As the author explains in his preface, Incognita had its genesis in events to commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of the voyages of Janszoon and Torres to the Cape York Peninsula in 1606, with the explorations of these Dutch mariners representing the first European sighting of Australia. This book has been several years in the making, and it offers an eminently readable account of engagements across the ages with the idea and reality of ‘Terra Australis’, from Plato’s time through to the turn of the twentieth century. In some ways it usefully complements the ‘Mapping Our World’ exhibition held at the National Library of Australia in 2013, which traced how the southern continent has appeared over the past 1,000 years on world maps, thus reviewing global cartography, as the exhibition’s catalogue claimed, ‘for the first time from an antipodean perspective’. But if the focus of ‘Mapping Our World’ was exclusively on visual cartography, Mawer’s concern is equally with prose accounts of southern maritime exploration, seeking as he does to address ‘the three great traditions that had been at play in the search for Terra Australia – the supernatural, the speculative and the scientific’.
Paul Giles reviews 'Incognita' by G.A. Mawer
Incognita: The Invention and Discovery of Terra Australis
by G.A. Mawer
Australian Scholarly Publishing, $34.95 pb, 279 pp, 9781925003598
Read the rest of this article by subscribing to ABR Online for as little as $10 a month. We offer a range of subscription options, including print, which can be found by clicking here. If you are already a subscriber, enter your username and password in the ‘Log In’ section in the top right-hand corner of the screen. If you require assistance, contact us or consult the Frequently Asked Questions page.
Paul Giles is Challis Professor of English at the University of Sydney. His most recent book is Backgazing: Reverse time in modernist culture (OUP, 2019).
By this contributor
Leave a comment
Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.
NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.