Off to Rooty Hill … or is that Essendon?


When Robert O’Hara Burke’s team left Melbourne, with the funds for the Victorian expedition having been mainly raised from rich members of the Melbourne Club, there was an enormous send off. (There is a large portrait of Burke in the Melbourne Club.  Que?)

With dining room table, fine china, a full canteen of silver – this was to be a gentlemen’s expedition, even though the rough Irishman Burke did not quite fit the bill – off the team went.

First night – Essendon,which is about 6 to 8 kms from the CBD.

Basically everything that could go wrong in the Burke and Wills expedition went wrong:

  • It made no sense to leave from Melbourne; it would have been much more sensible to navigate up the Murray-Darling;
  • The equipment and provisioning were ridiculous (a bit like A Walk in the Wild, Bill Bryson);
  • The skill mix of the team was completely wrong;
  • The head cameleer – a key person – was a drunk and unreliable ; he eventually highjacked it out of Menindee;
  • Burke was a very poor leader and had little common sense when it came to food and drink, in particular;
  • Wills was not orginally part of the leadership team – he was the doctor – but with everyone else peeling off, he was pushed forward to a role to which he was not suited;
  • Burke and Wills could have easily survived but they had traded their fishing equipment to the aborigines (Cooper Creek was teeming with fish)
  • They of course did not succeed in crossing the continent- the hostile country got the better of them – although it is said they could hear the waves crashing on the shore of the Gulf of Carpentaria!

I can see some parallels with the team heading for Rooty Hill!

(I have always wondered why there is a statue of Burke and Wills in the Melbourne CBD.  They failed; they died.  What am I missing?)

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