New South Wales, Australia

The NSW State Library – WOW

We had a great experience this last month in Sydney. I always seem to visit the state libraries in Australia and the New South Wales State Library in Sydney is on MacQauire Street just up from our hotel. These libraries have exhibits and displays of the cultural and natural history of the continent/country. It is always a great stop – there is strong free wi-fi (not a widespread occurrence in Australia) and the exhibits as well. Always worth a stop.

In February of 2015 Margaret MacIntyre made arrangements for us to get a tour and see some of the great artifacts that the SLofNSW holds. We were able to see Joseph Banks’ journal from the trip with Lieutenant Cook, Cook’s own hand drawn map of the southern hemisphere, and other maps and sketches done in those first few year of European residency in Australia. It was a remarkable display of historical material and quite exquisite in its beauty as well. The drawing and map-making skills were exquisite and the penmanship is a feature that we seem to have lost to the sands of time.
(If I couldn’t type I couldn’t communicate, even I have trouble deciphering my handwritten notes – but the writing of these men is still legible, neat, meaningful, and lovely.)

The Mitchell Library is named for David Scott Mitchell who was an early and very significant donor (benefactor) to the library. This research room is quite grand and the materials housed here are simply wonderful. There is a very nice book shop and dozens of carels and seats in casuals spaces for people to stop in and surf the net.
We were shown the deep interior of the library by the informative and well-versed Elise Edmonds. She had pullred items that might interest the Smithsonian travelers and she had us spellbound for the duration.
This map was drawn by the hand of the man we call Captain Cook; though he was a Lieutenant when he drew this map. Cook joined the navy very late in life, as a 27 year old man. Most sailors and captions had started when 10 or 11 or 12 as cabin boys and mess boys and then passed on and upward to higher positions if they had the brains and the will. Cook managed coal boats and then joined the service. He became well known for his mapping of the eastern Canadian coast and was asked to go toward Australia (which no one was sure was there) in order to carry out scientific work and draw maps.
The science was done in part by Joseph Banks; the man who would lead the Royal Society for forty years upon his return to England. They were to time and map the Transit of Venus across the face of the sun in order to develop times and arcs for determine distances from the sun and eventually to determine longitude. Sailing was a bit of a crap shoot for these men. They often were only vaguely aware of where they were. Cook had several clocks on board as part of a very determined search to learn how to tell time while at sea in order to make the use of a sextant accurate around the globe.
Two great books exist on these topics: Longitude (by Dava Sobel) and Measuring Eternity (by Martin Gorst).
Today we have Google Earth and satellite images that depict in real time the contours and face of the earth. As you can see from the above, that was not always the case. What was known of the world’s geography was poorly known and the lands and seas adjacent to what was known were often unknown; totally unknown.
The first eleven ships to arrive in Australia with residential intent contained civil servants, marines, sailors, and, most famously, criminals. Many of the criminals were people of bad reputation and malignant intent, but there were others who were there due to circumstances and their reactions to those circumstances. Some were forgers, petty thieves, and others were down-and-outers who stole bread or clothing. They were soon all settled inside Port Jackson in Sydney Cove. When Cook discovered the east side of Australia he found Botany Bay and that location, just south of Sydney Harbor, was where the ships first landed – but there was no fresh water so they moved north to what is now Sydney and started to build as prison, a country, and a culture.
The Europeans found the locals to be an odd collection of people. The aboriginal residents didn’t look up at the ships when they arrived, there was no widespread fear or panic. Well, after some shooting and fighting there was to be more circumspect behavior. But in general the two factions went along; separately. The European governors became friendly with several of the aboriginals and even built a place for a man named Benelong on a point of land right in town (the Opera House now sits on that point of land). The Europeans, being European, didn’t learn much from the native people. They felt that they were the chosen people and that their way would succeed. The lack of learning had great negative effect on exploration through the interior of Australia as many of the explorers died in the arid, hot, rugged center of the country because they never learned to mimic the lifestyles of the native peoples.
The image above was drawn by an aboriginal and depicts the two cultures and some of the native wildlife and mannerisms of the aboriginal people. 
The drawing above is from a similar source and depicts what appears to be a kangaroo in the tree as well as dancing or celebrating local people. There are animals called tree kangaroos but they are now restricted to the wet rain forests to the north, from Cairns all the way up into New Guinea. The painted bodies of the people in the picture depicts a characteristic display of the many aboriginal peoples/groups/tribes/clans. There were about 4-500 aboriginal languages being spoken at the time of European arrived; small groups, a hard life characterized most interior aboriginal groups; the coastal people had greater edible resources to utilize.

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