The Aboriginal Story of Burke and Wills

Forgotten Narratives

Edited by Ian D. Clark and Fred Cahir
June 2016
More details
  • Publisher
    CSIRO Publishing
  • Published
    8th June 2016
  • ISBN 9781486306275
  • Language English
  • Pages 336 pp.
  • Size 6.625" x 9.625"

The Aboriginal Story of Burke and Wills is the first major study of Aboriginal associations with the Burke and Wills expedition of 1860–61. A main theme of the book is the contrast between the skills, perceptions and knowledge of the Indigenous people and those of the new arrivals, and the extent to which this affected the outcome of the expedition.

The book offers a reinterpretation of the literature surrounding Burke and Wills, using official correspondence, expedition journals and diaries, visual art, and archaeological and linguistic research – and then complements this with references to Aboriginal oral histories and social memory. It highlights the interaction of expedition members with Aboriginal people and their subsequent contribution to Aboriginal studies. The book also considers contemporary and multi-disciplinary critiques that the expedition members were, on the whole, deficient in bush craft, especially in light of the expedition’s failure to use Aboriginal guides in any systematic way.

Generously illustrated with historical photographs and line drawings, The Aboriginal Story of Burke and Wills is an important resource for Indigenous people, Burke and Wills history enthusiasts and the wider community.

"There is so much detail in the Aboriginal contributions to the Burke and Wills journey that we can't ignore it any more."

- The Weekly Times

Peter Thorne
List of contributors


Introduction: a Yandruwandha perspective
Aaron Paterson

Responding to Yandruwandha: a contemporary Howitt’s experience--Richie Howitt

1: The Aboriginal legacy of the Burke and Wills Expedition: an introduction
Ian D. Clark and Fred Cahir

2: The members of the Victorian Exploring Expedition and their prior experience of Aboriginal peoples
Ian D. Clark

3: 'Exploring is a killing game only to those who do not know anything about it': William Lockhart Morton and other contemporary views about the Victorian Exploring Expedition and its fate
Ian D. Clark

4: The use and abuse of Aboriginal ecological knowledge
Philip A. Clarke

5: The Aboriginal contribution to the expedition, observed through Germanic eyes
David Dodd

Appendix 5.1: Extracts from the 1861 Anniversary Address of the Royal Society of Victoria delivered by the President, His Excellency Sir Henry Barkly KCB on 8 April 1861

Appendix 5.2: English translation of Beckler H (1867) Corroberri: Ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis der Musik bei den australischen Ureinwohnern Globus 13, 82–84

6: Language notes connected to the journey of the expedition as far as the Cooper
Luise Hercus

7: Burke and Wills and the Aboriginal people of the Corner Country
Harry Allen

8: 'Devil been walk about tonight – not devil belonging to blackfellow, but white man devil. Methink Burke and Wills cry out tonight "What for whitefellow not send horses and grub?"' An examination of Aboriginal oral traditions of colonial explorers
Fred Cahir

9: How did Burke die?
Darrell Lewis

10: Telling and retelling national narratives
Deirdre Slattery

11: The influence of Aboriginal country on artist and naturalist Ludwig Becker of the Victorian Exploring Expedition: Mootwingee, 1860–61
Peta Jeffries

12: If I belong here... how did that come to be?
Paul Lambeth

13: Alfred Howitt and the erasure of Aboriginal history
Leigh Boucher

14: Remembering Edwin J. Welch: surveyor to Howitt’s Contingent Exploration Party
Frank Leahy

15: 'We have received news from the blacks': Aboriginal messengers and their reports of the Burke relief expedition (1861–62) led by John McKinlay
Fred Cahir

16: William Landsborough’s expedition of 1862 from Carpentaria to Victoria in search of Burke and Wills: exploration with native police troopers and Aboriginal guides
Peta Jeffries

17: 'I suppose this will end in our having to live like the blacks for a few months': reinterpreting the history of Burke and Wills
Ian D. Clark and Fred Cahir


Ian D. Clark

Ian D. Clark is a Professor of Tourism in the Business School at Federation University Australia. He has a PhD in Aboriginal Historical Geography from Monash University. He has been researching Aboriginal history since 1982. He has been the manager of the Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Centre in Halls Gap, and the History Research Fellow at AIATSIS in Canberra. His areas of interest include Aboriginal history, the history of tourism, and place names.

Fred Cahir

Fred Cahir is an Associate Professor in Aboriginal Studies at Federation University Australia in the Faculty of Education and Arts. His Masters and PhD focused on local Victorian Aboriginal history. His research interests include Victorian Aboriginal history, Australian frontier history, Aboriginal heritage tourism history, Aboriginal biocultural knowledge and toponyms (place names).