Burke & Wills
May 2, 2012 7:15 PM   Subscribe

Burke & Wills is a 1985 movie depicting the ill-fated 1860 expedition by Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills across the interior of Australia from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria, a distance of 2000 miles. To date, it has never been released on DVD and is currently out of print. In 14 parts [140m]: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

The film has garnered some criticism for being a bit historically inaccurate (the expedition never did quite reach the coast), but the incredible vistas of Australian scenery and the brutal depiction of the conditions of the journey make for quality viewing.
posted by hippybear (18 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I first learned about this movie by subscribing to the American Gramaphone newsletter (back in the days when such things existed) and they had listed the soundtrack album. I rented it and watched it about four times in a row.

Even broken up into bits on YouTube, it hasn't lost its emotional power. I've been looking for it for years, and am pleased to have found it in ANY form online.
posted by hippybear at 7:17 PM on May 2, 2012

Pffft. I walk that distance to and from work every morning, on way harder terrain. And it's uphill both ways.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:25 PM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think this is available on Netflix for streaming.
posted by that possible maker of pork sausages at 7:29 PM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

From the second link: "Unfortunately, Horrocks did not find any new or exciting land, but in 1846 he did become the only explorer to be shot and killed by his camel."

This whole story is just awesome. I really don't know what else to say.
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 9:54 PM on May 2, 2012

There's a great book on the subject too: The Dig Tree by Sarah Murgatroyd (obligatory Amazon link).
posted by londonmark at 11:50 PM on May 2, 2012

A friend of mine gives a talk on this expedition. Amazing story.
posted by pharm at 2:25 AM on May 3, 2012

When is youtube going to get rid of this stupid 10 minute limit BS. Some of the videos on there are not limited, some are. Idiots.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:48 AM on May 3, 2012

So full of stubborn Victorian hubris it is hard not to laugh. They just hadn't a clue.
They took twenty-three horses, six wagons and twenty-six camels.
..The expedition took a large amount of equipment; including enough food to last two years, a cedar-topped oak camp table with two chairs, rockets, flags and a Chinese gong; the equipment all together weighed as much as 20 tonnes. As committee member Captain Francis Cadell had opposed his appointment as leader of the expedition, Burke refused his offer to transport the supplies to Adelaide by ship and then up the Murray and Darling Rivers to be collected on the way, everything was instead loaded onto six wagons. One wagon broke down before it had even left Royal Park and by midnight of the first day the expedition had only reached Essendon on the edge of Melbourne. At Essendon two more wagons broke down. Heavy rains and bad roads made travelling through Victoria difficult and time-consuming.
..They reached Menindee on 12 October having taken two months to travel 750 km (470 mi) from Melbourne - the regular mail coach did the journey in little more than a week.
..At Gambala on 24 September, Burke decided to load some of the provisions onto the camels for the first time, and to lessen the burden on the horses ordered the men to walk. He also ordered personal luggage be restricted to 30 lb (14 kg). At Bilbarka on the Darling Burke and his second-in-command, Landells, argued after Burke decided to dump the 60 gallons (≈270 litres) of rum that Landells had brought to feed to the camels in the belief that it prevented scurvy.(Wikipedia)
They didn't know how to handle the camels and ended up eating some of them, while refusing help from the locals.

That was how the pioneers rolled though, some lived to tell the tale and have big chunks of the country named after them. From what I have learned the successful ones were an equally ignorant bunch of racist sociopaths, they just had different luck.
posted by asok at 2:49 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I went and saw this in grade 5 as a school excursion. Sadly, as I was 10 at the time mostly what I remember is there being a second of two of boob visible. Kids are such morons. It will be interesting to see it again.
posted by adamt at 4:52 AM on May 3, 2012

I love shit like this, and I should be drummed out of the Crazy 19th English Guys Going On Insane Expeditions Fan Club for not seeing this movie. I was at a friend's house one night and this was on cable, but we were watching something else. We kept flipping back to this movie and these guys kept looking worse and worse and it seemed to last forever. I knew what the movie was about, but didn't know exactly what it was. Thanks for the post!
posted by marxchivist at 4:55 AM on May 3, 2012

When is youtube going to get rid of this stupid 10 minute limit BS.

One thing I do appreciate about this particular upload is that whoever did it took care to put the breaks between scenes (not in mid-sentence like sometimes happens), and even went so far as to put individual summaries for each section of the movie.

If you have to do a movie in chunks, this one is done right.
posted by hippybear at 6:03 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I take issue with blaming "stubborn Victorian hubris". Victoria was very young then - less than 10 years old - and most of the people involved in this fiasco weren't born there and wouldn't have considered themselves Australian (nor would their children, for the most part). Much of the fault for the expedition lies with the English gentlemen from the Royal Society who chose Burke to lead the voyage. Oh, and Burke. He was appointed over several more qualified candidates because of previous dealings with one of the committee members in his role in the Irish Mounted Police. Something about breaking a strike affecting their business, if memory serves.

At each turn, Burke displayed ineptitude and disdain for the assistance the party could have received from local Aboriginal people. The main reason King survived was simply that Burke and Wills died before he did, and he was thus free to seek help. This behaviour was sadly not particularly rare for Australian explorers, but there were exceptions - Hume and Hovell were exceptionally skilled explorers who were further aided by the mutual respect they shared with the indigenous Australians.

Though Burke and Wills suffered a grisly fate, in some ways a truer victim of this debacle was King, who was widely blamed for having somehow failed his noble masters. A newspaper report at the time went so far as to say that his survival was due to being unburdened of the lofty thoughts of a gentleman's mind. He spent most of the remainder of his years pleading for an official report exonerating him of blame.
posted by notionoriety at 8:08 AM on May 3, 2012

thanks for the tip on the movie, it is indeed streaming on Netflix US. Just the other day "Tony Robinson: Down Under" was airing on PBS which had a bit about this exact expedition.
posted by djseafood at 11:14 AM on May 3, 2012

Spiffy piece of work, that site.
posted by Twang at 11:47 AM on May 3, 2012

When is youtube going to get rid of this stupid 10 minute limit BS.

Uh, they did. Just several months after these were uploaded. If only the uploaders had anticipated the availability of supplies, they could have been saved!
posted by dhartung at 4:31 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

That same year there was a second Australian film concerning the same events, but Gary McDonald and Kim Gyngell were markedly less committed to historical realism.
posted by MarchHare at 8:40 PM on May 3, 2012

Notionoriety, I think the comment about "Victorian hubris" refers more to the time period than the state.
posted by chiquitita at 4:19 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh! Haha, that was silly of me. Sorry about that.
posted by notionoriety at 6:49 AM on May 8, 2012

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