I’m going down to the waterhole….

July 18th, 2010

Cooper’s Creek, man, she’s just a string of muddy waterholes,
you go there wrong time of year,
you might die before you get there,
you might die just as Mr Burke and Mr Wills.

Extract from ‘Cooper’s Creek’ from the CD Another Country, © Shane Howard 2004.

Burke & Wills’ 1861 Junction Camp on Cooper Creek.

Distance reduced to a continental walk…

July 18th, 2010

In Collins Street standeth a statue tall -
A statue tall on a pillar of stone,
Telling its story, to great and small,
Of the dust reclaimed from the sand waste lone…
…He lay on the desert a dying man,
Who has gone, my friends, where we all must go.

Extract from ‘Gone’ by Adam Lindsay Gordon.
Published in Poems by Adam Lindsay Gordon, Melbourne, 1893.

You can see the statue,
Watched by civic clock and
stained by pigeon rains.

And there he is, blessed by hoary arms,
Hoisted by the adventurer who imagined
Distance reduced to a continental walk.

Extract from ‘William John Wills writes his ending’ by Peter Gebhardt © 1992.
Meanjin, Vol 51, No 4, Summer 1992.

that vast and utter lonliness…

July 18th, 2010

So all men come at last to their Explorers’ Tree,
Whereon they carve their valediction to the world.
Whether as they, we explore a continent,
or are content to explore ourselves,
we find that mysterious centre,
that vast and utter loneliness, which is the heart of being;

‘Burke & Wills’ by Ken Barratt.
Published in A Book of Australian Verse, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1956. pp.153-154.

The Dig Tree

Dave on ABC Radio….

January 26th, 2009

ABC Far North – “David Phoenix returns after Burke and Wills journey”

Week 22…Gulf of Carpentaria…

January 8th, 2009

The final day of the walk across Australia !!!….

After walking 3,752 kilometres over the last twenty-two weeks I finally reached a small sandhill five kilometres from the Carpentaria shore. This sandhill was quite probably the most northerly point that Burke and Wills reached on Monday 11th February 1861. They had waded through knee-deep sea water and struggled across flooded salt-flats to try and get a view of the open ocean, but were unsuccessful and eventually turned back to Camp 120. Burke and Wills knew they were very close to the ocean – you can smell the sea, the tidal rise is nearly three metres and even at low tide the salt-flats are covered with water which you have to wade through.

The last ten kilometres have been the hardest of the entire walk across Australia. It has taken me three attempts over the last three days to cover this distance – I have been dodging rain and thunderstorms and trudging through knee-deep salt water and mud. The 4.1 metre tides cover the salt-flats each day which means at low tide there is mud everywhere. It is tough going, the temperature is 39.1°C and the humidity is 76% so the sweat is pouring out of me – it runs into my eyes, drips from the end of my nose, runs down my arms and drips off my thumbs – so I understand what Wills meant when he wrote,

“…[it] was most oppressively hot and sultry, so much so that the slightest exertion made one feel as if he were in a state of suffocation. The dampness of the atmosphere prevented any evaporation, and gave one a helpless feeling of lassitude that I have never before experienced to such an extent.”

The determination that both men showed to get this far north at this time of year was incredible. There were many opportunities for them to turn back, yet they continued north in spite of the difficulties. Of course Burke’s determination to push on despite their dwindling rations and being a fortnight behind schedule ultimately cost them their lives. A more considered leader may have turned back long before this point and no doubt the Commission of Enquiry were right when they reported “Mr Burke evinced a far greater amount of zeal than prudence…” However the last few weeks have been increasingly difficult for me and I have come to realise just how much of an effort Burke and Wills put in to reaching this spot.

Burke and Wills made little mention of turning back without having seen the open ocean, however their disappointment can easily be imagined. After more than 3,000 kilometres they were less than three miles from the beach at The Oaks when they turned back. Of course they didn’t know they only had three miles left to travel or I am sure they would have pushed on. They simply reached this place, or a spot very near here, and with time slipping away, the tide on the turn and facing more mud, mangroves and flooded salt-flats to the north, they ran out of options. As I turned back and walked from this point I could imagine Burke and Wills trudging back, following their muddy footprints southwards. The disappointment of not seeing the ocean and the prospect of the long, tough journey back to Coopers Creek would have weighed heavily on their minds and I am sure it wold have been a quiet, solemn walk back to Billy at Camp 120.

Burke made just one entry in his notebook during the return trip. Six weeks later when they were 800 kilometres away on Kings Creek he wrote,

“…it would be well to say that we reached the sea, but we could not obtain a view of the open ocean, although we made every endeavour to do so.”

Week 21…Flinders River…

January 8th, 2009

Week 20…Cloncurry River…

January 8th, 2009

Week 19…Corella Creek…

December 9th, 2008

Into the Gulf Country. 3000km walked since leaving Melbourne.

Week 18…socialising in the Selwyns…

December 9th, 2008

Visits to see Peter at Incitec Pivot’s Phosphate Hill, Bill at the Duchess Hotel, Wayne at CMA in Mt Isa and a visit from Richard and Anthony….very sociable week which made a change from the rain, thunderstorms and hassles due to floods in Sulieman Creek and the Wills Creek.

Week 17…Boulia…

December 9th, 2008

Into the Tropics, water in the River Burke, more storms and rain…