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The Dig Tree: The Story of Bravery, Insanity, and the Race to Discover Australia's Wild Frontier

4.15  ·  Rating Details ·  387 Ratings  ·  54 Reviews
The harrowing true story of the Burke and Willis expedition team who took on the Australian wilds 150 years ago--and lost.

They departed Melbourne's Royal Park in the summer of 1860, a misfit party of eighteen amateur explorers cheered on by thousands of well-wishers. Their mission: to chart a course across the vast unmapped interior of Australia, from Melbourne to the nort
Hardcover, 355 pages
Published September 24th 2002 by Broadway Books (first published March 1st 2002)
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I picked up The Dig Tree: The Story of Bravery, Insanity, and the Race to Discover Australia's Wild Frontier by Sarah Murgatroyd on the spur of the moment at my local library, when I was looking for a non-fiction genre title to add to my 2015 Australian Authors challenge. This is a book of factual history, written not by an academic but by a journalist. The writing style flows easily and the language is plain English and accessible to all readers. I was surprised at how quickly I consumed t
Nov 05, 2014 Gerry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
DIG. What a pity that some of the men who returned to the area of the DIG Tree did not act on the verb because it may have saved some lives. What they thought the word had been carved into the tree for is beyond me, especially when the added legend read '3 feet under'. There were supplies buried there that might have done some good to the travellers. However, it was not to be.

This book tells the story of the expedition to cross Australia from south to north, through the dangerous untamed wildern
Aug 17, 2015 Linda rated it really liked it
Take a committee that needs a committee to form another committee to assign a committee to decide if it needs another committee to look into the matter of funding an expedition from Melbourne, Victoria, to the North coast of Australia. Then add an ambitious, inexperienced, media hungry, hubristic expedition leader, a "team" that has no cohesion, an unclear mission direction, a naturalist who thinks the expedition has a scientific aspect and he's to document new species of Australian flora and fa ...more
Feb 21, 2017 jeniwren rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Thoroughly researched story of Burke and Wills. In 1860 an eccentric Irish police officer Robert O'Hara Burke led a cavalcade of camels, wagons and men out of Melbourne accompanied by William Wills, a shy English scientist. Burke was prepared to risk everything to become the first European to cross the Australian continent. A few months later the expedition had become an astonishing tragedy.

Sarah Murgatroyd retraced these ill fated steps and reveals new evidence both historical and scientific t
Feb 28, 2011 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: australia, c21st, history
Fantastic. Every Australian should read it.
Lorenzo Berardi
It all started with a BBC documentary about what is either known as the "Dead Heart" or the "Red Heart" of Australia: an extension of mountain ranges, deserts, salt lakes and bushland stretching out for thousands of miles between Perth and Sydney (West-East) and Melbourne and Darwin (South-North).

The documentary mentioned the golden age of explorations which in the 19th century helped in mapping out inner Australia, a part of the country bigger than continental Europe. An enormous mass of land w
Aug 09, 2012 Carin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow, Robert O'Hara Burke and Dr. William Wills were quite possibly the unluckiest explorers ever. If this story weren't nonfiction, it would be hard to believe the big twist at the end.

When I was twelve, I read Cooper's Creek by Alan Moorehead, a novelized middle grade version of the story of Burke and Wills, the first men to nearly succeed in crossing the continent of Australia across the Outback, from South to North. I was recently reminded of this and wanted to revisit the story, and when I s
David Hunt
Jun 28, 2016 David Hunt rated it really liked it
OK, there are some basic errors in this (like getting date Queensland founded wrong), but this is history as it should be written. Constantly engaging - I enjoyed it just as much on this read as I did six years ago.
Helen O'Toole
Jul 12, 2016 Helen O'Toole rated it really liked it
As a child interested in history, I remember noticing a stone cairn near Royal Park in Parkville, Melbourne as we drove past. I was told this was where the Burke & Wills expedition began its epic journey to discover the northern parts of Australia. There was also a huge statue of Burke and Wills on the corner of Collins & Russell Street that we admired. It has since been moved to Swanston Street. This wonderful book explains in excellent detail exactly why after successfully making their ...more
This is a long book. It was a purchase during a trip to Australia, and the book added to the enjoyment of the experience.
Burke and Wills were attempting to explore some of the out-lying portions of this wonderful chunk of land. Unfortunately, the expedition started out not quite on the right foot, and ultimately, things went downhill from there.
At one point, supplies were cached under a large tree, and the Word "dig" was carved into this tree. This became the famous "Dig Tree" which people repea
Jun 13, 2011 Peter rated it really liked it
I have no interest in reading anything about all the famous polar explorations, yet the desert journeys appeal to me for some reason. Maybe its the varied landscape and geology,unusual flora and fauna, and the indigenous people who are somehow able to survive and thrive in this harsh environment.
Sarah Murgatroyd's book on the Burke Wills expedition through Australia provides plenty of detail about the expedition itself, as well as information on the desert landscape. Considering that there is a
Jan 18, 2011 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent book debunking the myth about the ill fated explorers Burke and Wills in their attempt to cross the continent of Australia. Sarah Murgatroyd's research is excellent and it seems a pretty comprehensive covereage of all the elements that lead to the tragic ending of this expidition - including the poor leadership and the antics of the Royal Exploration Society in Melbourne, who funded the expidition, and then covered their backsides when it all went pear shaped. Sarah Murgatroyd taps ...more
Caroline Gordon
I so enjoyed this account of the famous Burke and Wills Expedition that I wonder it wasn't more widely lauded, how it ended up in the bargain bin at Borders for $7.50 (hard cover) I'll never know. Perhaps Sarah Murgatroyd is not a good interview subject, Peter Fitzsimons manages to get plenty of press for his tomes on similar topics. [return]Putting that aside I just thoroughly enjoyed this book. The suspense, the comedy of errors and ineptitude and the slice of life of Australia in the 1860's i ...more
Jan 11, 2014 Amerynth rated it really liked it
Sarah Murgatroyd's "The Dig Tree: A True Story of Bravery, Insanity and the Race to Discover Australia's Wild Frontier" is really an excellent book.

The book tells the story of the Burke and Wills expedition, which aimed to cross the Australian desert and fill in the wide, blank spaces on the map. Burke is portrayed as supremely bungling, which taints the successful completion of his goal, as does the fact he managed to kill both himself and eight other men.

The book really succeeds on Murgatroyd
Amy Heap
Jan 16, 2017 Amy Heap rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
I thought this was going to be a real struggle for me. Australian history is not my favourite, and I don't much care for bleak tales of hardship, but by the end I raced through this book. It is a thoroughly researched account of Burke and Wills' expedition to the top of Australia. It didn't start well, and was hardly the sort of trip to bring out the best in people, so few come across as likeable, but it was interesting to consider how we, as a society, have changed, and how we haven't. A great ...more
Jan 31, 2015 Anika rated it it was amazing
The story of the ill fated expedition of Burke and Wills is something that I was only vaguely familiar with from primary school so to read this account was eye opening and extremely interesting.
The depiction of a young Australia and the details surrounding the planning of the expedition were great. The narrative moves along very well and evidently a lot of research has been undertaken to accurately portray the journey.
The only bad thing about this book was that I felt that the section at the end
Jan 31, 2016 Carly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really engaging narrative cataloguing the various disasters that befell the Burke and Wills exploration. In a strange way it reminds me of Imperial Life in the Emerald City and its treatment of the Iraq invasion: it just keeps layering on more and greater errors and bad calls until you're quite shocked at the amateur nature of the whole affair. An engrossing read by a brave woman suffering from cancer while she researched and wrote the book.
Jan 22, 2016 Rachel rated it it was amazing
"A subcommittee was appointed," explains Sarah Murgatroyd in her amazing book "The Dig Tree," which tells the often farcical but somehow still moving story of the Burke-Wills Expedition which attempted to cross Australia (S to N) in the 1860s. A tale of bravery, mismanagement, egos run amok, and human dignity in the most degrading situations, Murgatroyd's book is heavy on facts, but also includes some delightfully welcome speculations.
Well written and engaging book. It is a great topic made all the more interesting by the author's approach, at times using the explorers' own words, newspaper articles and letters and at other times providing comment and interpretation. The Burke and Wills story would make a interesting case study to reflect on leadership, team responsibility and project management!
A good depiction of the exploration of Australia by a team that failed dramatically. Burke and Wills are famous icons today and the dig tree is visited by many who travel around and through the outback of Australia. Food was buried there, but the worn out and hungry Burke failed to find the food, thus the whole expedition ended in all dying but one who was befriended by the aborigines.
Julian Walker
Jan 18, 2017 Julian Walker rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The brilliantly written story of a truly tragic 19th century expedition to cross Australia with exotic camels and rather too many supplies.

Well researched and packed with fascinating insight, I was immersed in it from the outset and enthralled by the conclusion.

A superb and heroic story, engagingly told.
Dec 19, 2014 Paul rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, nonfiction
Pretty interesting. This is, as my friend from Australia puts it, "Lewis and Clark, but with morons". Sounds like a pretty solid assessment to me.

(view spoiler)
Oct 27, 2010 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Gave up on this. Probably just strung together too many exploration of the outback/wilderness/frozen tundra style books at the same time. I'm sure it's well written and interesting, for those who like Australia. Smiiiiii-le!
If you are interested in Australian history, this extensively researched book on the story of Burke and Wills is well worth a read. Interestingly, it was written by an Englishwoman who died just before the publication of the book.
Feb 12, 2015 Graziella rated it it was amazing
This continent never ceases to astonish - a young country working through wild-west attitudes illustrated in this particular story of exploration into the interior of a vast unknown. Great story, but what a mess.
So good! So pleasing to be completely on edge when reading a book despite knowing the ending since about third grade. Brilliant writing, and a magnificent tale of disaster and pluck to wrap it around.
Dec 29, 2015 Steve rated it it was amazing
This book follows the race to cross from south to north Australia, focusing on the Burke Wills expedition. The two explorers made it across the continent, but due to bad planning and execution, died while trying to return. A very thorough, educational and entertaining book.
Rachel Froude
I really enjoyed this book. Having travelled extensively in outback Australia I was familar with much of the trek that Burke and Wills made. We have been to the markers at Innamincka where the both died. A tragic story really.
Jul 13, 2012 Maryanne rated it really liked it
Very well written. A fascinating topic and a great read.
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Sarah Murgatroyd was born in England in 1967, and grew up on a farm in Sussex.

After a year spent wandering through China, India and the Himalayas, she gained an honours degree in philosophy and literature at Warwick University and then studied broadcast journalism at Cardiff University.

Murgatroyd’s journalism career began with local radio in Bournemouth; it was interrupted by her diagnosis with br
More about Sarah Murgatroyd...

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