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Burke & Wills Country

As we mentioned previously, this whole area is Burke & Wills country and there is so much history here if you are interested.

Burke and Wills graves – Explorers Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills were the first to successfully cross Australia from south to north, but they both tragically died beside the Cooper Creek on their return journey. Their bodies were later exhumed and, following Victoria’s first state funeral (which was apparently attended by approximately 80% of Melbourne’s population), they were both laid to rest in the Melbourne General Cemetery.

King’s Tree – John King was the sole survivor of the Burke and Wills expedition. After leaving the bodies of his two friends, Burke & Wills, King had sought the help and skills of the local Aboriginal people to help keep him alive. About a month or so later, King was found by Howitt’s search party.

The Dig Tree

By far, the most well known location would be The Dig Tree, which is located on Nappa Merrie Station on the northern bank of Cooper Creek, about 100km or so from Innamincka, SA.

Now for those that may not be up to scratch on your Burke & Wills history, The Dig Tree is the site from which the Burke and Wills expedition party split into two and Burke, Wills, King & Gray set off for the Gulf of Carpentaria, whilst William Brahe and the rest of the party remained behind with instructions to wait up to three months for their return. They did exactly that, in fact they waited more than four months for them to return. The most tragic part of the whole story is that Burke & Wills did finally return, only to find the camp deserted ….. by only a few hours. Brahe and the others had literally left the camp only a few hours before their arrival. It was such a tragic, sad twist of circumstances that occurred.

On returning to the camp, they found it deserted, but found a carving on a large coolibah tree telling them where to dig for supplies. Before departing the rest of the party decided to bury some provisions on the remote chance the Burke and Wills may return. William Brahé carved three separate messages into the trunk of the tree.

The inscriptions marked the location of the supplies, the camp number, and the dates of the arrival of the advance party and Brahé’s departure. Whilst most of the carvings have now been covered over, you can still slightly see a small part on the tree, as shown on the pic below.

This Coolibah tree is believed to be is 200-250 years old.

The Face Tree – Only about 30m from The Dig Tree, you will find what is known as ‘The Face Tree’. Burke’s face was carved into the tree in 1898 by John Dick.


You can visit the Dig Tree as a day use visitor and camping is also available in the area adjacent to the Dig Tree Reserve. It’s very basic bush camping with really no facilities. There are basic toilets, but the camping area is quite large and it’s unlikely you’ll be camped near these. Campfires are allowed, but you must provide your own firewood.

There was a fee of (i think) $10 per vehicle to camp there. An honesty box as you enter is provided for this. You do not need to pre-book and the camping area is large so I don’t think you would ever need to worry about not finding a space for the night. It’s a beautiful place to camp for a night or longer, the sunrise and sunset is great, it’s quiet and relaxed and the bird life is abundant.

The ‘Dig Tree’ is one of Australia’s national icons, it’s one of those places which you visit and you are reminded of the harsh conditions our explorers faced. It’s a good feeling to know that we are able to visit places like this and be reminded of our past. Apart from the boardwalk structure built around the tree to help protect it, the site is exactly the same as Burke and Wills would have seen it all those years ago. Time moves on so quickly and life is such a rush nowadays, so it’s nice to be able to reflect on our history and see how lucky we are in comparison.

We are George & Shelly, a married couple from Sydney, Australia, who love 4WDing, camping and travelling this great country of ours.   We love sharing our adventures and hope to inspire others to travel as well.    Join us on our journeys around Australia! 

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