This is the first painting in Nolan's Burke and Wills series. It was created a year after the artist completed his first Kelly paintings. The painting depicts the explorers, Robert O''Hara Burke and William John Wills who, from 1860-1861, endeavoured to cross Australia from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria, but who tragically died before reaching their final destination. The Burke and Wills story, like that of Ned Kelly, has become one of Australia's national legends. In this painting Nolan emphasises the heroism and stoicism of the two intrepid but ultimately tragic explorers of this story. Against a sparse desert landscape, Burke and Wills are portrayed on their camel and horse, boldly staring out at the viewer as they remain oblivious to their fate.
During one of his trips to Central Australia, Nolan wrote in his diary:
'Read The Burke & Wills Expedition. They are never far from mind when flying over the desert country.'
(Nolan, diary notes, August 31, 1949).