Thursday, 6 August 2015

The "Dig Tree" and Innamincka

The tree on the right is the "Dig" tree.
Well, after a few detours, delays, worries about whether we had enough petrol to see us there and back from this very remote spot , we finally made it to the iconic “Dig Tree”.

It is well worth the trip to see this historic area with its tragic connection to the ill-fated Burke & Wills expedition in the summer of 1860/61. 

Photo taken in 1919.

Carving of Burke's face made in the 1890s.
It was originally called the Victorian  Exploring Expedition and its aim was to cross Australia from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria at the very north. It consisted of 19 men, 26 camels, 6 wagons and 23 horses and it left in August 1860. They had to contend with wet, muddy route in Victoria but by the time they reached the Darling River it was summer with extremely hot weather. Burke continually split the party leaving ‘depots’ along the way with provisions. When he left here (Cooper’s Creek Depot Camp 65) he expected to return after reaching the Gulf in 3 months, if not the 4 Depot men were to return to Menindee. It turned out that on the very day they left in the morning (after delaying a further month), Burke, Wills and King arrived back in the afternoon to find the place deserted. However supplies had been left buried with the nearby tree blazed with the word ‘Dig’. Not sufficient though to last across the desert to Mount Hopeless station in South Australia, they returned to Coopers Creek and Burke and Wills died here at the end of June 1861. King only survived being cared for by the local aborigines until a relief expedition arrived in September.
It was near here that sole survivor, King was found being cared for by the local indigenous people.

They achieved their objective to reach the Gulf, but at a tragic cost. Travelling through this countryside in the height of summer and ill-provisioned with only rice, flour, sugar, salt beef and pork and biscuits, its no wonder some contracted scurvy and others fell ill and died in the heat. Madness to us now looking back at such a disastrous event.

We, however, camped very happily under Coolibah trees right by Coopers Creek. We dined extremely well on barbecued marinated pork steaks, campfire baked potatoes and salad with a glass of red (for me) and beer (for Peter). Later we sat outside by the fire watching the full moon rise over the water. A brilliant evening but thoughts always straying to that ill-fated expedition 153 years ago.
Further on along the Bulloo Developmental Road – again very good bitumen road with just a few gravelled parts but very little traffic, we crossed over the South Australian border and soon reached Innamincka. There’s been a ‘town’ here for well over 100 years, but mainly consists of the usual pub, general store, fuel supplies, a couple of houses and a Regional Reserve Park Headquarters. The pub/hotel is a step up from your usual outback pub, as it offers excellent meals and accommodation. The staff wear t-shirts proclaiming “Burke & Wills never had it so good”. True – they would have been overjoyed (and alive!) to have found it. We enjoyed a good long chat with fellow travellers over a roast dinner one night.

It is another remote, dusty outback settlement and you wonder how anyone would survive let alone flourish in such an environment. The local indigenous people did however and knew it was a land of plenty for them with fish, animals, edible vegetation and native fruits all they needed.

Our camp by Coopers Creek
We’ve had two days here camping by the river without power or water supplied, but we’re well prepared with two tanks of water, gas, and solar panels which re-charge our heavy duty battery to supply lighting at night. We’ve been most comfortable with good weather blue-sky days, but just a little ‘nippy’ at night. We love sitting by camp fires at night
and once the sun sets we have views of the most amazing sky at night – the stars are so bright and brilliant you sometimes feel you could just reach up and touch them.

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