Archive for August, 2008

Day 15…little darling, it seems like years since its been clear…

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

Sunday, 17th August 2008.

…here comes the sun, little darling, here comes the sun,…sun, sun, sun here it comes.

It would be bold of me to say that today was warm. It wasn’t. It wasn’t warm by any stretch of the imagination and even the Hereford cattle with their thick, shaggy Winter coats looked cold. However the sun made an appearance from behind the clouds and I felt bold enough to take off my gloves. I felt almost naked walking with only two layers of clothing, short sleeves and no gloves. I was hesitant to believe that the weather was better simply because I was in New South Wales, but I hadn’t seen the sun for the last nine days in Victoria and here I was in the ‘Premier State’ with the sun struggling down between the clouds.

Today I was walking between Speewah and Lake Poon Boon. Burke remained in Swan Hill to check on the mail that arrived on the Cobb & Co Coach from Melbourne, and then he rode out to catch up with the expedition which had stopped for lunch at ‘Big John’ McKenzie’s Poon Boon Station at Lake Pomah. One of the shepherds sent his daughter out to meet the expedition and show them to road to the station. The daughter was Anne Jane Jones. Dr Becker was suprised to see a young lady emerge from the bush in such a remote spot and he was obviously quite taken by her as he described her as being ‘extremely well mounted on horseback and dressed in a black riding gown”. As walked along in my semi-naked state I was not fortunate enough to meet any extremey well mounted young ladies – oh well, never mind. Becker’s moment of pleasure did not to last long anyway, as Burke arrived from Swan Hill and ordered the expedition move on another twelve miles to the Wakool River crossing at Kyalite.

Geographical trivia; Anne Jane Jones’ father was once the Governor of Ferdinand Po, which is a small island in the Bight of Biafra which was under Aragones rule in the 1860s but was administered by the British Government.

As I finished the day I walked past the dry Lake Pomah. On the dusty shore of the now dry lake is the Pomah Recreation Reserve where the “Pomah Sailing Club” had it’s headquarters. The drought has put an end to sailing and there is little chance of Wayfarers or Flying Fifteens with billowing spinnakers cutting across the lake to the calls of ‘water at the mark’ and ‘lee ho ! mind the boom!’.

Swan Hill to Poon Boon.
Distance travelled today; 33.5 km.
Today Dave is at Poon Boon in New South Wales.
After fifteen days of travel, Burke was at Swan Hill.
Dave has had two days off so far. Burke and the expedition have had seven days off by this stage.

Day Off #2. Swan Hill.

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

Saturday, 16th August 2008.
Today there was a lunar eclipse which was visible in Australia just as the moon was setting. On the Murray at Swan Hill however there was thick cloud and so although we were up at 6.00 am, we didn’t get to see the eclipse. Wills reported seeing a solar eclipse as they travelled through Queensland. he was so preoccupied with the days march that he forgot about the eclipse until the sun began to slip behind the moon.

This was my second day off. Burke spent his time here sorting out his stores and writing an inventory of his equipment. We spent the day in a similar fashion, shopping at Coles, washing the ute, fuel, oil, water, clothes to the launderette, ‘Annie where are all the $1 coins ?’, refill gas bottles, emails, netbank, checking phone messages (another quick beer of two at the Federal).

I also bought another pair of boots. I have been asked how far I am planning on walking and how long it will take. One of the next most asked questions is ‘have you got a good pair of boots?’ I have a pair of Italian made Scarpa boots – probably the best boots available for mountaineering and snow work, but just a little heavy for a walk of this duration.I chose to walk in a pair of Columbia ‘Razor Ridge Mid-II’ boots which are sturdy enough for the bush and yet reasonably lightweight. However the boots were well worn in and probably didn’t have 3,500 km left in them. Now I have had some fantastic offers of support, encouragement, advice and financial suppport from a whole heap of people, some of whom I have known for years and some of whom I have never met, and I have tried to thank each of them personally. It would be ungracious of me to bag any person or company who has opted not to support my walk, but I did get an email from Blundstone offering to supply me with a couple of pair of boots for free.

Blundstone seemed to have a good range of boots, some of which appeard suitable for what I wanted to do, so I was very grateful for their offer and wrote back thanking them and explaining that I would need to break in any boots before I started walking. Unfortunately I never heard anything from Blundstone again, so I found myself in Swan Hill needing a back up pair of boots just in case the old faithfull Columbia’s had a heart attack before reaching the Gulf. I opted for Columbia boot again, a pair of ‘Coremic Ridge Mids’ in this seasons colours of brown and grey which I will break in over the next couple of days.

Day 14…bye, bye Victoria…

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

Friday, 15th August 2008.
I was off to Swan Hill today. I started out from Lake Boga with only 15 km to get to town. I stopped to chat to a local fellow who was exercising his trotting horses by running them along behind the ute. He reckoned it was too cold to exercise them on the track, so he preferred to sit in the warmth of the ute. It was cold, 1°C with a strong breeze blowing from the south-west. I knocked over the 15k pretty quickly and as I was walking into town I was met by Bruce, a local historian. Bruce walked the last few km’s along the riverbank with me.

Burke spent five day here at Swan Hill waiting for two of the he wagons to catch up and sorting out his stores. I spent a couple of hours here, first doing an interview with Hayley at the Swan Hill Guardian and then having a beer at the Commercial Hotel. The Commercial hads the big Moreton Bay Fig tree in the carpark, the one that was supposedly planted by Burke and Wills when this was the home of Dr Benjamin Gummow. Burke stayed at Gummow’s house while in Swan hill, but there is no evidence that he planted a tree here. Prue from the ABC had asked me about the tree, as did Hayley – ‘Did Burke and Wills plant the tree?’ and if not does it really matter that people think it is part of the expedition. I was ambivalent in my answer; it is good that people are still interested in the history of the expedition after almost 148 years, so things like the Swan Hill tree add layers of interest to the story, but equally it was important that people research their claims, particularly those people who make money from promoting such claims. I haven’t been to Swan Hill for four years and when I got to the tree I noticed there was a new sign there. The old sign proclaimed this as ‘The Burke & Wills Tree’. The new sign now state this is the big Moreton Bay Fig ‘known locally as the Burke & Wills tree’ and I was pleased that an effort had been made to present a more balenced view.

It was now time for me to leave Victoria and cross the bridge into New South Wales. I posed for a photo for the Guardian and walked across the old bridge having walked across Victoria. Burke went across on the punt as the bridge was a later addition. there were no boats around to bum a lift from, so the bridge was more than adequate for my purposes. Once on the other side I decided to pop into the Federal Hotel for another quick beer before wandering up the road towards Balranald.

Distance travelled today; 26.6 km.
Today Dave is at Speewah in New South Wales.
After fourteen days of travel, Burke was at the Clump.
Dave has had one day off so far. Burke and the expedition have had seven days off by this stage.

Day 13…a clump of heritage issues…

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

Thursday, 14th August 2008.
Today was so windy, a gale howled in from the south-west and there was little to discourage it as it blew across the plains. My nose has been dribbling pretty constantly with the cold weather and I haven’t thought much about it other than when Annie tells me off for wiping my nose on my sleeve when eating, or when sniffing during radio interviews. Today however I think my nose excelled itself, particulalrly the left nostril which was taking the brunt of the winds which I am sure were blowing directly off the polar ice-cap. I started out with my Akubra on, but it kept blowing off every time a B-Double roared by and interrupted the south-westerly hurricane, so at the first opportunity I left it in the ute and donned the beanie, which I pulled down firmly over my ears.

I was walking along the Murray Valley Highway and although the lake scenery was interesting, from a historical perspective it was not too inspiring. I put my head down and strode out, ticking off the k’s while listenning to Triple J. At noon I tuned to ABC Victoria for a weather forecast and was amazed to hear that I was the second story on the news…’Queensland student, Dave Phoenix, has passed through Kerang and is expected in Swan Hill tommorow…” I was now a news item – it must have been a quiet day in the Victorian news room !

I stopped at the ‘Burke and Wills Clump’, a stand of eight box trees which purport to be Burke’s Camp 14. Becker described camping in a belt of timber between Lake Tutchewop and Lake Boga. Much of the timber has since been cleared for agriculture and few trees remain. The area of the clump was identified by locals in 1998 and while the location of the camp cannot be positively identified, the area has received Heritage Listing. There is only one other Burke & Wills campsite that has the protection afforded by Heritage Listing and that is the Dig Tree. Camp 119, the second most northerly camp, is under review for Heritage Listing at the moment and the Cooper Creek around Innamincka in South Australia is also part of a Heritage Listed corridor. Heritage Listing is a State matter rather than a Federal affair, so as the Burke and Wills track passes through four states (and 22 different Shire councils) there are many different regulations affecting Heritage Listing and many significant sites have no protection whatsoever. I think this is an area that needs addressing as part of the 150th Celebrations in 2010-2011.

While I was contemplating these issues, the phone rang. It was the Royal Society of Victoria who were planning the 150th Anniversary Celebrations for the Burke & Wills Expedition in 2010 and who were enquiring as to my progress. At first communication was a little difficult, but once I found a place out of the wind and after I managed to pull my beanie up over my ear so I could hear the phone the conversation went well.

Towards sunset I walked past the empty motels and caravan parks at Lake Boga and wandered down to the now dry lake bed where Catalina flying boats had once skimmed over the surface like huge metal pelicans. Places like this are really suffering due to the drought, not just the farmers but the tourist industry as well, the fishing tackle shops advertising bait to catch fish which died when the lake finally dried up in January this year. When no one is making any money in town, the whole town suffers.

I made my way to the Commercial Hotel for a beer by the wood furnace. As I sipped my Carlton Draught I was accosted by an old bloke – a little fellow with a big mouth and an even bigger sense of humour, obviously a regular and a character in these parts. I asked if he was a local, ‘Spent my whole life here’ he replied. Obviously I thought he was proud of the place, so I asked him what he thought of the place, ‘Bloody sick of it’ was the reply.

Distance travelled today; 32.6 km.
Today Dave is at Lake Boga.
After thirteen days of travel, Burke was at Reedy Lake.
Dave has had one day off so far. Burke and the expedition have had three days off by this stage.

Day 12…we gave the camels tidy doses of rum to warm them…

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

Wednesday, 13th August 2008.
We only just made it back to the train line at Tragowel. the road was so wet and slippery we almost slid into the bore drains and got bogged several times. When we finally arrived back at the road intersection it was 09.30 and then while I was lacing up my boots Frank called. Once I had finished talking to Frank about the Plant Camp it was 10.30 and I really needed to get on the road. Annie went to the nearest sealed road and I headed across to the Tragowel Swamp. As soon as I hit the road the phone rang again. It was Prue Bentley from the Breakfast Show on ‘ABC Mildura and Swan Hill’ wanting to do an interview on the road for their Outside Broadcast from Pioneers Week at Swan Hill. I arranged a time and place to meet Prue and hurried along in the vain hope of getting off the dirt roads and on to the sealed roads in time to meet Prue.

I got to the Tragowell Swamp and met up with Annie for a cup of tea and porridge for breakfast. When the Expedition arrived here in the evening they were wet, tired and cold. Landells gave the camels ‘tidy doses of rum to warm them’ and Beckler noted ‘the Expedition members took the stimulant with rather more enthusiasm than the camels !’. In order to maintain historical accuracy I felt it was only appropriate that I also took a ‘tidy dose of rum’ at Tragowell. I had planned on being here last night and drinking the rum at the end of a long day on the trail, but because of the rain I had given it away after 37km and so it now meant I would have to have rum with my breakfast of porridge oats. Never one to back away from my responsibilities as a historian, I filled a pannikin with rum, toasted the expedition and let it chase my breakfast down. As I have been living in the Sunshine State for the last twelve years, what else could I chose as my breakfast tipple other than Bundaberg Rum ? The Bundaberg Distillery wasn’t established until 1888, so I am sure it wans’t Bundy that Landells was feeding the camels, but I found it fine. For those of you who have not been fortunate enough to spend time in Tropical Far North Queensland, the single biggest crop in the coastal areas is sugar cane (followed by bananas). Cane has been grown in the north for over 120 years, but it really became prominant after WWII when Italian, Cypriot and Maltese migrants arrived and started sugar farming in earnest. Even today the second biggest language group around the Cairns area and up on to the Atherton Tablelands is Italian. The cane is harvested around this time of year and once it has been crushed and processed the by-product is that sticky, black syrup called mollasses. In most countries in the world mollasses is fed to cattle to make them fat and shiny, but in Queensland it is put to a much more noble use. It is placed in shiny, silver tankers and driven down to Bundaberg where it is distilled and placed into bottles with white polar bears on them (not because there are so many polar bears in the Tropics, but because the polar bear symbolises the rum’s ability to counter the winter chills).

As soon as I had emptied my pannikin it was time to lace up my boots and hit the trail to meet Prue. I had only been walking ten minutes when she zipped by in the red Holden with the ABC signwriting on the side. She stopped and wound down the window. I stuck my head in and said ‘G’Day’ and hoped that the smell of Bundy didn’t put her off too much. We walked along a side track while doing the interview, the crunch of gravel under my boot being part of the soundscape that gave the impression of movement. Ten minutes later and with a couple of photos snapped on the ABC camera and Prue was gone, rushing back to the Outside Broadcast van at Swan Hill for ‘Pioneer’s Week’.

The rest of the day passed rather uneventfully and I crossed the Loddon and headed out to Reedy Lake. Once at the lake I decided on a wash and scrub up in spite of the temperature of the water and then once the swags were rolled out we had the first night without rain for nearly a week.

Distance travelled today; 31.7 km.
Today Dave is at Lake Charm, north of Kerang.
After twelve days of travel, Burke was at Tragowel.
Dave has had one day off so far. Burke and the expedition have had three days off by this stage.

Day 11…next left, then right, then left, then right…

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

Tuesday, 12th August 2008.
I have always assumed that the expedition progressed slowly thorough Victoria, the wagons slowed them down and Burke was frustrated by the slow rate of travel. This is pretty much the impression one would get from reading Moorehead or Murgatroyd and I had no real reason to question it. However once the two slower wagons had left the expedition to take a different route to Swan Hill, the rate of travel picked up somewhat. This was one of the sections where no one walked – all the men were mounted on camels or horses or riding on the expedition’s wagons. The weather was better here north of Bendigo, the roads drier, and they made some long stages across the Terrick Plains; 24 miles (38 km) from Kennedy’s to Patterson’s and 20 miles (31 km) from Mt Hope to Tragowell. I plan to cross Australia in the same number of days that Burke took, 122 days, so I need to average 27.8 km a day during the trip. However if I was going to keep up with Burke through this section of Victoria I would need to increase the pace somewhat and push 32 to 35 km a day for the next week. In addition to the longer stages, I was unable to cut directly across the plains as Burke had done. Many of the properties here are under crops, so it is not possible to walk directly across the paddocks and many of the paddocks have irrigation channels around them with limited access. Consequently today was along the roads, north for a couple of kilometers and then turn left and west a couple of k’s before turning right and heading north again. I was never far from the expedition’s track and Mt Hope stood out starckly behind me, reminding me that I hadn’t travelled too far down the muddy roads and tracks.

It was another cold, windy day. It was -1°C at sunrise and although the top temperature was forecast to be 8°C, it struggled to get above 5°C. The howling westerly wind was unpleasant to walk into, so I enjoyed the northerly sections far more than the westerly ones. Beckler described today as ‘the worst day of our journey’. They started out with good weather in the morning, but as the day progressed the weather deteriorated and by mid-afternoon the wind and rain were so strong they had to turn the camels off the track and into some bushes for shelter. He felt sorry for the camles who were struggling with the cold, wet conditions and he described them in the rain as looking like ‘huge, plucked fowls’. The expedition didn’t arrive in camp until after dark and the rain continued all night. I had done 37 km by the time I approached the train line near Tragowel, and had just five kilometers to go when the rain began to pour down from the dark, black clouds. This walk was becoming more historically accurate by the second – and not in a pleasant way either. After plodding along for a little way further I decided to let discretion take the better part of valour and called Annie on the UHF before we both got bogged on the dirt roads. After placing my flagging tape marker by the track and marking a waypoint on the GPS so I would know where to start again in the morning, we retreated down the slippery, wet roads to Cohuna and watched the rain pour down from the comfort of the Bower Hotel. Once the rain eased up we rolled the swags out by the Murray River. Fifty metres away on the opposite bank was New South Wales, but it would be another three long days walking before I would get to leave Victoria.

Distance travelled today; 37.0 km.
Today Dave is at Tragowel, south of Kerang.
After eleven days of travel, Burke was at Mount Hope.
Dave has had one day off so far. Burke and the expedition have had two days off by this stage.

Day 10…”burke and willsing”

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

‘Burke & Willsing’
verb. (bûrk a’nd wlz-ing)
1. To participate in the often fruitless but strangely compelling activity of conducting field research into the trail of dead, bearded explorers.
e.g. 1; “I was planning on having a few days off at Cooper Creek, but on the second day I couldn’t resist doing a bit of burkeandwillsing.”
e.g. 2; “I had a great day burkeandwillsing, but I didn’t get any closer to finding the Plant Camp.”

Monday, 11th August 2008.
Today dawned much brighter and clearer than the previous few and I and just had to do a bit of burkeandwillsing. I delayed walking and we drove back onto the now drying roads of the Terrick plains to check out where Becker drew his third sketch. I hadn’t been able to check this out as I walked past yesterday as the cloud and rain had reduced the visibility. Becker painted a view of the Terrick hills that the expedition had as they approached them on the 30th August 1860. He wrote that the hills were on a bearing of North by West. NbyW is 348° 45′ 0″ but this bearing would not give the view depicted by Beckler with Mount Hope in the background. A bearing of north-west (315° 0′ 0″) gave a much better approximation, but 315° is a long way from 348° 45′. Becker’s English was good but he was known to lapse into his native German when he spoke fast or became flustered and he used German words when he couldn’t remember the English equivalent, so maybe he used NbyW to mean NW.

Once we finished running around after Becker, I got back to the task of walking. I hadn’t gone far before it was time for a bit more burkeandwillsing. Here at Terrick the expedition had taken their second day off and after all the camp chores had been completed, Wills, Becker and Beckler climbed the granite outcrop and made scientific observations. Annie and I climbed up the same hill and marveled at the view (while being careful to hold on to avoid being blown away by the gale force south-westerlies).

Back to walking and by late afternoon I had reached Burke’s eleventh camp at Mount Hope. Once again it was time for some burkeandwillsing as Wills, Becker and Beckler had climbed this granite outcrop as well. I scrambled to the top of the hill just before sunset and saw the clouds scudding by, lighting the surrounding plains just as Beckler had described;

‘It was a magnificent panorama which affected the observer not by any delightful or varied detail, but by the horizontal areas of various gentle hues and unbroken, one could almost say mathematical, lines. The play of sunlight and clouds produced wonderful effects on the wide plain; light and shadow alternated in quick succession as in a diorama. Miles of land were lit up, only to be east into deepest shadow within a few seconds. Huge clouds sailed across the sky and their shadows rolled over the land like the tatters of a gigantic, torn veil…’
Dr Hermann Beckler

As I walked down the hill past the dramatic granite outcrop of Suicide Rock the sun turned the rocks a pale pink hue and sank below the horizon ending a very good day’s burkeandwillsing.

Distance travelled today; 34.2 km.
Today Dave is at Mount Hope.
After ten days of travel, Burke was at Mount Terrick.

Day 9…Bush Roads…slush roads….

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

Sunday, 10th August 2008.
Steady rain all night meant everything was wet this morning. The roads across the Terrick plains are a a combination of bitumen roads and dirt roads; the dirt roads are generally classed ‘Dry weather only’. This is indeed a wise classification as the roads are made of the clay loam soils which turn to glue as soon as the fist drops of rain hit them. Annie in the ute left me for the day and drove around the long way on the sealed roads to meet me at the end of the day. I looked at the sealed roads (which would have meant easier walking but additional distance) and decided (rather bravely) to keep on my original track and walk the dirt roads. I slipped and slid around in the mud like a badly choreographed version of ‘Disney On Ice’ and as the showers continued to roll in from the west I began to question my earlier bravado in deciding to take the shortest route.

For those of you who have walked through mud but have not experienced Australian bulldust, the rain soaks in only a few inches deep, so the top layers are wet and down below it is dry. The top layers stick to your boots and after a couple of paces you have platform soles that Kiss or Garry Glitter would have been proud of. However my 1972 fashion footwear meant I was not getting very far very fast. The showers were bitterly cold and I put my Gore-Tex on, just to take it off a minute later as the sun came out and my exertions made me sweat.

When Major Thomas Mitchell travelled through here in 1836 he was impressed by the countryside; it was lush and green and he named it ‘Australia Felix’. There had obviously been recent rain as Mitchell’s wagons sank deep into the ground and many, many years afterwards the settlers could follow ‘Mitchell’s Line’ by the imprints of the wagon wheels in the ground. (The reason Mitchell could drag wagons across ground like this while Burke had problems was due to the animals they used – Burke used horses which could be likened to a decent Holden V6 petrol engine – reasonable acceleration and decent speed on good roads, Mitchell used bullocks, which would be a Toyota 1HZ diesel – plenty of torque for hauling through the mud but not the fastest thing off the line when the lights turn green). I looked back down the track to see how far I had come and saw my bootprints etched deeply in the road. I fancied that in years to come the settlers would be able to follow me in the same way as they followed Mitchell by following by tracks while wondering which fool would wander down these roads in the rain.

When I met up with Annie at the end of the day her best attempt at a title for today’s blog was “Burke & Wills – From Melbourne to Mud” – as you can see, I thought mine was better. To finish off the day I had visions of a nice beer by the roaring open fire at the Mitiamo pub. However this is the point where my normally impeccable research let me down – the Miti pub closed ten years ago !

Burke never went via Miti and once I found the pub wasn’t open, neither did I.

Distance travelled today; 34.4 km.
Today Dave is at Mount Terrick on the Terrick Plains north of Bendigo.
After nine days of travel, Burke was at Picaninny Creek on the Terrick Plains.

Day off…wake me up with at 10.00 with a Waldorf salad and lashings of hot screwdriver…

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

Saturday, 9th August 2008.
My first day off and I must admit I was looking forward to it. I wasn’t that tired and I wasn’t aching that much but I was looking forward to having a break after eight days and nearly 200km of treking. I had planned to take Sundays off each week – I don’t really know why I decided to take Sundays, Annie and I have been working in the tourism industry in Cairns for the last twelve years so we never really take Sundays off.

On reflection I decided that a Saturday or a Monday was a better day to take off in order to get things fixed or repaired and to do a bit of shopping. This week we did not need to do much on the day off other than a bit of washing and cleaning so we decided to go back to the Campaspe River where there was water. The sky was dark and overcast as we set up camp on the banks of the river and it began to rain as the sun was setting. The rain was only really a shower and nothing compared to the intensity I would face in the Gulf but it gets so cold when the sun disappears behind the clouds, the wind picks up and the rain begins to fall; Crowded House summed it up – “Four seasons in one day.”

The sun shines on the black clouds,
Hanging over the domain,
Even when you’re feeling warm,
The temperature could drop away,
Like four seasons in one day.

I laid in my swag until nearly 10.00 am. I couldn’t tell you the last time I stayed in bed that late. I wasn’t tired, I just felt like staying bed because I could. Once I finally dragged myself from my pit it was time to wash, clean and scrub. Annie had already started the washing and the fencelines were strewn with socks and shirts blowing in the wind. A dip in the creek was shockingly cold but ultimately refreshing (once the feeling returned to the extremities). My walking gear had been washed, so today’s attire was tracky daks and cowboy boots, flanny shirt, beanie and gloves – some might think that was a little Bogan but I say in matters of the cloth I am as fickle as can be cause I’m a dedicated follower of fashion, (Although for the die-hard Kinks fans I missed out on the frilly nylon panties pulled right up tight).

Then it was time to clean the gear, reorganise the ute, sort out the food, etc… domestic chores. Burke had taken a day off back at Mia Mia on his first Sunday after leaving Melbourne to attend to all the camp chores and they had rain and cold weather too as they tried to get their camp in order, although I bet Burke didn’t use as much velcro, superglue, sika-flex and cable ties to fix things as I did.

I checked my phone messages and made a few calls and then checked my emails. The inbox filled with messages of goodwill and queries as to why my blog wasn’t being updated more regularly. I have to say that I am so pleased that people are not only reading my rambling thoughts on this blog, but they are also interested in them too ! However I have to admit that while the walk is going well and I am fine and happy and on schedule, the blogging has fallen behind this week. Wills spent an hour and a half each night once he came into camp writing up his daily journal by by the light of the fire. I have to sympathise with him as I sit shivering in my swag, trying to touchtype while wearing gloves by the light of a Petzl headtorch on a laptop with a battery showing 9% remaining while the Telstra NextG modem shows low signal strength. I will endeavour to keep up to speed with the blog but please excuse the intermittant updates which will become more noticable as fatigue and poor phone coverage become more prevalant.

Day 8…that vast and utter loneliness…

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

Friday, 8th August 2008.
I am really enjoying being on the back roads in Victoria. Thank you Mr Burke.

Burke was unsure of the route he was going to take and took local advice along the way. He would have been welcomed in any of the gold mining towns along the way, but he avoided them all and kept to the bush roads away from the main Cobb & Co route. This may have been in order to ensure the expedition progressed with as few distractions as possible. When Burke was here at Barnadown he was invited to John Harney’s home at Adelaide Vale for dinner with the local councillors from Bendigo. Burke excused himself at 10.00 pm and returned to camp where many of the others were also feeling the effects of a week on the road in cold, wet conditions. The Bendigo press were rather scathing at the reception they received when they visited the expedition at Barnadown, but Beckler recalls they were all pretty tired and not at all prepared for the ‘curious loving people’ and their ‘time-robbing questions’.

Anyway, Burke avoided the major towns and took the back roads through Victoria, which means I am strolling down quiet narrow lanes between Goornong, Runnymede, Avondale, Elmore and May Reef and thoroughly enjoying the peace and quiet and thanking Burke for not having walked down the Calder Freeway. The phone rang and the Melbourne Herald Sun wanted and update…”how was I feeling?’ – ‘good’; ‘how was it going?’ – ‘good’; ‘had I had any problems?’ – ‘no’ (I guess I wasn’t being all that newsworthy, if I wanted the headlines I would have to do more than stroll down country roads in Victoria), ‘had I felt lonely this week?’ – ‘No’. It had been a great week and I had met so many great people along the way I hadn’t had chance to be lonely. I guess I willl have to wait for the desert to get a chance to experience “that vast and utter loneliness”

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.

Distance travelled today; 29.1km.
Today Dave is at Picaninny Creek on the Terrick Plains north of Bendigo.
After eight days of travel, Burke was at Barnadown.