The Cotterill Family - Tourism Pioneers

The late Jack Cotterill....

and son Jim at Jim's Place, Stuarts Well

Jack and Elsie Cotterill, with their sons Jim and John, emigrated from England in 1952 arriving in Adelaide where he gained work with the South Australian railways as an engineer.
Jack decided to head for Central Australia where he worked for a while for Len Tuit as a deisel mechanic. In the mid-1950s he started his own tours to Palm Valley and in 1958 developed an interest in Ayers Rock where he began a flying tour to the rock with Connellan Airways and built a lodge there with his partners, the Underdown family, who owned the Alice Springs Hotel. The new company was called Alice Springs Tours Ltd.
Jack had a service station in Alice Springs and the family lived on the premises. He later approached the company to build a larger more modern facility which they did. Formed company with Daisy U down and they put in 1,000 each to form Alice Springs Tours Ltd. Jacks role was to maintain the touring vehicles while the Underdowns provided accommodation and services for the visitors while they were in Alice Springs. Howard Rust managed the lodge at the rock. This consisted of a corrugated iron building with 6 bedrooms, a dining room and 2 bathrooms.
In 1960 the then owner of Angas Downs station, Arthur Liddle, took Jack and his son Jim to see a place called Kings Canyon, on Tempe Downs station. There was no road into the canyon but Jack immediately decided the potential was there to create a major tourism attraction. It took a day and a half then to do the 200km. trip from Angas Downs to the canyon and the trio followed creek beds, tracks and gullies to find their way in. It was spectacular.
The sighting of the canyon led to the family moving to the north-west corner of Angas Downs onto a square mile property leased from Arthur and establishing Wallara Ranch, with the express purpose of opening the canyon to tourism.
The first task was to create a road from Wallara into the canyon. Jack and Jim had an old Dodge Weapons Carrier and they built a drag from 2 pieces of Channel Iron and cut their own road for the 100km to the base of the climb to the Canyon ridge.
Wallara then consisted of a dining room/bar, an accommodation block of 10 cabins, and could accommodate 20 people. The first tourists arrived in 1961 and in that year 600 persons visited this new and spectacular attraction. Tours took 3 days from Alice Springs. One day to get there, one into the canyon and back, and one back to Alice Springs. The day at the canyon was full beginning with a climb to the top, then a walk around the top which offered spactacular views into the canyon itself, then down into the upper level valley known as the Garden of Eden, and back up to the top for the descent. The day finished with tea and damper as the sunset over the canyon before the 100km. trip back to Wallara.
At Wallara, Elsie would have the tea ready and the rooms made up so the visitors could retire ready for the trip back to Alice Springs the next day. It was exciting times as the visitations grew. By the time Wallara was demolished in 1990 there were 60,000 people a year visiting Kings Canyon. A monument now will be seen at the foot of the climb to the canyon which honours Jack Cotterill, but it should be noted this was a family endeavour. Jack Cotterill passed away in 1978 and the business was carried on and expanded by Jim and his brother John. Elsie pre-deceased Jack by 10 years. Jim Cotterill was forced off the property by unreasonable demands from the successors of Arthur Liddle in 1990 and opted to demolish the buildings and move to new premises which he owns at Stuarts Well. The history of the development of Kings Canyon and Wallara will be found on the walls at Jims Place 80 km. south of Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway.
The historic Dodge and drag which cut the road will be seen at the front of the new establishment.

Copyright Peter W. Wilkins