Nine Things We Can All Learn from the Burke and Wills Expedition – Plus an Extra One
After reading Peter Fitzsimons’ book “Burke & Wills” (2017), I got to thinking that, while it’s a great yarn well worth reading from cover to cover (and I don’t read many books), it can actually serve as a great guide for anyone camping and travelling in Australia – or perhaps intending to (without scaring you too much).
Every day, these guys fell victim of one rookie error or one rare fluke of nature / human behaviour that they needed to address and sometimes overcome.
Without going into the history of this expedition (during 1860-61) too much, I’ll try and convey to you (without giving away too much of the ending – or the in between bits) what I feel are the important lessons with a modern day twist.
The Burke and Wills ‘Exploration Expedition’ from south to north was the result of some three years (from 1857 to 1860) of consideration and discussions at the highest levels of business, politics and science in the newly formed colony of Victoria.
It involved the Philosophical Institute (which went on to become the Royal Society of Victoria in 1860), the Institute’s Exploration Committee (32 members) and an Exploration Fund Committee.
If you have had any experience with committees or institutes, you’ll appreciate that many agenda are brought to the table and many levels of approval (and interfering) are often the go – often by those without hands-on experience.
Be sure that you have control or at least say / input into what’s going on in the planning and preparation end of any real adventure. You need to be aware of, and perhaps understand, the wheres, whos, hows, whats and whens.
Due to delays in the start of the expedition, they found themselves setting off – for a trip through central Australia – in August, at the very end of Winter.
This meant that they were travelling in the summer months with temperatures “often reaching 50deg C” (Wikipedia, Burke and Wills expedition).
So, it’s not just your start date and duration, it’s also the day-to-day patterns. Know what’s happening and why – as well as what’s coming up on the horizon.
Also keep an eye on the tides and plan your trips.
The latest technology and all the stuff you see in magazines and in shops can be ohh so tempting…
In planning the expedition, a decision was made to take camels and to rely on them as a sure way to cross the desert.
This decision led to delays in the expedition’s start as the camels needed to be brought into Australia – delivery delays (just like online orders).
The camels also needed experienced Afghani camel herders with a leader (Mr Landells) to manage the handlers to boot.
The only animal that went on the expedition and survived ‘most’ of the trip was Bourke’s trustee steed – Billy.
If you do find yourself in this position, have a back-up plan.
At Camp 65 on the banks of Copper Creek, Burke instructed Brahe to wait three months “as it is impossible of me to be longer away…” (Fitzsimons, 20217, p.256).
There was also talk of Burke possibly heading back home by turning east and cutting through Queensland on a “…known practicable track…” (Fitzsimons, 20217, p.256).
Brahe even spoke to Mr King before they left and said, “I don’t expect to see you for at least four months” (Fitzsimons, 2017, p.262)
As it turned out, and quite historically known, Burke, Wills and King returned to Copper Creek (the Dig Tree) after some 18 weeks – just hours after Brahe and his team left the site. Burke and Wills soon perished and King survived long enough to be rescued and return to Melbourne – a broken man.
So, be clear about your ‘what-if’ strategies and back-up plans. Oh, …and be sure to communicate them clearly – and that they’re understood.
And remember that it’s a bit hard to say when you’ll be back if you don’t know where you’re going or what’s is between.
With the exception of essential items, that by their nature, only have one specific use, everything you take should have more than one use.
In this way, each item you take replaces another item that you now no longer need to take.
The Burke and Wills Expedition is often mocked for taking a lot of unnecessary items – such as a cedar-topped oak table with matching oak camp stools, a large iron bathtub, an anvil, grindstone and portable bellows for the blacksmith (Fitzsimons, 2017, p.75 & 77). As Beckler is reported to have written, the ordering and buying of these items was “…doubly seductive when someone else is paying for it” (Fitzsimons, 2017, p.77).
Perhaps the most important thing that the expedition could have done before departing (or perhap