Week 22…Gulf of Carpentaria…

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.”

9 Responses to “Week 22…Gulf of Carpentaria…”

  1. Robert T. says:

    Wow … what a trip! I’ve been following your journey since the beginning. I’m not from Australia, so I didn’t know about Burke and Willis and I’ve forgotten how I stumbled onto your web site last year, but I don’t know how you “continental explorers” do it. Congratulations … what a way to get PhD!

  2. Robin Hill says:

    Hi Dave

    If I read you correctly, you made it to the last yard yesterday 8 Jan 2009. You bloody beauty! You now join history’s select band of amazing achievers who have taken on the most gruelling of treks and beaten nature’s hazards. Who said “nature always wins”?

    Robin Hill

  3. Alan Bartram says:

    My Heartiest Congratulations Dave !!!

    What an awesome achievement. The hardships you surely endured replicatiing the historic journey of B&W must have been absouluely staggering

    Thank you for your postings throughout the journey and may the accolades be forthcoming

    Looking forward to hearing more soon

    Best regards

  4. Richard says:

    Great photo Dave of the boggy footprints.
    Whilst your verbal descriptions of the difficulties of the last few days of the trip were pretty convincing, the photo is a really great graphic illustration.
    Hearty congratulations from me and all who I have told of your exploits (and you have certainly been my favourite topic of conversation since you began).
    All that dogged determination and an artists eye for a great photo – your talents know no bounds!

  5. kate dunster says:

    Congratulations Dave, from the time I heard of your crazy plan whilst wandering with you through the Simpson Desert, I never doubted the day would come when I would raise a toast to your amazing achievement.
    Just incredible!

  6. Sandra says:

    Hi Dave,
    Hearty congratulations for this incredible trip from me! It is so amazing! I always looked up your trip and it is just amazing!I am speechless about your achievement. Great!!!
    Hope to see you soon, maybe on a tour?!
    Take care

  7. Anthony C says:

    Great work Dave!! Finally after 4 months you have made it! Must be a relief! CONGRATULATIONS! By the way great picture of the dog at the sand dunes maybe one of you next time aye!

  8. Eric Villiers says:

    Hi Dave, Congratulations from Ireland.

  9. Susan Allison says:

    Fantastic achievement Dave! Have been following this from England – I have special interest as I am John King’s great great niece and can barely imagine the awful conditions and harshness he suffered. Love the footprint photo, too – very evocative. If I was younger and fitter I would have loved to follow some of the route, but as it is, the nearest I can get is a visit to Dig Tree and surrounds……leave for Oz Friday. Can’t wait!

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