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Emily Creaghe was a valued member of an 1882 expedition across the rugged Gulf of Carpentaria region from Normanton (Qld) to Katherine (NT). Her diary shows remarkable tenacity and fortitude in the midst of trying circumstances, and a deep appreciation and love of the country through which she travelled.
Born Emily Robinson on 1 November 1860, on a boat in the Bay of Bengal in India, she was educated in England until her family moved to Queensland in 1876. At the age of 21 she married Irish-born station manager Harry Creaghe.
The following year, the Creaghes joined Ernest Favenc and his wife on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait. Favenc was planning to explore a region in the Northern Territory bounded by the Nicholson and Macarthur rivers, and the two women were to be part of the expedition. But after landing at Normanton, Elizabeth Favenc became ill and was evacuated to Sydney, leaving Emily as the only woman. On the initial 322-kilometre ride to Carl Creek station, in the searing heat of summer, one of the men died of sunstroke.
The party set out westwards, battling the ferocious tropical heat and flies. At one stage the horses had to go without water for 50 hours. Their supplies grew low, but despite all this, Creaghe – who had become pregnant – didn’t complain. Her husband affectionately called her ‘the Little Explorer’. Once they reached the telegraph station at Powell Creek, about 690 kilometres south of Darwin, on 14 May, the Creaghes took a couple of days rest and then drove the weaker horses north to Katherine telegraph station.
The Creaghes returned to work the land in Queensland until Harry died in 1886. Three years later Emily married English-born Joseph Barnett in Rockhampton. Her adventures didn’t stop though – on a trip to New Zealand in 1899 on the Perthshire, the propeller shaft broke and the ship drifted for seven weeks in the Tasman Sea until the vessel was taken in tow back to Sydney.
Emily Creaghe’s diary, kept in the State Library of New South Wales, was published in 2004, and Melbourne landscape artist Gemma Lynch-Memory painted a series based on her story in 2007.