National Museum of Australia

Home > Audio on demand > Leichhardt symposium > Leichhardt in Australian literature > transcript

Leichhardt in Australian literature

Paper presented by Dr Susan Martin, La Trobe University
Leichhardt symposium, National Museum of Australia, 15 June 2007

MATTHEW HIGGINS: I have read only one Patrick White novel, The Tree of Man, which I greatly enjoyed. Ever since we started working on Leichhardt, I have been thinking that I must read Voss. I am very pleased to introduce Dr Susan Martin who will talk about Voss and other representations and references to Leichhardt in Australian literature.

SUSAN MARTIN: I promise that I am not only going to talk about Voss, for those of you not fond of the novel - joining quite a large group, I should say - but I am going to start with a quotation from Voss:

With the elegant but strong paper knife, [Mr Bonner] began to tap a strip of canvas he had unfolded on the centred leather of his desk.

Here, indeed, was a map of a kind, presumptuous, where it was not a blank.
‘The map?’ said Voss.
It was certainly a vast dream from which he had wakened. Even the draper suspected its immensity as he prodded at the coast with his ivory pointer.
‘The map?’ repeated the German. ‘I will first make it.’

This is a moment with the title character from the best-known literary representation of Ludwig Leichhardt, from Patrick White’s 1957 novel Voss. Leichhardt fascinated Australian writers from a very early period. Although his most famous representation in Australian literature is Voss, Leichhardt’s first or brief disappearance inspired elegiac poems from 1845 onwards. Leichhardt is one of the two most important white male heroes who figure in Australian fiction. The other one is arguably Ned Kelly. I am just going to compare them for a moment.

Leichhardt particularly populates the fiction and imagination of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century, while Kelly seems to appear more in the latter half of the twentieth and into the twenty-first century. Much of the fiction and poetry about Leichhardt represents him as a national heroic figure, contrary perhaps to his representation in Voss although not entirely. A lost and controversial explorer might not initially seem particularly promising as a choice for such celebration. However, like Ned Kelly, he has frequently been identified strongly as ‘other’ to a mainstream English, middle class, Anglican society and culture. Leichhardt, as you know, was a German national with an accent, regarded as an arrogant foreigner by some of his contemporaries and represented as a psychotic megalomaniac in some histories - most notoriously Chisholm’s. His class status was somewhat insecure, and his sexuality is ambiguous.

Where the two characters do diverge in their fictionalisation and other memorialisation is in the ways that the culture has invested in their bodies. Leichhardt is a figure increasingly disembodied in the fiction in which he appears, a figure written into Lemurian novels as a trace, a cipher, an always just missed sight. Ned Kelly, by contrast, is very much an embodied figure, memorialised and represented through and in material objects like the armour. While today we are celebrating a Leichhardt material object, the fiction doesn’t tend to do that.

Leichhardt’s first major appearance in literature was in the premature elegy and song published by his friend Robert Lynd in 1845. The poem was entitled Leichhardt’s Grave: An Elegiac Ode, with the subtitle:

On the scarcely doubtful fate of the amiable and talented naturalist - LEICHHARDT - whose life there is too much reason to fear has been sacrificed to the cause of Science, while endeavouring to effect an overland route to PORT ESSINGTON.

In it he mournfully exhorted ‘the party proceeding on the track of Dr Leichhardt’:

If whitening on the waste ye meet
The relics of my murder’d friend,
His bones with rev’rence ye shall bear
To where some mountain streamlet flows;
There by its mossy bank prepare
The pillow of his long repose
It shall be by a stream whose tides
Are drank by birds of ev’ry wing;
where every lovelier flower abides
the earliest waking touch of spring -
O Meet that he (who so carest
All beauteous nature’s earnest charms)
That he her martyr’d son should rest
Within his mother’s fondest arms.

Lynd published his elegy in the Sydney Morning Herald and as a song sheet before Leichhardt’s return in March 1846 allowed the explorer to prove, in Mark Twain’s words, that the ‘report of [his] death was an exaggeration’. However, Lynd’s verses turned out to be premature, rather than wrong, and they were published again in The Australian Town and Country Journal in 1879. It is interesting that the poem assumes that Leichhardt’s fate is murder rather than dehydration, disease or accident - perhaps setting a nobler end in the poem. The poem ends by likening Leichhardt to the power of science come to illuminate the darkness of an uncivilised land:

How will her pilgrims hail the power,
Beneath the drooping Myall’s gloom,
When science, like the smile of God
Comes bright’ning o’er that weary land.
How will her pilgrims hail the power,
To sit at eve and mourn an hour
And pluck a leaf on Leichhardt’s tomb.

In the following decades, more poetry on Leichhardt was published on his disappearance and possible fate. William Henry Embling’s 1865 poem Leichhardt and Franklin compares the fates of the two lost explorers. Henry Kendall’s 1880 poem, Leichhardt, like Lynd’s much earlier poem, represents the explorer - obviously quite rightly from today’s papers - as a figure of science:

Yet shall float the song of lustre, sweet with tears and fair with flame,
Shining with a theme of beauty, holy with our Leichhardt’s name!
Name of him who faced for science thirsty tracts of bitter glow,
Lurid lands that no one knows of – two-and-thirty years ago.

As with some other poetic effusions from the period about Leichhardt, Kendall’s poem cannot be classed as his best work, however heartfelt. At one point he describes Leichhardt’s youth:

Born by hills of hard grey weather, far beyond the northern seas,
German mountains were his sponsors, and his mates were German trees …

Banjo Paterson a decade or so later has a poem on Leichhardt as well, The Lost Leichhardt, which was inspired by news of yet another expedition in search of Leichhardt. This poem was published in the Bulletin in 1899. It begins:

Another search for Leichhardt’s tomb,
Though fifty years have fled
Since Leichhardt vanished in the gloom,
Our one Illustrious Dead!

Paterson suggests that things have changed since Leichhardt’s disappearance:

Along where Leichhardt journeyed slow
And toiled and starved in vain;
These rash excursionists must go
Per Queensland railway train.

The watchers in those forests vast
Will see, at fall of night,
Commercial travellers bounding past
And darting out of sight …

This somewhat snide poem against yet another expedition tended to be the exception rather than the rule. Increasing poetic speculation occurred on Leichhardt’s fate across the 1870s and 1880s. This was followed by a series of Lemurian novels which speculated more graphically and imaginatively on his possible end. The term ‘Lemurian’ is taken from George Firth Scott’s novel The Last Lemurian of 1898. It refers to a spate of imperial gothic adventure novels published from the 1880s onward and imitating successful fiction such as Rider Haggard’s immensely popular King Solomon’s Mines of 1885.

Traces of Leichhardt are found in JF Hogan’s The Lost Explorer from 1890, W Carlton Dawe’s novel The Golden Lake from 1894 and Ernest Favenc’s, The Secret of the Australian Desert from 1895. In Rosa Praed’s Queensland novels from the same period the Australian state of Queensland is renamed ‘Leichhardtsland’ so that Leichhardt is everywhere but arguably also nowhere. These early representations lead on to the figure of Voss in Patrick White’s novel of that name. The explorer is re-embodied only to be dismembered, sought in vain, and finally repeatedly described as everywhere but nowhere - as dust, as part of Australia but indiscernible. He is ‘everywhere, and in the rocks and in the empty waterholes’, as the character Frank le Mesurier in Voss says, prefiguring Voss’s apotheosis.

In Carlton Dawe’s 1894 novel, The Golden Lake, the heroes, in search of a golden lake and a great white city, discover a tree engraved with ‘L 1849’. They immediately decide that this is the mark of Leichhardt:

… the lost explorer, Leichhardt, must have been on this very spot in the year 1849 ... I wonder if he got farther than this. He was last heard of in ’48, and he then hoped to accomplish his darling project, as he called it, which was to cross from east to west Australia. After once plunging into the interior he was never heard of again. Poor devil!

Richard Hardwicke, the character, then craves his own initial ‘H’ on the tree, an early act of vandalism, and the year ‘1878’. The characters themselves are somewhat lost and the narrator Archie feels:

… the history of Leichhardt and his untoward fate added not a little to the general gloom of my spirits. There was something ghostly in the knowledge that he had trodden that very spot so many years before, and that the sole relic of him was the half-obliterated carving on that tree.

When their camp is attacked by Aborigines, they decide to bury their fallen comrade Murphy at the foot of Leichhardt’s tree. On digging the hole they discover a skull, which they identify as that of a white man, possibly even Leichhardt. The site then becomes even more uncanny for them:

The moon now shone out brightly and illumined the great white gum with a weird glory. It looked like some strange ghostly figure, grimly watching over the forms of the departed. I felt an indescribable loneliness possess me, a terror which I could not control. The great carven letters stood out like hideous gashes on the white gleaming trunk of the tree. L. 1849. H. 1878. Hardwicke saw them too, and he cried out with a strange laugh: ‘If I were a superstitious fellow, I should believe I had carved my own tombstone.’

In that novel Leichhardt is a haunting absence. Their premonitions do come true, however. As it is a Lemurian novel they do discover evidence of a lost race, a lost white maiden with golden hair, treasure and a volcano, although not quite the magical white city that they had been looking for - that turns out to be a kind of rock formation of white quartz. No further sign of Leichhardt is encountered.

Ernest Favenc followed his romantic historical work on explorers, including Leichhardt, with an exotic fictionalisation of him in the Secret of the Australian Desert in 1895. In 1888 Favenc published The History of Australian Exploration from 1788 to 1888: complied from state documents, private papers and the most authentic sources of information; issued under the auspices of the governments of the Australian colonies. As Melissa Ballanta points out in a recent article, Favenc used his identity as an historian of exploration, and sometime explorer himself, to give an aura of creditability to his novel. Some editions include maps of the fictional terrain traversed, and Favenc includes a preface in which he argues for the likely route of the Leichhardt party. He comments:

I have taken the liberty … of changing the names of some of the members of Leichhardt’s party [but] the descriptions of the physical features of the country are faithful records from personal experience.

As Ballanta and others point out, considering the fantastic volcanic caves - active volcanoes are always popular in Lemurian novels - lost tribes, cannibals and gold deposits he installs in Australia’s interior, ‘this is an astonishing claim’. The sequence of Favenc’s writing from history to fiction was hardly coincidental. In his preface to the novel Favenc comments:

Oxley, Sturt, Mitchell, Kennedy and Stuart have left deathless names on the roll of Australian explorers but the unknown fate of Ludwig Leichhardt has always centred most of the romance of story about his memory.

In Favenc’s Secret of the Australian Desert the unattractive heroes Morton, Brown and Charlie, with an Aboriginal man called Billy, go exploring in the interior. As is often the case, they discover a different race of Aboriginal people - a stock plot element, as I said - as is the volcanic activity they encounter. As they progress into the outback they find traces, marks on bodies, on trees - as in The Golden Lake - and on the earth, which they interpret as signs of white presence.

Eventually they find an elderly white man, Murphy, who they identify as a member of Leichhardt’s party. Unfortunately when they attack in order to liberate him, he manages to say only, ‘Yes, Englishman! White man!’ and then die. There are some relics of the Leichhardt expedition in the cavern where they find this man, but it quite rapidly collapses on the Aboriginal tribe and a set of Aboriginal captives that they have. They rescue a pocket book which offers a handy textual account of the fate of Leichhardt’s party and three survivors, Murphy, Kelly and Stuart. They speculate on whether Stuart can have survived with the friendlier tribe to the north, captives from which were about to be eaten when the cavern collapsed. Their conclusion about this is about the traces and marks that a white man will leave on the country:

I think if he was still alive he would have trained his tribe up to fight these cannibals, and probably have wiped them out before now and rescued his comrade.

They make multiple copies of the journal, which is transcribed in the narrative, and gives a fictional account of the failing Leichhardt expedition, pursued by Aborigines, and the death of Leichhardt from a musket wound. As in Voss 50 years later, the explorer is left unburied. The fictional journal says:

We left him there on the big plain, where I think no living thing ever comes or ever will come since we were there.

And thus he is apart of the landscape in that novel. A fire passes through the area behind them shortly after they have left him and is assumed to have obliterated all trace of him as well as all trace of the expedition, materials, and horses and so on. The explorer protagonists of the novel continue and find traces from the remaining Leichhardt party member Stuart and the rest of his journal, as well as evidence - as in Fugitive Anne and The Golden Lake - of a ‘superior’ race of people once resident in the interior. As with The Golden Lake, although artefacts and even the account of Leichhardt’s death are found, Leichhardt is not.

In Favenc’s novel, as in Francis Webb’s poem Leichhardt in Theatre from 1947 and in Voss, Leichhardt’s absence is the thing that guarantees white presence and belonging in Australia. The Lemurian novels cement this by having Leichhardt somehow transcend and outlast more transient Aboriginal homes and occupation. His disembodiment - uncertain traces, bodies of his companions, accounts of him, scattered over the desert like Voss’s letters - make him ineffaceable.

Robert Dixon sees the Lemurian novels as rehearsing anxieties about ‘racial and cultural degeneration’ threatening ‘the unformed identity of white Australia’. Leichhardt’s status as permanent but elusive trace in these fictions transcends the dangers and degradations attributed to some members of his party, the ‘found’ explorers. He might be seen even in the Secret of the Australian Desert as a guarantee of ownership of the landscape.

Leichhardt’s disembodiment is also in perfect accord with the making of imperial space in Australia in which he was involved. The critic Simon Ryan argues that the cartographic eye of the explorer narratives produces an Australia in the nineteenth century which is empty, measurable and available. The explorer gives a point of view which is both monolithic and disembodied. His self is made up by his authoritative gaze over the objectified landscape - the viewer provides authority but is less important than the view. The imperial project is served, then, by the disembodiment of the explorer, of the narrator of that space, and continues to be served by it even in the instance of that disembodiment becoming literal. The explorer, in other words, was not necessary to the success of the exploration; the narrative was.

The disembodiment of Leichhardt in subsequent fiction might be seen as perpetuating this kind of imperial space, the continual rewriting of the Australian interior as empty and yet always and already haunted and therefore somehow occupied by the explorer figure. Like most explorers, Leichhardt is also a ubiquitous mark in the place from which he is absent - as a name of a Sydney suburb, a river, a mountain range, a Queensland town and various plants.

This absent presence is perhaps most persistent in Rosa Praed’s renaming of Queensland as ‘Leichhardtsland’, as I mentioned, in a series of novels including Fugitive Anne and Outlaw and Lawmaker. In the introduction to Outlaw and Lawmaker, Praed comments:

Anyone who has travelled through Australia will identify the Leichhardt’s Land of these pages, though in the map it is called differently, with that colony in which the explorer Leichardt [sic] met his tragic fate, and to a part of which he gave his name.

Praed misspells the name consistently, with one ‘H’. I like to read that as a suggestion of the kind of missing ‘H’ at the centre, but you might see that as literary over-reading. It is interesting to speculate on the effect in the 1880s and 1890s of Leichhardtsland. The replacement of the Queen in Queensland with Leichhardt was a nationalistic, even republican, gesture.

In Fugitive Anne the boat from which Anne disappears, apparently slipping out a porthole, is called the Leichardt [sic], and Anne’s travels, and the search for her, echo faintly the passage and searches for Leichhardt. That the boat Leichardt is a vessel carrying that desired but elusive thing - Anne - is interesting. In having her heroine carried by the Leichardt and believed dead, Praed may be constructing an elaborate play on the fact that Ludwig Leichhardt, on his spectacular return to Sydney in 1846 after having been missing, believed dead, on his first major expedition, arrived on the schooner Heroine. Anne is missing believed dead but is a more present absence on the boat, having become invisible by cross-dressing by race and gender as ‘a young Lascar’ boy, and she is still on the boat. The vessel Leichardt is container here both for the indeterminate figure of Anne and the masculinity-affirming male negotiation going on between her big white bully of a husband and her big white Danish future lover. Once Anne disembarks, they remain aboard the Leichardt and steam up the Endeavour River to Cooktown - a journey which has imperial masculine overtones, I hope you will agree.

Following the Lemurian novels, Leichhardt’s literary representations reverted to poetry for some time. One of the more famous of these is Francis Webb’s dramatic poem Leichhardt in Theatre, which was published under that title in 1952 but originally titled Leichhardt’s Pantomime and published in 1947. It opens with a description of Leichhardt in a waxworks:

And here we find him. The magnificent Doctor!
Come splendidly home to the dark places of his dreams,
Petrified with greatness, so formidable, while Time,
Books, death and children, in little fumbling waves,
Flicker up vaguely, bubble, and slither away
From his granite, sharp black-and-white.

The poem covers Leichhardt’s youth, his first, second and third expeditions, as well as his afterlife as a statue and waxwork and a public performance. Like other literary versions of Leichhardt, the poem projects the death of the party. It is a bit difficult to follow, but I will read out a section about the second expedition:

They struggle northward into Tropic rains
(The Doctor preferring to sneak up gradually
On the western arm of the compass). They slush through rain
On melting ground, waist-deep in distended streams;
They sleep on water; touch of food or leather
Is hand on a reptile. The cattle and sheep stampede
Again and again, and unofficial miles
Are notched in hardship. A vapid trickle of fever
Seeps into the men; they brandish at each other
Dulled edges of words. The Doctor makes a speech
And Providence; hostile leaguer, stands unmasked,
Slouches off in the rain, gnashing teeth. The intrepid Doctor
Is kicked by several mules.
At length the cattle,
Sheep, goats and all, decamp on a private trek
Of their own sponsoring. Food supplies are low,
Men sick, half-starved. The Doctor is detected
By lamplight, head thrust forward wild of eye,
Hand in the precious sugar-bag. Bailed up,
Roundly asserts his duties to Australia
And the men, extols the dignified doom of sugar
Replacing energies that leadership
Must dissipate. He makes another speech.
The expedition sinks to a watery grave.

You might see that as informed by the Chisholm vein of explorer narratives. Webb also wrote on the explorer Edward John Eyre in a long poem called Eyre All Alone in 1961. The critic Michael Griffiths has argued that Webb’s poem offers a challenge to mid-twentieth century ‘myth-making’ involving figures including Leichhardt. He states:

It is as a suffering human being that Leichhardt, in the end, has most dignity: this is Webb’s greatest challenge to an audience who are only satisfied with a stage figure onto whom they can project their hates and loves.

Leichhardt gets a bit of a rest in Australian fiction, as opposed to poetry, between the 1900s and the 1950s, with the publication of Patrick White’s Voss in 1957. The novel was first published in Britain and the United States. It received good reviews in Britain and established White’s reputation there arguably, though he had already had some international success with the Tree of Man. Voss ‘received mostly lukewarm and qualified reviews in Australia’, according to the critic Smith, probably because of its higher modernist style, which has certainly proved unpopular with my students over the years.

Voss is ostensibly based in part on White’s reading, and interpretation, of explorer Edward Eyre’s journals while White was in London; White’s experiences of the Middle East during World War Two and his experiences as jackaroo when a young man. He also read Ludwig Leichhardt’s journals and letters, although after today I’m wondering exactly where and how he read those, and obviously contemporary accounts of Leichhardt. I believe the recently opened up White archive shows notes that White made on Leichhardt from as early as 1939. Manning Clarke credits him with redeeming and repopularising Leichhardt through Voss.

Patrick White was also influenced by histories of exploration, in particular by Alec Chisholm’s notorious Strange New World, which represents Leichhardt as psychotic. Gerry Wilkes claims that White combined these accounts with his own experience of ‘traipsing backwards and forwards across the Egyptian … deserts, influenced by the arch megalomaniac of the day … [Hitler]’. Unlike the other fictions I have been talking about, Voss does not purport to be exclusively about Leichhardt, although the fact that the explorer hero of Voss is German, a natural scientist, takes a route that can be related to Leichhardt’s and disappears in the interior, as well as parallels with some of the characters - the ornithologist being very much Gilbert from the earlier expedition - have all pointed towards a parallel between Voss and Leichhardt. Irmtraud Petersson suggests that Voss is based on ‘the image of Leichhardt which prevailed at the time the novel was conceived and written’, so not based on Leichhardt but based on an image, which is an important distinction.

These interpretations have been enhanced by the packaging of the novel. If you compare the Penguin edition from the 1980s with a drawing of Leichhardt done in around 1846, you can see how the novel has been marketed as being Leichhardt. There is even an academic article called ‘The Vossification of Ludwig Leichhardt’, which suggests it has become almost impossible to consider Leichhardt apart from the novel - but I think today has proved that wrong.

In Voss a German explorer gathers together a rather motley collection of individuals: a poet, a worshipful simple boy, a devout ornithologist, an ex-convict, and some other individuals governed by baser desires. Voss is driven to explore the interior and, sponsored by the bourgeois businessmen of Sydney, heads gradually away from the settled districts and further and further inland. The novel is highly modernist in form, and has frustrated and delighted readers with its echoing pronouncements.

Voss says for instance: ‘I will cross the continent from one end to the other. I have every intention to know it with my heart’, and ‘To make it yourself it is also necessary to destroy yourself.’ While he progresses across the country through evermore difficult and metaphysical territory, Voss also forms an attachment and proposes to Laura Trevelyan, the niece of his principal sponsor. Through metaphysical transcendence or hallucination, Laura accompanies the expedition on parts of its final journey. The journey is one of internal examination not just of the country but also of the individuals in the party and, by extension, of the Australian nation. Some of the pronouncements that Voss makes are against the lack of knowledge or exploration of the country, which also stands in for a kind of self-examination:

‘A pity that you huddle’, said the German, ‘your country is of great subtlety.’
With rough persistence he accused her of the superficiality which she herself suspected. At times she [Laura] could hear her own voice. She was also afraid of the country which, for lack of any other, she supposed was hers.

Voss’s own penetration into the country results in his being humbled and achieving his own self-awareness and finally destruction of himself and all but one of the party. Voss is decapitated in the novel by an Aboriginal member of the party called Jackie - big surprise - under guidance from an Aboriginal group who has followed the explorers. The death of Voss in the novel is replete with Christian symbolism but also fits with most other fictionalisations in that his death installs him permanently in the landscape.

… the head-thing … knocked against a few stones, and lay like any melon. How much was left of the man it no longer represented? His dreams fled into the air, his blood ran out upon the dry earth, which drank it up immediately. Whether dreams breed, or the earth responds to a pint of blood, the instant of death does not tell.

By the end of the novel Voss is a bronze statue, safely installed in the history books and in the public imagination. The closing pages make a number of further cryptic pronunciations on his status:

The blacks talk about him to this day. He is still there - that is the honest opinion of many of them - he is there in the country, and always will be.
If you live and suffer long enough in a place you do not leave it altogether. Your spirit is still there.

And another character says:

I am convinced that Voss had in him a little of Christ, like other men. If he was composed of evil along with the good, he struggled with that evil. And failed.

Simon During argues that White uses the explorer journey as ‘an excuse … to imagine a highly sexualised community without women’. If this is the case, White gratuitously inserts and asserts Laura as a heterosexual alibi for Voss, and she is central to the journey. Laura, although so connected to Voss that she falls ill and almost dies in his final days of agony, lives on to continue his legacy and to raise an adopted daughter, assumed to be Voss’s – and, indeed, in the metaphysical narrative of the novel she is Voss’s. More important are Laura’s pronouncements on Voss’s legacy. Some of those I just read come from Laura, who places him in the landscape through such observations. She finished the book with the almost final pronouncement:

Voss did not die, … He is there still, it is said, in the country, and always will be. His legend will be written down, eventually, by those who have been troubled by it.

I will finish by looking at a popular representation of Voss as much as Leichhardt. In a recent discussion of the canon of Australian literature, Ken Gelder sees ‘Australian literature’ as a category produced through identification with high-art ‘literature’ rather than popular fiction. One of the interesting things about the trajectory of Leichhardt as a literary subject is that he traverses those fields chronologically. He goes from popular fiction into the more high-art fiction in the twentieth century, such as Francis Webb’s poem and Patrick White’s Voss.

In this sense Leichhardt might be seen as having been elevated to the literary canon from the popular in terms of his literary and cultural representation. Both forms of literature though, I would argue, work to install Leichhardt as a mythical figure, important partly because of the stories told about him, whose place is there still in the country. However, such mythologising in Australia is almost always subject to larrikin response or tall poppy syndrome, so I want to give the last word to an even more removed version of Leichhardt - that in Randolph Stow’s 1967 novel Midnite. This novel makes fun of Voss, rather than Leichhardt, and of the mythologising of Leichhardt through Voss.

Midnite is travelling through the outback, naming every waterway he encounters after Queen Victoria, when he comes upon another explorer called Smith, and Smith’s two camels Sturm and Drang:

‘I too am exploring,’ [says] Mr Smith ‘I am exploring me’.
‘How can you explore you?’ asked Midnite.
‘I will not explain,’ said Mr Smith. ‘You would have to be me to understand.’

Mr Smith has named the desert the ‘cosmical, symbolical desert’. Together they travel to a place full of bones:

‘It is the end of the outback’ [Mr Smith explains to Midnite], ‘where come poets and explorers to die’.

Sturm and Drang immediately lie down and expire. Midnite asks Smith why, and he answers:

‘Because they themselves exploring finished have’ … Then he shouted something in German, and fell down in the bones, dead and smiling.

And there I want to leave Leichhardt again, at least fictionally: lost in the desert, but at least smiling. Thank you.

MATTHEW HIGGINS: Thank you very much, Susan. The subtitle to today’s symposium is ‘The man, the mystery, the science, the history’, and of course it is the mystery of Leichhardt which gives so much power to these representations in literature. If he had got through to Swan River, we would remember him like Sturt or Mitchell and he would hardly be worth putting into these works of fiction. But it is because he is still out there and he is still in our imagination somewhere that people continue to refer to him via the fictional mode.

QUESTION: I have an interest in Leichhardt. I was aware of Matthew Higgins’s procrastination on reading Voss so I brought along this quote today to give him to tell him that he need not bother. It is from David Marr’s biography of Patrick White in which White reportedly said concerning the character of Voss, ‘There are bits of Leichhardt, bits of Eyre, and I suppose some of the others, but there is more of my own character than anyone else’s.’ Would you like to comment?

DR SUSAN MARTIN: As I was saying, Leichhardt has become seen to be the only explorer figure being depicted in Voss but, as White says and as other critics have argued, White certainly drew on all sorts of explorer narratives and accounts for the novel. I agree that David Marr’s quotation proves that White was arguing against that simple parallel of the two.

MATTHEW HIGGINS: I really liked your word ‘Vossification’ too. I will remember that one. Thank you again, Susan, for your presentation.

Date published: 14 March 2008