1860 - 1936







Alfred Canning




Alf Canning was born in Melbourne on February 21st 1860 (one source says 1862 but is incorrect.) to William Canning and his wife Lucy, (nee Mason.)


He was educated at Carlton College, Melbourne and after graduating joined the Lands Department of New South Wales. He worked at Cooma, Bathurst and Bega and in 1884 married Edith Maude Butcher.


He moved to Western Australia in 1893 where he joined the Western Australian survey department.


One of his first assignments was to survey the route for a rabbit proof fence (from Starvation Bay on the south coast to Cape Keraudren on the north coast.) In 1906 he was given the job of surveying a stock route from the east Kimberley to the eastern gold fields.


Aboriginal guides were recruited to show the men where to find water and were then chained up at night to stop them from running off. This was a wide spread practice but later, complaints made by a cook who had been sacked by Canning led to an inquiry into the treatment of the natives but Canning was exonerated.


The party was looking for water supplies every 25 kilometres or so and if no natural source was available they sank wells.


Early on Canning decided to give local Aboriginal names to the water sources as he reasoned that this would make it easier for the drovers coming through to inquire about the location of water.


After reaching Halls Creek they returned along the same route sinking more wells as they went.


He worked as a district surveyor in Perth in 1912 and in 1915 worked for the Land Re-pricing Board. He continued working for the public service until 1923 when he went into private practice with H. S. King. (One source says this happened in 1922.)


In 1929 at the age of 68, Canning returned to the stock route with another group of men to clean and repair the wells. He died in Perth on May 22nd 1936.


Canning was highly respected by the men working for him and he endured a great deal of hardship while working in the bush. On one occasion he travelled 210 miles on foot in 5 days covering one waterless stretch of 80 miles during this trip.


The wells he sank can still be seen along the 1490 kilometre track which today is a popular four wheel drive destination.


The longest distance between water sources is 26 kilometres and the track was first used to move stock in 1909. Some sources say that during the inaugural drove, two of the drovers were killed by local Aborigines but other sources say that this happened during a later drove in 1911. The drovers killed were George Shoesmith and James Thomson plus and Aboriginal stockman. In 1922 John McLernon - a member of an oil exploration team was killed and in 1936 a dingo trapper by the name of Joe Wilkins was killed.


The track was to continue in use to move stock until 1959.


Canning expedition sets out from Wiluna

Canning expedition sets out from Wiluna




1860 - Born in Melbourne on February 21st.

1882 - Appointed as a licensed surveyor

1882 - Worked in Bega until 1886.

1887 - Worked in Cooma until 1889.

1890 - Worked as a mining surveyor at Bathurst until 1892.

1884 - Married Edith Maude Butcher in Mary Immaculate Roman Catholic Church at Waverley, Sydney.

1893 - He moved to Western Australia and joined the Lands Dept..

1901 - Canning was commissioned to survey a route for a barrier fence across the State. No. 1 Rabbit Prof Fence.

1906 - Surveying a stock route from the east Kimberley to the eastern gold fields.

1910 - Visited England.

1912 - Worked as a district surveyor in Perth

1915 - Worked for the Land Re-pricing Board.

1923 - Went into private practice with H. S. King.

1929 - Canning was commissioned to complete a restoration of the wells on the stock route.

1936 - Died in Perth of progressive muscular atrophy on May 22nd.


Canning had one son who died in 1923.


A note regarding Alfred's middle name. Until recently we had Alfred's middle name listed as 'Wernham' but we were contacted by a relative of Alfred's who informed us that the spelling should be 'Wernam'. Apparently Alfred's maternal Grandmother's surname was 'Wernham' but Alfred (or his wife) recorded his name officially on electoral records as 'Wernam'. We also had a photograph that we believed to be of Alfred but this turned out to be of William Frederick Rudall, a surveyor who worked with Canning.


Details about the misidentified photograph can be found at :


Links to more information:


Alfred Canning

Canning, Alfred Wernam (1860 - 1936)

Questionable Methods


Canning expedition in Cue




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