The ExplorersSaturday, 10 July 2010
Tim Flannery’s book The Explorers (Text Publishing) is a wonderful collection of short excerpts from more than 50 predominantly early explorers. All the big names are here, William Dampier, James Cook, Joseph Banks, Matthew Flinders, Ludwig Leichardt, William Wills (Robert O’Hara Bourke didn’t write enough to be worth recording!), John McDouall Stuart, but others much less well known. Some favourites:
• Arthur Bowes Smyth – a magical account of an early visit to Lord Howe Island, so untouched birds don’t even try to escape their cooking pot destination
• Te Pahi – a Maori visitor to Sydney who’s regularly appalled by the English colonists’ behaviour, ‘OK execute somebody for stealing something of permanence, like a metal tool, but for stealing food, something that passes through you and is gone?’
• John Batman – the unscrupulous ‘founder’ of Melbourne, who would have quite liked to call the city after himself, in which case the citizens of the city would be Batmanians.
• Warrup – an Aboriginal companion to an early explorer – it’s all ‘onward, onward, onward’ and ‘away, away, away’ or ‘through the forest, through the forest, through the forest.’
• Ernest Giles – there are frequent reminders that exploring Australia was dangerous, thirsty and bloody hard work, none better than this account of losing a companion who wanders off in the wrong direction.
• W J Peasley – and here we are in 1977 tracking down what may be the last two Aboriginals leading a traditional nomadic life.