The adventures, misadventures, conquests and defeats of Australia’s white explorers have long been a vivid component of our national narrative, interpreted as heroic or tragic, and frequently both.
The names that spring to mind –Sturt, Oxley, Burke and Wills, Mitchell, Eyre - are typically those of British naval or army officers who were feted at the time for their bravery and romantic daring-do.
But one of our greatest explorers, Hamilton Hume, received few of the accolades enjoyed by his colleagues, arguably because he was a ‘currency lad’, Australian born. In fact, despite the extraordinary contributions made to the colony in opening up western New South Wales and forging an overland route from Sydney to Port Phillip, Hume has, until now, has only been remembered by one biography, privately published by his descendants.
That oversight has now been rectified with the release of Hamilton Hume: Our Greatest Explorer by Robert Macklin.
Born near Parramatta in 1797 to a free settler, Hume learned bush skills as a teenager from Aboriginal friends, particularly a young Dharawal man known as Dual. By the age of 17 he was already undertaking exploratory expeditions, accompanied by Dual and his 14-year old brother, John, reaching as far as the Berrima district in the Southern Highlands. It was to be the beginning of a remarkable career of exploration, including the difficult expedition with William Hovell to Corio Bay in Port Phillip in 1824-25, discovering the Murray River and vast grazing lands on the way.
Macklin sets the adventurous life of Hamilton Hume in the social and political context of colonial Australia, and highlights the significant contribution he made not only to colonial settlement, but also to understanding of the country and its original people.
“He had been the pathfinder to much of the most valuable country in Australia: the Southern Highlands, the Illawarra and South Coast districts; the Goulburne, Breadalbane and Yass plains, the Murrumbidgee, Tumut, Murray, Mitta Mitta, Kiewa, Ovens and Goulburn river valleys; and the rich downs north and west of Melbourne. But perhaps the greatest service he rendered Australia was his understanding of the mood and quality of his homeland as only a native-born could. To this he added a visionary appreciation of its potential and a unique respect for the Aboriginal people.”
Author: Robert Macklin
Publisher: Hachette Australia