I would assume every Australian knows the story of Burke & Wills to cross the Australian continent in 1861 like every Brit knows the later Scott of the Antarctic. Like the Antarctic expedition the planning and strategy was haphazard and the choice of a leader was perhaps not ideal. Like Scott they were also plagued by extraordinarily bad luck. And like Scott, almost nothing of value was learned from the expensive fiasco. Wright becomes the villain as he selfishly delays to follow up the lead expedition and replenish depot LXV at Cooper’s Creek. Brahe becomes the Apsley Cherry-Garrard of this story as he abandons the depot a mere 9 hours before the lead expedition returns due to his own team’s lack of resources and oncoming illness and Wright’s failure to ever return to resupply.
Moorehead keeps the narrative interesting even though we know the basic outcome; just the right mix of lively and literate and accurate, clearly pointing out where he is interpolating. He has to piece together much of the information to create a complete story due to a paucity of source material; the expedition while in the bush was particularly lazy at keeping any sorts of journals or diaries.
I had read Moorehead’s The White Nile before so I knew he could spin a suspenseful narrative out of historical ingredients.
Before this I had thought the British had cornered the market on the glorious disaster but after reading this I see the Australians have their own version.