Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Aboriginal story of Burke and Wills

Few episodes in Australian history have received as much attention as the expedition of explorers Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills.

Forty books, hundreds of paintings, several films, poems, music and sculptures have all marked the exploits and fate of Burke and Wills, yet there has been a crucial element missing from this epic Australian story – the central role that Aboriginal people played in the exploration of Australia. A new book from CSIRO Publishing, The Aboriginal Story of Burke and Wills: Forgotten Narratives, examines the cross-cultural differences and perspectives of the European explorers and the Indigenous inhabitants, and exposes the fundamental failure of Burke and Wills – not to profit from Aboriginal knowledge.

"We believe we have created a book which offers new perspectives on the story of Burke and Wills, and more importantly the Aboriginal contribution to the expedition," note co-authors Professor Ian D. Clark and Dr Fred Cahir, from the University of Ballarat.

As the authors establish, the Aboriginal skills in communication, in tracking and in navigation (which were utilised by other explorers) were not recognised or appreciated by Burke. In the end, a fatal error of judgement.

The book profiles the members of the Victorian Exploring Expedition of 1860-61 and examines the different cross-cultural perspectives, including the Germanic experience.

It also includes an introduction by Aaron Paterson – a Yandruwandha descendant. The Yandruwandha people were responsible for the care and protection of the sole surviving member of the expedition, John King.

The book examines fascinating ambiguities, like how did Burke really die? And John King's "secret" daughter with a Yandruwandha woman.

The Aboriginal Story of Burke and Wills acknowledges the Aboriginal contribution, and offers a reassessment of this great Australian story.

EurekAlert. 2013. “The Aboriginal story of Burke and Wills”. EurekAlert. Posted: August 20, 2013. Available online:

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