For 170 years, students, scientists, adventurers and writers have pondered the question of the man, as much as his fate.

Was Leichhardt the egomaniacal fool he is often portrayed to be, lucky by accident but fumblingly predestined for tragedy? Whose efforts towards the transcontinental discovery of inland Australia were almost in spite of himself, rather than due to any planning, skill or talent?

Or was he a misunderstood and misrepresented foreigner, in a harsh young colony built by prisoners and visionaries? Whose curiosity about the land and its indigenous inhabitants ~ peoples, flora and fauna ~ was innate, undimmed, and answerable, perhaps, only to his backers and believers?

The truth, of course, is likely to include elements of both.

Contemporary Sir Thomas Mitchell, no witless adventurer himself, by all accounts had what might best be described as a 'prickly disposition'. In his senior role as Surveyor-General of the NSW colony, his unflattering views of the German perhaps carried more weight than the accolades and medals bestowed in London and Paris.

Australian Nobel Laureate Patrick White crafted a dark, brooding interpretation of Leichhardt's driven personality in his magnificent novel VOSS. We may also read the explorer's own words, in his published Journal of an Overland Expedition, and draw our own conclusions from his previously unpublished diaries.

 

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