Ethan’s “Burke and Wills” report

22 Jul

Over the holidays Ethan worked on a report on the final explorer that we studied together.  We studied ten key explorers and their parties during the term (one per week) and Ethan was required to write a report about each of them.  Burke and Wills was his longest, most detailed report.

Ethan has learned to write pretty much exclusively with IEW’s products and really only started writing anything of substance just before he turned nine.  (I’m of the belief that we should focus fairly exclusively on learning to read before bothering teaching children to write…but that’s a whole other post.)

Anyway, I just had to share this latest report as I’m so pleased with his progress.  He still has a way to go yet…his paragraph clinchers are almost non-existent and he of course he relies heavily on the required structure and style checklists…but I’m just so happy with his writing.  Let me say, “Dress ups maketh the writing”.  If you use IEW, you’ll know what I mean.

No, the piece wasn’t done completely independently.  My aim in setting Ethan a writing task isn’t to see how much he can do alone, but instead provide an environment where I can guide and instruct his current skills.

To write this piece Ethan had to read about the explorer and make a key idea outline.  We then worked together to structure what each paragraph should be about based on the information he had found.  Over the holidays (since the term disappeared on us) Ethan then set to work writing his draft – just a few paragraphs each day.  I then sat with him while he read his paragraph aloud and corrected any major inaccuracies or problems.  I let him keep awkward phrases as these will disappear with maturity and experience.

Once the draft was completed Ethan started work on “dressing up” his writing.  Again he worked on only a few paragraphs a day.  He had three different sentence openers to include, as well as adjectives, adverbs, strong verbs, and various clauses.  He’s learned how to do these gradually over time.  When he’s ready I just add in another to his growing repertoire.  With all of the inclusions some paragraphs were chok-a-block with dress ups but I think it’s good practise for him.  My role in the dress up process was to support and guide his choices.  He added the dress ups but where his choices were incorrect I helped him locate more appropriate choices.

I must say, after a task like this, Ethan and I have learned that writing reports in this way is one of the best ways of understanding and recalling details about an event.  I have had to read this piece of writing over and over, and Ethan has had to work on it for days and days.  Surely our knowledge of Burke and Wills will be forever burned in our brains…well, at least I hope so.

For your reading pleasure and possibly education too…Ethan’s report:


Burke and Wills



South Australia and Victoria were competing to lead a party to the top of Australia first.  Adelaide was generously offering a huge and fabulous reward, which was £2000, to the first party to travel from Adelaide to the top of Australia, since Adelaide wanted someone to discover a good path for a telegraph line.    During the expedition, they also were to find out more information about inland Australia, which could be valuable to future explorers.

Robert O’Hara Burke, who had been a police man, was put in charge of Victoria’s expedition party in the harsh race to the north.  Naturally, they were funded well by the government of Victoria as they yearned for a win.   Included in their supplies were 120 mirrors for successfully trading with the Aborigines.

Amid an excited crowd, the party set off from Royal Park in Melbourne, although they were meant to start from Adelaide to get the reward.  George Landells was the second in command and he caused arguments early on because he fed and supplied the camels and men with rum to keep scurvy away.  Blaming Landells for the men’s drunkenness, Burke angrily kicked him out of the party and William Wills, who had been a doctor and surveyor, took Landells’ place as second in command.

Burke established a supply depot near Menindee and left some of his men there, although he didn’t know that he’d never see them again.  Across the Australian outback, Burke and the remaining men travelled on and established a camp at Coppers Creek and left some more men there. He told them to stay there for three months and if he did not return they were to move back to Menindee Depot.  Then Burke and his remaining men, which included Wills, Gray and King, bravely went on to try to reach the Gulf of Carpentaria, which was an incredibly long way away.

Eighty kilometres from the Gulf of Carpentaria, Burke left King and Gray while he and Wills continued on to the gulf.   Burke and Wills reached the gulf, despite many hardships, but they never found their way to the ocean because of the dense, thick mangroves frustratingly blocking their path.  They returned to the camp to collect Gray and King.  Sadly, on the way back to Coopers Creek camp, Gray died, which meant he needed a burial, so they tiredly spent a day doing that.

Returning to the Coppers Creek camp, which was also known as Fort Wills, they found a freshly carved message in a tree (which is now known as ‘The Dig Tree’) that read:


3ft NW

Apr 21 1861

April 21st, 1861 was the day the supply party left Fort Wills, because they couldn’t survive there much longer.    It was also the day when Burke and his party returned.    Tragically, they had just narrowly missed them by a few hours, which meant they’d left either early in the afternoon or late morning.    If they hadn’t taken an entire day to bury Gray, they would have reached Coopers Creek before they left.

Digging where the tree instructed, Burke and his men luckily found some supplies and a note.  The dirt-stained note told them that they had moved on to Menindee, since they were low on supplies.  They were asked to wait three months but they waited for four.   Since they had the notion that Burke and his party were dead, they left.   Burke and his party rested for two days before they went to Mt Hopeless to try and search out and obtain help, which would not have saved them anyway, since they’d eaten Nardoo.

The party that had returned to Menindee sent out a search party to check if Burke and his party had successfully returned to Coppers Creek camp. Despite all the indicators, when they arrived at the camp they believed it was undisturbed.  The camp fire they found was considered to be Aboriginal, although it was made by Burke’s party. They did not notice the broken bottle or the discarded clothes. If they had dug where they’d buried the supplies and their note, they would have found a new note, which told them where Burke, Wills and King were headed.  It would have been easier to know that they had been there if Burke and his party had changed the note on the dig tree, although that would not have helped them since they’d dangerously eaten poisonous Nardoo.

Burke, Wills and King continued toward Mt. Hopeless, where they hoped to find help.   Aborigines attempted to help them but Burke scared them away with his gun.  Sadly Burke and Wills died from Beriberi, which is a disease Nardoo gives you if you eat it unprepared.  King, who fortunately did not die from Beriberi, lived on as he was cared for by the Aborigines after Burke and Wills died.  A party was sent out to retrieve the decomposing bodies of the dead explores so they could be buried.

Burke and Wills’ letters, which were found with them, indicated that the party left earlier then told to.  He was disappointed that the party had left.  Angrily people blamed the party at Coppers Creek camp, although they had stayed 6 weeks longer than told to.  This dramatic story reminds us of the courage early explorers had and the harshness of inland Australia, which could kill you.  The inland of Australia can’t be taken lightly.

Ultimately Burke and Wills reached the top of Australia first, winning the race, except they didn’t earn the massive reward, because they disobeyed the rules.  The rules clearly read they had to start in Adelaide, whereas Burke started in Melbourne, which immediately disqualified him.   There was also one more, tiny problem with getting the reward – Burke and Wills were dead!

1 Comment

Posted by on July 22, 2012 in History, Language


One response to “Ethan’s “Burke and Wills” report

  1. Bernadette

    July 23, 2012 at 3:26 am

    I love the last sentence 🙂 great work Ethan


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