Moonlighting with Moondyne

Club members Scott Overstone and Dave Wilson get to work on the old well.

OVER the WA Day long weekend, while their home suburb sang with the sizzle of snags, Kim Epton and fellow Cockburn 4WD Club members found themselves in more rugged surrounds working to save a historic well.  

Kodjerning Well is one of 26 reliable year-round water sources established by explorer Charles Cook Hunt, along with a team of probationary convicts, between 1864-1866. 

The wells stretch from York to Kalgoorlie and beyond along a route now known as Hunt’s Track, with many owing credit to First Nations knowledge of their sources.

The watering holes have been quiet but vital companions to some of WA’s seminal events. They slaked the thirst of workers on the first section of the Transcontinental Railroad and filled the water bags of early gold miners like Arthur Bayley and Paddy Hannon on their way to strike it rich in the interior.

In September 1866, the list of Hunt’s Track hopefuls expanded to include Moondyne Joe, WA’s infamous and colourful bush ranger, convict, and escape artist. 

After another of his legendary getaways from custody, Moondyne headed towards South Australia along Hunt’s Track, hoping to come upon the explorer’s party by surprise so he could steal their horses and rations. 

But the plot fell apart when he was spotted by a sandalwood cutter, leading to Hunt and police recapturing the slippery bushranger and returning him to Fremantle Prison. Perhaps Hunt’s convict labourers secretly harboured hope for the miscreant’s freedom.

According to Mr Epton, who quite literally wrote the book on Hunt (C.C. Hunt’s Koolyanobbing Expedition, Hesperian Press 1996), the water sources are spaced about 30 kilometres apart because “that’s about how far a horse could walk in a day”.

Goldfields

Mr Epton’s fascination with Hunt’s Track began in 1988 when he worked on the York to Goldfields Heritage Trail, part of a WA Bicentennial Project. The work included researching the wells and writing plaques.

The Cockburn 4WD Club worked with assistance from the Mitsubishi 4WD Owners Club as part of the Explorers’ Wells and Tracks Project.

The group fixed the fence around Kodjerning Well and built bunding to save it from further water damage.

According to Mr Epton, the state of the dry stone wall (constructed without mortar) is a testament to early stonemasonry. The 4WD club stresses the importance of preservation as few living masons understand the craft well enough to save the walls once they deteriorate.

“We try to make sure we’re always doing something that makes a difference when we go out bush,” Mr Epton said.

by CARSON BODIE

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