On the 20th of August 1860, a team of men headed by Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills started out on a trans continental journey from the port of Melbourne in Victoria to the Gulf of Carpentaria in Queensland.
Catherine Liddle

9 Sep 2013 - 6:15 PM  UPDATED 9 Sep 2013 - 7:45 PM

It became known as the Burke and Wills expedition and history would show that only one explorer would survive -- an Irishman named John King, saved by the Yandruwandha people at the Cooper's Creek dig tree site, half way into the return journey.

King's incredible story of survival has been handed down through generations of his Irish family.

"There were two things that were always told at home in Ireland, the first was that John King was the only survivor of the Burke and Wills expedition and the second piece that was always linked with it was that he survived because of the hospitality of the Aboriginal people," said descendant Lord Alderdice.

Here in Australia, the story was also passed down generation to generation through the descendants of John King's Yandruwandha daughter.

"It always seems to be through the woman's line that we actually learned about this connection to  Burke and Wills, and if it wasn't for that lady, well I wouldn't be here today," said Aaron Patterson. 

While the two families shared the same story, they knew nothing of each other. Infact in Ireland the tale of King's Yandruwanda daughter was often thought to be embellishment.

"It was there as a secret in the family, as a myth in the family and how it's a wonderful reality," said Lord Alderdice.

That reality was realised when Yandruwandha man Aaron Patterson and Irish Lord John Alderdice met last week in Melbourne, the same city that their story started.

Both Mr Patterson and Lord Alderdice say that while the meeting feels like the closing of a circle for their late descendant it is also an example of reconciliation.

"We know about the rights and wrongs of Australian history, but there is many of us today who think there is the possibility to come good and make peace with each other," said Mr Petterson. 

An internationally recognised specialist in the field of conflict resolution, Lord Alderdice agrees. In Australia to speak at a Reconciliation Conference, he had just been hoping to arrange a visit to the famous Cooper Creek dig tree, when he learned of his Australian relatives.

Through the good officers of CASSE we were able to meet and so it hasn't just been about the reconciliation of large groups of people. It has been about the reconciliation of the two parts of our families, the Aboriginal part and the Irish part and its very moving really".

Both families now hope to continue to tell the story of the King, the Lord and the Yandruwanda people for generations to come.