In 1860, £2000 bought quite a few rounds of ale at the local inn. (It probably bought the whole inn, come to think of it.) It was also the prize set for the first person to cross Australia from south to north.
The offering of the prize occasioned a classic interstate rivalry: SA was represented by John MacDouall Stuart, while Victoria had Robert O’Hara Burke. One got a highway named after him and the cash. The other paid with his life after a succession of disastrous decisions. However, he still became as famous as any other Australian explorer.
“Understanding the trials and tribulations of Australia’s early European explorers “An extremely important part of Australian history.”
– George Negus
is an important thing to do. While there are monuments in the Victorian Goldfields and in Melbourne to Burke and William Wills (the young expedition surveyor and scientist who perished with Burke), perhaps the most emotional place to pay your respects is at Burke and Wills’ last campsite. Here, you can see the marked tree under which their colleagues left supplies for Burke and Wills – but they didn’t see the markings on the tree.
The campsite is on the banks of the Diamantina River, close to Birdsville in Queensland.
Did you know?
George Landell was originally second-in-command of the expedition, but left after an argument with Burke. Wills took his place.
How to get there
All roads leading into Birdsville are unsealed. There are sealed roads up to 109 km west of Windorah, then 277 km of unsealed roads subject to flooding after heavy rain. The roads are open to conventional vehicles, but with caution.
Please ensure that you have excess fuel, water, food, medical supplies and spare tyres in case of an emergency.
Best time to go
Temperatures are most comfortable from June to August.
Extensive info on the explorers
John McDouall Stuart Society website
Visitor info on the Combo Waterhole Conservation Park, situated on the Diamantina River, south-east of Kynuna
** This is our original 100 Things to Do Before You Die. First published in 1996. There is an updated 100 Things To Do In Australia Before you die, published in 2011.