Cooper’s Creek – adapted by Gail Holst

Suzie Eisfelder
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This is a very abridged version of the Burke and Wills exploration story. Their goal was to go north from Melbourne to explore the country and find the Gulf of Carpentaria a distance of about 3,250 km. This was in 1860 when the middle of the country was still to be explored. Sometimes they only travelled a couple of kilometres in a day.

There were so many issues with this expedition. Looking back it almost seemed doomed from very early on. Out of 19 men who started out seven of them died including both Burke and Wills. Of the 19 only King made the full trip north and back south.

I’ve known the story for many years, we had a picture book on our shelf when I was growing up which I must have read many times. But this book is the first that made me think about it from the Indigenous point of view. Although, maybe that’s just my state of mind at the moment.

At various times they were attacked or welcomed and fed by the Indigenous. As they were travelling such a long distance they would have gone through many Indigenous nations. At one point I suspect they might have been travelling through sacred ground judging by the behaviour of the Indigenous. I didn’t note the placement of the quote so I can’t put it here for you.

The Indigenous cared for the lost men, giving them food and accidentally showing them how to grind Nardoo thus supplementing their dwindling diet. Accidentally? Collecting and grinding Nardoo is women’s work and as both Burke and Wills were men they weren’t initiated into the women’s work. They saw the women doing the grinding but came across a Nardoo plant. This puts the Indigenous in rather a good light. It shows they cared about white man, enough to give them food.

Just so you know, the bits about Indigenous behaviour I’ve included here I’ve gleaned from various sources including The Burke and Wills Research Gateway. I quote this one as the other sources are rather scattered.

If you’re looking for a book about the journey of Burke and Wills I don’t recommend this as it is much too light on details. It’s only 71 pages and for a journey that lasted many months that’s far too few. It is nicely written and easily read, It’s probably only about 40 minutes of actual reading time. It has been made more accessible to modern readers by showing the money in dollars rather than pounds, something I disagree with as it makes it feel much too modern.

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