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Burke, Wills and you: a three-part guide for the modern explorer

YOU'VE driven the Birdsville Track and cycled across the Nullarbor.

YOU'VE driven the Birdsville Track and cycled across the Nullarbor.

The latest challenge for the domestic tourist who's done everything is following the Burke and Wills trail.

Historian Dave Phoenix has written a touring guide so you can drive or walk the route of the 1860-61 exploration of the Australian interior.

You don't have to replicate, however, the deaths from starvation suffered by several members of the original party.

Mr Phoenix has split the trip into three parts, starting with the 400-kilometre Melbourne-to-Swan Hill leg, Following Burke and Wills Across Victoria: A Touring Guide.

In dry weather, most of this leg can be done in a two-wheel-drive car; for bad weather alternative roads are given.

This book will be followed next year by two four-wheel-drive guides: the second leg, from Swan Hill to Innamincka in South Australia; and the third stretch, from there to the Gulf of Carpentaria in Queensland.

The books are based on a five-month walk along the route Mr Phoenix took in 2008. A university history tutor who lives in Cairns, he said the Victorian section with its colder weather, forests and grazing plains was a contrast to the cliche of Burke and Wills in the desert.

The book gives parallel accounts of Burke and Wills's 1860 journey and the 2011 version, starting with departure from Royal Park, the first camp at Moonee Ponds, now Queens Park, then over the Great Dividing Range. It traces the 15 camps through eucalypt forest and farms at Lancefield and Heathcote then on past old homesteads, or ruins of them, at obscure hamlets such as Mia Mia, Terrick and Tragowel.

You can climb Mount Hope (Camp 11, between Echuca and Kerang), and enjoy a similar spectacular view of Pyramid Hill that Burke and Wills naturalist Ludwig Becker painted in 1860.

The 14th camp, a few box trees beside the Murray Valley Highway at Lake Boga south of Swan Hill, is so revered by locals it is called the Burke and Wills Clump and is heritage listed.

Diary extracts provide insights into the 1860 exploring party of about 20 men, six wagons, 26 camels and 23 horses.

At Barnadown on the Campaspe River, John Couche rode 40 kilometres from Bendigo to gawk at Burke and Wills's camels but his horse shied and he fell and broke his wrist.

At Swan Hill, the explorers' surgeon and naturalist, Hermann Beckler, wrote that colonists he met at parties were "a rich and respected company, which none of us had expected in this corner of the colony so far from the city".

Mr Phoenix says the guide brings history to life.

"It's off the beaten track, so even for people who have travelled to Bendigo and Swan Hill a thousand times, this is a way to do it that's completely different, unlike any way they would have gone before."

Following Burke and Wills Across Victoria: A Touring Guide, $24.95, can be ordered from November 20 at burkeandwills.net.au/touring-guide


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