Friday, 2 September 1904
Early Australian Explorers
SOLE SURVIVOR OF AN HISTORIC BAND.
Interest in the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition has lately been much revived by the occurrence of its forty fourth anniversary, which-as stated in the Age of 22nd ult. - took place on 21st August.
When the historic and courageous little band set out from Melbourne amid the applause and encouragements of a huge concourse, it consisted of 23 members, with 8 waggons, a large number of of horses and 26 camels. At Menindie, on the Upper Darling, the expedition was split up into two parties, the sole survivor of that which was left behind being Mr J. R. Lane, whose career has been sketched in the Age.
Of the eight men who pushed on from Menindie, Mr William Brahe, of "Enmore," St Kilda-road, Elsternwick alone remains.
Mr Brahe tells many interesting stories of the suffering and varied adventures which the forward party, led by their impetuous and inexperinced chief, passed through. When the expedition was being got together 44 years ago, Mr Brahe was in Melbourne, having driven a mob of cattle down from Queensland a fortnight before. Although he was but a young man of 25, his long bush experience gained for him a position as one of the working men of the party.
He declares that Burke, who was such a bad bushman that he could not safely be trusted 300 yards away from the camp, invariably took him out on any observation journeys. Indeed, Mr Brahe quickly became the most trusted bushman in the party, and this was exemplified by his promotion to the rank of officer at Cooper's Creek, where he was left in charge of three men.
The story of Burke, Wills and King's wild plunge further north to reach the Gulf of Carpentaria, and their return to Cooper's Creek just to find that Mr Brahe and his party had left that morning, has been told many times. Mr Brahe explains Burke's impetuosity in several ways. He declares that the whole story of the expedition was a "push, push, push," with overworking of men and cattle. The main reason for this was that Burke had heard on the Darling that the explorer Stuart was attempting to cross the continent at the same time, and eagerly wished to have the honor of reaching the Indian Ocean first.
Mr Brahe took a very active part in the many expeditions which, were despatched in search of the missing explorers. He says he was forced to leave Cooper's Creek without waiting for Burke, Wills and King by the cries of a wounded man he had with him, but states at the same time that he had given up all thought of the explorers being still alive. They had taken out only twelve week's provisions, and had been absent eighteen weeks, and Burke had left instructions that if he had not returned in three months they might be given up for lost.
Mr Brahe states that any of the men would have followed, Wills any where, as he was most pleasant and exercised a wonderful influence over them. He was a slightly built, but wiry, man, and Mr Brahe considered that it was remarkable that he should have perished before King, who had been forced to leave the army because of weak health. Burke was a splendidly proportioned man, but he was ignorant of bush life, even to the management of a compass, and kept to himself a great deal.
William Patten, who took seriously ill at Cooper's Creek, and had to be carried down on the long journey to Menindie on an ill-devised stretcher slung on a camel, died shortly afterwards, while Macdonna, a typical North country blacksmith, passed away a few months ago in a Benevolent Asylum.
Mr Brahe is still hale and hearty, having recently returned from journeys to the bush of Fiji, New Zealand and Queensland. He celebrates his 70th birthday at the end of the year.