Triangles of Life
Triangles of Life
This chapter examines the historical significance of Major Mitchell, Surveyor-General of New South Wales between 1827 and 1855, who led four expeditions during that period. While Mitchell is acknowledged as a highly competent surveyor and artist, his personal arrogance and the inflated claims he made for himself as an explorer indicate an all too human weakness hardly compatible with a hero’s life. The tendency has been to divide Mitchell into two parts, to judge his professional achievements favourably, his personality unfavourably. As a result, historical geographers have paid his surveys of New South Wales handsome tribute, but the biographers have largely ignored him. The paradox of Mitchell’s character and career results from a historical and biographical tradition that ignores the historical claims of spatial experience. Mitchell’s personality, however, cannot be dissociated from his spatial experience: he did not just become a surveyor, he made himself one. In the process, he came to recognize that the survey did not simply imitate physical space: it translated it into a symbolic object whose properties were as much historical as geographical. Similarly, to be a surveyor was inevitably to annex oneself to a future history. For Mitchell, biography and history emerged dialectically from the survey.
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