March 2019

Back to Issue 5

The Coming  of Burke, Wills and King to Cooper’s Creek, April 21, 1861

By William Cotter


Charlie Gray, the seaman, is dead, now,

Swimming through a tide of wind, sun and dust

And, in his madness, summoning up belly full sails

And swooping gulls


And, so,

They struggle on

Across the spiked sand and the scattered shingleback stones,

Burke, Wills and King, together,

Forcing the mechano pieces of their limbs to respond

And mocked by the rivulets of make-believe water during the day

And the cold, white wash moon at night.


Yet, as the blurred, chaotic horizon hardens into trees

And scarlet scribbles on the water of Cooper’s Creek ahead,

Their disordered minds rake together reunions, talk round a fire,


And escape to the south.


So, spent, but determined,

They reach the bank of the Cooper,


Where, among the tilting tombstones of trees,

They hear the condemning cawing of crows

And watch as a dingo sidles away from the deserted camp

And a sliver of smoke creeps out over the water.