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Peach’s Explorers – South to North (1984)


Inter-colony rivalry between South Australia and Victoria drove a race to the north of the continent. The race resulted in the terrible deaths of the leaders of the lavish but poorly planned Victorian expedition, Burke and Wills, and victory for the better-managed expedition of the South Australians under their more experienced leader, Stuart.

Curator’s notes

The ill-fated expedition of Burke and Wills has become the stuff of legend in Australian history. They were actually the first to get through to the north but were unable to return to announce their great feat, dying not far from Cooper Creek.

In this series about the colonial explorers, the presenter Bill Peach links their various exploits to the growth and development of the colonies and the hunger for good grazing land. There’s also a strong sense that each of these men is very much of his time; they are imbued with 19th century ideals of the duty to expand scientific and geographic knowledge, and a ruthless reaching for fame and fortune.

With quotes from diaries and letters, the thoughts and actions of each of the leaders at key moments are re-enacted in elaborate scenes using actors, so that the story comes alive to the viewer. As well, the program keeps us informed of where each expedition is on the continent with excellent maps and graphics so that the terrible race through the merciless centre to the Timor Sea is visually evident. In this way we can truly appreciate the suffering of man and beast as they pushed themselves beyond human endurance and, in the case of Burke and Wills, to a tragic and unnecessary death.