The extraordinary story of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition – and the crucial role of the Yandruwandha Aboriginal people who tried to help them – has been formally recognised as a defining moment in Australia’s history.
The Australian Government today inscribed the Burke, Wills, King and Yandruwandha National Heritage place on the National Heritage List.
To mark the occasion, descendants of William Wills and the Yandruwandha people met for the first time ever.
They were joined by representatives of the Royal Society of Victoria, which commissioned the expedition with the aim of ‘unlocking the mysteries of the arid interior’.
The expedition left Royal Park in August 1860. Over the ensuing 13 months, seven men – including Robert O’Hara Burke and William Wills – lost their lives. Another expedition member, John King, was saved when the Yandruwandha adopted him as a member of their clan and taught him their methods of food-gathering and shelter.
The National Heritage listing comprises five important sites along the banks of the Cooper Creek, near Innamincka, that represent the key events of the Burke and Wills Expedition.
“I am delighted the Burke, Wills, King and Yandruwandha National Heritage place has been included on the National Heritage List,” Minister Hunt said.
“The Burke and Wills expedition is one of Australia’s best known stories of early European exploration of the inland and is embedded in our national story.”
One of the sites listed is the Dig Tree, where expedition members buried supplies and left markings and messages for each other. It is remembered in popular culture for the arrival of Burke and Wills from their trek to the Gulf just hours after their comrades, who had waited for them for four months, had given up hope and left.
Failure to update the markings at the Dig Tree when Burke and Wills returned to Cooper Creek was perhaps the most tragic in a series of mistakes for the expedition.
“The listing of the Fort Wills site, Burke’s Tree, Wills’ site, Howitt’s site and King’s site represent the sad end to the expedition and also the relief and joy of finding the sole survivor of the journey to the Gulf – John King,” Minister Hunt said.
“The listing also reflects how the survival of John King was only possible with the support and care of the local Yandruwandha people, who provided food, care and companionship to King while he waited to be found.
“Their role in the story was significant at the time and continues to be an important part of Australia’s cultural history.”
The Burke, Wills, King and Yandruwandha National Heritage Place is the 104th place included in the National Heritage List.
For more information visit: https://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/places/national-heritage-list