Day 50

A sea day means a chance to sleep in a little later since there are no excursions to catch. We had a light breakfast after 9:00 and caught the morning enrichment lectures. First, Terry was back in good humor to present “The Great Outback Explorers.” It was really a tragic story of Victorian bluster and gross miscalculation. To set the record straight, there were several early discoveries of Australia from Portugal, Holland and Spain from 1524 through the 1700s, but Capt. Cook was the first to plant a flag in 1770. Great Britain quickly followed up with the first colony of prisoners in 1788 and made it formal in 1829, bringing Australia within the commonwealth. Even as late as 1860, only the coastal eastern regions were heavily settled with scattered outposts on the coastal regions elsewhere. Nothing was known about the “interior.” Over drinks and cigars one day, members of the high society, Melbourne Philosophical Society, decided to setup a Victorian Exploring Committee. They directed this group to explore everything east of the 143rd longitude, which would bring it north to the Gulf of Carpentaria, that big watery indentation in the northern side of the continent. This was not really the heart of the interior, but still totally unknown to them.

Here the incompetence begins. The committee drew names from a hat and Robert O’Hara Burke was chosen. His only experience was in the Austrian army, but he had no bushman skills. He chose his 3rd in command, William John Wills, a surveyor and meteorologist, also with no experience in the bush. He would name his 2nd in command later. Burke selected the remainder of his team from 300 applicants in 3 hours, apparently from people he knew, not from needed skills. He planned to use camels because of their reputation in dry desert conditions. His packing list included some true necessities, such as an 8’ oak dining table, 8 wooden chairs, and a Chinese gong.

Having assembled their team and gear, the expedition setout from Melbourne on August 20, 1860 with 19 men, 23 horses, 6 wagons, and 26 camels. Other notable names of the team include William Brahe, a cattle handler (but they did not bring live cattle choosing, instead, to bring dried meat); Hermann Becker, aged 52 (rather too old for this rough journey), doctor (but of philosophy), botanist, and geologist; George Landells, appointed 2nd in command because of his knowledge handling camels; Ludwig Becker, appointed official artist; and John King, aged 22 with military experience in India.

Within two days, three wagons broke down and repairs slowed forward progress. On September 24, Landells had a personal conflict with Burke and he left. By October 12, they had travelled only 466 miles and 13 men were fired and 8 new replacements hired. Because of the slow progress, on December 16 at Coopers Creek, they split the group and 4 set-off for the north coast with the rest instructed to remain there. On February 6, 1861, the four: Burke, Wills, King, and Gray, arrived at Flinders delta. The soil was sandy and there was no food in sight, they planned a return trip of 59 days but only had 27 days of food. On the way back, they ate their camels and last horse. Two tried eating a dead snake only to get dysentery. That slowed the group down. Next, Grey was caught sneaking extra rations and was severely beaten by King and died 2 weeks later. On April 21, they returned to Coopers Creek only to learn that the other group had left. Later, history would show that they missed them by 9 hours. Wills was too sick to travel and they left him there. Two days later, Burke and King returned because Burke was too sick to travel and they found Wills dead. King could do nothing to save Burke, who died days later. The young King survived only because the aborigines gave him food and shelter.

Having heard nothing, the Melbourne people decided to organize rescue parties from several origins, South Australia, Queensland, Victoria, Flinders Bay, and Melbourne. Eventually, King was found on September 15. These rescue parties contributed a greater amount of knowledge about the unknown interior than the original party. King showed them where to find Burke and Wills. Back in Melbourne, their funeral was attended by 40,000 people. There is a theory that the expedition’s illness and deaths were caused by a thiamine deficiency, beri-beri, caused by improperly over-cooked seedcakes. The aborigines helped King survive by feeding him properly cooked seedcakes.

The second lecture by Hassan Eltaher, a new person, was on “Influence of Judaism and Christianity on Islam.” I won’t go into a long story. Islam was the third religion to come out of the Middle East in the 600s A.D. He discussed some similarities and differences among the religions. As a side note, the Quran mentions Mohammed 5 times, Moses 136, and Jesus 59. He tried to explain a split between Shiite and Sunni sects. It was caused by how to choose a successor to Mohammed. The Sunnis appointed a representative and the Shiites insisted upon a blood relationship. Hence, they will disagree and hate each other. He mentioned that Indonesia has the greatest number of Muslims but developed a different series of beliefs, more moderate and tolerant.

Noontime games were good. I won 3 Regent points in the Screw Your Neighbor card game. With the open time, we walked the deck for a mile followed by a light lunch because tonight is formal night. I went off to the 2:30 and 3:15 deck games of carpet bowling and darts collecting a couple more points. Pat went to a craft class.

I made a greeting card under the direction of Julie, Terry’s wife, who embarked in Perth and will do a craft each sea day.  About 30 of us attended today to learn about cutout figures and gluing with little squares of 2-sided tape, which raises the design somewhat. I made a birthday card with dolphins and butterflies attached. It took about 45 minutes.

Tonight was another formal night, where the new folks would get to meet the captain and staff. We passed on this since we have met the staff several times. I sat on our balcony and got some late afternoon sun, while Mac began writing this, so we wouldn’t be up until 1 AM again.

We finally got dressed and went to dinner at 7:30. I had Maine lobster (I love to try new things- ha ha) and Mac had Tasmanian salmon. We got a table for 2 and thus finished with plenty of time to spare before the 9:30 show.

Panos Karan was the featured performer tonight. Born in Greece and educated in London, he has performed in Carnegie hall, Symphony Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Tokyo Opera City and others. In 2010, he founded the charity Keys of Change to help bring music to young people around the world living under extraordinary circumstances. He has performed in the Amazon, Sierra Leone, Nepal, India, Peru, and Japan (after the tsunami). He played classical works from Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, and Tchaikovsky, ending with the Nutcracker Suite. He received a standing ovation.

Tomorrow we are in Exmouth, our last Australian port. Then we head to Indonesia.

Yours in travel,

Pat & Mac