I checked the weather forecast for the next 7 days, for Tibooburra it is 28, 31, 35, 38, 35, 36, 39 and for Birdsville 32, 35, 37,41, 37, 38, 41. I remember Pete Gifford saying to me it’s going to be hot but I didn’t realise how hot. So I have decided that it is not the right time to go further north while camping without power and water and to travel alone on little travelled back roads. I would not like to break down and have to camp on the side of the road in these conditions. I do carry a satellite phone and belong to RACV Total Care, so I could call for help, but I would not enjoy being in such very hot weather. So following the rest of Burke and Wills journey will have to wait for a cooler time of year. I think I will start heading down to the south east coast of SA tomorrow.
Today is my last day following the journey of Burke and Wills and I visited depot camp situated on Pamamaroo Lake about 10 Km north on Menindee. This camp was established after Burke had left for Coopers Creek on October 19 1860 from the Menindee camp. After Burke and his party had left, the rest of the VEE moved the remaining 9 camels, 3 horses and 10 tonnes of supplies to the depot camp. It was set up by early November 1860. When the VEE arrived at Menindee the expedition consisted of 15 men, 23 horses, 27 camels and 21 tonnes of supplies, despite having offloaded a lot of their supplies on the way.
Burke set off set of with Wills, Brahe, King, Gray, McDonough, Patten and Dost. They had 15 horses, 27 camels and 11 tonnes of supplies. They were going to bury some supplies at Torowoto to use on the return journey, Torowoto is about 60 Km south east of Tibooburra. Burke was going to rest for 14 days near waterholes near Torowoto.
Wright, an expert bushman, had lead Burke the 300 Km to Torowoto where they buried some supplies. Wright then headed back to Menindee where on his arrival there were urgent despatches for Burke from the organising committee. These told Burke that Stuart had failed to cross the continent and that this left him clear to win the race. So Wright then organised Dick and 2 others to head off to catch Burke who should be resting near Torowoto. They covered the 300 Km in 5 days but when they got there they couldn’t find the buried supplies despite Dick being there when they buried them. Lyons and McPherson decided to catch up to Burke but the party had already moved on. Their horses died and they only survived on seed cakes that the local tribes showed them how to make. They got back to Torowoto and Dick then set off for Menindee on the only horse, which died after 40 Km, so he walked the remaining 260 Km to Menindee.
With nearly all their horses dead, the people at Menindee had to request extra funds and then buy and break-in more horses. This they did and a party of 7 set off to resupply Coopers Creek. The journey was very arduous and a number of horses died and they had problems with the aborigines. With all the men sick, Wright decided to turn back to Menindee. But his preparations were interrupted by Brahe and the 3 other men who had left Coopers Creek for Menindee on April 21, the day Burke, Wills and King arrived back, they missed by only 6 hours. Brahe found Wright by accident while looking for strayed horses. Brahe told Wright they had stayed at Coopers Creek for 19 weeks and that Burke had only supplies for 12 weeks, so he felt justified in leaving. He had been asked to wait for 3-4 months. On of Wrights party, Becker, died that afternoon.
The combined party set off for Menindee on May 1, but had to stop after that days travel for a few days to let Patten and McDonough recover some strength. While the group was resting, Wright and Brahe wanted to carry out one last check of the depot at the dig tree so they both rode back to Coopers Creek to check. When Burke got to the dig tree he removed the supplies, and placed a note in the buried box and then smoothed the ground so the aborigines would not take the note. So when Brahe and Wright arrived at the camp on Coopers Creek they thought it untouched, as if no one had been there, so they left again. After a very difficult journey back to Menindee because of lack of water, fatigued horses and sick men (Patten also died on the way), they raised the alarm and search parties were organised. It is a very unforgiving part of Australia.
So what if?
Burke had been a less impetuous and better leader.
Burke had used a steamer to bring supplies to Menindee and saved tiring the horses and camels.
The buried supplies at Torowoto had been found.
Lyons and McPherson caught up to Burke and told him there was no urgency to cross the continent.
Brahe and the 3 others had not left Coopers Creek the same day that Burke arrived.
Burke had not covered up that fact that the buried box had been opened.
Brahe and Wright had looked a bit harder at Coopers Creek.
Burke, Wills and King had stayed at Coopers Creek, rather than trying to walk to Mt Hopeless.
It all could have been so different. They did achieve their objective of crossing the continent, but died in the process.
“Follow Burke and Wills” is to be continued.
My journey so far: