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  • Hachette Australia
  • Hachette Australia
  • Hachette Australia

Burke and Wills

Peter FitzSimons

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Australia, History, Australasian & Pacific history, Modern history to 20th century: c 1700 to c 1900, History: specific events & topics, Geographical discovery & exploration

The iconic Australian exploration story - brought to life by Peter FitzSimons, Australia's storyteller.

'They have left here today!' he calls to the others. When King puts his hand down above the ashes of the fire, it is to find it still hot. There is even a tiny flame flickering from the end of one log. They must have left just hours ago.

MELBOURNE, 20 AUGUST 1860. In an ambitious quest to be the first Europeans to cross the harsh Australian continent, the Victorian Exploring Expedition sets off, farewelled by 15,000 cheering well-wishers. Led by Robert O'Hara Burke, a brave man totally lacking in the bush skills necessary for his task; surveyor and meteorologist William Wills; and 17 others, the expedition took 20 tons of equipment carried on six wagons, 23 horses and 26 camels.

Almost immediately plagued by disputes and sackings, the expeditioners battled the extremes of the Australian landscape and weather: its deserts, the boggy mangrove swamps of the Gulf, the searing heat and flooding rains. Food ran short and, unable to live off the land, the men nevertheless mostly spurned the offers of help from the local Indigenous people.

In desperation, leaving the rest of the party at the expedition's depot on Coopers Creek, Burke, Wills, Charley Gray and John King made a dash for the Gulf in December 1860. Bad luck and bad management would see them miss by just hours a rendezvous back at Coopers Creek, leaving them stranded in the wilderness with practically no supplies. Only King survived to tell the tale.

Yet, despite their tragic fates, the names of Burke and Wills have become synonymous with perseverance and bravery in the face of overwhelming odds. They live on in our nation's history - and their story remains immediate and compelling.

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Talks@Willoughby presents Peter FitzSimons speaking about Burke & Wills

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Burke & Wills in Adelaide

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5 minutes with ... Peter FitzSimons

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Burke & Wills by Peter Fitzsimons | The Track

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Burke & Wills by Peter Fitzsimons | The Drama

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Burke & Wills by Peter Fitzsimons | The equipment

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Burke & Wills by Peter Fitzsimons | The Sacrifice

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Burke & Wills by Peter Fitzsimons | The Terrain

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Burke & Wills by Peter Fitzsimons | The Track

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Burke & Wills by Peter Fitzsimons | The Drama

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Burke & Wills by Peter Fitzsimons | The equipment

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Burke & Wills by Peter Fitzsimons | The Sacrifice

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Burke & Wills by Peter Fitzsimons | The Terrain

Right
Left
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5 minutes with ... Peter FitzSimons

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Left
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Talks@Willoughby presents Peter FitzSimons speaking about Burke & Wills

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Burke & Wills in Adelaide

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Peter FitzSimons

Peter FitzSimons is Australia's bestselling non-fiction writer, and for the past 30 years has also been a journalist and columnist with the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD and the SUN-HERALD.

He is the author of a number of highly successful books, including KOKODA, NED KELLY and GALLIPOLI, as well as biographies of such notable Australians as Sir Douglas Mawson, Nancy Wake and Nick Farr-Jones. His passion is to tell Australian stories, our own stories: of great men and women, of stirring events in our history.

Peter grew up on a farm north of Sydney, went to boarding school in Sydney and attended Sydney University. An ex-Wallaby, he also lived for several years in rural France and Italy, playing rugby for regional clubs. He and his wife Lisa Wilkinson - journalist, magazine editor and television presenter - have three children; they live in Sydney.