Sunday 8 April 2012

Who Explored Australia? Blaxland, Lawson, Wentworth, Evans and Strzelecki

Like everyone else who was ever an Australian school girl I remember teachers trying to teach me about Australian explorers. Of course I've forgotten most of the details. Sure we all remember their names, they're famous names, and I think lots of people remember that the first crossing of the Blue Mountains by white settlers was in 1813. But do we remember, details about their lives, or explorations? I know I didn't.

I chanced upon this book at my local library. Actually there are 4 in the series, and I'll be interested to have a look at them all eventually. 

This book focuses on the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Part of the Great Dividing Range of Eastern Australia, the Blue Mountains has some quite rugged terrain and formed a barrie to westward exploration after the English settlement of Sydney in 1788. It is made illustrated with old maps of the Sydney Basin. This one by William Dawes, a marine on the First Fleet. I work with one of his descendents which adds to the interest. 

Gregory Blaxland, William Wentworth and William Lawson eventually famously crossed the Blue Mountains in 1813. Their names are memorialised in three of the townships of the Blue Mountains. I hadn't remembered anything else about them from my primary school days. 

It turns out that Blaxland wanted to cross the Blue Mountains to have more grazing land for his cattle- although I really think that the Sydney Basin should have been big enough! He was also the first successful  winemaker in Australia. He was apparently unpopular with "figures of authority". I'm not sure what that means, but am sure that its an interesting back story.

William Lawson became one of Australia's largest landholders after he was given a grant of 1000 acres as a reward for surveying land beyond the Blue Mountains. He became the Commander of Bathurst in 1819. Bathurst was the first inland settlement established in Australia. I drive through Bathurst many times every year, and didn't know that!

William Wentworth was fascinating too. The illegitimate son of a surgeon and a convict, apart from becoming an explorer, he also wrote the first book to be published by an Australian- the impressively titled A Statistical, Historical, and Political Description of the Colony of New South Wales. He went on to become a member of the Legislative Council and founded The Australian. A weekend copy of which graces my table as I type. 

I've occasionally pondered why our highest mountain has a distinctively Polish name. It is nearly impossible to spell after all. Here is the answer. Paul (Pawel) Strzelecki was a Polish adventurer, explorer and social reformer who travelled the world exploring for minerals. He is credited with being the first European to climb Mt Kosciuszko in 1840, which he then named after Polish national hero and American Revolutionary War General, Tadeusz Kosciuszko. In turn, Strzelecki's name was given to the Strzelecki Track and Strzelecki Desert of Central Australia by Charles Sturt. Strzelecki was only in Australia for 4 years, but he certainly left an enduring mark. 

I'm looking forward to checking out the other titles of the series. I'm not a great reader of nonfiction, and these Junior Nonfiction books are perfect for me to whet my appetite for knowledge. I'm sure kids would enjoy them too. 


Jenny Woolf said...

I'm always awed and amazed by the courage, toughness and adventurousness of early explorers. These days we have satellite phones and modern rescue equipment standing by. They left their families and nobody knew if they'd ever be seen again. Wow.

Perogyo said...

How amazing is this? Makes me ashamed of how little I know about Australia. My education in Canada was very North American-centric, there is a whole world out there for me to learn about!

Unknown said...

Such interesting backgrounds all these men had - I'm sure Wentworth's illegitimacy was never mentioned in my school history classes. And perhaps it's just a xenophobic Queensland thing but Strzelecki seemed to have been left out altogether by my history teachers. Thanks for the updates!

GatheringBooks said...

Oh wow, your review of this book became even more alive through those images. They all sound like very important men with huge contributions in history. I should definitely check this out. Thank you for sharing.

Louise said...

That's very true Jenny. They were already at the end of the earth, and then they ventured off into the unknown! For weeks or months at a time.

Perogyo- I'm sure I don't know all that much about Candian explorers either.

Fiona- I don't think I heard about Strzlecki in xenophobic NSW either!

Myra- it's an interesting book, and I hope an interesting series.