|With thanks to Dr Isolde Neugart, our German visitors can read a translation of this page here.|
Self-confessed ‘discoverer’ and ecologist Rod Fensham stumbled upon the great explorer’s original diaries hidden deep in library vaults, and embarked on a long journey of his own to have them translated and published for the bicentenary of Leichhardt’s birth in 2013. This piece was published in October 2012 in the book Queensland's German connections, and we acknowledge the GACCQ for permission to reproduce it here.
The vast tracts of country behind the coast in the north of the Australian continent have been grazed by cattle for 150 years, and large swathes have been cleared by bulldozers. As an ecologist trying to understand the nature of landscape change I hanker for accurate descriptions of the country from the dawn of Europeans. What a vain hope!
Surely, I thought, there were no decent records as the pioneers had no scientific training and were far too busy fighting the elements and the Aborigines to make accurate and unbiased observations of nature. Then I came upon the diaries of Ludwig Leichhardt from his ‘Overland Expedition’ in 1845.
This precious fragment of Australian heritage was not the record of a typical explorer focused on survey and discovery of fertile lands. The diaries include extraordinary detail of plants and animals as well as thoughtful interpretation of the geographic patterns. They revealed not only the observations of the first white man to see the country, but a scientist at the forefront of his discipline.
The more I came to know Leichhardt through his diaries the more I became interested in the ambiguous character of the man, and I devoured his writings and those of others who had come to know him. They only exaggerated his elusive personality. Alec Chisholm (Strange new world) portrayed him as a self-serving fool, while Colin Roderick (The dauntless explorer) attempted to resurrect him as a forgotten Australian hero.
Amongst the notes in Roderick’s biography there was reference to Leichhardt’s Tagebűcher (diaries) from 1832-44. Could it be true that there was a trove of unpublished material that had never seen the light of day?
I set about finding the source and sure enough they were lying unearthed in their original German hand-writing in the bowels of the Mitchell Library. On closer investigation I learnt that the diaries included 250,000 words from his first years in Australia including time around Moreton Bay, on the doorstep of my home town Brisbane.
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