Day 18. …a wretched punt at a struggling little township…

Wednesday, 20th August 2008.

Early in the morning I was back at Balranald. I went down Mayall Street to Sturt’s Crossing, the spot where Dennis Hanan operated the “wretched punt” he had purchased from Captain Cadell to ferry the expedition across the Bidgee (‘big water’). I then went out past the hospital and Memorial Park to where the expedition camped. Local folklore recounts the expedition crossed the Murrumbidge and camped on the northern bank opposite the Balranald Inn. However Wills’ journal shows the expedition crossed at the punt and then camped about a kilometre from town on the river flats in a bend of the river.

Wills started his journals and field-books in earnest here in Balranald. He had worked as a shepherd on the Edward River nearby at Deniliquin and although he hadn’t been to Balranald, he was familiar with this country. It would seem that Wills felt that this was a suitable place to start tracking the expedition’s route, and so here at Camp 20 he got out the first of many little field-books and wrote in pencil on the pencil on the cover ‘VEE Surveyors Field Notes’. From here on I would be able to follow the expedition’s progress much more accurately as a result of the detailed information left by Wills.

The local recollection of the location of the expedition’s camp is not the only inaccuracy relating to this area. When the expedition was in Balranald the waggoneers demanded Burke reduce the loads on the waggons because of the waterless stages ahead which would be hard on the horses. It is well known that Burke left some of the expedition’s equipment behind, however what he did with it has become the subject of speculation. In ‘Dig Tree’ Murgatroyd makes the rather bizarre statement that Burke held an ‘impromptu public auction’. ‘After hauling his supplies at great expense for more than 400 kilometres, Burke chose to sell of a valuable selection if his equipment in the middle of nowhere’ she wrote. The equipment did not belong to Burke and it was not his to sell off. It belonged to the Victorian colonial government and Burke was not in a position to sell anything, having taken delivery of the equipment from Richard Nash the government storekeeper. In order to lighten the waggons load he chose to leave some equipment behind in the care of the merchants Messrs Sparks and Crawise, to be collected later or disposed of by the Exploration Committee as they saw fit. The equipment was still there ten months later when Howitt passed through Balranald on the Victorian Contingent Expedition. Howittmade an inventory of the items, took what he needed and wrote to the Exploration Committee asking for instructions for dealing with the remainder. It would seem that Murgatroyd used secondary sources of evidence as her main source of reference when determining what happened to the stores and erroneously concluded Burke held an ‘impromptu public auction’. Now Burke made many questionable decisions and he certainly was impetuous at times, however it is important that Burke be criticised for the impetuous decisions he did make and not the ones Murgatroyd assumed he made. I think ‘Dig Tree’ is not a bad read if one wants to read the history of the expedition written in a journalistic style, and in fact I have given away almost a dozen copies of the book to people I have met along the way. However without Bergin’s1983 UNE thesis she would have had little to write about and I don’t think Tom gets sufficient credit for his contribution. The publishers’ claims that the book contains ‘dramatic new scientific evidence’, is ‘meticulously researched’ and ‘looks beneath the myths to find the truth about the ill-fated expedition’ are surely a little overstated as the Balranald assesment is only one of many innacuracies within Murgatroyd’s book.

Incidentally, Burke and the expedition left Royal Park 148 years ago today.

Distance travelled today; 23.7 km.
Today Dave is at Paika.
After eighteen days of travel, Burke was at Kyalite.
Dave has had two days off so far. Burke and the expedition have had seven days off by this stage.

One Response to “Day 18. …a wretched punt at a struggling little township…”

  1. Bev Wood says:

    Thinking of you and wondering how you are feeling about your journey.
    You are making good progress. Take good care. Bev

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