Burke & Wills Web
The online digital research archive of expedition records
© 2020

by Welder's Dog

from the CD, Troubadour
© 2010

Endless Flight,

concerning the death of Robert O'Hara Burke
Featuring the stunning artwork of
Dr Ludwig Becker the artist and naturalist
who also tragically died on the Burke and Wills Expedition.

Peter Harris of Welder's Dog said:

It seems so cruel now, the relentless and unforgiving bush. Burke headed back to the base camp on Cooper's Creek. The three months he had allowed for the crossing and back was now two thirds gone. The food was two thirds gone. Their clothes were in tatters and they faced a chilling winter. No doubt he remembered telling Brahe to leave after three months. And there was only one month left to return the same journey.'

The hardships were immense. Burke limited the rashions down to starvation level. In desperation they ate a large snake. Grey, who was older than the others took ill. When he was found pilfering from the party's food supply Burke gave him a thrashing. Grey died and the weak party, no doubt full of remorse took a full day to dig him a shallow grave.

But eventually, they heroically did make it back to the depot, starving, freezing and exhausted, to find it deserted. A sign carved into a tree told them to dig. They found some food and a note saying that Brahe and his party were in good health and had left to return south that very morning. Burke knew they had no strength to follow on foot and try to catch them. Their animals had died. So dejectedly they made camp.

In fact, Brahe's party was in poor health and one man was so ill he was strapped to a horse. That night they were only a few kilometres down the creek. But it didn't matter now. Fate was delivering another twist to the long saga. Burke, Wills and King regained a little strength and then decided to head along the creek to try and find a distant homested.

They never made it and it wasn't long before Wills and then Burke died. Wills, just a young man, entered diary notes right up until the moment he died. Burke lay down beside Cooper's Creek and told King not to dig him a grave, knowing the 19 year old was too weak. Perhaps he was remembering the day they took to dig a grave for Grey. The day they lost that would have saved their lives and set a very different record for history. He asked King to place his pistol in his hand and to read him some verses from the bible.

The gamble was over. They played and lost.

In a tree by the silent creek
The lonely mopoke cries,
But his run is left too late and the fieldmouse dies.

In a flash the mirror breaks
Sending ripples through the skies
And the pretty silver fish is the darter's prize.

Oh the pelican drifts in endless filght
And the coolabah shivers in the wind tonight.

Well the dealer takes his place
And he calls the gambler's name
And he lays the cards face down for the final game.

And the stakes are running high
As the dealer makes his call
And the gambler takes his throw and loses all.

Let me lay above the stoney earth
Hear the final cry of the parrot's mirth.

By the quiet water's side
Neath the spreading stately tree
Read a verse from the Holy Book to comfort me.

For my time is running out
Like the ebbing of the tide
Place my pistol in my hand and stay by my side.

Oh the pelican drifts in endless flight
And the coolabah shivers in the wind tonight.

www.burkeandwills.net.au Burke & Wills Web The digital research archive of expedition records
© 2020, Dave Phoenix