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The Road to Botany BayAn Exploration of Landscape and History$
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Paul Carter

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780816669974

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816669974.001.0001

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Triangles of Life

Triangles of Life

(p.99) 4 Triangles of Life
The Road to Botany Bay

Paul Carter

University of Minnesota Press

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.

Keywords:   Major Mitchell, surveyors, New South Wales, explorers, biography, history

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