A resourceful explorer and Aboriginal guide, Wylie was a loyal friend to Edward John Eyre, joining him in 1841 on the first known east–west crossing of the Nullarbor Plain.
Wylie was probably born about 1824, in the King George Sound area on the south coast of Western Australia. He was about 16 years old when he first met Eyre, who was so taken with Wylie that he asked him to accompany him on the crossing which departed from Adelaide aiming for Albany.
Wylie joined the expedition on the resupply vessel Hero at Fowlers Bay. They had about 1300 kilometres of rough desert to cross, and Eyre decided to reduce the size of his team, taking only his friend and overseer John Baxter, Wylie, and two other Aboriginal men, Joey and Yarry.
The Nullarbor sorely tested the party. It provided little shade or shelter and water was hard to find. Some local Aboriginal people helped them, and they found natural wells at places such as Eucla.
Midway through the crossing, tempers frayed as the meagre food supplies and extreme conditions – which now included bitterly cold nights – took their toll. Joey and Yarry killed Baxter, raided the stores and fled, leaving Wylie and Eyre alone in the desert with very few supplies or equipment. Occasionally the two renegade Aboriginals would call out to Wylie from a distance like dingos. But Wylie remained loyal to Eyre, helping to find the horses, shooting kangaroos, ducks and swans for food, and collecting yams and other roots to keep the two of them alive.
Fortunately they spied the French ship Mississippi, and its crew generously resupplied their rations. Wylie particularly enjoyed cans of treacle that he ate with rice.
As the two continued, they met Aboriginals near Esperance (WA) who recognised Wylie and learned that he had been mourned by his tribe since he had left them. Soon an excited crowd came out to celebrate his return to Country.
Wylie was commended for remaining ‘faithful to his white friend when forsaken by his countrymen’ and was awarded a medal, some money and weekly rations. He briefly became a policeman’s assistant, but disappeared from history around 1853.