the best little town between Quorn and Alice Springs."



R.Ross. 1999-2009                                                                                                                                                                           20090902

Errol Coote, Hell's Airport. 63. Madigan, C. T. Central Australia 50-56.