Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.
xvi, 188 p.; 21 cm.
ISBN: 0855753161 (paperback)
ROBERT O'HARA BURKE waves his top hat triumphantly and leads Mr Wills and Mr King into the fortified stockade at Cooper's Creek. They've covered the last hundred miles with almost no food. Stopping only to bury Mr Grey when he died. It took eight hours to dig through the rocky ground.
Mr Grey, the sailor, who had not even the satisfaction of reaching the northern sea. Stopped short by mangroves and swamps. 'It's tidal!', Mr Burke had proclaimed. 'It is salty. We've reached the sea.' Then he turned around and led them back into the desert.
Now they all are done in. Barely able to drag their shadows after them. Robert O'Hara Burke looks around for Mr Brahe and the men who should be waiting for him. But they are not there.
'Mr Brahe', he calls, unable to comprehend the silence.
'The ashes of the fire are still warm, sir', says King.
'That was very kind of them', says Robert O'Hara. 'It has been getting very cold of evenings.'
John Wills then indicates the large coolibah tree with the word `dig' etched deeply into its bark. Still bleeding sap.
'Well we'd best dig then', says Robert O'Hara, and settles back, adjusting his top hat, while Wills and King dig. They dig until their finger nails bleed.
About three feet down they uncover a cache of food and a bottle. Wills holds it up.
'Splendid', says Robert O'Hara. 'Let's breach it.'
John Wills unstops the bottle and looks in. 'It's a note', he says, a little disappointed.
'Read it', commands Robert O'Hara.
Mr Wills reads: 'Depot Cooper's Creek. 21st April, 1861. The Depot Party of Victorian Exploring Expedition leaves this camp today to return to the Darling ... No person has been up here from the Darling. We have six camels and twelve horses in good working order. William Brahe.'
John Wills stares at Robert O'Hara Burke, then looks out beyond the stockade walls and says, 'They're out there. Only nine hours away. Not much more than ten miles distant.'
The three men turn and look to the horizon, shading their eyes, trying to discern any movement. But their comrades might as well have been 100 miles away. Might as well have been a million years distant.
'They've forgotten us!' says Robert O'Hara in despair.......