In mourning – Muthimuthi Aboriginal women (left). Watpipa the “Old Man” (right).
Image: Ludwig Becker State Library of Victoria
GREAT COMPASSION FOR HAPLESS EXPLORERS
After leaving Melbourne on 20 August 1860, the Burke and Wills expedition made slow going at first. After two months they set up a major camp at Menindee in New South Wales.
In October 1860, keen to beat rival exploration groups, Burke continued on with a reduced party led by two Aboriginal men, Dick and Mountain, who took them to Torowotto halfway to Cooper’s Creek.
Dick had his portrait painted by Ludwig Becker, artist and naturalist on the expedition. Becker regarded Aboriginal people as having great dignity, unlike Burke who often fired over their heads and treated Aboriginal people as nuisances.
Wills was more interested in the Aboriginal people than Burke. On 16 December 1860, Wills wrote in his field book, ‘A large tribe of blacks came pestering us to go to their camp and have a dance, which we declined…fine-looking men, decidedly not of a warlike disposition.’
When Burke and Wills reached the Gulf Country in February 1861 the wet season had set in and the camels were continually bogged, the Aboriginal people helped the explorers by pointing out a higher path.
After the explorers had returned to the Dig Tree area Burke reacted to the theft of an oilcloth by shooting his revolver ‘over the thief’s head’.
Despite Burke’s behaviour the Aboriginal people continued to be generous to the explorers. Their leader was so friendly that the idea of living with the group to learn more of their culture was very appealing to Wills.
The Dig Tree web site is presented by The Royal Historical Society of Queensland.
The Royal Historical Society of Queensland is trustee for the Dig Tree Reserve supported by Nappa Merrie Station and the Bulloo Shire Council.