For Australians, the Burke and Wills Expedition of 1860-61 provides the great epic in the story of the European exploration of their continent. Like many epics of 19th-century European exploration across the world, it has taken on some of the elements of myth. The heroic struggle to achieve the aim of crossing the continent from north to south. The even more heroic deaths on the impossible return journey. The one survivor of the expedition staggering out of the wilderness months later, alive only because of the generosity of the aborigines. All of these elements possess a mythic quality in the imaginations of many Australians.
Sarah Murgatroyd's book looks beneath the myths to find the truth about the ill-fated expedition. Some of the truths are not very flattering, particularly to the expedition's leader, Robert O'Hara Burke. Burke was "a man who had never travelled beyond the settled districts of Australia, who had no experience of exploration and who was notorious for getting lost on his way home from the pub." Unsurprisingly, he made a series of disastrous decisions that, effectively, doomed all but one of the men who accompanied him on the last leg of the journey to death in the desert. By his blinkered refusal to accept the help offered by the aborigines of the region he turned his back on the one remote hope of survival. Yet The Dig Tree is not a simple de-bunking of a heroic myth. Murgatroyd, in a compelling, page-turning narrative, reconstructs the expedition in such a way that the genuine heroism of men striving against impossible odds and against their own limitations emerges. Her descriptions of the last days of Burke and Wills, as they realise that they cannot survive, are very moving. Her clear-sighted view of the follies and farce of much of the expedition, in the end, does more justice to those involved than any amount of mythologising.--Nick Rennison
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Sarah Murgatroyd tells an exciting story" -- The Historical Novels Review, Augsut 2002
"excellent book" -- The People 15th February
'A beautifully told story' -- Sunday Telegraph
'Exhaustively researched and beautifully written, insightful and entertaining, and will be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in exploration history' -- Adventure Travel
'Murgatroyd demonstrates a profound understanding of topography and climate in this gripping tale' -- Sunday Times
'Murgatroyd picks her way with forensic care through a tangle of flawed characters, fatal near-misses, betrayals, dignified last words and dubious maps' -- Evening Standard