Historical documents, intelligently selected, on the exploration of Australia.
Flannery (Director/South Australia Museum) aims here to give his reader “the experience of being a fly on the wall at exemplary moments in Australia’s history.” He does just that, exercising sharp, sometimes peevish historical and editorial judgment in allowing the words of killers and conquerors to stand, so long as they have something to say, while refusing entry to commentators, no matter how famous, who miss the point. (Thus Flannery banishes a certain Mr. Gosse, the first European to have seen Ayers Rock, because Gosse described it as “a high hill,” and not the largest rock on the planet’s surface.) Among the selections are 17th-century narratives by the likes of Abel Tasman and Willem Jansz (who did not much like what they saw—especially the aborigines), 19th-century journals by the indomitable Charles Sturt (who nearly died on several occasions while crossing the interior desert) and George Frankland (who was moved to reverie with every changing horizon), and modern pieces by the camelskinners Cecil Madigan (who crossed the Simpson Desert by dromedary in 1939) and Robyn Davidson (who took a camel train from coast to coast in the late 1970s and wrote an extraordinary book, Tracks, about her voyage). Flannery’s account has abundant uses as a collection of historical documents; it lacks the completeness and extensive selections of Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s long out-of-print but still widely used Australian Explorers (1958), but it better accommodates more the eco-friendly attitudes toward the business of exploration that have gained hold in recent decades.
A careful work of history, useful to students of colonization and exploration generally—and of Australian studies particularly.