In a book released in early 2013, Charles Darwin University humanitarian lecturer Dan Baschiera argues that the enigmatic explorer may have been assassinated to prevent him from speaking about colonial atrocities. You can read more in the CDU's eNEWS issue of April 2013 here.
In December 1845, Leichhardt and his party of bedraggled fellow explorers surprisingly emerged from the bush south of the tiny and isolated northern settlement of Victoria, well east of the modern day Darwin in what is now the Northern Territory. They were the first to have had an insight into the interior of the continent, having successfully charted and scientifically recorded a pathway on horseback from Moreton Bay in Queensland to the bay of Port Essington in the Northern Territory.
Located on the Coburg Peninsula north of what is now known as Kakadu National Park, the little naval hamlet of Victoria in Port Essington was probably the most isolated and remote military outpost in the then British Empire. The ruins and cemetery still stand there today, as a lonely antique of colonial life lost in the bush. Victoria should also stand as an unrecognised memorial to Leichhardt and his small team for it was here that they successfully finished the first known land crossing from the ‘settled’ east coast through a vast unknown to this isolated community of Royal Marines ‘protecting’ the north of Australia for the queen, flag and empire.
It was Ludwig Leichhardt who proved that the colonised east coast of Australia could be connected to the North and in turn the East Indies beyond.
Dan Baschiera writes, in his book: "For years I have reflected on the fact that Leichhardt, on completing his epic first expedition in 1845, had walked through the Dreaming of what we now know as Kakadu National Park."
"Kakadu is remote and in some places still pristine," writes Dan. "Some surviving Leichhardt campsite blazes, where he had carved his LL initials into a nearby tree, had to be out there somewhere. Leichhardt was known to carve a blaze at every camp. The puzzling question was why had none ever been found in Kakadu?
"According to his journal he had to have had at least 25 campsites in Kakadu National Park. Trees do burn in bushfires, get eaten by termites, blown over by cyclones or washed away in flood and some just get grown over, but surely there had to be some surviving blazes. After all, he did survey a path through Kakadu and his map had been published with his journal. So why the mystery, why had no blazes been found? It was a question that was to perplex me until I found a possible reason - a reason that led me to write this book and add my controversial hypothesis as to why Leichhardt disappeared.
"Here in this little book is a social history of mystery, a story full of reflective questions and speculation about Leichhardt, his approach, the controversy, and his disappearance. It is a story that I believe leaves one pondering Australian colonial history and the times and places experienced by “our most enigmatic explorer” (Dewar 1994).
"This work also attempts to respect the values of the Dreaming where within oral tradition we find the past, present and future all rolled into one. So, as you read, you will move back and forth between the 1840s and the present day. While this may be a little confusing to the individualist controlled by commercialism and the schedule of time, on the flip side the reader who understands the Aboriginal perspective of non-numeric collectivism can be more relaxed in the freedom and the timelessness of the Dreaming and indeed the timelessness of the outback.
"Written here then are reflections immersed in the outback. From under its ‘sit down trees’ it peers through the hazy mirages and vast horizons in an attempt to capture some of the untold story of Leichhardt, to look beyond the questions that still keep echoing back and forth from the 1840s. The sophistication of Australia’s ancient Indigenous culture has often given me cause to reflect on what it must have been like for the first European explorers like Sturt, Gregory, McKinlay, Burke and Wills who did walk the pre-contact pathways into what we now know as the song lines of the ‘Dreaming’(Chatwin 1988)."
Dan Baschiera is a veteran Social Worker and an experienced Humanitarian Logistician. Born and raised on the southern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Dan arrived in Australia as a ‘bush trained’ young man when his father left Africa due to medical reasons. On graduating from Curtin University he made his way up to Northern Australia where he has remained in between adventures ever since.
He loves the outback, bushwalking, sailing and history. With four languages under his belt he has a keen insight into humanity and its cultures. He has helped develop Australia’s first undergraduate degree in Humanitarianism. In 2008, teaming with his wife Annie Whybourne, they discovered a Leichhardt blaze in Kakadu National Park, after 100 years of people seeking just such a tree in the region. It took Dan two years to untangle what he calls “the distortions created by a 19th century colonial Australia” in what he believes was its society’s attempt to discredit Ludwig Leichhardt and hide his ethnological findings from the then scientific circles in London.
Dan and Annie’s discovery seems to highlight yet another distortion laid into the achievements and history of Australia’s truly enigmatic scientist. While nothing can be proven Dan believes it hardens speculation on his ‘flour bag thesis' contained within the pages of his book.
|With sponsorship from this book Dan and Annie originally sought to develop a bushwalk through Kakadu National Park using the coordinates Leichhardt used. However the traditional owners fear for the sacred areas – and for the crocodiles across Leichhardt’s path. So Dan and Annie now seek to capture the rich legacy of one of our earliest scientists and the friendships he made as he walked into the Dreaming with a documentary film, which they hope to produce and broadcast in 2014.|