Charlie Ranger and Nicholas Waxman in A Sunburnt History, by Australian Classical Theatre

“Oh, if only all history lessons were as flat-out entertaining as this whip-smart, razor-sharp version of the controversial Burke and Wills expedition.” — Jim Schembri, The Herald-Sun

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A Sunburnt History - The true story of Burke and Wills

A Sunburnt History was conceived for three reasons: to provide audiences a chance to hold a mirror up to society past and present; to learn more about the story of Burke and Wills and other engaging tales from Aussie history; and to offer a fresh perspective and get Aussies doing what they do best—have a good laugh at themselves.

A Sunburnt History

The Story

An Irishman, an Englishman and a horse go on an epic journey through Australia … Sound like a joke? Well, Burke and Wills’ expedition from bottom to top largely was.

It’s been some 150 years since the famous adventure to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and to celebrate, Charlie Ranger and Nicholas Waxman, in association with Australian Classical Theatre, present a show exploring what really happened at such a defining moment in our country’s history.

1360 kilograms of sugar, a Chinese gong, the stationary cabinet and a cartload of shonky planning, that’s just the packing!

If you’re someone who loves a good historical gaffe, then you'll love to join us on a journey destined to match that of a pair of famous Australian explorers.

Just don’t pack any sugar.

A Sunburnt History revisits the Victorian Exploring Expedition’s journey, seeking to understand how Burke and Wills have become iconic Australians—and whether or not they really deserve to be! It’s this ambitious question that we answer in the show, tackling this nation’s history head on.

Over 60 frantic, funny and furious minutes, two actors bring to life dozens of historical figures in a bid to recreate Australia’s most disastrous adventure.

From embarrassing committee decisions and shoddy selection processes, through to the swamps at the Gulf, the audience follows the journey mistake by mistake as it actually happened. Utilising varied theatrical styles and conventions, the pair weave a fast-paced, entertaining and informative tale of Australian history based on journals, letters, notes and transcripts from the expedition. Using multiple perspectives, including a couple of plucky camels and one of history’s most overrated incompetents—Robert O’Hara Bourke—this is not history retold but re-examined. If you think you know the true heroes, think again.

This performance is also an ideal teacher professional development opportunity, with the actors, who are qualified educators, leading a discussion on how to engage students in primary sources via performing arts.

Charlie and Nick standing before the Burke and Wills Memorial, Melbourne

A Sunburnt History


In this two-man show, Charlie Ranger and Nicholas Waxman play more than ten different characters throughout, using minimal set and costume, ensuring that the show is edgy and demanding of both performers and audience.

A Sunburnt History is a show that appeals to both locals and foreigners alike, ready to go on a journey destined to match that of the famous Burke and Wills.

The show was first performed at the Melbourne Commedy Festival to rave reviews.

In 2013, the production reignited for the Regional Arts Victoria’s Education & Families Program. The team will tour from 3–14 June.

For information about the performances, please download the following tour schedule: Tour Dates [PDF] (Word version). You can also download a flyer for this event.

For more information about further performances, please contact us.

A Sunburnt History


Jim Schembri, The Herald-Sun

Oh, if only all history lessons were as flat-out entertaining as this whip-smart, razor-sharp version of the controversial Burke and Wills expedition.

The intent is clear: see A Sunburnt History and you'll never look at that City Square statue the same way again. And the show succeeds in spades.

Working at a frenetic pace and without the aid of props or audio-visual aids, Charlie Ranger and Nicholas Waxman are fuelled by a revisionist energy.

Tearing through the heroic Burke and Wills myth with compelling comic ferocity, they leave no room for doubt: Robert O'Hara Burke was an idiot.

Played with a caustic combination of hubris and incompetence by Waxman, Burke led the poorly organised venture to a doom that seemed inevitable.

Though tragic, the pair cast the story as a comic celebration of ineptitude. Taking on multiple roles, they detail the ill-fated venture from financial mismanagement right down to what the camels thought.

Yet while the show is an elongated insult to Burke, it ultimately respects history; the true heroes of the venture all get their due, if a tad too briefly.

Those with long memories might recall that two 1985 films were made on the topic—the bloated, boring Burke and Wills and the comic misfire Wills and Burke.

For the record, what these two do in 50 minutes is better than both.


Merv Collins, The Pun

I loved A Sunburnt History,
A story mad but true,
Of Wills and Burke and dozens more
And a cast of only two!

This is history like you wish they’d taught it at high school. Charlie Ranger and Nicholas Waxman have done the research and tell the story of the disastrous south/north continental expedition with great gusto. The amazing facts come out while the terrifying ineptitude of most concerned is exposed and ridiculed.

The two men play multiple parts, switching at the end of a sentence from one (sometimes quite dubious) accent to another. I loved the pantomime moment when ‘Burke,’ who is momentarily playing someone else, tells his off-sider (who is never ‘Burke’) to “Bring me Burke!”

The silence and double-take are comedy gold as the audience gradually realise it can’t be done. ‘Burke’ is already there, but he ain’t ‘Burke’ at that moment.

‘I can get you King, I can get you Becker; I can’t get you Burke,’ says the off-sider.

The script is brilliant, the constantly changing vignettes are seamless, the characters are excellent, some of the accents are almost believable and the camels keep talking as they masticate. And, in a Comedy Festival first, no four letter words were deemed necessary to the making of an hour of intelligent humour.

Relative newcomers, Ranger and Waxman are a great addition to the comedy scene with a tale and presentation unlike anything else in the Festival. The future is very bright for this duo even if our heroes of the past, as they portray them, are anything but!


Charlie Ranger Nicholas Waxman

About the Creators

Charlie Ranger

For several years, Charlie Ranger has been writing, directing, performing in and producing shows for the Melbourne Commedy Festival, Melbourne’s biggest festival.

As a performer he trained at UBAA, achieving a Bachelor of Arts in Acting. Professionally he has worked alongside such companies as the Australian Shakespeare Company, Two Straws Productions and Burberry Productions for TV. In recent years, he created Long Range Theatre, a company committed to producing independent Melbourne theatre.

A Sunburnt History was the second production presented at the Commedy Festival, following It’s all fun and games … (until someone gets hurt).

Nicholas Waxman

Nicholas Waxman teamed up with Charlie in A Sunburnt History and It’s all fun and games … (until someone gets hurt) at the Melbourne Commedy Festival.

Working as the Artistic Director of Wax Acts Theatre Company has seen Waxman write, produce, direct and perform more than ten independent shows. These shows have helped build Wax Acts Theatre Company into a local brand that communicates directly with its audience.

His devotion to comedy has been public knowledge for years having written and directed shows for Witches in Britches theatre restaurant, Flim Flams entertainment, Co-Hosting and producing Weird Wonderful World for SYN radio to mention but a few.

In recent years, Nick has turned his talents to teaching drama to young children, giving him the perfect basis to develop A Sunburnt History’s educational components.