THE ROAD TO BOTANY BAY: An Exploration of Landscape and History by Paul Carter

THE ROAD TO BOTANY BAY: An Exploration of Landscape and History

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Editor of the Melbourne Age Monthly Journal, Carter here provides an ambitious, idiosyncratic reconsideration of Australia's exploration and settlement. Carter's aim is to jettison the conventional, cause-and-effect orderliness of settlement history--imperial history--to reconstruct a sense of how Australia presented itself to its first Europeans explorers. Hoping that this ""spatial history"" will at least in part avoid the trappings of empirical history--history, the author claims, that is often more ""settled"" than the country itself--Carter attempts to recapture the phenomenon of early Australian travel. He begins with a consideration of place-names and what those might suggest about the experience of early journeying--arguing for example, that Captain Cook's Australian place-names were tools of traveling, part of a process rather than the net result of travel. Before there were ""places,"" Carter believes, placenames served as mental signposts marking off distance traveled and distance to go--""airy barriers."" Similarly, the journals of early explorers provided cerebral mapping of the landscape, relating disparate elements and providing a continuity lacking in the environment itself; and Carter suggests that if the seamlessness of explorers' journals is literary illusion, then a lot of history on which they're based is as well. Carter also sees the network of early Australian roads as providing access to the country as it was first experienced: traveling down those roads today, one doesn't explore Australia so much as relive those first journeys. Not simply a history of exploration, but a test program in rereading and reexperiencing history that, if lacking the clarity of the imperial histories Carter disdains, at least has the advantage of originality.

Pub Date: April 13th, 1988
Publisher: Knopf