Captain Mark John Currie, RN, is believed to have crossed the Limestone Plains, where Canberra stands today, on 1 June 1823. He moved on to the open country south – know as the ‘Monaroo’. Squatters followed, and by 1837 it was believed the Monaro (as it is now known) was populated by about 1500 people.
Count Paul Edmund de Strzelecki is acknowledged for the extensive exploratory work he undertook throughout the Snowy Mountains region, culminating in his ascent of Mt Kosciuszko in 1840.
In Victoria, explorers such as the botanist Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, Angus McMillan and Alfred Howitt penetrated the valleys and mountains. Von Mueller’s love of botanical discovery inadvertently turned him into a leading explorer, taking him on five long journeys through the Alps of Victoria and southeastern New South Wales during the 1850s.
The discovery of gold in 1852 led thousands of hopefuls into the Alps in search of their fortunes, and Howitt was among the early pioneers in Victoria. He explored the headwaters of the Wentworth, Crooked and Wonnangatta rivers.
Among the early explorers were graziers in search of new pastures for their stock. In southeatern New South Wales and northern Victoria, men such as George MacKillop and James McFarlane explored around Omeo, Deddick, Gippsland, Tambo and the Monaro.
On the western approached to the Alps, men such as John Mitchell, George Gray, James Brown and John Wells journeyed to the Bogong High Plains, Cobungra and the Gibbo Range (Victoria) seeking new pastures.
In the northern Alps, graziers pushed southwest from Queanbeyan and the Limestone Plains (around Canberra) in the 1830s. In 1839 Terrence Murray of Yarralumla (the property that became Government house in Canberra) was using a route over the Brindabella Mountains to establish outstations for cattle on the high plains of what is today Kosciuszko National Park.
Although credit is given to European explorers for ‘opening up’ the country, Aborigines played a vital role in showing the early white settlers the best routes through the mountains.
More information can be found in the Australian Alps education kit.