|120. HARDING .|
|"Surveyor Harding nursed him back to life; then suggested that they both return to the reef."|
Harding, first name unknown, was the mythical surveyor/explorer who nursed Lasseter back to health after he was rescued by an Afghan cameleer somewhere in central Australia in 1897, according to the common story, the Afghan took the near perishing Lasseter to Harding's camp located on the West Australian stock route. When rescued, Lasseter was still clutching a bag of very rich gold specimens which Harding thought the best he had seen. In due course Lasseter recovered and was escorted back to Carnarvon, as Captain Blakiston Houston sardonically noted, "If Lasseter's story is true he was thus the first explorer to cross the continent from east to west". At Carnarvon both men temporarily parted ways, Lasseter odd jobbing about the West Australian goldfields and Harding continued surveying. Harding kept in touch with Lasseter urging him to return to the reef, but Lasseter, "Haunted by the nightmare of my dreadful experience". refused for the time being.
Harding persisted, and three years later convinced Lasseter to form a partnership to try and relocate the reef, the necessary funds and equipment were collected and according to Coote the men returned to Carnarvon and from there travelled inland, using camels. Lasseter remembered his landmarks from the previous trip and the reef was relocated, "Together we traced the outcrops for about ten miles. Samples were taken at intervals across the line of reef". These samples, apparently assayed far and wide, went three ounces to the ton. The location of the reef was then fixed by Harding using two watches and a sextant, but on return to Carnarvon it was discovered that the watches were over two hours slow, thus misplacing the reef by several hundred miles, or as Charles Ulm observed, somewhere in the Indian Ocean. But no matter, Lasseter had relocated the reef a second time using landmarks, no doubt he could do so again. It should be noted here that while Harding and Lasseter went to the trouble of collecting samples and having them assayed, and fixing the location of the reef using watch and sextant, they didn't bother to peg a claim. It is fortunate that Lasseter's acquaintances, Mallard and Johanson, who also knew the location of the reef, apparently never pegged claims either.
On return to civilisation Harding tried unsuccessfully to raise finance to develop the reef, "But Kalgoorlie was booming. Gold was being easily won, and mining men were not interested in a proposition away out in the heart of the desert". Shortly after, Harding died, Ern Bailey the Company secretary to C.A.G.E. thought Harding died aboard ship on his way to England to raise funds. Harding's untimely demise has affinities with Earle's sudden death shortly after discovering his 'cave of gold' in the Tomkinson Ranges. Lasseter made no attempt to continue Harding's work of raising capital to develop the reef and 1902 found him in Clifton Springs, America, the bonanza in the Australian desert put aside for the next 28 years.
There is only one reference in Lasseter's hand to Harding, where he replies to correspondence from M. J. Calanchini, the Under Secretary of the West Australian Mines Department, on the 14th of February 1930, "I found it 33 years ago, working west from the McDonell Ranges in Central Australia three years later, I relocated it, in company of a man named Harding (a surveyor) who was, or had been, in your Govt employ." later in this letter Lasseter mentions the results of Government and private assays of the reef "you may possibly have records in your files now, they were in Harding's name." Calanchini wrote to a colleague shortly after regarding Harding, despite a thorough search through Mines Department records there was no trace of a surveyor Harding or any assays in his name.
Of course there is no surveyor Harding, he could not exist as Lasseter was not in Central Australia in1897 or 1900 to be rescued by him. Coote however finds several place names in the Northern Territory as proof of Harding's existence and therefore Lasseter's veracity. while Blakeley writes that, "Harding was a great pal of Sir John Forrest ." when Forrest became Premier of Western Australia he outfitted Harding with a suitably equipped expedition in order to rediscover a lost reef somewhere in the deserts of central Australia...according to Blakeley.
As there is no surveyor Harding, what prompted Lasseter to choose this name? more than likely it was simply Lasseter's imagination, or it may have been some acquaintance with gold and mining connections, if so then there are three possibilities. The most plausible is Joe Harding, formerly the proprietor of the Glencoe Hotel on the Arltunga Goldfields at the turn of the 1900's and later the Transcontinental Hotel at Oodnadatta from where Lasseter started his failed 1911 attempt to rediscover his reef. Bill DeCarli, co author of a recent Lasseter book, 'A Dead Man's Dream: Lasseter's Reef Found', has suggested that Joe Harding and Lasseter were in the same Adelaide hospital in 1917, Harding recovering from nephritis and Lasseter from injuries sustained in a street brawl. Both men met and if so gold and lost reefs may have been discussed and Lasseter later took on board Harding's name as his saviour and some apocryphal story about a missing bonanza.
Fellow Lasseterians have suggested a South Australian cattleman and occasional prospector named Charlie Harding as the Harding in Lasseter's thin story. Charlie Harding worked cattle through the Musgrave and Mann Ranges in South Australia's far north and is alleged to have carried several samples of rich gold specimens, no doubt to acquaint the Aboriginals with the nature of the precious metal and to enlist their help in the search. Charlie had another other claim to fame, at one time he was alleged to have possessed the brass butt plate from an old rifle, engraved with the name of Ludwig Leichhardt, this brass plate has never been publicly sighted and is now lost to history. There is no record of any contact between Charlie Harding and Lasseter, although Lasseter may have seen newspaper articles about Harding's artefact from Australia's most famous missing explorer.
Then there is Neville Harding, former Lord Mayor of Sydney and Managing Director of Centralia Holdings and frequent visitor to central Australia in search of Lasseter's Reef, he who made the miraculous discovery of Lasseter's kit bag containing three rolls of film. But Neville Harding and his shenanigans is worthy of a separate entry.
© R.Ross. 1999-2006