The (Dis)appearances of Ludwig Leichhardt in Young Adult Fiction

Paul Genoni Curtin University of Technology

Readers of Australian literature asked to identify a fictional representation of an explorer would likely respond by referring to Patrick White's monumentally influential novel Voss (White 1957). Many respondents to this question would also be aware that the wilful and ambitious character of Johann Ulrich Voss is based upon that of the German-born explorer Ludwig Leichhardt. In nationality, temperament, circumstances and their eventual fate there are obvious parallels between the nineteenth century explorer and his fictional counterpart (Burrows 1966). White himself described his novel as being 'conceived during the early days of the Blitz, when I sat reading Eyre's Journal in a London bed-sitting room (and) the idea finally matured after reading contemporary accounts of Leichhardt's expeditions...on returning to Australia' (White 1989). White's use of the Leichhardt legend, and its related myth of the 'lost explorer', did, however, have some precedent in Australian fiction. The late nineteenth century saw a surge in the output of romantic fiction involving the exploration of the new world, partly as a result of the success of Henry Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1885). Many of these adventure romances followed a very formulaic plot. The key elements of the imperial romance novel were a group of white explorers, a journey across daunting terrain in a foreign land, hostile (and usually cannibal) black tribes often showing evidence of a formerly great civilisation in decline, and an ultimate treasure in the form of gold or precious stones.

The Lemurian Novels
Australia proved to be fertile ground for narratives of this type. The continent contained all of the major requirements, in that it had a vast and still largely unknown interior, native tribes with a recent history of clashes with white explorers, and gold deposits located in remote and harsh reaches of the country. In their Australian context these imperial romance narratives have been referred to as 'Lemurian novels', a reference to the prehistoric continent of Lemuria which purportedly reached from Madagascar to Malaysia and incorporated Australia, and was supposedly the home to lost civilisations (Healy 1978). The earliest of the Lemurian novels is usually identified as John Boyle O'Reilly's Moondyne: A Story of Western Australia (1879), and they continued to be published throughout the late Victorian and Edwardian years. Although the most successful of these novels reached a wide readership, there is no doubt that with their potent mixture of exotic locations, swashbuckling heroes, glamorous adventures and hidden treasures they were primarily intended for a young adult and male audience. They are in the mould of the 'ripping yarns' style of story, and are quite direct antecedents of popular latter-day adventure-romance films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Romancing the Stone. The most obvious way in which the Lemurian novels drew upon the myths of Australian exploration is that the heroes themselves are frequently explorers. These are not, however, explorers of the type who
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Even the discovery of minerals is a qualified blessing in the Lemurian novel. Typically. The everpresent failed civilisations in the Lemurian novels are one measure of the disappointment felt by the supporters of imperial expansion when they realised that their hopes for the Australian interior would not be fulfilled. Robert Dixon has argued that the treatment of these lost tribes captured a 'uniquely colonial identity crisis' which highlighted the 'ambivalent racial and cultural identity' of a colonial Australia 'caught between a lost origin and an undefined future' (Dixon 1995). The representation of the lost tribes is symptomatic of a continued doubt as to the value of establishing outposts of empire in such a hostile and unsupportive environment. almost as a means of promoting the opportunities which prevailed in the New World. The explorers in W. the Lemurian heroes are more likely to be driven by the search for individual reward in the form of mineral wealth rather than the desire to promote the interests of the empire.The (Dis)appearances of Ludwig Leichhardt in Young Adult Fiction were most common in Australia – that is. Carlton Dawe's The Golden Lake (1891). But whereas earlier tracts had often presented an idealised version of the continental interior. at the commencement of The Lost Explorers the young adventurer Robert Wentworth exhorts his colleague Jack Armstrong to leave England and join him on a journey to Australia: 'The fact is.. For buried within their wildly unlikely adventures these novels contain a quite elaborate – if largely unconscious – commentary on the relationship between settler societies and the frequently alien lands they struggled to occupy.. In meeting the demands of the youthful audience. with never a hope beyond the morrow. Lemurian explorers were often portrayed as adventurers. the fact of exploration and the revelations about the inhospitable nature of the land had soured the expectations that were held for the Australian inland. however. and therefore questions the value of exploration of these lands for any more than the material benefits which can be extracted from their mineral wealth.' (Macdonald 1907: 12) Despite their popular origins. and too old. participants in well planned and generously equipped expeditions funded by government and hopeful entrepreneurs. the explorers often have no way of quarrying their discoveries or carrying them back to civilisation. set on escaping tired and careworn circumstances in search of the space and opportunity offered in the colonies. For these tales of high adventure and grand landscapes and fabulous riches were intended for the young men of Britain.' he added. and we must exist on our paltry pittances. Everything is standardized so accurately that we are little more than machines. Ernest Favenc's The Secret of the Australian Desert (1895). Although gold and gemstones are found in abundance. Henri Louis Grin's The .'this country is too crowded for us. seeing nothing but grime and smoke and rain and fogs. 34 Orana March 1999 Settler Societies and Hostile Environments In particular the Lemurian novels can be seen to continue the speculations about the interior of the great southern continent which had been a persistent theme in European literature for several centuries. until we become old and brain-sodden. such novels are now more likely to attract the attention of students of colonial and postcolonial societies.

30 horses and mules and 50 bullocks that comprised the expedition. northern coast. (Macdonald 1907: 380) The hostile and declining Aboriginal tribes and the unobtainable mineral riches were but two means by which the matter of the desirability of settling the continent was raised. As the explorer Bentley intones at the conclusion of The Lost Explorers: Yes my lads. who led the only major exploring party which disappeared without trace.Paul Genoni Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (1899) and Alexander Macdonald's The Lost Explorers (1907) are all forced to leave behind the vast supplies of gold they have discovered. however. there is no conclusive evidence as to where or how the explorers lost their lives. the pathfinder and brave leader of men who has disappeared into the wasteland he has set out to conquer and reveal. The expression of the lost explorer theme in the Lemurian novels can be seen as a further symptom of European disillusionment with the possibility of expanding the empire into the interior of the continent. and sporadic attempts have continued to the present day to find some remnants of the seven men. Despite some verifiable traces of the expedition or its passage having been located. In such circumstances the explorers must stoically accept their 'loss'. and Edmund Kennedy was killed in a battle with Aboriginals on the Cape York Peninsula. The centre of the continent. now refuses to yield those riches it does possess... although the adventure may be seen to have other benefits which emphasise the 'boy's own' values of these will find true happiness. Their sometimes spectacular failures. Leichhardt. It was the Germanborn explorer Ludwig Leichhardt. but it will come to you in the realization of an unerring truth: greater by far than gold or gems is the love of our fellow-men. was attempting an east-west crossing of the continent in 1848 when he disappeared somewhere in the heart of the continent. To the young reader the explorer was an instantly recognisable hero figure. were a reminder of the alien nature of these Orana March 1999 The Lost Explorer The history of the exploration of the Australian interior was dotted with tragedies which gripped the imagination of the fledgling nation and gave rise to some of the continent's most enduring myths. and their exploits were widely reported and followed in the Victorian press. Another was the matter of the 'lost explorer'. for our satisfaction is ever in the striving after rather than in the attainment of our desires. A number of search parties tried to solve the mystery of the disappearance in the second half of the nineteenth century. that is. who had previously led a hugely successful overland journey from southern Queensland to Port Essington in what is now the Northern Territory. Burke and Wills perished as a result of their ill advised haste in trying to reach the 35 . and who is remembered to this day as the archetype of the lost explorer. having been discovered to be incapable of supporting the agricultural and mercantile ambitions on which the expanding empire depended. on the other hand. On the one hand the explorers' successes offered the hope of discovery of a better world. where greater personal freedom and the opportunity for easy wealth beckoned. not in riches nor in the fulfilment of worldly ambition.

[even] if it's only the remains of Leichhardt' (Favenc 1895: 14). disease – and how the party gradually fragmented. The diary leads them in the end to Stuart's own grave. however.F. which complete the story of the demise of the expedition. Leichhardt himself is injured. wherein they locate the closing pages from his diary. A substantial portion of the second half of the novel is taken up with the contents of Stuart's journal. before he too dies. and when the Lemurian novelists wished to draw upon that figure. falls into delirium and is no longer able to lead the expedition. but they do encounter Murphy. harrowing deserts bereft of water and the graves of brave white explorers. and one by one they died. Hogan has been unable to resist a passing reference to the Leichhardt legend. They read how they were subjected to the various terrors that might befall explorers of the Australian wilderness – Aboriginal attack. It was published with de Rougemont named as the author. Before he too expires.. The small party presses on and discovers the rich seam of gold which is protected by the 'burning mountain'. Favenc himself was a minor Australian explorer who had also written a history of Australian exploration (Favenc 1888). Murphy manages to give the explorers the diary kept by another of Leichhardt's party. From this journal the latter-day explorers learn of the fate of Leichhardt and his expedition.. . One such novel is Ernest Favenc's The Secret of the Australian Desert. The Secret of the Australian Desert follows the fortunes of a small party of explorers who go in search of a rumoured 'burning mountain'. a lone survivor of the Leichhardt expedition. he is guided by trees marked by the letter 'L'. lack of water. and as his son leads the search for him (and encounters on the way the requisite lost civilisation). They return to civilisation having encountered all the warnings against return which inland Australia was capable of providing: tribes of cannibal blacks. for example Richard Bentley in The Lost Explorers and Leonard Louvain in J. who is now an elderly man living with the ubiquitous lost tribe. Hogan's The Lost Explorer (1890). and purports to be the true account of his 30 years stranded in Australia during the closing decades of the nineteenth century. Henry Grin's The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont is a somewhat bizarre adjunct to the Lemurian genre. As they plan the journey. They do not find the missing explorer or his remains.The (Dis)appearances of Ludwig Leichhardt in Young Adult Fiction still largely unknown lands where Europeans continued to face an uncertain future. Louvain shares the dead explorer's initials. one of them announces: 'We surely ought to find 36 Orana March 1999 something. At other times the Lemurian authors chose to give a suggestion of fact to their fictional stories by adding a gloss of fiction to the tales of explorers who were genuinely lost in the Australian inland. the explorers who form the object of the search are entirely fictitious. Even in this latter instance. The figure of the 'lost explorer' encapsulated the hesitant appropriation of colonial space. Leichhardt: Faction and Fact In some instances. Trees bearing the 'L' mark have been reported from a number of places in central Australia and are cited as evidence of the passage of Leichhardt's lost expedition. it was Leichhardt who most frequently came to mind. bizarre and deadly geological formations. This is a device often referred to by Lemurian novelists. Stuart.

(de Rougemont 1899: 304) Alf Gibson had been a member of the 1874 Giles expedition.Paul Genoni during which time he roams over vast reaches of the continent. Grin interposes into the text of de Rougemont's journey extracts from explorer Ernest Giles's (1889) journal. During the course of his own wanderings he is almost saved at one point when he comes across four mounted white men heading to the west. Australia Twice Traversed. The inclusion of extracts from Giles's journal also helps Grin in the construction of his own text as being yet another explorer's 'journal'. but he becomes lucid only in the final days. De Rougemont. supposedly has no knowledge of Giles and his explorations at the time he encounters Gibson. As he did with Leichhardt. He and Giles were making a forward exploration through difficult terrain when they were separated. Therefore. Grin also draws upon the story of Leichhardt as his exemplar of the lost explorer. He briefly recounts the version of the story given by Gibson as to how he came to be lost in the desert. as he has been told by Aboriginals that the white man who built the cairn died shortly thereafter but not before fathering a child (de Rougemont 1899: 301). He asked me to carry him outside into the sun. and I did so. in which Giles ponders on the fate of Leichhardt (de Rougemont 1899: 301-302). He finds a tree inscribed by the explorer (de Rougemont 1899: 160). however. by Orana March 1999 37 . and that he had been a member of the Giles expedition of 1874. to reconstruct the circumstances of Leichhardt's disappearance for the reader. Although he does not know it at the time. of course. he eventually discovers this to be one of the Giles exploring parties of the early 1870s. Grin later compounded his hoax by lecturing to audiences in the United Kingdom in the guise of de Rougemont and expanding on his time as an 'explorer'. The theme is used to add a semblance of truth to the tale of his hero de Rougemont. At the time he is supposedly stranded in Australia. he also adds to de Rougemont's stature by claiming that he has survived in conditions where the famed explorer perished. This lost explorer lives with de Rougemont for two years before his death. afterwards squatting down beside him and opening up another conversation. and he is even offered as a wife a half-caste girl whom he believes to be Leichhardt's child. Among the many fantastic adventures experienced by de Rougemont he comes across a number of traces which indicate the passage of Leichhardt. and then retrospectively supports this with another quotation from Giles's own account as published in his journal. later he discovers a cairn marked with Leichhardt's initials (de Rougemont 1899: 299). de Rougemont has no knowledge of Leichhardt or his lost expedition. He then told me his name was Gibson. From that moment I never left him night or day. Gibson disappeared without trace in the desert which now bears his name. De Rougemont's links with Giles are strengthened when some time later he comes across a crazed white man wandering the desert. This has the effect of enhancing de Rougemont's credentials as an explorer in that it renders him and Giles as co-mourners for a lost companion. It becomes apparent that on his eventual return to civilisation de Rougemont would have had good cause to read Giles's journal.

'Good God. encounter on their travels a tree marked 'L. Grin is again using the Leichhardt legend to add some verisimilitude to his own otherwise fantastic tale.. De Rougemont's final link with Leichhardt is suggested when he recounts that. plus appropriating one of the methodologies of exploration to construct his own hero as an explorer. and he cried out with a strange laugh: 'If I were a superstitious fellow. the mystery remains for only about 20 pages..The (Dis)appearances of Ludwig Leichhardt in Young Adult Fiction borrowing from the story of Gibson and Giles.. in or underneath which I generally carved the letter 'L'. my usual mark being an oval. but nevertheless such was my firm conviction. Carlton Dawe's The Golden Lake. The fate of the 'lost explorer' was destined to be shrouded in mystery.1849'.. plus the ubiquitous rumoured hoard of gold. ponders on the discovery. Grin has appropriated elements of the true account of the exploration of the continent and depended upon the authority of a previously published explorer's journal to support the 'truth' of his own account of events. The story of the trees marked by Leichhardt also appears in W. This novel provides a twist on the lost explorer theme in that the individual at the centre of the quest is a young woman who has been left in the desert to live with an Aboriginal tribe for some 15 years after travelling there with her father. In the course of my numerous journeys abroad I blazed or marked a great number of trees.' I did not like to tell him that I thought he had. they uncover a most unexpected find. The party that set out to locate her. . The great carven letters stood out like hideous gashes on the white. should be one of the first to find any tangible trace of him. Archie. 'Leichhardt's party?' I queried.. it's a white man's!'.. These discoveries force them to confront the precarious nature of their own safety in these alien landscapes. and white is more. The leader of the expedition. perhaps this is Leichhardt's skull.. it's a human skull!' he cried. 'Yes.' Once again the latter-day explorers have been led to some knowledge of Leichhardt's fate. The narrator. It seemed strange that I. ponders the grim discovery. Hardwicke. an escaped convict. (de Rougemont 1899: 323) In claiming that these markers may in fact record de Rougemont's travel in the same area. Hardwicke saw them too. he wonders if the tree that now also bears his own initials alongside those of the dead explorer is not a portent of doom. 'Yes. (Dawe 1891: 86) However. gleaming trunk of the tree. Forrest – but all to no avail. The party returns to the tree to bury one of their number who has been killed by Aboriginals.. Expeditions had been sent out 38 Orana March 1999 with the fate of Leichhardt as their special object – notably the one under that intrepid explorer. and in this case even to what seem to be his remains. As they dig. I should believe I have carved my own tombstone. Although the young men of the empire were . (Dawe 1891: 104) With such foreboding signs the question of introducing 'civilisation' into the inland void of the continent remained on hold. who had heard so much of the lost explorer Leichhardt during my stay in Melbourne.

in which Midnite read: 'Today I have this desert the Cosmic Symbolical Desert named.. But at least you won't mind.' (Stow 1967: 107-108) The lost explorer explains to Midnite that the desert is the place 'where come poets and explorers to die'. but in Australia he called himself Mr Smith.. one which continues to draw upon the mythical power of the lost explorer. The continental fringe was already home to modern and rapidly growing cities.. It is a very knowing reference. 'I too am exploring. and I have named it after her. 'I am exploring me. the Midnite of the title. if I ride along with you?' 'I can you not prevent. when he encounters a fellow explorer apparently lost in the desert. but introduces new elements derived from an understanding of the mystical nature of the Australian desert and the symbolic power which attaches to those who choose to pit themselves against it. then Stow's allusion gives evidence of his evolving role as the explorer of metaphysical space. Lost Explorer Myths Reshaped The myth of the lost explorer was far from exhausted by the Lemurian novels. The myth of Leichhardt seems certain to persevere in the Australian imagination. Orana March 1999 39 . If the late Victorians and Edwardians saw Leichhardt as the archetype of the man lost in the discovery of physical places.' 'I think you are mistaken.' said Mr Smith. Stow also provides a passing nod to White's use of the Leichhardt legend by uniting the figures of Leichhardt and Voss. forgotten tribes and fabulous riches which lay beyond reach.' said Mr Smith. Leichhardt surfaced more recently in young adult fiction in Randolph Stow's Midnite: The Story of a Wild Colonial Boy (Stow 1967). and like all good myths it will be remade by and for each new generation.' 'How can you explore you?' asked Midnite. and his two bad tempered camels were called Sturm and Drang. As interest in Australia has matured from a fascination with the physical appearance of the land to a quest for understanding about what it means to occupy this place rather than any other..' said Midnite. when 'they themselves exploring have finished'. 'The desert belongs to everyone. 'I am sorry if I seem stupid. The youthful imagination of the reading audience is both excited by the prospects of the rising empire as it encounters new lands and warned of the manifold dangers which might yet prevent the fulfilment of the promise. 'I will not explain. and handed Midnite his own Diary. 'You would have to be me to understand..' 'Well. blushing.. but the inland remained the province of 'lost' explorers. This explorer was a rather miserable German man called Johann Ludwig Ulrich von Leichardt [sic] zu Voss. 'The desert belongs to Queen Victoria. the 'lost explorer' has been remade into the seeker of the desert spaces within himself.' The explorer laughed a hollow laugh. opportunity and adventure. at which point he fell down 'dead and smiling' (Stow 1967: 109). will you. Stow's hero.' said Midnite. they were at the same time warned of the dangers of a land that was still only partly mapped.Paul Genoni lured to Australia by the promise of freedom. has gone exploring through 'the most ferocious country anyone has ever seen' (Stow 1967: 106).' said Mr Smith.

L. Curtin University of Technology. London: George Newness. Dixon. He has recently completed a PhD on the influence of explorers' journals on Australian literary culture. Rougemont. E-mail: paul@biblio. J. Healy. E. (1879) Moondyne: A Story of Western Australia. (1995) Writing the Colonial Adventure: Race.B. J. New York: Kenedy and Sons. AUMLA 26: 234-240. (1967) Midnite: The Story of a Wild Colonial Boy. (1989) 'Prodigal Son'. Sydney: Primavera. Petherick. London: Blackie and Son.F. Macdonald. (1885) King Solomon's Mines. P. (1888) The History of Australian Exploration from 1788 to 1888. (1966) '"Voss" and the Explorers'. Stow. J. (1957) Voss. London: Macdonald. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1875-1914. Favenc. 3: 307-316. Address: Department of Information Studies. White. GPO Box U1987.A. Haggard. J.J. 40 Orana March 1999 .edu. P. (1891) The Golden Lake: or the Marvellous History of a Journey through the Great Lone Land of Australia. Paul Genoni is a lecturer in the Department of Information Studies at Curtin University of Technology.R. Gender and Nation in AngloAustralian Popular Fiction. London: Cassell. Perth 6845. W. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode. London: E. Australian Literary Studies 8. London: Sampson Low. White. Hogan. London: Ward and Downey. de (Henri Louis Grin) (1899) The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont.curtin. E. Sydney: Turner and Henderson. 2 vols. (1978) 'The Lemurian Nineties'. Giles. In Patrick White Speaks. (1890) The Lost Explorer. H. O'Reilly. (1895) The Secret of the Australian Desert. R.F. Favenc. (1907) The Lost Explorers. Being a Narrative Compiled from the Journals of Five Exploring Expeditions into and through South Australia and Western Australia from 1872 to 1876. E.The (Dis)appearances of Ludwig Leichhardt in Young Adult Fiction Bibliography Burrows. A. (1889) Australia Twice Traversed: The Romance of Exploration.C. London: Blackie and Son. R.

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