Creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected.
--William Plomer.

The Dig Tree

“BLXV, DIG 3FT NW, DEC 6 60-APR 21 61”

There is nothing quite like it in the history of exploration, this story of Burke and Wills expedition of 1860. What began as a comic-opera cavalcade, hoping to be the first to cross Australia, became an epic of endurance and ended in a haunting tragedy.

When Burke and Wills staggered back into Cooper Creek they found that the group that they had left behind had gone just nine hours earlier. When they dug, they found a letter and some supplies.

Hopefully, as a writer, on a journey of exploration to find your unique voice, you will find that these shovels turn up the supplies you need to sustain and nourish you as a writer.

Keep an open mind and trust that the suggested exercises will help your flow of words.

Burke and Wills

Brave Explorers of the outback were selected by armchair adventurers sitting in comfortable Melbourne head-quarters - scientists, doctors, and merchants of the Royal Society of Victoria. The society raised funds for an expedition. For the leader it chose Robert O'Hara Burke (top), an Irish policeman and soldier of fortune with little experience as a bushman. Though headstrong and volatile Burke got on well with his navigator, William John Wills (above), an Englishman of quiet and studious manner whose inexperience matched Burke's.

The Route



The Burke and Wills Expedition

Beyond the distant sunset through the heart of the great Outback,
Went Burke and Wills a trail to blaze, but never did come back.

The legendary, flamboyant, Australian story of the death of Burke and Wills, in a desolate outpost in Central Australia, after having traversed the continent in 1861, has been depicted by artists and writers, keen to express a timeless spirit of heroic endeavor. The subject of poetry, sculpture and painting, the Burke and Wills Expedition joins Ned Kelly, the ANZACS and Breaker Morant as a story that helps to define Australians. With the passage of time this incredibly ironic, useless tragedy has taken on mythological qualities.

In 1861 no one knew what was in the centre of Australia and, for some years, explorers had been unsuccessfully searching for an inland sea. This particular expedition sprang from the idea of opening up a route by which the telegraph line could be connected via Java to Europe, the desire to locate the large inland sea which was believed to exist and the need to discover a possible route for a railway. The 2,000 pounds reward for the first people to survey a route north also provided an added incentive.

Sturt and Stuart were planning similar journeys from Adelaide so there was a sense of urgency. Burke was chosen to lead an expedition by the government of Victoria, which hoped to beat Stuart, who was supported by South Australia.

In August 1860, 19 men, 23 horses and 26 camels left Melbourne to cross the continent from South to North. Robert O'Hara Burke, a rural police officer and William John Wills a doctor and surveyor were in charge of the expedition and while the lead party made it to the Gulf of Carpenteria by February 1861, only one man returned.

The trip back to Coopers Creek was more difficult than the arduous journey north. Arduous conditions, intense summer heat, and problems with dysentery and health delayed their return from the Gulf which they reached in Feb. 1861. The party waiting at the base camp had left the previous day, leaving buried supplies under a tree beside the creek after carving "DIG" into it. Emaciated, bewildered and despondent Burke and Wills both died while waiting to be rescued, never to savor the honor of being the first white men to cross the continent. King, the only survivor, lived with Aborigine's for a while until being found by a search party.

The remains of Burke and Wills were buried with great ceremony in Melbourne in 1863. The burial of Burke and Wills was Australia's first state funeral. The procession stretched for four city blocks and drew the largest crowd ever seen in Melbourne.

Tragic! A useless ironic waste! Yet, almost 150 years later their story still manages to capture the imagination of artists, museum curators and novelists alike. Burke and Wills live on and, within artifacts collected from this tragic expedition, lies all important information about why a writer is compelled to write.

The Dig Tree by Sarah Murgatroyd
More about the ill-fated exploration and the Dig Tree
Burke and Wills from Melbourne to Myth
The Diary of John Wills







This template has used elements of the famous Burke and Wills painting by Sidney Nolan (1917—1992) Collection Nolan Gallery, Cultural Facilities Corporation Canberra