Outback MagazineOutback Magazine


The Canyon Kings


Jim Cotterill outside Jim's Place at Stuart's Well

Story and photos Richard Shaw

At the base of one of Central Australia's most popular natural wonders, Kings Canyon, a stone monument stands inconspicuously.

An inscription simply reads: In memory of Jack Cotterill, whose foresight and effort made it possible for us all to visit this wonderful place.

For many Australians the Cotterill name is not synonymous with anything in particular, but in the Red Centre this family is legendary.

Jack Cotterill, wife Elsie, and sons John and Jim, migrated from Britain to Australia in the early 1950s, settled in Alice Springs and became pioneers of Central Australia's tourist industry. Perhaps their greatest feat was opening Kings Canyon to tourism in the early 1960s. These were the industry's infant days, when few tourists ventured so far and vehicles barely survived the heavily corrugated dirt tracks leading to Red Centre attractions.

Today, only Jim survives. He lives at Stuart's Well, 90km south of Alice, a place where John MacDouall Stuart obtained water for his horses during numerous expeditions in the 19th century. In the modern-day equivalent of a watering hole, Jim runs a roadhouse - aptly named Jim's Place. Each year countless travellers stop by this Stuart Highway landmark where Jim is always happy to recount his family's story.

In his late fifties, his sandy-coloured hair is greying and a thick grey beard accentuates his rounded face. Jim was only nine when his father decided to leave behind the greyness of England's Midlands for the 'land of clear skies and opportunity'. Just six months after arriving in Adelaide in 1952 Jack accepted a job in Alice Springs and the family took The Ghan up north.

This was quite ironic, Jim says, as shortly before leaving England older brother John had been showing the deserts surrounding Central Australia to his mother on a map. "That's one place we're never going to live," he vividly remembers her saying.

After only six months since leaving the lushness of England, Central Australia seemed incredibly foreign and forbidding. "When we arrived, Mum was in tears," Jim recalls. Story end

Full story: Issue 18, August/ September 2001

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