Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Michael O'Rourke reviews John Whitehead's Tracking and Mapping the Explorers Volume 5 Cunningham’s Expedition across the Liverpool Plains 1825

I hadn't heard of John Whitehead until I read Michael O'Rourke's review of  John Whitehead's Tracking and Mapping the Explorers Volume 5 Cunningham’s Expedition across the Liverpool Plains 1825. It is one of a series of books by Whitehead tracing the journeys of botanist and explorer Allan Cunningham.

Michael summarises the book in this way
This well set out book by John Whitehead, formerly the Shire Engineer at Coonabarabran NSW, maps and relates in exquisite detail one of the lesser-known expeditions of the English-born botanist and explorer Allan Cunningham (1791–1839). In 1825 his small party trekked from today’s outer north-west Sydney north to the Hunter Valley. They then followed the route of an earlier (1823) botanical tour to Pandoras Pass in the north-west. Then they entered the south-west sector of the vast Liverpool Plains, the second party of colonists ever to do so.
For those who do not know Michael, he describes himself as an independent scholar. I know his work and he displays a punctilious eye for detail. That is partly why Mr Whitehead's book appeals to him - like appeals to like! I do not disagree.

The real advantage of work such as this is that it allows detailed tracing of the journeys of the early explorers. When I first studied Australian history I found this stuff fairly boring. I suppose I saw the explorers more in terms of what would come, not realising what an important resource they were in describing the land before it was changed by European occupation. Now as a regional historian, they have become a major resource.


Johnb said...

Thank you for a series of introductions in this short piece Jim. Allan Cunningham has to be a true giant of his times in so many respects above and beyond his achievements as a Botanical Scientist. The benchmarking provided for all those to follow remains invaluable.

Jim Belshaw said...

hi John. It's interesting how perceptions shift. When I first looked at the explorers I skipped over them to get to the more interesting stuff in the future. Now i'm more interested in what they tell us about the past and the then!