Burke and Wills Treasure Hunt put on hold
An ambitious project involving 3Bde engineers, Queensland Government archeologists and an ex-service volunteer group to try to retrieve a cache of Burke and Wills instruments and journals was last month rained out.
It will now be delayed for at least a year.
Head of ex-services group, the Cameleers, former RAAF corporal George Koulakis, said the group wanted to recover what was effectively the last great historical treasure in Australia – the box buried by William John Wills at the Plant Camp.
The expedition, which was to have left Townsville in mid-September, would have included 35 combat engineers and support soldiers and specialist equipment including ground-penetrating radar to conduct a methodical military-style grid search of the area. George said the group would reset and attempt to mount the expedition again in 2017. He and a small team of Cameleers visited with Mithaka elders last
month after the Plant Camp expedition was cancelled. The Cameleers were given privileged access to Mithaka sites and oral history related to the Burke and Wills expedition that has been passed down from generation to generation.
The location of the Plant Camp is known by only a handful of people outside of the Mithaka tribe.
The Plant Camp is the last Burke and Wills camp to be found and the area has not yet been methodically searched – above or below the ground.
The location of the camp was calculated by retired Burke and Wills academic Professor Frank Leahy who noticed the consistent rate of deviation in the difference between the camp locations as reported by Wills and their actual location.
He realised the error would have been caused by a clock losing time.
Wills used a mechanical clock and a sextant to make astrological sightings and calculate their position.
Because the clock was losing time, there was always an error in the longitude Wills recorded.
Once Prof Leahy realised that, he pinpointed the Plant Camp straight away.
He reported its existence to the Queensland Government and it has been a restricted site since 2011.
George said the Mithaka elders held stories about the ill-fated expedition that could change the accepted version of events.
“Mithaka Aborigines tried to help the expedition by guiding them to water, and, therefore, forage for their camels,” George said. “But the explorers had no idea how to read the signs, and so the Aborigines’ felt their help had been rejected.”
George said Burke and Wills experts also hoped the journals reported to be in the buried box might also shed light on exactly where and how Charley Gray died.
The Mithaka elders believe they have the truth passed through the generations in stories.
George Koulakis in Mithaka country