Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

The Explorers

Stories of Discovery and Adventure from the Australian Frontier

by Tim Flannery
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 400
  • Publication Date October 20, 2000
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-3719-7
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $18.00

About The Book

A lively collection of extraordinary stories of adventure and discovery, The Explorers tells the epic saga of the conquest and settlement of Australia. Editor Tim Flannery selects sixty-seven accounts that convey the sense of wonder and discovery, along with the human dimensions of struggle and deprivation, which occurred in the exploration of the last continent to be fully mapped by Europeans. Beginning with the story of Dutch captain Willem Janz’s 1606 expedition at Cape York – the bloody outcome of which would sadly foreshadow future relations between colonists and Aboriginal peoples – and running through Robyn Davidson’s 1977 camelback ride through the desolate Outback deserts, The Explorers bristles with the enterprise that Flannery explains as “heroic, for nowhere else did explorers face such an obdurate country.”

Excerpt

Chapter One

THIS EXTRAORDINARY CONTINENT
by Tim Flannery

Drunken camels were the bane of the Burke and Wills expedition. They consumed prodigious quantities of rum, better used perhaps to soothe the pillows of the doomed explorers. The only female member of Ernest Favenc’s expedition to Queensland’s Gulf country in 1882-83 never got to publish her remarkable story of endurance in the face of sickness, death and privation. Her journal lies all but forgotten in the archive of Sydney’s Mitchell Library, the list of baby clothes at the back suggesting she was pregnant for at least part of the journey. In February 1869 G. W. Goyder, surveyor-general of South Australia and martinet, was dispatched to survey and found the settlement of Darwin. He was watched by the Larrakia people who, when they decided it was safe to contact the strangers, held a corroboree, giving pitch and word perfect renditions of `John Brown’s Body’, `The Glory, Hallelujah’, and `The Old Virginia Shore’. This `white-fella corroboree’ had been traded from the Woolna people, who memorised the tunes while lying prone in the wet grass at night, spying on surveyors who were working near the Adelaide River. Who, in this instance, were the explorers?

It’s an illustration of just how rich the stories of Australian exploration are that neither the Larrakia’s corroboree nor Burke’s camels made it into this book. In assembling these accounts I had wanted to offer the reader the experience of being a fly on the wall at exemplary moments in Australia’s history. To be there, looking over Governor Phillip’s shoulder as he chooses the location for the infant settlement of Sydney; to accompany John McDouall Stuart in his moment of triumph at reaching the centre of the continent; and to join the young William Wills as he lies alone, dying of starvation on a full stomach, at Cooper Creek. But then I discovered that the records of Australia’s explorers offer so much more. In them, the unexpected is commonplace. So much that is new and extraordinary, both trivial and profound, crowds in on the reader. Events, glimpsed across the barriers of time, language and environmental alienation, continue to puzzle weeks later. One finds humanity at its extreme; acts of unimaginable cruelty are juxtaposed with those of compassion and self-sacrifice. George Evans played games with frightened Aboriginal children to cheer them up. Other explorers were murderers.

Why were the explorers there? What made them do it? The answers are as varied as the explorers themselves. Some were simply obeying orders. Others had set out in search of new grazing land, illusory cities or imaginary seas. Some were careful calculators of risk, while others played a terrifying sport of brinkmanship with their own lives. Some were looking for lost comrades, while a few were made explorers by fate, having set out to do something completely different.

For all its wonder, Australia’s exploration history has been bowdlerised, debased and made insipid for generations of Australians by those with particular political and social agendas. In my last year of primary school I fidgeted whenever stern Miss Conway raised the topic of the explorers. A map of Australia would be produced, across which ran a confusion of dotted, dashed and coloured lines. I was bored because I did not know the country the map represented. The men were just names, their journeys snail-trails across paper. No attempt was made to bring exploring to life, perhaps because the inconvenient details about Aborigines and barren wastes would have simply got in the way of the main message: that the Europeans had triumphed. Somehow, those lines granted possession of a continent. And in that message, all of the subtlety, the excitement and wonder of exploration was lost.

Perhaps it is the very realisation that exploration was a sort of conquest which has caused it to fall so far out of favour with many contemporary Australians. It is now commonly thought of as a kind of abomination–the penetration of a fragile continent by ruthless, rough-handed, pale-skinned men who probed, desecrated and killed in their quest for personal vainglory. Yet as I read the words of the men and women, black and white, who carried the endeavour, I find that this is as far from the true heart of Australian exploration as were the deadly boring history lessons of my childhood.

For me, Australian exploration is a very different thing. It is heroic, for nowhere else did explorers face such obdurate country; and it depended on black people far more than on white. In the end it was a failure, for few discovered the fertile soil and abundant water they so yearned for. Yet it has enriched us immeasurably, for it turned the lens on that most fascinating other–a whole continent as it was on the day of European arrival. A continent that, through vast transformations, was to become my home.

With one notable exception, all of the accounts included here are by eyewitnesses. Some were written on the moment, by the light of a candle after a punishing day’s work, in unbearable heat or flooding rain, or with the author unable to sit because of massing ants. Only those who know the total exhaustion that such work brings can understand the sheer effort of will needed to write in such circumstances. Other narratives are reminiscences, made fragrant by the smoky atmosphere of Victorian reading rooms or beery hotels. There are precious few accounts by female explorers, and even fewer were ever published, but they are often luminous and fresh and different. For once we see the Aboriginal child, wandering lost and frightened as his parents are held at gunpoint. For once we get the whole-body fear, the loss of nerve that all explorers must have experienced at times of crisis. And we get to hear about the barely edible hairy beef, the loathing at not having washed in a week. Creaghe, Pink and Davidson are names to watch out for.

Australian exploration does not lack light relief. Figures like John Lhotsky and William Wall can be thought of as the comic explorers whose exploits are more suited to a Gilbert and Sullivan opera than the hard grind of exploration. Mark Twain said that Australian history was like so many beautiful lies, but it all actually happened. There is no fiction in this book except for one outrageous hoax, published as a factual adventure in 1899 by the pseudonymous Louis de Rougemont, who claimed, amongst other things, to have found the lost explorer Gibson. He describes new kinds of animals, discovers gold and marries an Aboriginal wife during his bizarre mind-travels. His is the pastiche jewel deliberately threaded on the necklace, so that the genuine diamonds can shine all the more brightly.

Australian exploration literature is so vast and varied that ten volumes the size of this could be filled with riveting accounts. The selection of materials presented here does not pretend to be comprehensive. Rather, it consists of fragments that pleased me, either for their lucidity, their drama or their ability to surprise. Some were chosen because they speak about the greater, evolving Australia, and some are here simply because they are old friends.

Many of the explorers knew they were writing in a mainstream tradition: they knew their journals were as important as their walking boots. There are some wonderful writers in this book who were aware that a thing is not truly discovered until it is written about, for only then does it take shape in the minds of those who have no direct experience of it. Giles, Eyre, Mitchell, Leichhardt and Sturt are marvellous describers. Giles’ account of the death of Gibson is one of the most powerful things in our literature. Sturt, a plain and sturdy writer, memorably tells us how in the grotesque desert heat his horses lacked `the muscular strength to raise their heads’. Eyre, despite exhaustion and illness, seems always to have been able to see another’s point of view, and to write beautifully about it.

But what to make of Mr Gosse, who wrote, `I was compelled to turn south, crossing Mr Giles’s track several times … and on to a high hill east of Mt Olga, which I named Ayers Rock’? Mr Gosse was the first European to lay eyes on the largest rock on the planet: Uluru, an epicentre of Aboriginal dreaming, a place almost hallucinogenic in its grandeur. Any account which could call such a place `a high hill’ finds no home in this book.

European explorers got to carry the ink, pens and journals, and you could easily get the impression that they were the most indispensable members of any expedition. Yet a careful reading of these accounts reveals that Aborigines were the real, albeit unacknowledged, explorers of much of Australia. They generally carried the guns that fed and defended the expedition, they found the water, and they made the peace. In tribute to them, I have coloured the mix of this anthology as far as the written accounts will permit. Sadly, it is rare to hear an account of exploration from an Aborigine’s own mouth. The exceptions are usually cases where the Europeans perished, and only the Aboriginal explorer remained to tell of the fate of the party. Their accounts are startling, unforgettable. They come from the ancient tradition of oral storytelling, and they have a liveliness, rhythm and drama all of their own. Lest anyone imagine that Aboriginal explorers’ first hand accounts were relegated to the rubbish bin of history because they were somehow inferior to those of literate Europeans, just listen to Jackey Jackey on the death of John Kennedy in 1848:

 

I asked him, `Mr Kennedy, are you going to leave me?’ and he said, `Yes, my boy, I am going to leave you.’ He said, `I am very bad, Jackey; you take the books, Jackey, to the captain, but not the big ones–the governor will give anything for them.’ I then tied up the papers. He then said, `Jackey, give me paper and I will write.’

I gave him paper and pencil, and he tried to write, and then he fell back and died, and I caught him as he fell back and held him, and I then turned round myself and cried.

 

There is a certain moment in Australian exploration which has always transfixed me. It is the instant when white looks on black, and black on white, for the first time. Neither knows it, but such meetings bridge an extraordinary temporal gulf, for they unite people who became separated at least 50,000 years ago. That’s 40,000 years longer than people have been in the Americas or Ireland, 20,000 years before the Neanderthals finally surrendered Europe to my ancestors, and 25,000 years before the worst of the last ice age turned most of Australia into a howling desert, a vast dunefield. No other cultures, meeting on the frontier, have been separated by such an unimaginable chasm of time.

The thing that fascinates me about such meetings is just how clearly both sides managed to make themselves understood. A smile, anger or fear are immediately comprehended–as if the separation of the millennia never existed. That understanding is a tribute to the great commonality of experience that shaped humanity on the African savannah for a million years before the diaspora of the late Pleistocene brought people to Australia. It speaks to me of a common humanity that makes differences in colour, race and culture almost invisible in their triviality.

That magic second of reunion between black and white in Australian exploration has resolved itself in as many different ways as there are explorers. James Cook watched the Aborigines behave as if it never happened. They simply kept fishing or walking, not looking up, as the Endeavour passed by a few hundred yards offshore. Sometimes, a spear or a gun saw this remarkable reunion terminated in bloodshed and shame; yet, at its best, the moment was followed by a celebration, a gift or a song.

And then there were the eccentric, almost comic, responses. John McDouall Stuart records that one fine morning in 1858 near Lake Torrens he surprised an Aboriginal man who was hunting: `What he imagined I was I do not know … in an instant, he threw down his waddies, and jumped up into a mulga bush … He kept waving us off with his hand … I expected every moment to see the bush break with his weight.’ What, indeed, did he imagine this white spectre on a horse was? Did the hunter divine (correctly as it turns out) that horses could not climb?

Robert Logan Jack, geologist explorer in north Queensland, records an even more astonishing encounter. What in heaven’s name were the Aboriginal women he met near Coen trying to convey to him? They stood in a line and began a chant, then `all at once each caught hold of her breasts and squirted milk towards us in copious streams’.

The reactions of the Europeans were frequently just as peculiar. Sir Joseph Banks is reputed to have taken a handkerchief (moistened with saliva at one end, one imagines) and applied it to the skin of an Aboriginal man, to discover if the blackness rubbed off. Tasman’s party heard gongs and trumpets, and found evidence of giants on the strange mountainous island they called Van Diemen’s Land, while several explorers mistook campfires or cremations for evidence of cannibalism.

But the most delightful if confused European response is surely that of Surgeon W. H. Leigh `maggot-hunter extraordinaire’. Leigh travelled to Kangaroo Island in 1836, where he:

observed … that the natives frequently stopped and examined a tree … I watched one of them, and found that he forced a little stick into a hole in the tree, whence he drew it two or three times, and sucked the end of it. I had little doubt that he had discovered wild honey, but resolving to ascertain the fact I got a little twig resembling his, and used it as he did. When I withdrew it, I saw nothing on the end of it; yet not trusting to sight alone I put it to my tongue, but it had no taste. Supposing therefore that I had not guided the stick aright, I made two or three more attempts with as little success.

My black squire was all the time watching my movements, and when he saw me suck the bare end of the stick and look so wise about it, he laughed to that degree that he was unable to support himself. I now began to suspect that it was all a joke; but on seeing me turn to go away, he pulled me back, and was about to introduce his stick when I discovered that it had a little fish-bone hooked at its end; and the reason he put it into his mouth appeared to be to keep a bit of grass firm with which it was bound on. He now forced it far into the tree as it would reach and, on withdrawing it, there was on the end an enormous maggot.

 

That maggot, of course, was a witchetty grub. But such easy relations between the races were impossible two centuries earlier when Australia was first discovered by Europeans. The earliest explorers were Dutch mariners, and they had a terror of the Aborigines. Their main objective seems to have been to kidnap them for interrogation and removal to Java. At this time, Australia was a land of boundless possibilities. In 1688 Dampier did not even know whether it was `an island or a main continent’, but had at least realised that it was not joined to Asia, Africa or America. The seventeenth-century Dutch navigators fully expected to encounter such marvels as mermaids, giants and other human monstrosities in the South Land, for these creatures regularly appeared on maps, and even in Scientific texts of the time. As late as 1697 Willem de Vlamingh found `a miraculous fish, about two feet long with a round head and arms and legs of a kind, nay even something like hands’.

There is a lacuna in Australian exploration between 1699 and 1770. There were no European visits. The Dutch had lost interest and economic muscle, and the English and French were yet to regularly travel so far. So Australia remained as it always had been, an isolated land, unvisited by the outside world except perhaps for adventurous Macassans in search of trepang.

With the establishment of a European beachhead in 1788, the pattern of Australian exploration changed, for a frontier had been created. By 1791 sufficient relations had been established between Europeans and Aborigines for a partnership in exploration to commence. In the early days, the Aborigines had the upper hand. Watkin Tench records a joint expedition in search of the Hawkesbury River in 1791. Colbee and Boladeree, both Eora men from Sydney Harbour, accompanied nineteen Europeans, including Governor Phillip, on a trip inland. From the beginning, the Europeans were the packhorses for, as Tench explains, the Aborigines refused to carry their own supplies, yet laughed to excess when any of the heavily laden Europeans stumbled. `Our perplexities afforded them an inexhaustible fund of merriment and derision. Did the sufferer, stung at once by nettles and ridicule, and shaken nigh to death by his fall, use any angry expressions with them, they retorted in a moment by calling him by every opprobrious name which their language affords.’ Tench explains that their general term of reproach was gonin-patta–shit-eater.

To Tench’s chagrin, he also found that the Eora knew nothing of the country inland from the harbour. Instead of helping, they plagued him with laments. `”At Rose Hill,” said they, “are potatoes, cabbages, pumpkins, turnips, fish and wine; here are nothing but rocks and water.” These comparisons constantly ended with the question of “Where’s Rose Hill? Where?”‘

Despite this unpromising start, European explorers continued to take Aborigines with them who often earned the undying gratitude and admiration of their fellow expeditioners. Yet it never earned them the respect of society at large. Typical of their fate in this respect, perhaps, is Tommy Windich, guide and closest companion of John Forrest during his three arduous expeditions through the worst of Australia between 1869 and 1874. Upon their arrival in Adelaide, after crossing the southern margin of the continent from Perth in 1870, a banquet was given in honour of the party. During the official speeches a Mr Barlee arose to salute the explorers and, after some opening remarks, mocked Tommy Windich, accusing him of excessive pride in his achievement. Windich, he said, claimed to be `the man who had brought Mr Forrest to Adelaide, and not Mr Forrest him’, and intimated that it was an act of condescension for Windich even to look upon a man such as Barlee. The speech elicited roars of laughter.

It was doubtless considered inappropriate for a savage to eat at the same banquet table as Europeans, so Windich was probably spared the embarrassment of Mr Barlee’s arrogant speech. But, after reading Forrest’s account, I’m sure that Windich was justified in his statements. He repeatedly found water for the party when they were in dire distress, provided most of the fresh meat they consumed, and risked his life in confronting other Aborigines who wished to deny the expeditioners passage. Windich probably could have made the journey alone. I doubt that any of the Europeans in Forrest’s party could have done the same.

The relationships between the European explorers and their Aboriginal companions varied enormously. Sometimes an Aboriginal guide was simply dragooned into accompanying an expedition. Inevitably, such people had to travel beyond their own country into the territory of enemy tribes where they were in far greater danger than the Europeans. Other explorers picked up local guides who volunteered their services, leaving them and acquiring a replacement at a tribal boundary. Wherever they went, explorers in this country were almost always setting out to enter someone else’s territory–another person’s home. Like any visitors, their manners and the introduction they brought with them often determined the reception they got.

There is no clearer illustration of this than the experiences of Charles Sturt on his exploration of the Murray in 1830. The exploring expedition had been passed from group to group by Aboriginal emissaries who smoothed the way for them, but at one point Sturt’s boat moved faster than the emissaries could make their way along the banks. Arriving unannounced, they were on the point of being massacred until, at the very last possible second, their belated emissary arrived.

Of course, the European forays across the frontier into Aboriginal lands are only half of the story, for Aborigines were constantly crossing the frontier in the opposite direction. The greatest of all eighteenth-century Aboriginal expeditions were Bennelong’s visit to Norfolk Island and his journey with Yemmerrawanie to England. Yemmerrawanie was to die during his peregrinations in the English wilderness, and was buried near Eltham in Kent. Bennelong, however, survived two years in England, and returned to his native home.

Almost nothing is known of his visit, except that he met King George III at St James, and that he was ill and was nursed by a Mrs Phillips, Lord Sydney’s steward, who resided at Frognal near Eltham.

One slender thread of first-hand evidence of Bennelong’s travels survives. It is a letter headed `Sidney Cove, N.S. Wales, Aug’st 29, 1796′. Bennelong doubtless used an amanuensis. Apparently directed to Mr Phillips the letter reads in part:

Sir,
I am very well. I hope you are very well. I live at the governor’s. I have every day dinner there. I have not my wife; another black man took her away. We have had murry doings; he speared me in the back, but I better now; his name is Carroway. All my friends alive and well. Not me go to England no more. I am at home now.

I hope Mrs Phillips is very well. You nurse me madam when I sick. You very good madam; thank you madam, and hope you remember me madam, not forget. I know you very well madam. Madam I want stockings, thank you madam. Sir, you give my duty to Ld Sydney. Thank you very good my Lord; hope you well all family very well. Sir. Bannelong.

 

If only we could include here some of Bennelong’s tales about England, told round a campfire on Sydney Cove to entranced listeners. Alas, none survive.

Other unexpected explorers have emerged during the compilation of this anthology. One recounted that for him and his companion `life was so uncomfortable, that they wished to die’. No, this is not a quote from a dying Burke or a lost Leichhardt, but the words of quite another kind of explorer who was quietly doing a perish in the vicinity of George Street, Sydney, in 1805. Paloo Mata Moigna and his wife Fatafehi had left the comfort of a royal existence in Tonga, and had set off to explore the new society which they heard had been established on the shores of Port Jackson. They were possibly Australia’s first royal visitors, but barriers of language and prejudice meant that they were accepted by Governor King only as lowly black freeloaders. Starving, exhausted and disoriented in an apparently barren and hostile land, their wanderings round Circular Quay in 1805-6 almost cost them their lives. But unlike Burke and Wills, who actually did perish amidst plenty, the Tongans adapted, and lived to return home and tell their tale to King Finau.

I make no apology for including Paloo’s rather unconventional tale of exploration in this anthology, for in its own way it is a story as noble, courageous, even heroic, as those of Mitchell or Sturt. But the story of the Tongans is important for another reason. It makes plain that explorers cannot exist without a frontier, and the frontier of Australian exploration has almost always been between two cultures. True it is that Australian exploration in the Antarctic, or even on Lord Howe Island, has involved the penetration of a truly virgin, uninhabited land, and that the exploration of Kangaroo, Flinders, and a few other Australian islands has involved the investigation of a place which has lain uninhabited for a few thousand years. But pure geographic exploration in this sense is a relative rarity in Australasia.

Behind the European-Aboriginal-Pacific frontier developed a series of other, lesser frontiers; for throughout the nineteenth century Australia was developing its own distinctive culture. For this reason, I consider the visit of François Péron to Sydney in 1802 as a form of exploration. Exploration, indeed, continues even today, but now it is largely the natural frontier–between humanity and nature–which provides the challenge. The principal frontier–between Aboriginal and European Australia–closed in 1977 when William Peasley went in search of the last of the nomads, removing them from their desert home and bringing them to Wiluna. His account is the last entry in this anthology.

Earlier generations of Australians viewed the continent’s exploration very differently. They knew what an explorer was–and he certainly wasn’t an Aborigine or a Tongan. To them, the famous figures of the classic phase of exploration–from about 1817 to 1874, that is from Oxley to Giles–were celebrated as the makers of modern Australia. They were seen as being in the very vanguard of the inexorable European advance and, by traversing the land, they were transferring tenure to the Europeans.

Even these classic explorers, however, tend to fall in and out of fashion. Sir Thomas Mitchell seems to be the latest to suffer a fall from grace. During my primary school days, he was held up as a paragon, an explorer of the first water. Yet in the last few years he has been severely criticised. Some suggest that his meticulous measuring of distances and directions indicate that he did not instinctively `know’ where he was, and he has been castigated as a Luddite for travelling with bullock drays rather than horses. Most recently he has been pilloried as a monster for shooting at an Aboriginal war party. So what was this man–a fool, a savage?

Mitchell was, like many explorers, a complex personality. He was surveyor-general of New South Wales, fluent in Portuguese, a lover of poetry and inventor of curious devices. He was also virtually alone in his time in recognising and wishing to perpetuate a sense of prior Aboriginal ownership of Australia. It was he, after all, who admonished his survey staff that they should be ‘particular in noting the native names of as many places as you can in your map … The natives can furnish you with names for every flat and almost every hill … the names of new parishes will also be taken in most cases from the local names of the natives’. Mitchell was a key player in retaining Aboriginal names for 70 per cent of Australia’s four million place names. Were it not for his efforts, unfashionable at the time, our cultural geography would be much the poorer.

If in Mitchell, and before him Banks and Tench, we meet men of the enlightenment, by the middle of the nineteenth century we are encountering men of the frontier. All too often they were rough men, ill-educated and prejudiced. Some were bragging, self-confessed murderers. Abominations, such as the Jardine brothers’ account of the `Battle of the Mitchell’ form some of the blackest pages in our history, but they must be included here. The goldfields of north Queensland seem to be a particularly rich ground for such dismal pickings, while David Carnegie’s habit of capturing Aborigines (even aged women) and depriving them of water until they led the party to a soak, passed, with variations, as normal practice for many Western Australian explorers.

The third of November, 1874, arguably marks the apogee of this classic phase of exploration. Beginning about midday, a remarkable parade made its way through the streets of Adelaide. The good citizens of the city had decked the route with flags, flowers and streamers to honour the arrival of John Forrest’s expedition. The four Europeans and two Aborigines had left the Murchison district of Western Australia eight months earlier, and had pushed west towards the Adelaide-Darwin telegraph line, in the process traversing some of the most inhospitable country on the face of the earth. They were accompanied at the head of the procession by the glitterati of the town, while behind came a remarkable miscellany of exploration participants. Members of Stuart’s exploring expeditions bore standards marked with the dates January 1862 and 25 July 1862. Next rode R. E. Warburton (the son of the famous colonel who was absent overseas) and Charley, the Aborigine who performed such remarkable service on Peter Warburton’s expedition. Next came William Gosse, European discoverer and namer of Ayers Rock, and the irascible yet poetic Ernest Giles. Even the equine explorers were well represented, for Mr Waterhouse rode astride the horse which had carried `poor Burke on his ill-fated expedition’, and Mr Thring on `a horse which had crossed the continent with Stuart’.

When the Hon. Arthur Blyth rose to speak at the celebratory dinner that night, he compared the occasion to an `old Roman Triumph … how the conquerors, when they went forth, and were successful, were granted a triumph, and in this triumph were accompanied by the most beautiful of their captives’. It seems that explorers like John Forrest were Australia’s conquistadors. Most often they returned without riches, but they brought a sense of real ownership of the entire continent to those Europeans that clustered around the edge, and for that they were feted.

Whatever the intent of the explorers of the classic period, the consequences of their work were clear. They were the vanguard of an army of invaders who, with disease, the rifle and poisoned flour, would utterly sweep away the unique world of which the explorers give us the briefest glimpse. We can see in their writing how little of this complex world the explorers knew, and how few were their opportunities to learn about it before the full-scale European invasion began.

It is one of the great ironies of the classic age of exploration that, by its end, the sum of human knowledge about Australia had been diminished. In 1817 it was still possible to find somebody, somewhere, who could tell you in detail about their society, the animals, plants and history of their particular part of Australia. The driest desert was as comprehensible to its inhabitants as your street is to you. Then, almost all of the country was lived in and used. But by 1874 vast new wildernesses had been created: areas which had become depopulated, or where people only very occasionally ventured. Moreover, these new `nomadic’, mostly European inhabitants knew little about the land they occasionally crossed. Today, there is no-one who can interpret that land for us. It’s true that what knowledge has survived, in writings such as those presented here, is more widely known; but that is the advantage which every literate society has over pre-literate ones.

As you peruse these accounts, I hope that you discover or rediscover something of Australia yourself. Its history is varied beyond belief. Eora warriors, Polish patriots, French aristocrats, currency lads and lasses, fools and wise men, black and white, have all played their part in shaping what the dying William Wills called `this extraordinary continent’. It’s a continent we are just beginning to explore.

Although the explorers often refer to Aborigines in terms which today we find unacceptable–`gins’, `blacks’, `savages’, `niggers’, not to mention the strange but surprisingly popular `children of nature’–the use of such expressions is not always intended to diminish. I have left the judgment of these instances to the reader. Where necessary, I have modernised punctuation and spelling, silently corrected a handful of obvious errors, inserted the occasional explanatory date, and sometimes added a word or two of clarification in a footnote, marked by a dagger (†). The explorers’ own footnotes are indicted by an asterisk (*). Otherwise, their writings are presented as they were first printed, with any omissions of text indicated by an ellipsis (…).