Somewhat unusual for such a formally-constructed work, there is no separate list of maps, and this reviewer would have found one a welcome reference point. Lewis handled the text side of his frequent reminders with skill, but references to subjects in earlier chapters provoked a lot of page-flipping – particularly in the less well-charted regions of part two.

A smaller quibble of the only two issues identified in the whole book. It was forgotten during the Discussion as Lewis began summarising the locations and probity of the various “L”-marked trees across Australia. I felt like cheering as a timely turn of the page revealed a well-captioned Hilliker map laying out exactly that ‘gods-eye view’ for detailed contemplation.

The path of the Discussion chapter certainly helps channel the reader’s focus. Old furphies have been discarded, and we are generally content with why. (Lewis observes that the 21st century tracks made by tour groups, ‘grey nomads’ in 4WDs, and resources companies have rendered the Simpson Desert the Outback equivalent of “Piccadilly Circus” and it is difficult to disagree.)

Emerging thoughtfully from the closing pages is a  short-list of locations and scenarios, to which Lewis contributes his own measured appraisal. An eleventh-hour reminder of Leichhardt’s profound admiration of the methodology of German scientist Alexander von Humboldt dazzled with the thrill of an unexpected towel-flick. The reader is set to thinking Lewis may indeed be pointing to the right area, and for the right reasons.

Overall, the feeling is that of an unexpectedly diverting fireside chat with one’s college professor. As an anthology of all the Leichhardt detective work which has gone before, this book has no peer. For those unfamiliar with this greatest of all Australian enigmas – or lacking experience of the vastness of her empty interior – it would be advantageous to have read beforehand at least John Bailey (if not Leichhardt himself) on the first ‘Overland Journey’ (1844-45). Bruce Simpson, another Leichhardt afficionado (and of whom Lewis makes mention in his Discussion) also published useful and colourful background to the mystery of the missing Prussian.  

How, in the end, does Lewis address the haunting, lingering question of the book’s title? Ah, now that would be telling, wouldn’t it. And where’s the mystery in that?


Lewis, Darrell: “Where is Dr Leichhardt? The greatest mystery in Australian history”
ISBN 978 1 921867 76 7 (pbk)
Monash University Publishing
Melbourne, Australia, May 2013
RRP AU$39.95 (+P/P)

 

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