Between 1864–66 Charles Cooke Hunt was commissioned by the local colonial government, at the urging of the York Agricultural Society and others, to led expeditions east of York to discover, map and develop water sources that would ensure a reliable supply to as far as the Hampton Plains.
He was also tasked with assessing the country for its pastoral potential and, although abandoned fairly early, finding a route through to the eastern colonies.
After two expeditions in 1864, Hunt was in the field Between 17 January and 25 September 1865 with a party of probation prisoners and Pensioner Guards constructing the first of the series of wells during what is known as his Wells and Tracks Expedition. He completed his track on his Eastern Interior Expedition between July and October in 1866
Many of the wells constructed by Hunt’s party were known and used by the local aboriginals. Hunt often traded mirrors, knives and tommyhawks to entice them to show him the location of these water sources. Some were improved by being shored up or having the catchment area enlarged. His major wells were fine examples of the stonemason’s art, using local stone that often had to carted considerable distances.
Hunt’s teams cleared a track 500 kilometres to the east of York. They established a series of 26 wells, dams, tanks, soaks and other seasonally reliable water holes that ensured a safe and reliable route to the Hampton Plains to near current day Kambalda, Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie, until C.Y. O’Connor’s pipeline was completed in 1903.
Parties of probationary convicts and their Pensioner Guards built the wells and soaks, and cleared the track. Hunt would reconnoitre ahead of his construction team to look for more potential wells and determine a route for the Track.
He often came upon native wells that he named and for which he recorded the location although he chose not to develop them as the water yield was either insufficient or not reliable enough to be included in his Track.
Bayley and Ford, and Paddy Hannan were able to find gold at Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie in 1892 and 1893 respectively because they followed the track that Hunt had cut 30 years earlier – and what become known as Hunts Track.
Hunt’s Track is significant to Western Australia’s heritage generally, not just its exploration history. It allowed:
- Prospectors and, later, pastoralists to travel into the Western Australian interior.
- The routing of the Perth to Kalgoorlie pipeline.
- The establishment of the telegraph line to Kalgoorlie.
- The construction of the first stage of the transcontinental railway.
Today, Hunt’s Track has been preserved and commemorated as the York to Goldfields Heritage Trail. Some of Hunt’s Well have stood the test of time and are in very good condition. At least 10 have disappeared altogether while others are in a state of disrepair.