In 1861 John King of Cooper Creek was the first person to trek overland to the north coast of Australia and return to the south coast alive. His leaders (Burke and Wills) died in the attempt.  They are famous in Australia and John King is a forgotten man.

He was stranded alone for over five months deep in the outback.

He was stuck beside a creek that linked a string of isolated waterholes. In every direction the waterholes stopped. He was trapped in an oasis. 


This creek was Cooper creek . He survived by befriending the local aboriginal people. He used his last bullets to kill birds which he exchanged for aboriginal food and more importantly lessons in aboriginal food gathering technology. When his bullets were gone, he had use the aboriginal ways to live off the land.

 On multiple levels, King's survival says a lot about how the land and people can be one, and how different peoples can be one. 

how it happened is a long story...and the truth is elusive.....but briefly.

Cooper Creek was just an isolated cluster of water holes. In 1861 it was about 500 miles from the nearest white settlement. It is  about a 1000 miles from Sydney and Melbourne.


The leaders (Burke and Wills) who died at Cooper Creek are famous for squanding a series of opportunities that meant they missed immediate rescue by mere hours. 

After a suicidal 1700 mile dash across the Australian outback, the incompetent leaders (Burke and Wills)  died at Coopers Creek.


John King used common sense and learned from the local aboriginal people, the Yandruwandha.  While they gave him some food, John King ultimately survived because he learned how to process a poisonous local plant called Nardoo and make it edible. 



After discharge from the Indian army, he signed up to be the fixer for the expedition's afghan camel drivers. 

When the expedition decided to have a five man party make a dash for the coast, King became the camel driver.




The Burke and Wills expedition was a complete stuff up in  logistics,  communication and leadership. 

Unfortunately, there was no Australian Thomas Jefferson to pick a Mereweather Lewis.   Instead a  committee chose, Robert O'Hara Burke, an Irish policeman with no outback experience. Wills was an English surveyor who became deputy leader by default.   In my cynical opinion, the expedition was Melbourne's attempt to become the first Australian city to connected to the rest of the world by telegraph. Adelaide won in 1872 when the sea cable from Java to Darwin was joined to a land line that went across central australia.  


King was an Irish soldier who fought in the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and was recruited in India to look after the 24 camels that were taken to Australia. 

Cooper Creek was the advanced base camp and a return journey to the north coast was close to 1750 miles. Burke Wills and King were five weeks late and arrived back to an empty camp on 21 April 1861 (one week after General P.G.T Beauregard's bombardment of Fort Sumtner). Burke and Wills found a message cut into a tree that that instructed them to "dig three feet" to the north west from the tree. The tree is still alive and is known as the DIG tree. They dug up a letter and a few supplies. They were devastated to find they had missed extraction by only a few hours.    ~~~~~~ Burke and Wills decided to start an impossible 500 mile  walk to a cattle ranch at Mt Hopeless in South Australia and while they were away from Cooper Creek, a small part of the support party returned for a final quick look. ~~~~~ Tragically, while Burke and Wills did bury a message detailing their return and their crazy plan, but they failed to carve a new message on the Dig Tree itself. So the information that would have saved Burke and Wills remained unread under the feet of the returning support party. ~~~~~~ Frustratingly Burke and Wills heard gunshoots fired by the returning support party but could not get back before they left.y left. ~~~~~~~ Only King lived to be rescued on 15 September 1861 by living with the local aboriginal people, the Yandruwandha. He survived by learning how the Yandruwandha made a plant called Nardoo safe to eat.