The Global Reach of Empire: Britain’s maritime expansion in the Indian and Pacific oceans, 1764–1815
Miegunyah Press, $59.95 hb, 397 pp
Some reviewers like to stamp their own character on a review in its opening sentences. I prefer, however, to share with you some of Alan Frost’s words:
When I was a boy, living in a village set against a beach in Far North Queensland, I was struck by two kinds of trees. Ringing the beach at intervals were great ‘beach-nut’ trees (Calophyllum inophyllum). As early photographs of the beach do not show them, these trees must have been planted by European settlers. In my time, when they were perhaps seventy or eighty years old, they were up to fifty feet high, and they spread fifty feet in diameter … And scattered about the littoral were tall hoop and kauri pines … One behind our house may have been more than one hundred feet tall. It was said that this kauri pine was a beacon for ships at sea.
The beach-nut trees met other needs. They offered shelter from the tropic sun. Their hard fruit went well from slingshots … For me, particularly, [their hanging vines] were a blind from which I might watch the sun rise over Hinchinbrook Island, and see the Endeavour pass the gaps in the screen of islands that afforded James Cook glimpses of Rockingham Bay.
Had I indeed been a naval officer like James Cook, I should of course have viewed the trees differently … I should have seen the beach-nut trees as potential sources of frame timber and plank. And, like Cook and Banks, had I visited New Zealand, I should have transformed the extensive fields of ‘flax’ into canvas, cables and cordage.