Burke & Wills Web
The online digital research archive of expedition records
© 2020

by Ken Barratt, 1946.

Jindyworobak Anthology, 1946. pp. 12-13,
Australian Poetry, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1947. pp. 65-67,
A Book of Australian Verse, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1956. pp. 153-154,
The Jindyworobaks, St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1979. pp. 177-178.



So all men come at last to their Explorers' Tree,
Whereon they carve their valediction to the world.
Whether as they, we explore a continent,
or are content to explore ourselves,
we find that mysterious centre,
that vast and utter loneliness, which is the heart of being;
we hear that silence more fatal than the siren's song.


Silence, like sound, has its eight note scale.
There is the silence after sound.
(After the farewell speeches, the well-wishings,
the cheering as they rode proudly from Melbourne Town , the silence of the bush

There is the silence of sound we cannot hear.
(The black men, always lurking, always watching, never speaking,
merging in the frieze of great untidy trees

There is the silence amid many voices.
(Often they spoke loudly, hoping to drive their fearsuway,
hoping to fill the empty air with assurance, but the silence was in them

There is the silence of Death, of the voice that can never be heard again.
(After Grey died, he seemed to march with them still,
the invisible companion, not answering their questions, not questioning their answers

There is the silence of Desolation.
(This was no Egypt , but cresting a sand-dune, they yet might discover the stones of a city, time-devoured or glinting in the sun, a golden helmet, become a hive for the patient labour of the bees.)

There is the silence of Despair.
(Returning to the Depot, finding it deserted,
they knew that words could buy them nothing in this land of Nothing for Sale

There is the silence more ancient than man.
(Wills, the scientist, said it: These rocks are so old,
they have forgotten the singing and the shouting of the sea, the violence of the earth in the making

And last silence of all, completing the octave,
the silence that was before sound.
(Waiting for the end, life flowed backward to its source.
Voices, like a spring uncoiling,
receded and were superseded.
The last cry of hunger and pain
became the first cry for breath, But the dawn is an unreality
and now at last there was only the silence,
and they and the silence were one.


Yet one man survived, one man returned
a little while to the world of men
telling how Burke and Wills had died,
wresting the secret from a continent;
when they asked him to expound the secret,
he would speak of other things, saying rather,
"The camels gave us trouble from the beginning,"
or," Nardoo is no fit food for white men."

www.burkeandwills.net.au Burke & Wills Web The digital research archive of expedition records
© 2020, Dave Phoenix