Saturday, September 10, 2016


Soon to leave  Townsville  in search  of  objects buried  in 1861  during the  tragic south-north crossing of Australia   is  an expedition in which  a  former  Darwin  resident , George Koulakis , founder of an adventurous  group of  former  and  serving  military  personnel  known  as  the Royal Cameleers , has  played  a  large part . 

In 2014 , Koulakis, who served with the RAAF in Darwin ,  produced an eight part  documentary   retracing  the  footsteps  of  the Burke and  Wills  expedition. In  this  latest  venture , the  aim  is to search  for  navigation   and scientific   equipment  buried by  the explorers  shortly before they  died  at a place designated  return  plant  camp 32 in western  Queensland  . This  includes  a  sextant , telescopes , compasses .

On August 20,1860, the Burke and Wills Expedition left Royal Park , Melbourne, to  a cheering  crowd  estimated  at  15,000  to   cross the  continent , a  distance of  2000 miles , 3250 kilometres. 

The leader, Robert O'Hara Burke , Irish born, a former Austrian army officer  and   a  Queensland police superintendent, had   no bush experience  ; William  John  Wills , surveyor and navigator ,  third in  charge , had  bushcraft  skills  .  The  19-man party included six Irishmen , five Englishmen ,  four Afghan  camel drivers , three Germans  and  an  American . Their supplies,  to last two years , weighed  20 tonnes and  even included  a table and chairs , flares,  a  Chinese gong .  

There were  23 horses , six wagons   and  26  camels . Imported from India , the camels were  first kept in stables at  parliament house, Melbourne .  One of the  wagons broke down  after  a short distance and  proved not  to be suitable for the trying  venture .
Becoming  concerned  about the slowness of  progress and the possibility of  John McDouall  Stuart   making the crossing before  his  party to collect  a  2000 pound  South Australian  Government reward , Burke broke the party into  two  groups and left one   at a  depot on  Coopers Creek , while he proceeded   north   with  Wills ; while they did  see the northern  coast from the  Flinders River , the mangrove  swamps  blocked  their  way.

Thus began their terrible  ordeal back to Coopers  Creek, hindered by monsoonal rain . On arrival , exhausted ,  they discovered the rest of the party had departed  only hours before .  Both Burke  and  Wills   died  an agonising death on  June 30, 1861. In all , seven members of the expedition perished and the only one who  had actually  viewed   the northern  coast  and survived  was  Irish soldier, John King. 

The modern, well planned  search party  for  the  Return to the  Plant  Camp   for buried  objects from that  great Australian tragedy  has  ground penetrating radar and the latest metal  detectors. Above  graphic   from informative  Koulakis  video about Burke and  Wills  and  the  looming search .  Outback  rain  has  delayed  departure   plans .  

Dramatic illustration  at  head of  this  post , Burke and Wills at Mount Hopeless, by George Lambert, 1907,  Bendigo Art Gallery .