How many camels did Lasseter and Johns leave Illbilla with?


Did Lasseter and Johns leave Illbilla on 15/9/30 with five or seven camels?, perhaps a minor point and some might ask what difference two camels, of course it could make considerable difference to Lasseter's chances of survival in Central Australia during the summer months of 1930/31. But he travelled this inhospitable terrain with just two camels and Johns returned to Alice Springs with the remainder of the string. As Coote records, "three camels jangled their way into town. It was Paul Johns, the young German who had been with Lasseter", thus five camels.

Also the handwritten agreement between Paul Johns and C.A.G.E., signed on 13/9/30 clearly states, "Wherein the said Paul Johns agrees to place himself and team of five camels at the disposal of the said company". In Marshall-Stoneking's later edition of 'Lasseter the Making of a Legend' is a photograph of Lasseter and Johns at Illbilla with five camels, the provenance of the photo has not yet been established and if it is authentic then it was probably taken by Phillip Taylor, the only member of the expedition who had a camera at the time. There is a troubling anomaly in this photograph, there are no water canteens on the lightly loaded camels!.

The seven camel story seems to have begun as a result of Ernestine Hill interviewing Paul Johns a couple of years after the Lasseter saga. Assuming Johns knew how many camels he had, then it is more than likely the seven figure is another example the 'Picturesque Pen's' wayward journalism, Hill and Idriess are considered to be of the same ilk when it comes to Australian History.


 At Illbilla 15/09/1930, Lasseter leading, Paul Johns tailing, photograph by Philip Taylor.


R.Ross. 1999-2006

Coote, E.H. Hell's Airport 231,232. C.A.G.E. Papers M.L. A. 3043/6