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» Melbourne to Menindie

Melbourne to Menindie

William Strutt - Burke and party setting out
Parliamentary Library of Victoria

On 20 August 1860, at around 4pm, the expedition set out from Melbourne's Royal Park. A crowd of around 15,000 saw them off, a band played and speeches were made. However, the first day's progress was not promising. One wagon broke down even before it had left the park and two more broke down before they had arrived at Essendon, where the expedition spent its first night.

Choosing a route through Victoria

Burke had no fixed idea of how he wanted to proceed through northern Victoria, unsure whether the expedition party should head for Echuca or Swan Hill. He eventually settled on Swan Hill which he reached on 6 September. At Swan Hill, he listened to many opinions about where he should go next, finally choosing Menindie, via Balranald.

Burke's other plans proved to be as flexible as his sense of direction. A few weeks on the road not only revealed how overburdened the expedition was, but how unreliable their wagons were. Burke began to talk about making a depot of his supplies somewhere on the Darling, when his instructions from the Committee were to convey all stores to Cooper's Creek and form his depot there.

Changing plans

The expedition left Swan Hill after being feted like heroes, arriving in Balranald on 14 September. Here the dumping of stores and equipment began - containers of lime juice, bags of sugar and rice, and heavy tools. Burke also discharged a number of men, although not as many as he would have liked.

The wagons made slow progress across the rough ground and at Gambala, in late September, Burke decided to transfer much of their cargo to the camels which had so far been lightly worked, saving their strength for the desert regions.

This brought him into conflict with Landells, who believed that he had sole command over matters affecting the camels. It also meant that the camels were no longer available as riding animals - the explorers would have to walk every step of the way. They would also have to discard much of their scientific equipment.

Burke argues with Landells

When Burke decided to get rid of the 60 gallons of rum which Landells had insisted was necessary to stimulate tired or despondent camels, a furious argument broke out between the two men and Landells resigned. Hermann Beckler, the expedition's doctor, was discouraged by these displays of conflict and resigned a few days later, although he agreed to stay on in charge of the depot that was to be made at Menindie.

Arriving at Menindie

The expedition arrived at Menindie on 12 October. Burke's plan was to establish his base camp on the Cooper, and send Wright back to bring up the men and supplies left at Menindie. Summer was approaching, and it was generally assumed that Burke would wait out the hot weather, setting out north in the autumn of 1861.