Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The Burke and Wills expedition

The Melbourne Age recently reported that an expedition is to retrace the steps of explorers Burke and Will,150 years after the ill-fated pair made the first traverse of Australia from south to north.

In 1860, Robert O'Hara Burke and William Wills were part of the Victorian Exploring Expedition, a large, and well-equipped party, that aimed to complete the journey from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and return safely after making scientific observations. Instead, it was a shambolic affair that saw the death of eight of its members including Burke, the leader, and Wills its navigator.

Incompetence, impatience and mismanagement are just some of the words that have been used to describe why the expedition was such a disaster. Ignorance is another. Rather than use the knowledge and help offered by Aborigines, the expedition, as Jonathan King writes in the Age, shot at "the blacks" and
Wills described the tribes as "mean-spirited and contemptible in every respect."

2010 expedition, which sets out in August,has an environmental objective with plans to carry out an audit of such matters as drought-induced soil erosion and feral animals. A century and a half after the orginal trek, the leaders will be seeking the advice and help of Aboriginal people and tribal elders are planning to welcome the entourage.

Despite it being a much celebrated catalogue of disasters, the
Royal Society of Victoria, which is organising the commemoration, hopes to remind people of the
expedition's achievements in exploration and scientific discovery, and the opening up of a path which many others would soon follow.

The Guardian reported the fate of the expedition on January 14 1862 (reprinted from the Sydney Morning Herald).

More information about Burke and Wills here.

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