Chapter 9: The stony desert...
On Sunday 16th December 1860, Burke, Wills, John King and Charley Gray bid farewell to the four men who were to remain at the Depot and headed downstream into South Australia. The four men at the Depot were given instructions to wait three months for Burke to return before assuming he had perished or gone to the settled districts of Queensland, whereupon the Depot party could return to the Darling. Typically for Burke, he did not give written orders, merely verbal instructions. As they parted Wills asked the Depot party to stay four months, not three.
Burke, Wills, King and Gray found the travelling easier than they imagined. They had read of the horrors that faced Sturt as he crossed the Stony Desert in 1845 and worried that the rough terrain might hamper the camels with their soft feet. However, the stony ground did not extend as far as they imagined and they camped beside water every night except one. They crossed from the Cooper to the Diamantina with ease and travelled up the Diamantina towards the present town of Birdsville, celebrating Christmas Day at Camp 73 at Koonchera Waterhole on the Diamantina (which Burke named Grays Creek). Wills wrote :
|We took a day of rest on Gray's Creek to celebrate Christmas. This was doubly pleasant, as we had never, in our most sanguine moments, anticipated finding such a delightful oasis in the desert. Our camp was really an agreeable place, for we had all the advantages of food and water, attending a position of a large creek or river, and were at the same time free from the annoyance of the numberless ants, flies, and mosquitoes.|
They followed the Diamantina upstream (past today's Roseberth Station) until it trended too far to the east when they struck off north across the plains. They reached the Burke River (near today's town of Boulia) and continued their northwards push along the 140th line of longitude.