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Stores and Supplies

On the Victorian goldfields of the 1850s, the surest sign of a 'new chum' (an inexperienced newcomer) was his acquisition of a large quantity of equipment which he soon discovered to be superfluous and cumbersome, to be ditched even before he reached the diggings. By this test, the Victorian explorers were definitely new chums.

The list of their supplies, in the account book of the Exploration Committee, betrays the influence of the many armchair explorers who had a say in equipping the expedition, and shows little evidence of the greatest bush skill, 'making do'. For example, a specially made branding iron designed to burn the letters B/VE (Burke/Victorian Expedition) into tree trunks at their campsites seems to have been discarded early on. A simple multi-purpose tool - an axe - could make these marks with a few strokes.

Rockets and flares may well have been useful in certain situations, but Burke left them behind when the real travelling began. Two pounds worth of 'glass beads for natives' showed an intention to get value for money. Inflatable cushions and enema syringes probably found their way onto the second-hand market somewhere between Swan Hill and Menindie.

The over-equipping of the expedition became a kind of colloquial legend. In Joseph Furphy's novel Such is Life (1897), a yarn-spinning bullock driver claims to have seen Burke at Menindie with a carpet, a bedstead and a specially-constructed carrying case for his top hat.