German naturalist Ludwig Leichhardt started his epic expedition from Moreton Bay, Queensland to Port Essington, Northern Territory in 1844.

German naturalist Ludwig Leichhardt started his epic expedition from Moreton Bay, Queensland to Port Essington, Northern Territory in 1844.

Exploring an unknown continent

An innovative digital project by the National Centre of Biography is retracing the great expeditions of the European explorers in Australia, starting with the epic trek of Ludwig Leichhardt. KAREN FOX and CHRISTINE FERNON report.

How does a gentle stroll across 4,800 kilometres of northern Australia's roughest terrain sound?

Would it be any better if you had a rough map, about A4 size?

You can bring a group of people but the government has just pulled out of funding your trip - a trek no European has ever done before.

Are you still up for it?

That is how German naturalist Ludwig Leichhardt started his epic expedition from Moreton Bay, Queensland to Port Essington, Northern Territory in 1844.

It was a monumental journey of nearly 4,800 kilometres which took 443 days.

It traversed some of northern Australia's harshest conditions and took so long that the party was given up for dead by those waiting for news.

Leichhardt's friend Robert Lynd even wrote a funeral elegy.

Along the way, four of the seven expeditioners on the trek wrote accounts of their experiences, which added greatly to Europeans' knowledge about the north of Australia.

Explorers are among the most frequently searched entries in the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB).

Their routes are some of the most requested maps in national and state libraries.

The quest to discover a land that was unknown to Europeans has captured the imagination for decades.