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Burke & Wills Conference: Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of Robert O’Hara Burke

May 29 @ 9:30 am - 1:00 pm

$25 – $35

Book here


The President and Council of The Royal Historical Society of Queensland invite you to this conference to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Robert O’Hara Burke in Ireland.

Booking is essential. Ticket price includes the conference and morning tea. Download the programme here.

9am registration for 9.30am start.


The Dig Tree Dilemma: Why Brahe’s Tree is the Real Dig Tree
Dr David Phoenix
Archival evidence indicates that the coolabah tree currently known as Burke and Wills’ ‘Dig Tree’ on Cooper Creek was not the tree carved to mark the buried stores left for Burke’s party on their return from the Gulf of Carpentaria. Nevertheless, the tree has become iconic and it is seen to epitomise the tragedy of the expedition. This paper proposes that a nearby, less impressive coolabah, is the real ‘Dig Tree’ and analyses the possible implications for heritage interpretation and values.

Dr Hermann Beckler MD: A German Doctor in Practice in Moreton Bay 1856-1858 and his Role with the Victorian Exploring Expedition
David Dodd
Dr Hermann Beckler arrived in Moreton Bay in 1856 ostensibly to provide medical support to the many German immigrants flooding into the Moreton Bay region of then New South Wales. Despite establishing a practice in Ipswich and later in Tenterfield and Warwick, where he operated a Pharmacy, these ventures failed; ‘commenting that the Germans were too poor to pay and the Irish patients disputed any charges’. He became interested in botanical collecting and this led to contact with Von Mueller, Director of the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, and he was sent collecting in the Mid North coast of New South Wales. Association with Von Muller led to Beckler’s appointment to the Expedition as Medical Doctor and Botanical Collector and his important, yet difficult role to this ill-fated Expedition will be discussed.

Enduring Heritage: The Numismatics and Philately of Burke and Wills
Professor John Pearn
History and heritage is preserved in many forms. One of the most enduring is the medallic record. Communities, societies and nations commission and strike medals to preserve, in metal, individuals and events deemed worthy of enduring record. In addition, nations issue postage stamps which reflect the values and persona of the country. The Burke and Wills expedition was the first to traverse the continent from south to north; and has been recorded in both the numismatic and philatelic record is one of the most significant events in the colonial history of the 19th century. Long after the Dig Tree itself has perished, these two enduring repositories of Australian history will endure as a witness of both the triumph and troubles of that expedition.

Australia’s Most Ambitious Exploration of the 19th Century: Courage, Perseverance, Bad Luck and Foolishness
Philip Castle
The exploration of the Australian continent in 1860-61 from south (Melbourne) to north (the Gulf) and return was at the time the most ambitious yet for the young white settlers. While lavishly funded it was plagued with poor selection of the leadership and team, poor planning, inappropriate equipment and transport, ignorance of the terrain and a failure to engage the indigenous peoples. That it succeeded was remarkable; however in hindsight it should have succeeded without the drama or loss of life. Philip Castle will examine the expedition and highlight the key results, both success and failures.

King, Kin and Country: Burke, Wills, King and Yandruwandha
Aaron Patterson
Aaron will talk about the Yandruwandha people and indigenous perspective of black interactions with the Royal Victorian Exploring Expedition. He will discuss his indigenous family connection to country and the explorers John King, Burke and Wills and their interactions, including John King fathering a Yandruwandha baby.

Robert O’Hara Burke: Courage and Perseverance
Jim McCourt
Burke is generally regarded as having lacked in previousexploration experience. He made many mistakes bydividing his party several times as well as not treating hismen properly, but there can be no doubt that hedisplayed great physical and personal courage as well asperseverance in the pursuit of his journey from CooperCreek to the Gulf and back.



May 29
9:30 am - 1:00 pm
$25 – $35


The Royal Historical Society of Queensland


Commissariat Store Museum
115 William St
Brisbane, 4000 Australia
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