"there were two gentlemen in Sydney who were to share equally with him in
anything he made out of the reef."
|Errol Coote, Hell's Airport. Epilogue.|
According to Errol Coote, the Sydney gentlemen were Mr. Edwards, an accountant, and Mr. Roberts, a metallurgist and assayer. They were Lasseter's 'business partners', the arrangement was a third each of Lasseter's share from the proceeds of the reef. Of course there are no other records regarding this partnership, although correspondence between Lasseter and Roberts in February 1930 indicates that a relationship existed several months prior to the formation of C.A.G.E. Suggesting that Edwards and Roberts may have been Lasseter's true sponsors and perhaps managed his approach to the Government and the Baileys for financial backing to relocate the reef. Edwards was neither a shareholder or Director of C.A.G.E. and apart from Coote's reference, the only other evidence of a connection to Lasseter is a letter written from Illbilla the day the Expedition arrived. This letter first appeared in Austin Stapleton's 1981 book, Lasseter Did Not Lie. Stapleton was Coote's close friend and business associate for many years and Coote was the source of the letter, apparently given to him by Edwards.
A great deal of significance has been read into this letter since its publication, variously used to condemn Blakeley, justify Lasseter's suspicions and vindicate Coote, when It does little more than settle some minor points of history and Lasseter's duplicity. It was well known that Blakeley was hot tempered, confirmed by his own pen in Dream Millions and by Coote. Philip Taylor received a well documented Blakeley broadside the day he left the Boss stranded at Haasts Bluff, and an argument with Lasseter over mugs almost degenerated to fisticuffs. As for religious differences Blakeley would later accuse Lasseter of being the instigator through constantly singing hymns and quoting the bible. But Lasseter may have been justified in mentioning Blakeley's habit of spreading the blame around, considering the calibre of some of the men and general disorganisation of the Expedition, all probably received the rough edge of Blakeley's tongue at some stage of the journey, in fairness to Blakeley he does castigate himself a couple of times for incompetence.
Lasseter can make no complaint about Illbilla as the Expeditions base, the issue had been decided many weeks earlier in Sydney and with Lasseter's concurrence. He was well aware of the location through numerous press reports from Donald MacKay's expedition, confirmed by his letter to Mackay in early May, begging a lift to Illbilla and from there to be dropped off at an unspecified location with food, water and tools to peg leases, Mackay refused, pointing out that his was an aerial survey and not a prospecting expedition. As far as C.A.G.E. was concerned it was a practical location, apart from being near Lasseter Country, perhaps only 70 miles away, it was already well established at a known place, with water and a sizeable landing ground, an important consideration.
So Lasseter is 70 miles off course at Illbilla, and in another fine example of 'specific vagueness', fails to state in which direction, but given his later journeys and flight with Pat Hall, probably to the southwest in the vicinity of Mount Unapproachable, a useful landmark on the way to Lake Christopher, but a very dangerous area to travel in a Thornycroft. Lasseter's duplicity is evident through withholding this vital information from Blakeley, who was still ignorant of Lasseter's next move. If he had known that Lasseter wanted to be 70 miles to the southwest, then he would have escorted Lasseter with his watches, sextant and nautical almanac on a mornings walk to the summit of nearby Mount Lyell Brown, locations established and plans made accordingly. Instead Lasseter allows the Expedition to travel nearly 70 miles further west to Mount Marjory and there announces he is 150 miles off course. The letter also raises questions about Lasseter's loyalties which were apparently to his business partners first, and not the Company. And he could hardly use Colson's presence as an excuse for withholding the information, Colson was on his way to Alice Springs with the mail including the letter to Mr. Edwards.
The inference in the letter that Lasseter started getting off track at some earlier point in the journey refers to the incident at Haasts Bluff a week earlier, where, according to Coote, Lasseter wanted to travel south of the Bluff to an unstated destination while Blakeley insisted on the northern route to Illbilla as originally planned. Coote might read some false vindication in the letter, and with hindsight he writes that he would have insisted the Expedition head southwest at Haasts Bluff, "Then the story of Lasseter's Reef might have had a different ending". There's a possible reason for the lapse of fifty years before the letter was published, if it's contents were widely known at the time Coote would have faced some difficult questions from the Bailey's and shareholders and Fred Blakeley in particular, who always accused Coote of having private agendas and information. Blakeley might be forgiven a bit of violence when pointing out the deception and the difference between 70 miles astray at Illbilla then 150 miles out at Mount Marjorie. Whether Edwards brought Lasseter's complaint to the attention of the Baileys is not known, although they would have been aware that all was not well with the Expedition from other sources. All things considered Lasseter's letter to Edwards is nothing more or less than an excuse, preparing the ground for disappointment, and it's Blakeley's fault.
© R.Ross. 1999-2006
Austin Stapleton, Lasseter Did Not Lie. pg. 23,55. Billy Marshall-Stoneking, Lasseter In Quest Of Gold. pgs. 61-62. Errol Coote, Hell's Airport. pgs. 87-89,140 Epilogue.