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» Did Burke mark a tree at Bootingee on the Darling River?

Did Burke mark a tree at Bootingee on the Darling River?

Question: 

Dave
I am now the owner of  Bootingee Station and was wondering if Burke crossed the Darling near the Bootingee Homestead would he have marked a tree. The reason I am asking is I have located a deep scarfed-out box gum at a well-know stock crossing used in years gone by, not far downstream of the homestead, It has a number carved deep into the tree and is nothing like I have seeen before. I have owned property and live along the river for 35 years and never came across anything as deep and as old as this scarf in the tree looks. If you have the time I would be pleased to hear from you.

Stewart & Michelle Oates, Bootingee.
Answer: 

Dear Stewart,

Burke did cross the river at Bootingee, but a couple of kilometres upstream of Bootingee Station, near the Kinchega ruins. There have been a number of stories doing the rounds at Menindee recently about where the expedition crossed the river and which stations they camped at, and someone asked about the Darling River crossing in a previous question - see here.

Burke had divided the party at Bilbarka, and on Thursday, 11 October 1860 he took off up the east bank of the Darling with six men and all the pack-horses. Wills was with Burke and he kept field-notes of where they went each day. Wills shows that at 09.45 am on Sunday, 14 October 1860 they passed 50 links (100 metres) to the east of one of James McLeod's outstations (either at the spot that Bootingee Station is today, or certainly very close) and there they met William Wright who had been employed for the last three years by John Baker as manager of Kinchega Station. Captain George Bain Johnston's paddle-steamer, the PS Moolgewanke, which had most of the expedition's stores on board, had anchored here for the day as it was a Sunday. Wright told Burke of a good place to cross the river opposite his station, Kinchega. At 10.40 am the expedition swam the horses across the Darling from the east bank to the west bank about 100 metres downstream of the original Kinchega Station. The Melbourne Argus (17 November 1860, p.5.) reported the horses 'crossed the river readily, in shallow water'. After crossing the river, Burke made Camp 34-A on the river bank at Kinchega. Wills shows this in his field-book and he records the camping place as 'camped in bend of Darling at crossing place'.

With regards to blazing trees to mark their track, there is no evidence to show that Burke marked any trees at all on the expedition. Wills may have marked trees at some of their camps, and he marked a tree at Bilbarka. Any trees they did mark were at their campsites, and then only at selected campsites. I would not have thought they would have marked a tree at the crossing point, as the Darling, as the Darling had been settled for many years and there were tracks and roads already well established by 1860, and presumably all the river crossing places were well known. Therefore there would not have been any purpose for Burke to mark a tree on the Darling.

If they did mark a tree it would have Roman numerals rather than Arabic ones, and the camp at Kinchega was Camp XXXIV.

This is a scan of Wills' field-book for the day they crossed the Darling. The image is not the best quality, but the State Library are currently digitising the expedition's records and so a better image should be available shortly. At the bottom it shows the expedition leaving Camp 33 at 6.40 am, and heading north-north-east. They passed a shepherd's hut (near Keiara Station)  at 7.15 am and turned north. At 7.45 they are 300 links (60 metres) east of the Darling and five minutes later they cross a tributary (Charlie Stones Creek). McLoed's outstation (near Bootingee) was passed at 9.45 am. They reach the bend in the river just north of Billabong Creek at 10.10, and cross the Darling at 'Kinshika' at 10.30 and camp at 10.40 am.

William John Wills, Field Book No.1: Bilbarka to Torowoto (11-19 October 1860), MS13071, State Library of Victoria.

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