We talked about stoping at the Noccundra Hotel for the night. It was a 20 k detour off the road but as we were thinking about traveling on to the Burke and Wills Tree, Norccundra seem like a good stop to leave the van for a side trip.
On our map it didn’t look that far off the beaten track. We looked again and realized that what not far is in Australians terms. The Burke and Wills Dig Tree was 180ks of the beaten track. That meant a 360k round trip to look at a tree. Even though all the pamphlets said it was a must see we decided to give it a miss. Just a little out of our way.
Not going to Noccundra meant we would now had to find a place to stop for the night or push on to Eromanga. It would be a long trip arriving very late in the afternoon but it was doable. As we had spent time at Thargomindah we decided to pull over at a roadside stop. The stop was a large area designed for easy access for trucks. It was at the turn off to Innamincka.
If we had turned left we would have found our self at the Burke and Wills dig tree. Burke and Wills set out form Melbourne to reach the Gulf of Carpentaria around 3,250km. The trip was ill-fated from the start. Burke had no experience in exploration, yet he was chosen to lead the group. One of the wagons broke down even before they had left Royal Park and a further 2 by the time the party had reached the edge of Melbourne. The government had offered a £2,000 reward to the first person to reach the Gulf by land so the men were eager to push on. On the 20th August 1860, 19 men, 26 camels, 6 wagons and 23 horses departed the city with enough food to last two years. They carried a cedar–topped oak camp table with two chairs, rockets, flags and a Chinese gong. They even carried 270 litres (60 gallons) of rum to feed the camels in the belief that it prevented scurvy. All together, the equipment weighing in at 20 tonnes.
It took the expedition 2 months to travel the first 750 km (470 miles.) By this time five men had resigned, thirteen men had been fired and eight new men had been hired. (The mail coach at the time did the journey in little more than a week.)
When the party reached Cooper Creek the decision to split the group was made and Burke, Wills and King would travel on with enough food for just three months. Burke left Brahe in charge of the remaining group give the order to wait for three months. The daily temperatures often reach 50 0C (122 0F) Wills had a more realistic view of the task ahead and secretly instructed Brahe to wait for four months.
Brahe waited 4 and a half weeks and only left as their supplies were running low and they started to feel the effects of scurvy. Before he left he buried supplies for Burke, Wills and King marking the tree so the supplies would be found. Brahe left in the morning and the men arrived in the early evening of the same day. They had missing the men by a mean 9 hours. The three men and two remaining camels were exhausted and the decision was made not to try to catch up with Brahe and the men. The story goes Wills wanted to follow Brahe at a slower pace but Burke over ruled him. The men headed southwest through the desert hoping to reach an outpost of pastoral settlement in south Australia, which was 240 km away. They wrote a letter explaining their intentions and reburied it. They didn’t change the marking on the tree before they left. Brahe met up with Wright on the track back to Melbourne and the two men decided to go back to Cooper Creek to see if Burke and Wills had returned. The camp was deserted. Seeing the tree unmarked Brahe assumed the explorers never made it. Burke and Wills were just 56 km away.
Burke and Wills never made to the station. King only survived because the Yandruwandha people took him in. A search party was sent out and they found King and with his help the search party found the remains of Burke and Wills. King travelled back to Melbourne and died eleven years later, aged 33.
The tree was listed as a heritage site in 2003. The tree is thought to be 250 years old and is on the edge of Cooper Creek.
I don’t know why Burke and Wills have slipped into our history before so many others that explored the country. I think most people my age were taught about the two men in school. It does seems strange to think we were told about the men that fail instead of the men that succeed. Or maybe I just remember the story of Burke and Wills over everything else I was taught. (It maybe because it was a long time ago that I was at school.)
When we pulled into the truck stop there was already a truck parked up and within half and hour there were another two. We had though it would be a busy stop but the trucks only stopped to drop the dust from their tires and they moved on.
We were then alone in the middle of nowhere.
We have encountered hundreds of trucks in our travels. I guess we are getting used to them now. They can be intimidating with they start heading for you. On the narrow roads of the outback there isn’t much room left for anything else. In this situation the bigger vehicles win.