Day 6…Mia Mia, morning tea, media, mud-cake and muddy lakes…

August 9th, 2008

Wednesday, 6th August 2008.
Today saw me walking across the Spring Plains to Mia Mia. When Becker travelled across here with the expedition he saw basalt and granite outcrops and when the morning mist lifted he thought the expediition was crossing an ancient volcanic crater. He consigned the scene to memory and when they got to Mia Mia and had a day off, Becker drew the following scene;

I got to see the original drawing at the State Library of Victoria before I left Melbourne. Becker was a remarkable artist and I will be using his art during the walk to locate the expedition’s track and to understand more about the events of 1860-1. Normally Becker’s sketches were very accurate and impeccably drawn. This was Becker’s first sketch on the expedition and although he spent some time constructing an interesting piece of art, he did exagerate the scene somewhat and while it is possible to identify the crater and the artisit’s viewpoint, but the whole scene is somewhat exaggerated.

As I walked into Mia Mia there was a profusion of colour as the wattles were in bloom. The yellow flowers stood out against the blue sky and green grass and I remembered that when the expedition arrived at Dr Baynton’s there was no feed for the camels so ‘wattels were cut for them, which they did not refuse’.

When I got into Mia Mia there was a reception committee waiting for me. Bernie had arranged for the local community to put on a morning tea at the community hall. I was welcomed into Mia with a bowl of Ned’s home-made pumpkin soup and a cup of tea. There was also more media; Gem from ABC Central Victoria at Bendigo, David from the Bendigo Advertiser and Graham from the McIvor Times. After more photos and interviews I had a pleasant hour in the Mia hall answering questions about my favourite subject and listening to some of the local history of the area. A huge thanks to Bernie and Brett and all at Mia who took the time and effort to bring a plate and make a very pleasant morning, I wish I could have spent longer there.

Burke arrived in Mia at 5.15 pm on Saturday night and on Sunday they took their first day off. I decided that I had not yet earnt a day of rest, so headed north towards lake eppalock. When Burke left here they went via the small gold mining area of Wild Duck Creek. The creek crossing here was the first deep water that camels had encountered. There was some concern over how the camels would cope with creek crossings and they had been supplied with inflatable bags to place under their jowls to keep their heads above water. The camels crossed Wild Duck Creek without incident.

In 1960 the area was flooded to become the water storage dam called Lake Eppalock. Wild Duck Creek and the old coach road disappeared under 370 megalitres of water. However the drought of the last eight years means Eppalock is now nearly dry. Today it is only 6% full (and that is water that has been pumped from the Murray River via the Warranga Channel) so the old road and wooden bridge are exposed. As the sun set in a blaze in the west, I carefully balanced on the rotten timbers of the bridge that had been under water for nearly forty years and crossed Wild Duck Creek.

That night we had been invited back to Mia Mia to Brett and Bernie’s. Brett is a sixth generation Mia Mia sheep farmer with a proud history in the area and Bernie is a driving force in the local community; she has just produced the first edition of the community newsletter “The “Bridge Connection“. Thanks to their generosity and wonderful hospitality the swags remained in the back of the ute and we had the luxury of hot showers, a warm meal and a bed for the night.

Distance travelled today; 31.6km.
Today Dave is at Eppalock.
After six days of travel, Burke was at Mia Mia.
Burke took his first day off here.

Day 5…sunshine and socialising…

August 7th, 2008

Tuesday, 5th August 2008.
An early start today from the beautiful cottage at the foot of the Divide. As I started up the big hill the wind had died, mist shrouded the trees and all was still and calm. It is a beautiful walk up through the ancient gums, the strips of bark hanging down around the trunks, echidnas shuffling by and big roos with their thick winter coats hopping over the fallen logs. At the top of the hill I met Annie and had tea and porridge for breakfast and spent a while taking photographs.

As I started down the hill a car pulled up and wound down the window, ‘…do you want a lift ?’. It was David and Val who had come out see see how I was progressing, so we returned to the top of the hill and had another cup of tea. Back on the road an hour later and another car pulled up and wound down the window ‘…do you want a lift ?’ It was Nick and Fiona also out for a visit and a chat. Back on the road again the sunshine streaming down and fluffy white clouds scudded by as I walked down the other side of the Divide. It was a beautiful day and I was walking on the first section of dirt road. It was pretty quiet and the sounds of currawongs and correllas made a nice change from the traffic noise that I had listened to for the last four days.

It was getting towards sunset as I approached Baynton for the final few kilometres for the day. Another car pulled up and wound down the window ‘do you want a lift?’ Visit number three for the day – it was Walter back from a business trip overseas who had come out for a visit. I finished the day and we had a few beers and a chat around the campfire to end a sunny and social day.

Distance travelled today; 24.4km.
Today Dave is at Baynton.
After four days of travel, Burke was also at Baynton.

Day 4…headwinds and hospitality…

August 7th, 2008

Monday, 4th August 2008.
Today started out pretty cold and there was a strong north-westerly headwind blowing down the Sunbury-Heathcote Road. A short time after starting I got a call from ABC South Western Victoria in Ballarat and I did a radio interview as I stood beside the road. I was cold by the time I had finished and found myself stomping along like a man possesed in order to get warm. Normally I walk at between 6kmh and 7kmh and in the Simpson last year I was averaging around 7.5kmh over a 25km day. However after a few days at this pace I found I had bruised heels and tender soles – there is a lot to be said for the Cliff Young shuffle (the low impact shuffling style that Cliff used to win the 875km Sydney-Melbourne Marathon at the age of 61 !). I have been trying to keep my pace down to 5kmh for the first couple of weeks in order to settle in to the walking and also because in Victoria I am walking on bitumen roads which are a much harder surface than the soft dunes of the Simpson, so I slowed down and shuffled along for a bit in true Cliff Young or Drew Kettle style. The wind continued to howl and my Akubra blew off every time a truck passed and I never really warmed up. Annie was waiting in Romsey and I was bitterly cold by the time I arrived. A bit of a feed and a few more layers and a Gore-Tex jacket and I took off again for the short leg to Lancefield as the rain started to fall. I also ditched the Akubra for a Polartec beanie.

By Lancefield it was grey, overcast and raining and the passing cars covered me with spray as they sped by. I decided to take a break at the Lancefield Hotel and warm up by the fire. The rain was not hard, but it was pretty constant and it did not look like easing up, so I bit the bullet and headed out, unsure of how much further I was going to walk today. Annie was waiting with the DV-Cam at the cairn at Mustey’s Bridge, but with my hood up, teeth chattering and nose dribbling constantly I did not fancy doing a piece to camera. Just as I arrived a car pulled up and a lady named Annie jumped out and asked if I was walking across Australia as she had heard from a friend that I would be passing her house and would we like to comne for dinner and stay the night. The options were to roll out the swags in the rain on the top of the Great Dividing Range with temperatures predicted to drop a little below zero, or to stay in a house with an open fire – the offer was accepted and we enjoyed great hospitality at Annie and Robin’s house on the Burke & Wills Track.

Distance travelled today; 25.4km.
Today Dave is at Lancefield.
After four days of travel, Burke was also at Lancefield.

Day 3….green belt and Blanchen…

August 3rd, 2008

Sunday, 3rd August 2008.
Up early today and on the road. Sunday morning and little traffic around as I start. Burke followed the Bulla Road out of Melbourne, some of this road still exists although parts of it were turned into the Essendon Airport runway in the 1930s and other parts became the Tullamarine runway in the 1960s. Here at Bulla there is still evidence of the original road alignment and as I walk in the shade of the ancient gum trees that lined the road as Burke walked past, I reconnect with my aim and the noise of the cars disappears to be replaced by the sound of horses hoofs, camel snorts and the rumble of the iron tyres of the wagons wheels on the gravel roads.

Here at Bulla there is a steep hill down to a heritage listed bluestone bridge over Deep Creek. The bridge post-dates the expedition, but there was a wooden bridge here in 1860. Blanchen did some work in the 1970s retracing B&W using Ludwig Becker’s diary and he supposed that the expedition would not have attempted to cross Deep Creek at Bulla due to the steep road in and out and therefore Blanchen guessed Burke would have gone by the Koonagaderra road. Unfortunately Blanchen restricted himself to using only Becker’s journal and he does not appear to have looked at the newspaper reports or any of the other journals. Dutiful as ever, Wills was calibrating his scientific instruments and decided it would be interesting to compare the barometrical pressures at the top of the hill at Bulla and at the bottom of the hill as they crossed the bridge. They were at the top of the hill at 11.00am and crossed the bridge at Bulla at 11.45am – apologies to the fans of Blanchen who have been following the Koonagaderra Road.

A little way down the road was a fruit and veggie van and the man had bananas for sale – he told me they were from Queensland and I told him that was where I was going. He gave me three for $1 which is cheaper than in Cairns and so despite the temperatures of 6°C, I had a taste of the tropics for breakfast.

At Sunbury I stopped to check my boots and the view back to Melbourne was awesome. The CBD looked so far away although I knew I hadn’t walked all that far. Up ahead were the first glimpses of the Great Dividing Range with clouds streaming over the tops of the hills. this is green belt country and there were sheep, goats, horses double-rugged for the winter, trotting tracks, stables and antique bullock waggons in people’s front paddocks. The green belt around Melbourne is slowly being eroded by the sprawl of urbanisation, but I still couldn’t think of another city of this size that you could walk out of in a day.

Lunch was at the Coach and Horses Hotel in Clarkefield. This place was built in 1857, so was around when Burke passed by although it does not appear they stopped here. It is apparantly Australia’s most haunted hotel. I saw no ghosts to scare me off but the log fire was most inviting. A short haul down the road brought me to the heritage listed Bolinda Bridge and I was just about done for Day 3.

Distance travelled today; 25km.
Today Dave is at Bolinda.
After three days travel, Burke was at Bolinda.

Day 2…strolling through suburbia….

August 3rd, 2008

Saturday, 2nd August 2008.
The day dawned bright and sunny, if a little chilly, but certainly much better than yesterday’s ordinary weather experienced at Royal Park, so I decided to go back to Royal Park with the maps that Len and Dorothy had given me, to work out where the camel stables were. This was my third visit to Royal Park in two days and was not getting me any closer to Carpentaria, but it was good to look at the expedition’s departure again.


Melbourne Sun Herald, 1st August 2000.

After Royal Park Annie drove me to Queen’s Park, Moonee Ponds and I started out on Day 2 by walking past the rusty camels and heading up the hill. I was strolling through suburbia and trying to relate today’s walk to the 1860 expedition and I was having problems. Let me start by saying that this PhD research project is an investigation of the cultural landscape of the Burke and Wills Expedition. A cultural landscape is a landscape that is modified by the actions of humans – some cultural landscapes exhibit major changes, such as those modified by the Victorian goldrush. Exploration landscapes do not show the same physical modifications; the passage of the Burke & Wills Expedition merely placed human, equine and cameline footprints on the landscape, blazed the occasional tree, lit a few campfires and left a few piles of animal droppings and the odd explorer’s corpse scattered around the environment. The biggest modification made by the expedition however, was the change in people’s perception in the nature of the interior and the effects that had on the environment. Before the expedition, Victorian colonists viewed the interior as a great unknown – the ‘ghastly blank’. By travelling from Melbourne to the Gulf, Burke changed people’s preceptions of the interior and therefore enabled European settlement and the expansion of the pastoral industry.

I am travelling across Australia at a similar time of year and at a similar pace to the original expedition to investigate this cultural landscape and I have often been asked how much of the 1860 landscape I can realistically expect to see. I believe that I can still see much the same landscape that Burke saw 148 years ago…yes there have been species extinctions, particularly medium size marsupials, (Australia has the worst rate of extinctions of any country. In the last 200 years, half of all the world’s mammals that have become extinct have done so in Australia) and yes feral flora and fauna have been introduced, often with devastating results. I am not for one minute claiming the landscape remains ‘pristine’ (which in itself is an interesting concept), the Australian environment has been modified more in the last 200 years than at any time in the past 62,000 years. However the landscape is comprised of many layers – the geological history written in the rocks and soil, the diverse cultural landscape of Aboriginal inhabitation, the fences, bores, tanks and dams of the pastoral industry, the roads and microwave towers of the communications and transport industries. Peel back those layers and you can still identify the 1860 landscape and this is easiest to do in the desert areas which have undergone the least human modification. I would suggest that if Burke were suddenly brought back to life and was to sit on the banks of the Cooper Creek at the site of his death, he would not be able to say whether he were there in 1861 or 2008.

However urbanisation and agriculture are the two processes that make the most profound modification to the landscape and over the 3250km of the expedition’s track, urbanisation and agriculture have occured mostly in Victoria. A look at the Interim Bioregional Vegetation Assessment shows that Victoria has lost more of its pre-1788 vegetation than any other state in Australia. As I walk beside the noise abatement barriers along the Tullamarine Freeway through the industrial areas of Airport West, I feel these changes and realise that what I am seeing today has absolutely no relationship to what Burke experienced. The expedition walked through here almost 148 years before me, and I can feel the yawning gap of time between then and now. Melbourne city has so much to remind one of the events of 1860; Summers’ statue, the Royal Society, the State Library, Parliament House, Carlton General Cemetery, Royal Park, Longstaff’s painting; even Essendon has reminders; the lake in Queen’s Park where the camels drank, the memorial on the nature strip, even the date palms that line Mt Alexander Road which post-date the expedition, but still give one hints of Afghan cameleers…all these things point to past events. However Airport West has little to inspire me and so I stroll through suburbia and the traffic rushes by. Later I read Beckler’s diary and he expressed the same sentiments when he travelled the same road; ‘the tall constricting fences on both sides of the road seemed to be at odds with our boundless plans. Would that the fences were behind us !’

The camp at Essendon was photographed by William Strutt and this photograph, ‘The Exploring party encamped’, is one of only two photographs of the expedition that survive. Wills’ father, Dr William Wills, came out to visit his son and say farewell. Little did he realise that this would be the last time he would see his son as he wished him a tearful goodbye and said, ‘…now mind you come back, you naughty boy !’

William Strutt painted the departure of the expedition from Essendon, ‘The first day’s order of march’ and he carefully depicted the lines of horses and camels being followed by the heavily laden wagons, the whole caravan stretching out in the distance.

Distance travelled today; 24km
Today Dave is at Bulla.
After two day’s travel, Burke was at Bulla.

Day 1… the snug of preparation is over…..

August 2nd, 2008

Friday, 1st August 2008.
Day One and it is time to start walking across the continent. As Leichhardt said, “the snug of preparation is over” – it is time to stop talking about this and start doing it !

…well there is time for a little bit more talking first – the Melbourne Sun Herald ran an article with a photo and I had a live cross from Royal Park to Mel and Kochie on Channel Seven “Sunrise”. Up at 5.00am and down to Royal Park where the outside broadcast unit has set up at the site of south gate – the gate is gone but this was the place where the expedition left the park at 4.00pm on the 20th August 1860 and entered Sydney Road before turning onto Mount Alexander Road for Essendon. After being miked up and getting an earpiece I was looking into the camera lens and talking about my walk yet again.

This morning Gerard Hayes of the State Library of Victoria kindly arranged for me to view some of the expedition artefacts. I met David Corke, former President of the Burke and Wills Historical Society http://www.burkeandwills.org at the library and once the white gloves were on I was turning the pages of Wills’ field-books; “another camel having given up on the road or rather the plain”, Will’s last letter which was written in the gunyah at Breerily shortly before Burke and King left him to his lonely death, “my spirits are excellent and I expect to live for four or five days”, Burke’s last note; “King has behaved nobly and I hope he will be well cared for…”, Howitt’s field-book for September 1861 where he recorded King’s Narrative, Beckler’s sketches and Becker’s superbly painted watercolours charting the expedition’s progress from Melbourne to Bulloo.

Richard Cork, Vice-President of the Burke and Wills Historical Society flew down from Brisbane for the day and I met him at Southern Cross Station, the same station where John King returned to Melbourne – the first man to cross the continent of Australia. After jumping on a Number 19 tram we headed north to Royal Park. A quick diversion to the former Sarah Sands Hotel on Brunswick Street – this is now an Irish pub called Bridie O’Rileys, but it was originally named after the SS Sarah Sands, the ship the pub’s first owner migrated to the colony in back in 1854.

Once at the memorial in Royal Park a crowd of about twenty-five hardy sould braved the cold, cold rain and howilng wind to raise three cheers to start me on my way to Essendon. The expedition originally intended to leave at midday, but it took so long to pack the equipment that it was 4.00 pm before Burke made his rather awkward farewell speech and departed. Wills and Becker didn’t leave the Park untill after 6.00pm. In keeping with this tradition I departed at 4.00 pm with Richard Cork accompanying me for the first day. Two minutes down the road and 4BC Brisbane called to see how I was progressing ! and then the Melbourne Sun Herald called for an follow up story. An hour later after a brisk walk down Mt Alexander Road saw us at Queens Park in Moonee Ponds. The rush hour traffic roared by as we stopped for a photo at the Camp 1 Cairn on the nature strip outside the Moonee Ponds Bowls Club. Resisting the temptation to have a quick beer in the Club’s “Burke and Wills Function Room” we continued past the metal camels which had been made by Michael Blunsden at “Big Fish” in Footscray http://www.bigfish.com.au/ and we were at the Irish Bar O’Sullivan’s in Essendon celebrating the end of Day 1 with a pint of Carlton Draught (no XXXX here in Victoria, so when in Rome…).

Day 1.
Distance travelled today; 5km.
Distance remaining = not worth contemplating at this stage !
Today Dave is at Essendon.
After one day’s travel, Burke was at Essendon.

Into Melbourne…

August 2nd, 2008

T2 at Mascot was incredibly busy as I checked my bag onto DJ818 and headed to Melbourne. I read Ray Liversidge’s “The Barrier Range – Burke and Wills” on the way down – Ray had sent me a copy to readon the walk. http://poetray.wordpress.com/category/ray/

First stop in Melbourne was the State Library of Victoria http://www.slv.vic.gov.au and the manuscripts at the Australian Heritage Collection. After scrolling through the microfilmof Welch’s Field-Book and making some notes I found an entry in Alexander Aitken’s journal for May 1862 which showed who carved “Dig” on the Dig Tree and exactly what was carved – fantastic – the wording of the blaze on the Dig Tree has been debated for over 120 years, most recently by David Corke and John White. Here in Aitken’s closely written pencil notes was confirmation of what David Corke had suspected for some time – Brahe was correct when he said at the Commission of Enquiry;

Q259. Was it close by a tree ?-Yes, at one corner of the stockade, outside the stockade.

Q260. And you marked it ?-Yes, we marked it “Dig.”

Q261. Did you mark your initials on it ?-No; I marked another tree with a single “B” and the number of the camp ; and the other side I marked “16th December, 1860,” and “21st April, 1861.”

I look forward to reaching the Dig Tree in October to follow this one up.

———o——–

Wednesday afternoon I went to an afternoon tea at the Melbourne Athenaeum organised by librarian Jill and historian Pam titled “Walking with Burke and Wills”. The Ath is the Melbourne Mechanics Institute where the Philosphical Institute of Victoria held its public meetings. On he 31st August 1858 Sir William Stawell announced Ambrose Kyte’s anonymous donation £1,000 at the Mechanics Institute and the Exploration Fund Committee was elected. The Melbourne Age on the 1st September 1858 reported;

At a Public Meeting held at the Mechanics Institute, Melbourne, on the 1st inst., Sir W F Stawell in the chair, the undermentioned gentleman were appointed a committee to take the peccary steps for raising £2,000 by public subscription to be applied to the purpose of exploring the interior of the Colony; a donation of £1,000 having been made for that object, coupled with the proviso that double that sum should be subscribed by the public within twelve months from the present date.

The committee consisting of Sir W F Stawell, the Hon J Hodgson, MLC, Professor McCoy, Dr Mueller and Mr Jas Smith, to which Dr Macadam has been appointed Honorary Secretary and Dr Wilkie Treasurer, was limited in number for the sake of securing a greater amount of individual responsibility as regards its financial administration; but as soon as it has discharged the first duty of delegated to it, that of collecting the sum specified above, it is pledged to co-operate with the Exploring Committee of the Philosophical Institute, in concerting measures for the prudent economical and efficient expenditure of the Exploration Fund.

http://209.85.141.104/search?q=cache:bphVZbtPqssJ:www.melbourneathenaeum.org.au/content/blogcategory/23/46/

———o——–

Thursday I was entertained at the halls of the Royal Society of Victoria by Project Manager, David Dodds. the RSV organised the Burke and Wills Expedition and is the only Royal Society in Australia with its own premises. Here at the RSV hall Burke presented the Officers and Expedition Assistants to the Exploration Committee and the fifteen men marched up to the head table and signed the “Memorandum of Agreement” http://www.burkeandwills.net.au/Departure/Memorandum_of_Agreement.htm and Sir William Stawell made a rather stern and formal farewell speech.
http://www.burkeandwills.net.au/Departure/Stawells_Farewell_Speech.htm.

Two and a half years later the same hall was draped with black crepe and the skeletal remains of Burke and Wills lay in State as most of the population of Melbourne filed past to pay their respects. Burke was missing his hands and feet and Wills was missing his skull – dingoes having dragged them around at Cooper Creek before Howitt had a chance to inter them. All that remained of Wills skull was his lower jaw with tufts of beard still attached. As Burke’s remains were being coffined some of his teeth fell out and these were pocketed by the members of the Exploration Committee. Samples o hair were also taken and some of this hair still exists in the State Library archives. http://www.sciencevictoria.org.au/

Cairns to Sydney…

August 2nd, 2008

On the road……

The plan was to leave Cairns for Melbourne on Tuesday lunchtime and head down the coast. As always with a project of this size we took longer to pack than expected, but all the same Annie and I were ready to leave by Tuesday afternoon. Just as we were about to depart the press release was sent out from James Cook University announcing my walk and the phone started to ring with media enquiries; http://www.jcu.edu.au/top/JCUPRD_035266.html

I was surprised at the media interest and all the running around and phone calls meant we delayed our departure by a day. It was raining heavily when we left at 4.00 am on Wednesday morning and Queensland was experiencing some of the coldest weather of the year. There was a chilly wind blowing off the ocean and the drive down the coast to Rockhampton was cold, wet and slow. The first night out was at Dan and Yollie’s at Moura and the dirt track into their property had turned into a bog. The ute, which had left Cairns polished and sparkling, was now filthy as it slid sideways through the mud. The rain continued all night and the next morning we tackled the dirt track again and headed over the Darling Downs to Grantham to stay with Richard and Sheila. After dropping off a couple of boxes of supplies for Fisch to bring out to us in September, we prepared to head off, but not before I had another couple of interviews with ABC Broken Hill, ABC Western Queensland and 4BC Brisbane. ABC Statewide Queensland wanted a pre-record at midday and we stopped at the top of a hill near Armidale where there was good phone coverage. We were at 1500 metres with temperatures of 4°C and the wind was howling. My teeth chattered and my nose dribbled as I sniffed my way through the Drive Time interview. By Tamworth the rain finaly stopped and a few faint rays of the sun struggled through the clouds and we pulled into Sydney a little warmer and dryer than we had been for the last three days. A weekend at Nik and John’s in Berowra meant we could dry things out and re-pack ready for the final leg to Melbourne.

I mean to cross this country…..

July 23rd, 2008

I mean to cross this country, Mr Landells.
I mean to be the first white man to do it,
And I mean to walk every step of the way
with whosoever of you poor, lost souls who are good enough to keep up with me.”
Jack Thompson as Burke in the 1985 movie, Burke & Wills

James Cook University Media release – “Walking with Burke and Wills”

July 23rd, 2008

JCU Media release, July 22nd 2008 Phoenix 0804

A postgraduate student from James Cook University in Cairns is jumping feet-first into his doctoral research, by walking from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria — a journey of 3,250 kilometres.

History student David Phoenix will follow the route taken by explorers Burke and Wills, whose tale of bravery and blunder ended in death at Cooper Creek in 1861.

“Burke and Wills may not be Australia’s most successful explorers, but they are certainly our best known,” Mr Phoenix said. “Although it’s almost 150 years since they set off, their story still captures the imagination.”

By placing himself in the landscape traversed by the two explorers, travelling at a similar pace and at the same time of year, Mr Phoenix hopes to gain insight into the role the landscape played in how the expedition progressed, and why it ultimately failed.

“Because the human side of the drama is so compelling, the landscape and its effect on the conduct of the expedition has been neglected,” he said. “It’s often overlooked, or described stereotypically as the ‘hostile wilderness’ that explorers had to face.”

Mr Phoenix said test walks conducted in two previous research projects, in which he examined the expedition’s records while travelling the route, had shed fresh light on the story.

“It’s often supposed that after returning to the Dig Tree, the explorers didn’t travel far, but in fact they made a couple of lengthy journeys in an attempt to save themselves,” he said.

“They were trying to find Strzelecki Creek which would lead them to safety. After walking the area with Wills’ journals and other records, it’s clear to me that not only were they unable to identify the creek, but at one stage they actually walked across it.

“They thought the creek was a permanent water course, but they crossed it at a dry floodplain. I believe that’s where they came undone and this ultimately that led to their deaths.”

Although land use along the route has changed since 1861, Mr Phoenix said much of the topography remained unchanged.

“The landscape can tell us a lot about why they made the decisions and choices they made,” he said.

The weather, however, is likely to be quite different. “Burke and Wills travelled in an exceptionally good season, when Wills wrote that the grass grew as high as their shoulders,” Mr Phoenix said. “I’ll be walking through land that has seen years of drought.”

Burke and Wills were the first explorers to cross the continent, and Mr Phoenix has been unable to find records of anyone who has walked from Melbourne to the Gulf in the century and a half since. He expects his journey to take six months, walking six days a week.

Although he is leaving Melbourne at the same time of year, his walk is not a re-enactment of the famous expedition.

“I won’t be taking 19 men, 27 camels, eight pack horses, one riding horse, six wagons and 34 wagon horses,” he said.

“I’ll have a friend driving a 4WD support vehicle, and we’re travelling on a shoestring budget.

“Re-enactment is not the point. My aim is to walk the same country, investigating the cultural landscape to see what it tells me about their journey.”

David Phoenix will depart from Royal Park, Melbourne, at 4.00 pm on Friday, 1st August. Burke and Wills left the Park at the same time of day on 21 August, 1860.