Page:The Irish in Australia.djvu/69

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55
THE STORY OF BURKE AND WILLS.

pervading grief at the irreparable loss of "two as gallant spirits as ever sacrificed life for the extension of science and the cause of mankind." Accordingly, a second expedition was sent to bring back the remains of Burke and Wills from their lonely resting-place at Cooper's Creek, for interment in the same city, whose whole population had turned out not many months before to gaze on the dashing leader and cheer his cavalcade, as they started full of life and sanguine anticipations on their path of discovery through the untouched heart of Australia. Now, what a striking dramatic contrast! The city again sent forth its thousands, and deputations attended from every place of importance; but they all slowly followed in silence the hearse that contained the bones of the Irish-Australian hero who was the observed of all observers on that former day of pride and exultation. A huge monolith of granite marks the spot in the Melbourne Cemetery where Burke and his faithful coadjutor. Wills, sleep side by side, and on one of the city eminences their statues rest on the same pedestal, telling to each successive generation of young Australians a story of dauntless courage, chivalric heroism, rare fortitude, noble self-sacrifice, and ultimate triumph, only to be followed by the most painful and harrowing of deaths, with friends so near and yet so far.

Burke's dashing exploit, while it unhappily killed himself, also killed the theory that the centre of Australia was an arid impassable desert—a theory persistently promulgated by previous explorers, and which had met with almost universal acceptance until he practically demonstrated its utter fallacy. The journals of the expedition, when published, conveyed the gratifying intelligence that Burke and Wills had, for the most part, travelled through a rich pastoral country capable of feeding countless flocks and herds.