Two of the names one encounters frequently in Australia’s arid Red Center are Sturt and Stuart. It is worth pointing out that they are two different people simply so everyone knows that Sturt is not a typo. Charles Sturt and John McDouall Stuart were among Australia’s most important early explorers, and both spent most of their time hiking around hot, dry parts of the country. Actually, Sturt was Stuart’s boss for a while, and Stuart was along on Sturt’s sole Outback adventure (1844-45). However, though both men got sick (scurvy) on that trip, Sturt never recovered and never went back, so Stuart went on to be the more important explorer, with six expeditions into the interior (1858–62). In 1860, Stuart succeeded in crossing Australia from south to north.
The names of both men dot the landscape of the Outback, from the Stuart Highway, which follows Stuart’s path northward from South Australia across the continent, to the Sturt desert rose, which Charles Sturt collected and commented on during his wanderings around the Centre.
The Sturt desert rose (also known as Sturt’s desert rose) is the floral emblem of the Northern Territory. Not a rose at all, Gossypium sturtianum is in fact a species of hibiscus. The compact plants tend to grow in the Outback’s dry creek beds. The lovely pink blooms are all the more surprising for their arid surroundings.
Here’s a Sturt desert rose we encountered in Finke Gorge.