Country NW of tableland, Aug. 22,
Recording date:

Curator Nat Williams explores the National Library's items on loan to the National Gallery of Victoria for their exhibition, Colony Australia 1770–1861, examining images of the exploration leading to the settlement and expansion of the Australian colonies.  

The Treasures Curator is supported by the Australian Government's Catalyst Australian Arts and Cultural Fund.

A Treasures Gallery Access Program, supported by National Library Patrons.

Speakers: Nicola Mackay-Sim (N), Nat Williams (W)

Audience: (A)

Location: National Library of Australia

Date: 14/5/18

N:        Right, can everyone hear me? Good afternoon and welcome to the National Library of Australia. I am Nicola Mackay-Sim, the Library’s Acting Senior Curator of Pictures and Manuscripts. As we begin I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, I thank their elders past and present for caring for this land that we are now privileged to call home.

We are grateful to our supporters for making this afternoon’s event possible. In particular we would like to acknowledge the Australian Government for supporting the Treasures Curator, Nat Williams, through Catalyst, the Australian Arts and Culture Fund. And of course we would also like to thank our wonderful National Library patrons who are supporters of the Treasures Gallery Access program.

Right, over the past couple of years the Library has worked closely with the National Gallery of Victoria curators who put together the truly epic and ground-breaking exhibition, Colony Australia, 1770 to 1861 which is now on display down in Melbourne at the NGV Federation Square Galleries until the 15th of July and look, I’ll just warn you if you haven’t been there, I was there on Friday, you need at least one-and-a-half to two hours to get through all the works. There are so many items and it’s just inspiring, it’s really, really interesting.

We were delighted to loan to the NGV some 30 items for the exhibition including some of our most historically significant and admired works from the early years of the colony and our Library Treasures Curator, Nat Williams, wrote a chapter for the exhibition catalogue focusing on the Library’s artworks on loan to the exhibition. As Nat states in his published piece, watercolours were the photographs of the early colonial era. The surviving paintings and the artists and stories behind them reveal much about what was here first.

Today Nat will reveal some of those stories. Please join me in welcoming Nat Williams.


W:       You’ll have to bear with me today, I’m suffering a bit under a lurgy so I hope I make it through. I too would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land and thank their elders past and present for caring for this land we’re now privileged to call home.

The remarkable exhibition which provides the context for – sorry, the remarkable exhibition which provides the context for my lecture today is Colony, Australia, 1770 to 1861 which as you’ve just heard is on until the 15th of July. As you are here today listening to me and it would suggest you’re interested in colonial life please do make the effort to go and see the show, it is a – it’s really a once in a generational exhibition, it won’t be mounted again in a hurry. The cost alone would be frightening.

I should explain at the outset that I was asked to write an essay on exploration for the exhibition book. The dates for the title of the exhibition baffled me slightly and so I naively asked, I understand of course the 1770 reference to Cook landing at Botany Bay but what does the 1861 refer to? And the response was 1861 is the date the National Gallery of Victoria opened so I thought that was a rather Melbourne-centric viewpoint but it was – it’s not a criticism, it’s my only sort of slightly wry observation about the show.

The exhibition is broad in the media it represents and features early watercolours, drawings, illustrated books, prints, paintings, sculpture and photographs and a memorable selection of decorative arts objects including furniture, fashion, textiles and even taxidermy specimens. From memory I think there’s three stuffed birds in there. The exhibition is conceived in two parts, the first section, Colony, as you can see here are the themes, consist of 640 items which surely must make it the largest exhibition in modern Australian history. It is displayed over 10 galleries or possibly 11 galleries on the ground floor. It is a dense and wonderful and sometimes disturbing array of rare and sometimes unique material. The Library as Nicky pointed out leant over 30 items to Colony and quite a lot more were requested which we couldn’t simply loan because they were either in the Treasures Gallery or more likely they were subject to conservation issues.

The counterpoint to this exhibition is perhaps to some the challengingly titled, Frontier Wars, displayed upstairs. It is an indigenous response to the ideas raised by Colony. This sometimes confronting exhibition features art made by a range of leading contemporary indigenous artists and old masters such as William Barak and Tommy McRae. Video, paintings, sculptures and photography are all fulsomely represented and provide a dynamic and thought-provoking counterpoint to the deep immersion in colonial history – discovery settlement and indigenous displacement seen downstairs. It is an appropriate pairing of narratives which seeks to balance the complex story being told. Some of the better known artists represented in Frontier Wars are J W Lindt, Arthur Boyd, Brook Andrew, Marie Clark, Christian Thompson, Gordon Bennett, Julie Gough and Yhonnie Scarce. These are the themes for Frontier Wars.

As the NGV write in their introduction to the exhibition, the period that to many was the discovery of a wondrous southern continent was to others an invasion of homelands occupied for many millennia. This powerful exhibition reveals some of what Aboriginal people have experienced as a continuing consequence of colonisation through works of art. You simply cannot visit Colony without seeing Frontier Wars. The exhibitions are finely crafted to complement one another ‘though they are large displays which both require considerable time and persistence to absorb properly. For those unlikely to make the journey to Melbourne to see the show over the coming weeks I can highly recommend the really splendid book. I’m promoting a non-National Library publication. $49.95 and it’s a – you can hear a weighty tome, well illustrated with many very interesting and thought-provoking essays by leading curators and writers such as Richard Neville from the State Library of New South Wales, David Hansen from ANU, Joanna Gilmour from the NPG, Elissa Bunbury now working at Melbourne University and the list goes on.

The exhibition curators are for Frontier Wars, Judith Ryan and Miles Russell-Cook and for Colony, Kathy Lay, Elissa Bunbury, Susan Van White and Rebecca Edwards. And the exhibition also benefited considerably I think from the input of consulting artist historian and curator, John McPhee.

My brief for Colony was to cover the search for Australia, its early settlement and inland exploration from 1600 to 1861, a rather broad arc especially in only 4,000 words. It was a very difficult task and obviously I had to leave a lot out. I’m flattered that they included and seemed to like what I wrote. So what I’ll say today largely comes from the essay entitled, Unfinished Business, Australia as a Palimpsest.

To begin though I will speak just briefly about one work in the – one of the thought-provoking examples in Frontier Wars. The first work you’re seeing on entering the exhibition is Chase and Imperial Leather both by Julie Gough, an indigenous artist born in Melbourne but who now lives in Hobart. The 300 shafts of tea tree wood suspended, a forest of sorts, intentionally obscures the work on the right, the triumphalist oil painting of The Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770 by Emanuel Phillips-Fox. Phillips-Fox’s work, commissioned by the NGV in 1901 through the One Thousand Pound Gilby Bequest, was part of a national searching for iconic images post-federation upon which to anchor our new identity. The much displayed image was subverted by Julie Gough 100 years later and reorientated. It’s a powerful and slightly claustrophobic way to commence the exhibition journey.

As one peers into this suspended forest one can see small pieces of red cloth snagged on the right wood. Sorry, they’re not great photographs. Gough has written about this work. Chase is about terror, flight, this is the unspoken space and place called Australia, Terror Nullius. The tea tree forest between E Phillips-Fox’s painting and my work, Imperial Leather, holds the trace of a pursuit. Torn scraps of cotton flagging and red towelling fixed within its grasp bear testament to a struggle within this space. A light of passage took place and took parts, pieces of both works into this other worldly configuration. I don’t believe that Australia has left behind the two aforementioned stories but are still enmeshed in their dialogues of invasion, control and silencings. Rather powerful words from Julie Gough.

I think this is obviously a refence to the pursuit of indigenous people through things like the Black Line in the 1830s in Tasmania and such works are a powerful reminder of the hidden narratives of the dislocation of indigenous lives post settlement. The heroic and civilised explorer of Phillips-Fox’s painting could be seen as an antihero of a counternarrative in which his landing is reframed as a moment of invasion and pillage for the original inhabitants. And it’s the 250th anniversary of Cook setting out this year and I’ll come back to that point soon.

As one enters Colony this impressive range of Australian indigenous crafted shields are encountered. The array stretching the length of the entry corridor is a robust response to the visitor to perhaps reconsider the legacy of colonialism and their viewpoints, to leave them at the door if you like. These venerable wooden objects crafted with care and pride and great expertise born from millennia of experience and knowledge are now displayed as made by unknown artists. Interestingly upstairs in Frontier Wars exhibition the subtle and poignant distinction surrounding the heritage items on display is that rather than unknown artists the term, once were known artists is used. This is a fine point but a test to the reflexive thinking of the five curators who jointly developed the two exhibitions.

So the shields you can see here were used by indigenous warriors for protection during intertribal battles and also for parrying spears thrown during tribal payback ceremonies. They were also used in ceremonial dancing and traded between clan groups. Each shield bore the traces of its maker, a story carved into timber and directed with incisions and ochre. They were, especially for a people who didn’t hold great store in possessions, an important item with embodied significance which we may now never know. To progressively meet each of these shields is a powerful and thought-provoking way to start this colonial journey. It says a great deal about our history really that the stories of the shields’ makers were not recorded as part of their acquisition and as they made their way into often major cultural collections.

Sometimes this was because they were trophies taken with force rather than given in friendship or traded. Some of you will recall the indigenous shield collected by Joseph Banks now in the British Museum which was the focal point of the Encounters exhibition here at the National Museum a while back. This symbolically important object was appropriated from Botany Bay after shots were fired at the local people. They fled, had all their fishing spears taken and trinkets were left in their place.

Cook records in his Endeavour journal, held here in the collection, that the beads etc left for the children were still lying untouched in the sand the following day. He notes probably the natives were afraid to take them away. This is hardly surprising given what had occurred earlier. Cook’s eyes however were to be further opened as he looked, listened and gained awareness I think as he progressed up the east coast.

On the 22nd of August 1770 James Cook records in his Endeavour journal, I now once more hoisted English colours and in the name of His Major, King George III, took possession of the whole eastern coast by the name of New South Wales after which we fired three volleys of small arms which were answered by the like number from the ship. The sound of those gunshots has echoed for nearly 250 years. The story of Australia’s discovery, exploration and settlement that followed it is a catalogue of intentions and accidents. The vast land mass which provided almost infinite challenges to explorers had been met head on by its indigenous owners for over 65,000 years.

Against this record of habitation and successful adaption from song lines to firestick farming European forays along the shore then tentative ventures inland seem measured and predictable and some exploratory ventures were to be notoriously ill-fated. However as the land opened to the sound of the axe, the horse, bullock dray and the gun Aboriginal presence persisted. Centuries later the history of European encounter with this land is a work in progress and is constantly being rewritten. The images in Colony richly illustrate moments of engagement with the landscape and its people as the continent was gradually being revealed and then documented.

The search for Terra Australis Nondum Cognita or the South Land Not Yet Known actively occupied European minds for centuries. That a land mass might be hidden in the vast expanse of the Pacific was an intriguing idea and potentially a profitable one. Geographers in the northern hemisphere had understood from the time of the Alexandrian Greek mathematician’s, Ptolemy’s, rediscovered mapping, that a southern land mass must exist and speculated upon its exact location, name and potential wealth.

Ptolemy posited that there must be a land mass in his Geographia written in about 150AD. This is a copy we have, a 1540s copy here. As the expanse of the Pacific became better known through European exploration the potential scope for Terra Australis Incognita correspondingly decreased. Still it would not be until the late 18th century that this land was finally mapped and then usurped.

Many Australians still believe that James Cook discovered Australia despite much evidence to the contrary and not just the indigenous names abundantly covering our maps. Dutch, Spanish, French and English names pinpoint moments of encounter and of misguided perception as knowledge was formed about Australia. An obvious example, Rottnest Island, literally meaning Rat Nest Island, was a name crafted for local quokkas mistaken as hopping rats and named by a Dutchman, Willem de Vlamingh in 1696. As you can see here the island is illustrated along with the black swans in Francois Valentine’s multivolume history, The Old and New East Indies printed in The Netherlands in 1724-26.

Valentine was a Dutch Minister, naturalist and author and employed by the VOC in the East Indies. The sandy island off Perth was known as Wajima to the local Noongar people. The now popular tourist destination was to be a lethal place for Aboriginal men as it was used to imprison thousands of them over nearly a century from 1838 to 1931. From a Dutch discovery in which marsupials are mistaken for vermin to a barbaric colonial prison for the original Australians to a schoolies’ holiday retreat our landscape is overwritten by its history. Its scarification is only visible if one looks hard, listens closely and is prepared to not look away.

Vlamingh’s visit to Wajima was 90 years after the first recorded mapping and landing on the continent by Europeans. Captain Willem Janszoon charted more than 300km of the Gulf of Carpentaria on the Duyfken in 1606 and his landing party was repulsed by the Wik people with nine sailors losing their lives and this is an image of the Battle of Bantam in 1601. This is the Duyfken picture. I just thought I’d use it as a nice image. Janszoon’s voyage was under the auspices of the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie known as the VOC which was established in 1602, two years after the British East India Company. The world’s first publicly listed trading company, the VOC was a multinational business which boomed for almost two centuries. Coincidentally also in 1606 Luis Vaez De Torres, the Spanish voyager serving under the Portuguese commander, Pedro Fernandez De Quiros, returned from the Pacific Ocean through what became known as Torres Strait, a channel proven and mapped by Cook 170 years later. De Quiros had earlier sailed with the Spanish navigator, Mendana, in 1595-96 searching for Terra Australis Incognita.

This led to his investigation of Australia De Spirito Santo or the Southern Land of the Holy Spirit. De Quiros wrote the famous presentation memorials, the earliest printed record of discovery and plans for settlement of the southern continent in which he announced his and Mendana’s discoveries and petitioned the Spanish monarchy to fund further exploration and settlement and we have one in the collection here. The VOC established itself in 1619 in Batavia, now Jakarta, and pioneered the new Brouwer route to the East Indies. The direct path from the Cape of Good Hope, 7,500km across the Indian Ocean towards Australia meant that in the days before longitude could be actually plotted that intentional and unintentional encounters occurred. Studying the place names along our western coast provides hints about the numerous precursors to Cook who have received little of his fame or more latterly his infamy.

Dirk Hartog marks the visit – Dirk Hartog Island marks the visit of that mariner in 1616, the first European to visit our western shore aboard The Eendracht. Hartog left a beaten pewter plate signposting his discovery which is on the left. In 1697 De Vlamingh appropriated the plate and left his own engraved plate. This object, almost a kind of palimpsest, a surface on which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text, recorded both visits. A century later in 1801 Jacques Felix Emmanuel Hamelin on Naturaliste, part of the ambitious French expedition led by Nicholas Baudin located the plate. It was later taken to Paris by Louis De Freycinet commanding L’Uranie in 1818. Dirk Hartog’s plate is now held in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the De Vlamingh plate is now in the West Australian Maritime Museum although I have to say it lived here in the National Library’s collection from just after the second world war until the early ‘50s I think and then was given to the West Australians and we had to prise it from their grasp for the mapping show a couple of years ago. It’s funny how these things happen.

The Australian coastline has witnessed many overlapping moments of discovery, conflict, reprisal and celebration. There were also grim details. The gruesome story of the wreck of the flagship, Batavia, under Francisco Pelsaert in 1629 on the Houtman Abrolhos Islands off the west coast of Australia and its depraved consequences including mutiny, rape and murder attest to the limits to which travel could descend in the period. The story’s publication in The Netherlands in 1647 with graphic illustrations which you can see here, some of them, raised European consciousness of the wreck and of the southern continent. The small format of the book belied the terrors contained within it. The memorable images are some of the earliest printed representations of Australia and centuries later examination of Pelsaert’s book and of his journal led to the discovery of the Batavia wreck in 1963 and that wreck is now displayed as part of the WA Maritime Museum.

Abel Tasman’s two momentous voyages commenced in 1642 when he was appointed commander of the ships, Heemskerk and Zeehan, to explore the land mass south of Java. Tasman wanted to investigate the possibility of a route from [Neutsland] 22:56 in easterly direction – that’s the bottom corner of Western Australia – [Neutsland] in an easterly direction through the Pacific towards South America. Commissioned by the VOC’s Governor-General in Batavia, Anthony Van Diemen, Tasman charted the western and northern Australian coast for the first time and the south of the island we know as Tasmania which he named for his superior. The west coast of New Zealand and parts of Tonga and Fiji were also revealed along with the northern fringe of New Guinea. Then in 1644 Tasman charted the southwest coast of New Guinea and much of Australia’s previously unknown coastline.

The original journals of both of Tasman’s historic voyages have been lost but an abridged manuscript version exists as the [Heidicupa] 23:33 Journal in the State Library of New Sales Wales’ collection. Within this important source document are inserted six evocative pen and ink coastal profiles of land cited in Van Diemen’s Land on the 4th and 5th of September 1642 seen here on the screen directly after Tasman had claimed it for the Dutch. These are the earliest known extant drawings of the Australian coastline and were created by Isaac Gilsemans, the cartographer and chief merchant upon The Zeehan.

The next coastal profiles of Australia were to be created by the young Quaker painter, Sydney Parkinson, the artist aboard Cook’s Endeavour 130 years later. And as a brief but significant digression here another 200 plus years later the remarkable Tasmanian contemporary artist, Bea Maddock, created an editioned 40m long ochre drawing called Terra Spiritus with a darker shade of pale. This memorial work is a massive coastal profile of Tasmania as if seen from a circumnavigating boat. It is a moving meditation on the loss experienced by Tasmanian Aboriginal people whose world changed irrevocably after colonisation in 1803. Their language can be seen floating on the ocean while European [lames] 24:56 claining the country are printed above – printed below, sorry, and that comes from the National Gallery’s collection.

Before Cook’s journeys of exploration William Dampier visited Australia twice but is little recognised now. This English explorer, keen observer, writer and buccaneer spent three months on Australia’s west coast in 1688. Aboard The Cygnet he made landfall near King Sound and later wrote an engaging account of his experiences there. The volume published from his journals, A New Voyage Around The World, 1697, became a great success and it brought him to public attention. Captaining The Roebuck in 1699 Dampier visited Shark Bay and if it had not been for the disastrous shape of his ship which halted his passage south from New Guinea he may well have been the first person to reach Australia’s east coast.

Well before Cook and Joseph Banks’ botanising in Stingray Harbour, later Botany Bay, Dampier collected specimens and carefully recorded his perceptions of the landscape, marine environment, plants and animals and the people encountered. In 1703 Dampier’s A Voyage to New Holland was published and it simply rendered engravings of Australia’s flora and fauna, the first recorded European images of New Holland and pre-date Endeavour’s achievements by over 70 years. Dampier’s contemporary influence was such that it inspired Jonathan Swift to write Gulliver’s Travels.

James Cook read Dampier’s books aboard Endeavour as he explored the Pacific between 1768 and 1771. Cook’s remarkable achievement in navigating the east coast of Terra Australis Incognita was to permanently graft New South Wales onto New Holland and to lay the continent open for further investigation and possibly settlement. Largely completing the map of Australia Cook effectively erased the curiously drawn east coast of previous maps and created greater certainty for future voyages.

James Cook referred to Dampier on three occasions in MS1, his Endeavour journal held here. Firstly with regard to Aboriginal people met at Endeavour River. They did not want any of their fore teeth as Dampier had observed in his book on the western side of this country and then he mentions them again in relation to Dampier’s observations about Timor.

Sorry, certainly Cook’s arrival in Botany Bay in 1771 marked the turning point in European engagement with Australia and its people. His initial interactions with the Eora people at Botany Bay were fraught with misunderstanding as we’ve heard however by the time Cook and his companion, Joseph Banks, saw and ate their first kangaroo at Endeavour River in north Queensland in July and spent time with the locals, the Guugu Yimithirr people, a kind of understanding appears to have been reached. A moment of rapprochement is created by a little old man who approached Cook after a shooting incident. He carried a spear, a lance without a point, and an understanding was negotiated not to harass each other further. This is a poignant moment and one not generally referred to by critics of Cook’s expedition. It seemed somehow to signify the possibility of new beginnings and in fact John Moloney, the eminent Australian historian, has suggested the date of that might have been an appropriate Australia Day in future.

Cook’s voyage was an enlightenment project sponsored by the Royal Society and funded by Joseph Banks. It was a remarkable and unprecedented undertaking which produced great riches from the natural history collecting of Banks, Daniel Salander and Herman Diedrich-Sporing ably assisted by Sydney Parkinson, the young artist, hence the evolution of the name, Stingray Harbour into Botany Bay due to the profusion of botanical specimens acquired there. And you can see in the exhibition down in Melbourne on the left is Banksia serrata and on the right is Eucalyptus platyphylla, sort of one from Sydney area and one from Endeavour River area which is a nice bookending. They’re from the Royal Botanical Gardens collection in Melbourne but they were transferred from the British Museum years ago.

The Endeavour voyage was the precursor to Britain’s scientific voyages such as that of The Investigator under Matthew Flinders. It inspired the French to dispatch the ill-fated Laperouse to the Pacific and it succeeded and was published with the British Voyages of Byron, Wallace and Carteret. The assistance Endeavour received from Tupia, the Ra’iatean polymath who guided and interpreted for the voyage until his untimely death in Batavia also cannot be understated. His profound knowledge of the Pacific enabled him to assist Cook in navigating and he drew a chart of many of the islands known to him which Cook later copied and we had that in the Mapping Our World exhibition a couple of years ago. It was a great treasure.

A printed image of the rainbow lorikeet captured and kept alive by Tupia at Botany Bay is a highlight of the Colony exhibition. Natural history illustrator, Peter Brown, used the bird, now an ex-parrot, to coin Monty Python, in his New Illustrations in Zoology printed in 1776 and you can see the difference between the live bird and the dead bird on the right. We are fortunate enough to have acquired an earlier and very beautiful gouache on vellum drawing of the same lorikeet made by Moses Griffith in 1772 which is on the left. Griffith was the young artist contracted by collector and prolific author, Thomas Pennant. Banks passed the lorikeet on to his friend, Pennant, soon after his return to England.

While Cook was often valorised Joseph Banks was a polarising figure as visual evidence in the exhibition suggests. The President of the Royal Society for 40 years Banks was respected for his knowledge on many subjects including New South Wales, merino sheep, currency, earthquakes, botany and exploration. He is immortalised in Jasper Wood by Wedgewood however at the same time Banks was pilloried in caricature by Matthew Darly. The amusing images you can see here, The Simpling Macaroni, or The Fly-Catching Macaroni, both from 1772 were a play on the idea of the English dandies undertaking the grand tour. Banks’ famous quote regarding his grand tour was every blockhead can do that, my grand tour should be around the whole globe.

The advocacy of Banks for settlement and exploration in New South Wales and his continuing interest in the colonies’ progress is reflected in his copious correspondence. He wrote thousands of letters on innumerable subjects and kept in touch with every Governor up to Macquarie. We hold many in our collection here. Banks petitioned to travel with Cook’s second Pacific voyage but was thwarted in his expansive plans and had to settle for Scotland and Iceland instead. The thousands of words documenting Cook’s Endeavour voyage, the images arising from the flora and fauna collected, the people witnessed and captured in paint, the specimens and artefacts along with the charts drawn ultimately made their home – way home to England. Most had survived the clutches of the Barrier Reef but they were then dispersed leaving future scholars to unravel the complicated histories of the voyage through its objects, images and many words, handwritten and then printed.

Cook visited Australia once more in January 1777 at Adventure Bay on Bruny Island during his third Pacific voyage. John Webber, the official artist on board Resolution, captured images of a local indigenous man seen here in the drawing and then above in the print and also he did a drawing of a woman and child which was turned into a print. Close proximity to young Aboriginal women was not something achieved on Cook’s 1770 visit. Here Cook’s associate, Second Lieutenant, James King, described how a young mother carried her child. Webber’s enduring sketches were to be translated into print in the final Cook voyage narrative penned by King but not for seven long years.

Surgeon’s mate, William Wade Ellis, was a capable ‘though lesser known artist who was on Discovery and then transferred to Resolution where he painted with Webber. Later impoverished Ellis published a narrative of the voyage, an unapproved and unpopular measure which nevertheless did not stop it running into two editions and there his watercolours, the bottom one from our collection and the top one from SLV and then Sarah Stone’s wonderful drawings of post shell – post Cook shells collected. And it’s a great example of how the exhibition pulls together collections from all over the country on one sort of wall.

Cook became irascible and flogged his men exponentially more as his three voyages progressed. His life was to end tragically and rather unpredictably on Valentine’s Day 1779 on the beach at Kealakekua By in Hawaii where he had first been received as a god. His legacy was commemorated in many forms by a grieving public on medals and portraits, paintings, pamphlets, pantomimes and in poems. This composite image by French theatrical innovator and artist, de Loutherbourg, based on Webber’s work was a public souvenir of the dramatic final scene from the acclaimed West End Theatre production, Oh My. Cook, the enlightenment hero, ascends to heaven heralded by fame and Britannia and carefully avoids viewing the sight of his demise below.

While circumnavigating the globe Cook also managed to successfully implement measures to avoid scurvy, the seaman’s curse. Cook was obsessed with scurvy and its prevention and served sauerkraut at every meal. He spelt it s-o-u-r-krout, o-u-t. At every meal. Sauerkraut, wort of malt, carrot, marmalade and concentrate or robs of orange and lemon juice were issued to fight it. Wherever possible fresh vegetables and fruit were added to the sailors’ menu, for example scurvy grass, wild celery and kerguelen cabbage. Sounds tasty. Strangely however Cook hated bananas so there’s a fact you probably didn’t know.

The Royal Society awarded him the Copley Medal, its greatest honour, for his indefatigable efforts to defeat the plague of the sea. Much of the evidence of this passion for knowledge was presented by his talented artist, Sydney Parkinson, William Hodges and John Webber. Cumulative, they crafted a new view of the world which intrigued European minds while subtly encoding messages of conquest and of domination.

Competition for knowledge, land and resources was to pit Britain and France against one another and to lead to coincidences such as the arrival of La Perouse’s ships alongside the first fleet in Botany Bay in January 1788. There was also the meeting of Matthew Flinders and Baudin at Encounter Bay in South Australia 14 years later. These unlikely correspondents attest to both nations’ serious interest in colonising and profiting from the lands that were being discovered and written into history. The first step was to establish a strategic foothold in the Pacific. Settlement in New South Wales had been speculated upon not long after Cook’s voyage and was aided by Banks.

Within the National Library of Australia’s extraordinary Rex Nankivell Collection there are many settlement firsts including the earliest map of the encampment at Port Jackson. This curio is now one of the greatest rarites in bibliographic collecting. There are only three known copies. Its schematised view captured by the ex-navy midshipman and convict, Francis Fowkes, is dated 16April 1788 and identifies the 11 ships that bore the convicts and marines as well as the Governor Phillips’ mansion which is down here which dominates the rustic scene. It is a convict’s eye view of his constrained world where hard labour, poor food, harsh weather, corporal punishment and life in tents took its toll. From this unlikely, insubstantial and socially fluid base modern Australia has grown.

The remarkable Rex Nankivell, a New Zealand-born, London-based collector amassed a vast collection of Australasian material as he liked to refer to it. I worked out that he probably bought two things a day for 60 years. His acquisitions generally focused on those that explored, mapped, governed, proselytised, settled, farmed and innovated in the Pacific region. They were acquired by the National Library in 1959 and up until his death in 1977.

Some of the most significant of the National Library’s loans to Colony come from his expansive collection, for example the apotheosis of Captain Cook, Captain John Hunter’s first fleet sketchbook here, Augustus Earle’s colonial views and his wonderful portrait of Bungaree, Richard Reid’s memorable portrait of the survivor of the Boyd massacre, young Betsy Broughton, and Dorothy English Paty’s truly beautiful sketchbook of Newcastle natural history specimens from the 1830s.

Also from Nankivell’s collection and real highlights of the early part of the colony display are these three important works dated circa 1790 by the Port Jackson painter now thought to be at least five unknown painters that were on the first fleet. One is of a [mooby] 39:35, a ceremonial Eora figure painted up for a funeral. That’s the one on the right. And the other is a portrait of Nana Nana or possibly Nunga Nunga, the brother-in-law of Bennelong. There is also up the top a very early topographical view of the entrance into Sydney Harbour. It’s amazing to see how these images were being you know created at that time.

The natural history sketches and views that were produced in Australia’s early days were made by anonymous and known limners. They were both professional and amateur artists ‘though the difference in quality of the work was not always that vast. They were often convicts, mostly forgers, and sometimes ‘though lay scientists or curious sailors wanting to take home souvenirs of their remarkable odyssey to the end of the earth.

Captain of the Sirius and later Governor of New South Wales, John Hunter, also recorded his observations in his charming if naïve sketchbook drawn on the spot between 1788 and 1790. You just saw that before. Sailors such as the midshipman of the Sirius, George Raper, added to the visual and strategic recording of the colony and his maps attest to the ability of naval men to record the world passing before them. Plants, birds, fish, people and marsupials all intrigued the early visitors. The brilliance of the light, the dramatic weather, the beauty of the harbour, the variety and profusion of nature surrounding them all inspired detailed documentation from the colony’s earliest days.

Irrespective of whether those doing the imaging were officials or dependents of the colonial empire the outpost needed recording for strategic, scientific and aesthetic reasons. In the pre-photographic era it was generally words or watercolours that illustrated the moment. They were often then carried homewards to official or sometimes domestic archives. The images then found their way into print and were often multiply reprinted and circulated in the British antiquarian book trade.

The detailed mapping of the continent commenced in earnest after settlement. Matthew Flinders followed his successful navigation of Tasmania on the convict-built Norfolk with a coastal survey to Queensland. He successfully enlisted the assistance of Bungaree, the leader of the Broken Bay people to mediate with local Aboriginal clans. Bungaree would later sail with Flinders again on his epic circumnavigation of the continent between 1801 and 1803. The now famous portrait of the circumnavigator by the peripatetic artist, Augustus Earle, captures him poignantly in later life. Bungaree has aged and is wearing discarded naval regalia and the king plate engraved with the words, Bungaree, Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe, 1815. The king’s plate was bestowed upon him by Governor Macquarie.

Earle is the ultimate recorder of the visual richness afforded by travel as it could be experienced globally in the early 19th century. His imagery in watercolour is without rival in its scope and variety and in its documentation of the growth of the British empire as it extended into Asia and the Pacific. Travelling from Britain – from America and Brazil to Tristan Da Cunha and on to Van Diemen’s Land, New South Wales and New Zealand Earle revelled in the landscapes and the peoples he met. Unfettered by any agreement to paint for an artist or patron – a patron or employer, he could travel as he wished and record what he wanted without interference.

His local views, whether of a convict road gang seen here, a new road snaking into the conquered distance, a sublime waterfall in the Blue Mountains or an overnight rest for explorers in the Illawarra rainforest all capture the relentless progress and movement of colonial life. Indigenous people stand in literally to remind us of what they have given up or perhaps are still yet to concede or reveal. The message in the claustrophobic painting, A Bivouac of Travellers in Australia in a Cabbage Tree Forest, Daybreak, 1838, seems clear. There’s no way out of here without us.

Unlike Earle the inexperienced 19-year-old British artist, William Westall, was enlisted to draw to order aboard Flinders’ Investigator while it circumnavigated the continent for the first time. Westall was a probationary student at the Royal Academy when he was appointed to the six-man scientific team assembled under Flinders, exactly the third choice, they finally got somebody who would go. The group included the talented botanist, Robert Brown, and the natural history painter par excellence, Austrian Ferdinand Bauer.

Having reached King George Sound in December 1801 the crew explored and gathered 500 specimens while Westall drew the commanding views. Investigator then proceeded along the Great Australian Bight exploring the South Australian coastline and proving that there was not a channel through the centre of the continent. The rigours of the circumnavigation were considerable. Men were lost and it is surprising that the works of Westall and Bauer survived ‘though some were damaged or destroyed.

Cape Catastrophe which you can see in the middle here is named for the disaster when Investigator lost her cutter and eight men including Flinders’ close friend and associate, John Thistle – Thistle’s Island is directly below it. Eight islands were named by Flinders for the missing crewmen. Flinders left his own memorial and engraved copperplate commemorating this melancholy and disastrous event. It read – it ended, sorry, [nortiche cavite] 45:43 or sailors beware.

In early April 1802 Flinders met Baudin at what became known as Encounter Bay. Despite the fact that England and France were at war the two captains exchanged information in the spirit of scientific investigation. Flinders continued on his voyage around Australia but was to be plagued by unseaworthy ships. The crew of Investigator suffered from dysentery after visiting Timor for repairs. Flinders then sailed for England in The Cumberland, another unsuitable ship which limped, leaking into Mauritius. This was where his luck such as it was ran out. Flinders was detained as a spy by the French for the next six years which both shortened his life and thwarted his desire to circulate his peerless maps he was to create of Australia, his preferred name for the continent.

The tardy Westall only made 160 surviving images of Australia’s barren coast which he found lacking in picturesque qualities however his drawings and watercolours of the coastline and its features are arguably the first examples of Australian landscape art and they’re among the finest drawings achieved here. The coastal profiles he subtly paints are both beautiful and revealing even if he found the subjects lacking. Westall’s portraits of Aboriginal people are memorable and occasionally shocking. As seen here he’s sensitively recorded images of the Aboriginal rock art seen on Chasm Island off Arnhem Land, are the first such images in our history. In all the Library lent six Westall drawings to Colony. You can see some in the background here along with works by the [sir] 47:29 from Baudin’s expedition. There’s Flinders’ map, there’s two of Bauer’s works and there’s Freycinet’s atlas and map in the foreground. And there’s those three birds I was telling you about before.

Westall’s travelling companion, the fastidious middle-aged Bauer, the expedition’s natural history painter managed to create nearly 2,000 drawings on the voyage. Arguably some of the most beautiful natural history images ever created, Bauer’s images of Australian plants and animals are visually sumptuous and absorbing. Working with him was Robert Brown, the combination of artistic skill and botanical rigour led to an - unprecedented images of botanic or great botanical value and beauty. Sadly the published output of Bauer’s extraordinary work was quite modest.

As the 19th century progressed European eyes turned inland to begin the complex documentation of the landscape and its dramatic features. Such was the scale of the colonial enterprise being undertaken and of the land mass being explored that while Sydney was growing into a modern city on the eastern seaboard the Swan River was only just being explored. Opportunities for curious men to view and record the landscape on expeditions were available if they were game and had some connections. Meeting and imaging the looming horizons of the colonial landscape was busy work. The artists undertaking such a daunting task often had to be multitaskers. They included Frederick Garling who you can see here who was a customs officer and watercolourist. There was Dr Frederick [Rushclause] 49:20 which was a ship’s surgeon and painter and Thomas Baines, the indefatigable storeman and artist.

Following on in the tradition of their naval predecessors these artists recorded the landscape, the natural history and moments of encounter with Aboriginal people as they traversed and began to understand the country. And I should just point out that in the exhibition is that wonderful painting of the - Baines shooting the alligator or crocodile. We have the study for it in the show – in our collection here so I thought I’d include that.

Contemporary explorer artists, George French Angus and Samuel Thomas Gill, both emigrated to South Australia. The colony was lucky to have two such keen sets of eyes to record the expansion of settlement and the particularities of life there as it evolved. Indeed it is hard to imagine how much less richly Australia’s colonial past would be represented if these artists had not risen to the challenge. Angus’ connection to the colony was via his father’s South Australian company, a commercial venture George managed to avoid, preferring the itinerant life of an artist. Angus’ achievements are manifest, painter, natural historian, publisher, museum administrator and [concologist] 50:40. His various life achievements seem to swamp Gill’s.

The great watercolourist of amusing scenes from colonial life Gill added hugely to our sense of the texture of that life whilst his own slowly unravelled before him. He had an intense interest in exploration and documented Charles Sturt’s departure from Adelaide in August 1844. Along with his depictions of the minutiae of daily life and events, horse races, hunting, mining scenes, goldminers, Aboriginal people, dogs, bush workers, he will also be remembered as the creator of iconic images of Australian exploration from his time with the 1846 Horrocks expedition through South Australia.

The watercolour you see here, Country Northwest of Tableland, 1846, features Horrocks, left, and Gill, right, atop a hill in the immense sparseness and aridity of the interior. Significantly both men look not at the vast unmapped away ahead but at the art created on the spot. This seemed a fitting and rather grand image to finish this lecture today covering the exploration of our continent and how it was imaged and translated over time. Australia as a palimpsest continues to be overwritten in the present now however we are more acutely aware of what was here first and what has now been lost. Thank you very much.


N:        You should stay up here, Nat. As enlightening as always. We probably have about five, maybe 10 minutes for questions if anyone’s got anything burning to share with us all. We do have microphones so just put your hand up if you’re – have something to say or ask Nat.

W:       Surely someone’s got something to ask.

N:        As I said it was very enlightening.

W:       Too enlightening, too enlightening.

N:        There was a lot there. Well perhaps you’d like to have a chat with Nat – we do have a question.

W:       Hello.

A:        Thank you very much, I very much enjoyed that. One thing that always troubles me slightly – I mean you’ve given us a lovely picture, just a quick foray through a small window and the artworks and the pieces that we pull together to make history here you know to understand it, fortunately a lot of these are housed in national collections or state collections and that sort of thing and they’re all linked so we can understand the sequence and so forth but I worry about a lot of the private collections and the other pieces that are out there in Australia and the UK and other countries which are still missing but that will help us to make the story more complete. Do you have a view of that?

W:       That’s a very interesting question. Yes, it’s interesting that you know I talk a lot about Rex Nankivell who was an extraordinary collector. The only collector that I can think of in Australia who closely comes to that sort of magnitude of collecting and the breadth of collecting in one sense is Kerry Stokes and so he’s been amassing – so for example Thomas Baines was commissioned for the Royal Geographical Society to go on the A C Gregory expedition in 1855, 1856 and that image you saw of the watercolour was from that. We’ve got a few watercolours and some lantern slides and two paintings but the rest of that collection pretty much ended up in the Royal Geographical Society archive in London and because of the GFC they realised sort of that they had a looming pension problem so they had to fund all their retiring workers and people that were going to be leaving and they were worried about how to do this so they decided to create – bit like John Howard – noncore collections. And the noncore collection that they decided to sell off was the Baines Collection.

And it caused a huge stir in England because the English are not big on deaccessioning, really, I think Nicky would agree with me on that. Americans do it quite happily, the British less so. But the fact that it’s now ended up in a private collection in Australia is great in a sense that it’s handy and they could lend it for you know edit bits of it for that exhibition in Melbourne. And we can only hope that in the fullness of time when those great collectors, some of whom we have very close relationships with, Kerry Stokes and some other private collectors that are our supporters and patrons and support even the cultural you know the Treasures program, in the fullness of time one would hope those collections will filter into the national or state collections. And as you made the point rather nicely, that Trove for example now links all those collections and so you can get so much more data when you’re looking for it to solve the problem about continuity and what came first and what came second. So we work – Nicky works, I don’t work terribly hard at doing this but it’s something we do have on our horizon to try to make those works come into our collection.

It’s extraordinary, I was standing in – I did a book launch on Thursday night in the shop and a woman came up to me and introduced herself and she’d been told to come and say hello to me from a woman who I know who’s a conservator and she just suddenly produced out of her bag all this extraordinary material and she was a descendent of the Bonapartes. She was American but she was a descendent – she lives in Canberra and she pulled out this thing which was about this big and it was a piece of Napoleon’s coffin, a piece of the shroud that wrapped him and a piece of the uniform that he was wearing all neatly stitched onto this little thing about this big. I thought my god, how extraordinary that – anyway so I said well look, here’s my card, please don’t go away.

N:        <inaudible> 57:16.

W:       Well that’s right, well I told her we have a huge tablecloth with Napoleon’s bees on it so she was pleased to hear that so hopefully she’ll think kindly of us when she wants to move that collection on. And I think it’s interesting that as generations change - collections once were probably held onto more than they are now, I think generationally people want more minimalist environments, they don’t even want a lot of books in their lives. I find that surprising but anyway. So it may be that more of that material comes through the auction market.

N:        Yeah, I think the auction market but also I think these people when they start realising what they actually have, they do get in contact with us more often than not and the collecting institutions, they’re all very aware of what our collections are and where we might bring in more material and so we do let one another know. We don’t compete so much as I suppose - we don’t collude but we certainly help one another to find the right home for items.

A:        <inaudible> 58:19.

W:       I think we could go a long way in Australia to celebrating our collectors more you know at every level. And interestingly you know I had somebody – I’m writing – I’m trying to write a book on Rex Nankivell and I had somebody tell me oh nobody’s interested in collectors which I found a surprising thing because the most – arguably one of the most successful programs on Australian television for a while was the Collectors show, people loved it. And it had every sort of collection in it you know and there are people out there collecting all sorts of things, some of which are of national significance, some are not. So I think you know collecting’s not going to go away, it’s going to become more transparent in the digital era and we would think – think kindly of us. There’s always the cultural gifts program, CGP –

N:        The show, Antiques Roadshow as well.

W:       Yeah, exactly.

N:        Funnily enough even though you often watch something that’s been six years you know since the initial airing of it, it’s thrown up a lot of material and I think it also enlightens a lot of people within families to actually go out and get something looked at before they take it to the tip you know if they don’t like it.

A:        Just –

W:       Hello.

A:        - a final one. Yeah, thank you so much for bringing that together, it was wonderful.

W:       Thank you.

A:        You’d be familiar with a book by Mike McKenna, On the Edge and the story of the survivors, I think possibly The Sydney that – they crash-landed and ended up trying to survive on Preservation Island and several of them went ashore, they also crashed in the boat and then they walked all their way up to Sydney. The acknowledgment of those very few survivors from what, 17 started and what, six or three ended – I can’t remember without referring to it. They were the ones that actually told the story of being able – of what it was like along that coastline and the wonderful connection with our indigenous people and what that was like. So the likes of Bass – of Flinders and Bass actually knowing that story made their journey and I'm just wondering – and your story here, is there a need for acknowledgment of those survivors of that time because that then got things moving further, didn’t it?

W:       That’s a very good point and not two weeks ago in this very lecture theatre we had an interesting lecture by a fellow who came in here specially funded through the benefactors who’d worked in the collection for about three months and she gave a lecture on survivors, people who had survived with the agency of indigenous people. And there are lots of those stories and she outlined what, six maybe? On that night in an hour long lecture and I think those stories are becoming more apparent, we’ve published a book on it ourselves recently and I think they are getting more currency and it’s you know it’s quite clear - you know there’s all sorts of interesting stories about people that were lost on the West Australian you know put ashore on the West Australian coast for being you know fractious and difficult and then interbreeding with local people and people have done genetic research to find out whether they can trace that genealogy or whatever you call it, genetics anyway in people so I think it’s a work in progress but thanks to Mark McKenna and other good writers for doing that work. There’s a lady there.

A:        Thank you for that. There are also many stories of survivors who helped with the indigenous people by the explorer, Colonel – Lieutenant Colonel William Light who was the first Surveyor General of South Australia. In fact he had to explore 1,500 miles of coastline or select the best site for the capital of South Australia for 1,500 miles of coastline and he was instructed to be able to communicate with the natives and either taking someone from England or finding an interpreter there and with paying their - for native animals on the basis that they were their property so if the survey camp was going to need kangaroos or something they engaged the natives to hunt with them and they – like were specifically instructed to consider them the property of the Aboriginal people.

Now my – so that story is – there’s a million stories of like surveyors being saved from being bush-whacked or being rescued from jail by the people of Rapid Bay and we have a very, very outrageous situation in South Australia where a non-traditional custodian group, a neopolitical group has formed and obtained recognition, annihilating the history – there’s a cultural genocide happening in South Australia despite the highly authoritative and firsthand eyewitness reports of the surveyors and others. Not only that but Light’s discovery, exploration of the Port River and the first accurate mapping and charting of that river has been annihilated from history. He was the person to accurately locate and chart the entrance to the Port Adelaide River which on his death, Arrowsmith erased from the chart so I wonder if you’d like to comment on removing William Light from Arrowsmith’s charts and denying him the credit for being the first to accurately position the Port Adelaide Harbour.

W:       Yes, I often say it’s not a perfect world. The fact – what’s fascinating about maps is that you know everyone assumes as they do now with Google maps that it’s an accurate and you know realistic assessment of what was there at the time but in fact we have to understand that they’re incredibly nuanced artefacts, that they are subject to all kinds of political, social, cultural, economic imperatives which shift the focus and that goes for Google maps as well as it does for Arrowsmith and Colonel Light and people that were mapping. So I think it’s a very good point, I mean history is continually I suppose rewriting itself and people ebb and flow and ebb and flow and I mean this was a very general lecture because it was based on what had to be a very condensed sort of image over a period of time of 400 years. But I mean I think – I hope shows like Colony and this fabulous book which will remain long after the show closes will actually encourage people to continue their interest in our colonial culture and life.

There are some things in the show which I didn’t deal with because they’re not from our collection but there’s a map for example of indigenous killings, massacres you know it’s actually drawn very beautifully you know here, here, here and it’s just tucked into a corner in the exhibition and it’s chilling. When you see it you think my god you know there’s an actual - person has gone after the fact and said that happened there, that happened there and you sort of think you know they’re – so it’s a warts and all view of our life in Australia and that’s what I think’s very good about it, is that they took the effort to seriously do a balanced assessment of our cultural achievements by having indigenous, contemporary indigenous and not so contemporary indigenous material balancing up the colonial stories which can be read as being triumphalist. I mean I ended on that point because you know like I think that’s such an extraordinary image, the fact that the bloke gets shot by his own camel you know it’s like just this great story.

And it’s about the centrality of art and the moment, recording the moment, not the big narrative you know like the triumphant we conquered, we won, we claimed, we took it. It’s the intimacy of two blokes looking at some drawings going that’s pretty good, you know? Like – and I think that’s why I chose it to – they chose it for the exhibition for that reason and I chose to end the lecture on it. But thank you all for coming today. I would urge you once again to see if you can go and see the show and if you can’t it is a – you’re welcome to come and have a look at the book down the front, it is an amazing book. There’s a very good essay in there by David Hansen on depictions of indigenous people which is very worth reading, raising some of those issues. So thank you.


End of recording