Burke & Wills Country

As we mentioned previously, this whole area is Burke & Wills country and there is so much history here if you are interested.

Burke and Wills graves – Explorers Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills were the first to successfully cross Australia from south to north, but they both tragically died beside the Cooper Creek on their return journey. Their bodies were later exhumed and, following Victoria’s first state funeral (which was apparently attended by approximately 80% of Melbourne’s population), they were both laid to rest in the Melbourne General Cemetery.

King’s Tree – John King was the sole survivor of the Burke and Wills expedition. After leaving the bodies of his two friends, Burke & Wills, King had sought the help and skills of the local Aboriginal people to help keep him alive. About a month or so later, King was found by Howitt’s search party.

The Dig Tree

By far, the most well known location would be The Dig Tree, which is located on Nappa Merrie Station on the northern bank of Cooper Creek, about 100km or so from Innamincka, SA.

Now for those that may not be up to scratch on your Burke & Wills history, The Dig Tree is the site from which the Burke and Wills expedition party split into two and Burke, Wills, King & Gray set off for the Gulf of Carpentaria, whilst William Brahe and the rest of the party remained behind with instructions to wait up to three months for their return. They did exactly that, in fact they waited more than four months for them to return. The most tragic part of the whole story is that Burke & Wills did finally return, only to find the camp deserted ….. by only a few hours. Brahe and the others had literally left the camp only a few hours before their arrival. It was such a tragic, sad twist of circumstances that occurred.

On returning to the camp, they found it deserted, but found a carving on a large coolibah tree telling them where to dig for supplies. Before departing the rest of the party decided to bury some provisions on the remote chance the Burke and Wills may return. William Brahé carved three separate messages into the trunk of the tree.

The inscriptions marked the location of the supplies, the camp number, and the dates of the arrival of the advance party and Brahé’s departure. Whilst most of the carvings have now been covered over, you can still slightly see a small part on the tree, as shown on the pic below.

This Coolibah tree is believed to be is 200-250 years old.

The Face Tree – Only about 30m from The Dig Tree, you will find what is known as ‘The Face Tree’. Burke’s face was carved into the tree in 1898 by John Dick.

CAMPING

You can visit the Dig Tree as a day use visitor and camping is also available in the area adjacent to the Dig Tree Reserve. It’s very basic bush camping with really no facilities. There are basic toilets, but the camping area is quite large and it’s unlikely you’ll be camped near these. Campfires are allowed, but you must provide your own firewood.

There was a fee of (i think) $10 per vehicle to camp there. An honesty box as you enter is provided for this. You do not need to pre-book and the camping area is large so I don’t think you would ever need to worry about not finding a space for the night. It’s a beautiful place to camp for a night or longer, the sunrise and sunset is great, it’s quiet and relaxed and the bird life is abundant.

The ‘Dig Tree’ is one of Australia’s national icons, it’s one of those places which you visit and you are reminded of the harsh conditions our explorers faced. It’s a good feeling to know that we are able to visit places like this and be reminded of our past. Apart from the boardwalk structure built around the tree to help protect it, the site is exactly the same as Burke and Wills would have seen it all those years ago. Time moves on so quickly and life is such a rush nowadays, so it’s nice to be able to reflect on our history and see how lucky we are in comparison.

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Strzelecki Track, Innamincka and Burke’s Grave

After leaving Cameron Corner we headed north west up the Strzelecki Track towards Innamincka.  This is another of those iconic 4WD tracks that people want to tackle.  It’s not difficult, but it’s a fairly lonely drive, we barely saw anyone all day, so you definitely need to be well prepared. 

Something that we didn’t know until we started researching was that The Strzelecki Track was actually created by the infamous cattle thief named Harry Readford (also spelt Redford) whilst attempting to move 1000 head of cattle from Queensland to South Australia.

Harry, or Captain Starlight as he was known, lived an interesting life and his whole story is quite fascinating. The most interesting twist to the whole story is that, although Harry was found guilty of stealing the cattle, the judge and jury were so impressed and amazed at what he had accomplished, they they didn’t convict him for the crime!

Nowadays the track is used mainly by trucks and mining vehicles headed to and from Moomba. The Strzelecki Track runs for about 475km from Innamincka to Lyndhurst.

The town of Innamincka is located on the banks of the Cooper Creek in north-east South Australia and it’s a beautiful area, full of history and wildlife. It is one of those places that we actually really like, although there really isn’t much there and it has a permanent population of only about 10-15 people. After our first visit to Innamincka years ago, Shelly has always maintained that she had the best hot chips ever from the pub! (and anyone who knows Shelly knows that she loves her hot chips!). When we arrived in Innamincka this time we could not believe how busy it was, 4WD’s, Campers, Caravans and people everywhere! Neither of us had ever seen anything like that!

Innamincka is also a big part of the Burke & Wills story. This whole area is Burke & Wills country, this is the land they traversed in their ill-fated exploration of Australia. We both have quite an interest in the Burke & Wills story, so much so that back in 2010 we joined Vic Widman from Great Divide Tours on one of his tag-a-long tours to retrace the steps of Burke & Wills. 20th August 2010 marked 150 years since the Burke & Wills Expedition set off from the Royal Park in Melbourne and we were privileged enough to join Vic and 12 other 4WD’s to mark this occasion and to retrace their steps.

Unfortunately on that trip we didn’t get to visit Burke’s Grave as the roads were closed, but this time we did (well George actually visited on a work trip last year) so Shelly, and about a million flies, made the trek out to the grave by herself whilst George waited in the comfort of the Prado!

Robert O’Hara Burke’s grave site is not far from Innamincka on the banks of the Cooper Creek. This is the site where Howitt buried Burke’s remains in September 1861. His body was later exhumed and moved to the Melbourne General Cemetery.