In his latest non-fiction book Fitzsimons has a sub-title which perhaps tells us all – “The Triumph and Tragedy of Australia’s most famous explorers.” Because they are still so famous, what is there left to write about them to capture the attention of the Australian public in this day and age? With his diligent researchers, the writer brings the two unlikely companions to life, once more. It is partly due to the bright journalistic style of the text, and partly due to the extensive use of diaries, encompassing the daily trials faced by this team, as they traversed some of the most hostile land on this continent.
Ludwig Becker wrote that Burke had “the air of a leader about him”, while Wills, “intelligent and clear-headed had the air of a student.” There are copious pages of notes, proving how meticulously this particular research has been handled. There are sketches and photographs too, some in colour, to add to the interest.
If only Burke had noted how well the Aborigines lived in this inhospitable country, and copied at least some of their ways, the outcome would have been so different.
Burke was 40 when he died (leaving everything to Julia Matthews,”an actress, not half his age”), and Wills was only 27.
The only survivor of the expedition, John King, was cared for by the native people, and when rescued was able to flesh out the sorry tale. An epilogue tells the reader more about the people concerned with this sad adventure.
Wills’s father, Dr. William Wills, who practised here in Ballarat, wrote that his son’s “failure to return was due to incapability and negligence not his own.” History, and this book, simply add truth to that statement.
This book will be released in November.
BURKE & WILLS by PETER FITZSIMONS PUBLISHED by HACHETTE for a recommended $49.99