When it comes to the great Aussie adventure, only a few places really earn the title of an absolute must-see location in my books. For me, these types of places are usually home to historical events that, in some way or another, have helped shape us as a nation. Locations that will take you back in time and give you a whole new outlook on life, if you’re lucky. If you haven’t already guessed it, I’m proud to say that the district of Innamincka is one such place, or it was for me, at least.
Why? Well, that’s because Innamincka (or very close to Innamincka) is the final resting place of the Burke and Wills expedition team. That’s right; this is the place that claimed the lives of some of Australia’s most famous explorers, which were also some of the hardiest, most resilient men of all time. But there’s more to come on that later.
I want to take you back to the start of my Innamincka adventure, the one that started a good thousand kays away in Sydney, en-route to the Big Red Bash at Birdsville, Qld.
I was travelling with the usual gang (Whitey, Troopy Dan and our photographer happy-snaps Matt). They’re not the smartest bunch of blokes but, on the upside, they’re always good to take the mickey out of! After an absolutely cracking night at Cameron Corner, we were north-west-bound and heading for South Australia. It was time to tackle the famous Strzelecki Track!
This track is infamous for its remote, rugged and isolated attributes. However, it is very much a dirt highway these days, thanks to the road being made and re-made so many times it’s not funny. Heavy machinery and drilling equipment needed a way to make it to the Cooper Basin, which is subject to relentless oil and gas exploration. With reports of all roads north of Innamincka being closed after the big rain, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. It turns out the track was still silky smooth and pretty much a highway the whole way into Innamincka.
After not seeing another person for a few hours, choking on clouds of dust and copping a few million corrugations you get a brief taste of how demanding this part of the country was back then. If you can see past the air-conditioned lounge chairs we get around in these days. I still reckon being stuck in a car listening to old Whitey singing Khe Sanh horrendously out of key was the harshest part of the trip!
COOPER CREEK CAMPING
Once you make it to Innamincka, it’s time to set up camp and perch yourself on the edge of the Cooper Creek for a bit of R&R. We may have knocked back a couple of schooners at the Innamincka Hotel first but, after a big day behind the wheel, it’s only natural to be thirsty, right? Especially when you get there just in time for a lunch time schnitzel!
The good news is Cooper Creek has plenty of camping spots available and they’re literally across the road from the pub, general store and fuel station which, like most outback stops, is pretty much all rolled into one joint. Despite being so close, we almost had to send out a search party for happy-snaps Matt after he tried to walk back to camp in the pitch darkness. You can take the boy out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the boy, eh?
THE DIG TREE
I mentioned earlier that Cooper Creek was the final resting place for Burke and Wills, so here’s a quick history lesson to catch you up. As the story goes, way back in 1860, Burke and Wills led an expedition of 19 men with the intention of crossing Australia from south to north – that’s Melbourne in the south to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north. This was the first crossing of this sort by non-indigenous people and the government was offering a few bucks to whoever did it first.
The first leg of the journey was plagued with bad luck, with everything from horrendous weather to broken wagons making things difficult. Once the team reached the Darling River at Menindee, the party was divided up before Burke and Wills pushed on to Cooper Creek at Innamincka. They established a depot camp there, before Burke, Wills and two other men made the dash as far north as possible. They never reached the northern coastline due to intense mud flats, and their return journey also had its mishaps, which delayed them considerably. After waiting for several extra weeks, running low on supplies themselves and fearing the worst had happened, the blokes at the Cooper Creek depot decided to make their way back to Melbourne.
They left a chest of supplies buried at the foot of a tree, known now as the Dig Tree, in case the boys eventually made it back to the site. They engraved on two separate trees coded instructions on where to find the supplies that they had hidden to prevent them from being stolen. The Dig Tree is still standing today and still bears most of the original engravings. Believe it or not, Burke and Wills returned just hours after the party had left, but completely missed the instructions on the Dig Tree. They died on or around June 30, 1861.
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS
The Innamincka region turned out to be much more entertaining than I imagined. I mean sure, it’s not the sort of place you’d drive for days and days on end just to visit, but if you’re heading out this way, you’d be mad not to stop in for the night.
I’ll let you in on a little secret; it’s the early morning starts that earned this place a big tick of approval from me. There was just something about the atmosphere in the early morning that makes you feel relaxed to the core. And this is coming from a bloke that presses the snooze button until 9 or 10am most mornings, so it’s really saying something!
- Innamincka is 1065km north-east of Adelaide and 459km from Lyndhurst up the Strzelecki Track.
- It is surrounded by the Strzelecki, Tirari and Sturt Stony deserts.
- Visit the Innamincka Trading Post for food, supermarket, ice, maps, auto accessories and vehicle servicing, national park permits and fuel. Phone (08) 8675 9900, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.innaminckatp.com.au for more information.