FOLLOWING Ludwig Leichhardt's trail has been a long quest for Darrell Lewis but his new book marks him as one of Australia's leading scholars on the subject.
"Where is Dr Leichhardt?" is his critically acclaimed new book that charts attempts to locate the German explorer after he went missing west of Roma in 1848.
The Western Star caught up with Mr Lewis in Roma on his way back west to re-trace some of Leichhardt's footsteps.
Mr Lewis said the project started five years ago when he took up a research job at the National Museum in Canberra.
"They like people to research something they have in their collection," he said.
"The museum has a six inch long nameplate stamped Ludwig Leichhardt 1848, in fact I put them on to it."
Mr Lewis said the nameplate from a gun found in the Northern Territory was the only genuine artifact from the Leichhardt expedition that had been authenticated.
Leichhardt was last heard from at Mt Abundance station around 40km west of Roma on April 2, 1848 when he sent a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald outlining his intentions to explore east to the west to the new colony at Swan River (Perth).
Local historian Peter Keegan said it was this connection to Roma that made Leichhardt such an important figure in local as well as Australian history.
Mr Lewis said there were two theories as to where Leichhardt would have gone, both of which he explores in detail in the book.
Either he went directly west from the Darling Downs through the Simpson Desert or north and then west via the headwaters of the Gulf.
Mr Lewis said the latter was more likely.
"That is what Leichhardt said consistently he would do for two years," he said.
"When he came back from his first failed expedition, he got hold of (Sir Thomas) Mitchell's account of the Maranoa, Warrego and Barcoo and realised going up Mitchell's route would be a lot easier than going through the scrubby country he went through the first time.
"He hoped to follow the headwaters of the Gulf rivers and then find a path south."
Mr Lewis said what attracted him to Leichhardt's story was the mystery involved.
"An entire expedition - seven men, 77 big animals to start with and all the equipment - sets out in 1848 and to this date we don't know where it ended up or how," he said.
""By the time the outback was explored it almost doubled the mystery because we've searched the whole continent and haven't found a trace."