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Colson, Edmund Albert (1881–1950)

by C. J. Horne

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Edmund Albert Colson (1881-1950), by unknown photographer

Edmund Albert Colson (1881-1950), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 18102

Edmund Albert Colson (1881-1950), explorer and bushman, was born on 3 June 1881 at Richmans Creek, near Quorn, South Australia, eldest of eight children of Peter Errick Colson (Carlsen), a farmer from Sweden, and his second wife Ellen Amy, née Lines, who was English born. Educated at Yatina Public School, Ted became a voracious reader and developed a retentive memory. In 1896 he and his father sailed to Western Australia and walked 150 miles (241 km) to the Norseman goldfields. Ted stated that he was a contractor when he married a domestic servant Alice Jane Horne on 7 December 1904 at the Christian Chapel, Kalgoorlie, with the forms of the Churches of Christ; they were to remain childless. He took a job at Brunswick Junction in the south-west of the State before moving in 1917 to Victoria, where he worked on the construction of the Maroondah dam and in 1926 began a motor transport service between Healesville and Melbourne. Next year he was employed in extending the railway north of Oodnadatta, South Australia. In 1931 he leased Blood Creek station at Abminga, north-west of Oodnadatta; there he ran sheep, tended the government bore and kept a store.

In 1928 Colson had explored west of the Goyder River for 300 miles (483 km) beyond Mount Irwin station. Familiar with the Musgrave Ranges, he opened the route north from Moorilyanna Hill and Ernabella Creek to Kelly Hills and Opparinna Creek. He was cameleer and guide on Michael Terry's 1930 expeditions to the Petermann and Tomkinson ranges, and conducted A. P. Elkin on his anthropological investigations west of Charlotte Waters. Colson understood the rites, customs and dialects of several Aboriginal tribes. Over camp fires he sang, told yarns and indulged his talent for mimicry. Equally resourceful with camels and motorcars, he had a genius for mending and adapting equipment. He was burly and strong, with a shock of hair and a bristling moustache. Gentle, cheerful and unassuming, he was trusted both by Aborigines and by Whites. He was a Freemason and a district master of the Loyal Orange Institution of South Australia.

The triumph of Colson's explorations was his crossing of the Simpson Desert, which had previously defeated Charles Sturt and David Lindsay. Prompted by an exceptionally wet season and accompanied only by young Eringa Peter of the Antakurinya tribe, Colson set out from Blood Creek on 26 May 1936. He led a train of five camels eastward along the 26th parallel, clambering over a thousand steep, red sand-ridges, and naming Alice Hills, Glen Joyce and Lake Tamblyn. Navigating by compass, he reached his goal, Poeppel's Corner, the point where the Queensland, Northern Territory and South Australian borders met. Ted and Peter walked into the Birdsville pub, Queensland, on 11 June. Three days later they headed back, nailing a tin plate—bearing the date and Colson's initials—to the peg at Poeppel's Corner. After making a detour southwards, they arrived home on 29 June, having traversed more than 550 miles (885 km) in thirty-five days. In that exceptional season, the desert, said Colson, was 'one vast field of herbage, grass and shrubs'.

He continued to pioneer routes through Central Australia and to study Aboriginal culture. The South Australian Museum holds his manuscript, 'Legend of the Innja', and his 1931-32 correspondence with N. B. Tindale about Antakurinya legends. Ted moved to Finke in the Northern Territory where he established Colson Trading Co. Driving from Adelaide in a new Land Rover, he hit an electricity pole near Balaklava and died from injuries on 27 February 1950. He was buried in Centennial Park cemetery, Adelaide. A memorial cairn was erected at Birdsville in 1973.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Terry, Untold Miles (Lond, 1932)
  • M. Shephard, The Simpson Desert (forthcoming)
  • Geographical Journal, 78, 1931, p 341
  • Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia: South Australian Branch, 41, 1939-40, p 10
  • South Australiana, 18, no 1, Mar 1979, p 3
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 20 June 1936
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 16-19 June, 15 July 1936, 28 Feb 1950
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 8 Aug 1940
  • Herald (Melbourne), 9 July 1956, 11 June 1986
  • M. Terry, Log of Expedition to the Petermann and Tomkinson Ranges (manuscript, 1930, Royal Geographical Society of South Australia)
  • Colson papers (State Library of South Australia and Anthropology Archives, South Australian Museum)
  • file DL 2841/35 (South Australian Dept of Lands, Adelaide).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

C. J. Horne, 'Colson, Edmund Albert (1881–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/colson-edmund-albert-9798/text17319, published in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 1 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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