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“Hi, I’m Stephen Samuel and I am reading an excerpt from my fiction manuscript The Strange Eventful History of the Sufferings and Deaths of Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills. It is a fictional retelling of the final days of the ill-fated Burke and Wills Expedition.
Burke kicks Landa in the ribs, forcing her to gallop.
The larger camel carries Wills and King on either side of his depleted hump.
They hear Burke up ahead again call out his mighty cooee.
“Braaaahheeee, Paaaaattteeeeen.” Burke sings their names with the same cadence. He calls out Wright’s name, but it doesn’t lend itself to the same tune.
Three more times Burke sings and each time there is no response.
Wills orders King to get off the camel as he is keen to get to the others so that he can be the one to tell them how Gray died. It will be as he wrote it in his journal. Gray died in his sleep of scurvy. They spent an entire day digging the grave and then they gave their friend a Christian burial that brought them all to tears.
Wills digs his heels into the boney ribs of the camel. Rajah snorts in protest at being forced to run.
Through the eucalypt branches, King thinks he can see the camp fire burning big and bright. After a few painful steps, he realises that it is the setting sun, which hovers above the horizon, tinged with a melancholy feel.
King simply can not run. Bolts of pain force him to limp towards the camp.
The first thing that he sees is Burke who is motionless at the edge of the deserted camp.
Wills counts three precious steps away from the Coolibah tree. He falls to his feet, tearing holes in the ground.
King sees the engraving on the tree. He sees the emptiness of the camp. There is no Brahe or Patten or Wright. There is nothing but a carving on a tree.
He rushes over to Wills.
As John King’s fingers tunnel within the red sand, he feels the changes as he scrapes and scratches at the hole.”
ABOUT STEPHEN SAMUEL:
Stephen is completing post-graduate studies in English at La Trobe University. He is assistant Artistic Director for Clunes Back to Booktown.
“I spent a few weeks at Varuna in 2011 after being awarded a Varuna Fellowship.” Stephen Samuel
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