Burke and Wills: a book review

What a story of endurance and sadness. I thought of those explorers in the early days of European settlement of Australia as people who just got up and decided to explore. Obviously not something I had given a lot of thought to. None of these journeys across this great continent could have been done I now realise without a lot of planning and financing. I doubt any of them were single-handed although there is usually only one name associated with their voyages of discovery, Sturt, Mitchell, Hume et al. Apart from the subjects of this book of course, Burke and Wills.

The author, Peter FitzSimons, has weaved a most engrossing story out of the wealth of documentary evidence available from the time, right up to the death in some cases. Peter’s ability to tell a good yarn over and over again from the driest of facts and prose is outstanding. The endurance and sheer strength of character of the individuals involved shines through this story of the extraordinary expedition to be the first party to traverse Australia from south to north across Australia. There were moments during the book that I felt distinctly unwell, particularly where the last of the party were reaching the end of their travails, the writing had me that involved. Now I don’t recommend this book for you to feel unwell but to be inspired by the courage and stamina of not only Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills but also of John King the only survivor from the push to the end.

One small note, the effect of class on the selection and decision making of those involved struck me as strange from this distance of time. I also particularly enjoyed the highlighting of the positive role that the aboriginals played on a number of occasions through the story. All in all, this is another excellent, history brought to life, read from Peter FitzSimons.

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