[Editor: This book review of Dig, by Frank Clune, about the Burke and Wills expedition, was published in the “Current Literature” section of The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 12 June 1937.]
Burke and Wills.
Mr. Frank Clune has chosen a fascinating subject; the Burke and Wills expedition, while it has not quite the complete mystery of Leichhardt’s fate, is still a little-known episode of Australian history, and still calls for reconstruction.
Reconstruction, indeed, is the keynote of the book, for the author has set out to give the reader not an analytical study of the circumstances of this tragedy, but a dramatisation of it. The conversations of the characters and their motives are set out as in a novel, and each scene is reconstructed as though for a scenario. What this method loses in strict accuracy it certainly gains in vividness, and it is one which is becoming increasingly popular with historians.
The vividness of this narrative is, if anything, increased by the curiously naive style of the author; provided he is keeping to simplicity, he greatly enhances the value of the story. It is only when he indulges in the embroideries sometimes, unfortunately, characteristic of the “desert” school of writers, that the sincerity of the scenes is spoiled.
The ghastly tragedies of misunderstanding which resulted in the deaths of Burke and Wills began soon after leaving Menindie, with the arrangements for Wright’s return. Thenceforward things went from bad to worse, yet, had it not been for Brahe’s departure from Cooper’s Creek only nine hours before Burke and Wills reached there, on their return from the Gulf of Carpentaria, even then the tragedy might not have occurred. These two left their careful instructions as to their route, buried under the same tree as that used by Brahe. Yet Brahe, on his return, failed to follow the instructions to “dig” under the tree, thinking that no one had been at the spot but himself.
The death of Wills was heroic. He wrote, “I am in good spirits. I think to last four days,” and this at a moment when he was sick and too weak to move. Burke died soon after, and there is a tragic bitterness in his accusation, in his last note, that the depot party had abandoned its post. King’s miraculous escape and rescue make dramatic reading.
The whole story is a most affecting one in Mr. Clune’s telling, and the author leaves us with a profound admiration for strong-hearted men undefeated by death.
(“Dig,” by Frank Clune. Sydney, Angus and Robertson. Second edition.)
The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 12 June 1937, p. 12
[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]