Paper Nation: The story of the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia 1886–1888
MUP, $59.95 hb, 276 pp
I first encountered the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia long before I heard its name. Readers who were at primary school in the late 1960s or early 1970s will know what I’m talking about — those illustrated booklets (a treasure trove for school projects) on Australian history, put out by the Bank of New South Wales, with pompous, triumphalist titles such as ‘Endeavour and Achievement’.
One image, in particular, haunted me: the explorer Edmund Kennedy, arms splayed like Jesus, torso stuck full of spears, while a demonic savage leers from the shadows of the surrounding jungle. Kennedy led a party of thirteen to explore Cape York in 1848. Ten died, including Kennedy himself; his ‘native assistant’ Jacky Jacky took the expedition’s papers and continued on until he reached the relief ship. The story was illustrated with Frank Mahony’s drawing of ‘The Death of Kennedy’ from the Picturesque Atlas. It is an overtly religious image — seventy years before Voss, the Explorer as Martyr. As Tony Hughes-d’Aeth describes it:
The dichotomy between civilised and ‘wild blacks’ is represented iconographically, with the noble Jacky Jacky on one side … and the sinister face of a ‘wild black’ sketched in the darkness of the forest on the other … The cruciform pose of the ‘spear-pierced’ Edmund Kennedy signifies the self-sacrificial actions of the ‘lionhearted explorer’.