Review Blog

Nov 06 2017

Burke and Wills : The triumph and tragedy of Australia's most famous explorers by Peter Fitzsimons

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Hachette Australia, 2017. ISBN 9780733634109
(Age: Senior Secondary) Recommended. Supported by a research team, Peter Fitzsimons has delved into the historical records related to the Victorian Exploring Expedition that left Melbourne with enthusiastic crowds and high hopes on 20th August 1860. The early chapters of the book reveal a deeply flawed leader, Robert O'Hara Burke, with no navigation or exploration experience and an impetuous nature. The expedition was supplied with 20 tons of equipment 6 wagons, 23 horses and 26 camels, but much of the equipment was useless and had to be abandoned on the journey north. Eventually the food supply began to fail, there was insufficient knowledge to be able to live off the land and local Aboriginal offers of help were spurned. With William Wills as navigator, John King, and Charley Gray, Burke decided to make a dash from their depot on Coopers Creek to the Gulf coast. The difficulties of the journey slowed the exhausted party down and they returned to the inadequate supply depot, just a few hours too late. Only King survived with the help of the local Aboriginal people.
The 700 page book explores the impetus for the expedition and also examines the repercussions, including the search party, a Royal Commission and Victoria's first State funeral. There have been a number of earlier accounts of the tragic story but in his own inimitable way, Peter Fitzsimmons brings the voices of the participants to the fore in this version. The maps, photographs, and drawings provide a valuable accompaniment to the story.
Paul Pledger

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