Captain Charles Sturt leaving Adelaide in 1844 in search of an inland ocean in Central Australia.

Mystery of an Inland Ocean

An intriguing history can be found within the desert environment of Australia’s Red Centre. Imagine carting a whaleboat more than 3500 kilometres over land in search of a mythical ocean with no roads or maps to guide you.

This is exactly what the British explorer, Charles Sturt, attempted almost two hundred years ago. In a time when there was no aeronautical equipment or satellites available and the only way to map out the continent was by land or sea.

Convinced there was a large inland ocean to find, Sturt embarked on a journey from Adelaide in 1844 with a team of 17 men, 11 horses, 30 bullocks and 200 sheep. Not quite Noah’s Ark but enough to set a steady, slow pace where death and disease soon followed.

Almost a year later, overcome by the effects of dehydration and malnutrition, the team decided to return to South Australia. They arrived back in January 1846. Unknowingly, Sturt was with within 240 kilometres of Australia’s central region when he decided to turn around.

Central Australia's inland sea

So, was this a fool’s mission? Sturt’s grand idea of an inland ocean actually wasn’t that farfetched. Ironically, he had the location right but was about 120 million years too late.

During the Cretaceous period (144 to 65 million years ago) a great inland sea stretched over one quarter of the country, inhabited by large underwater creatures and brimming with sea life.

The water dried up long before humans came to Australia but many clues of the ancient sea bed have been left behind.

Today we find a very different environment known as the “Red Centre” where two of Australia’s most iconic land marks can be found - Uluru and Kata Tjuta.

If you’re thinking of visiting this magnificent region luckily there are now much easier ways to explore the wonders of Australia’s outback.

Find out for yourself what drew explorers such as Sturt to the region and learn about some of the stories in a place many thought could never be reached or inhabited.


Want to find out more about Australia’s ancient inland sea? These are some excellent sites.

Inland Sea, George Negus -

The Age of Reptiles, Oz Fossils -

AND (our favourite) Australia: The Time Traveller’s Guide -