Burke and Wills: The Triumph and Tragedy of Australia’s Most Famous Explorers
‘They have left here today!’ he calls to the others. When King puts his hand down above the ashes of the fire, it is to find it still hot. There is even a tiny flame flickering from the end of one log. They must have left just hours ago.
MELBOURNE, 20 AUGUST 1860. In an ambitious quest to be the first Europeans to cross the harsh Australian continent, the Victorian Exploring Expedition sets off, farewelled by 15,000 cheering well-wishers. Led by Robert O’Hara Burke, a brave man totally lacking in the bush skills necessary for his task; surveyor and meteorologist William Wills; and 17 others, the expedition took 20 tons of equipment carried on six wagons, 23 horses and 26 camels.
Almost immediately plagued by disputes and sackings, the expeditioners battled the extremes of the Australian landscape and weather: its deserts, the boggy mangrove swamps of the Gulf, the searing heat and flooding rains. Food ran short and, unable to live off the land, the men nevertheless mostly spurned the offers of help from the local Indigenous people.
In desperation, leaving the rest of the party at the expedition’s depot on Coopers Creek, Burke, Wills and John King made a dash for the Gulf in December 1860. Bad luck and bad management would see them miss by just hours a rendezvous back at Coopers Creek, leaving them stranded in the wilderness with practically no supplies. Only King survived to tell the tale.
Yet, despite their tragic fates, the names of Burke and Wills have become synonymous with perseverance and bravery in the face of overwhelming odds. They live on in our nation’s history – and their story remains immediate and compelling.
This was a trip that was undertaken foolishly primarily due to lack of planning. But there was also what could be called a comedy of errors from when the trip was first brought up through all the planning stages and during the actual trip. Fitzsimons tells the story without holding back on telling exactly what happened and who was to blame for the events that occured before and during this iconic exploration of Australia I have had this book on my bookshelf since 2017 and was looking forward to reading it, but the time commitment to get through what could be called a ‘door stopper’ had me leaving it until another time. When I finally got to it, I read all 623 pages in just a few days. Fitzsimmons has a chatty conversational way of telling the events of history. This book is definitely not a dry text book style account of this important event in Australia history. He tells the story in the present tense which makes his accounts of historical events much more entertaining.
Burke and Wills contains many archival photos and maps, which really did add to my enjoyment of this book.
Star Rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫
About the Author
Published on 31 October 2017 by Hachette Australia.
Hardcover 623 pages plus Endnotes and Index.
This review is linked to 2020 Aussie Author Challenge
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