Australia Twice Traversed, by Ernest Giles

It’s taken a long time, but I’ve finally knocked over an Australian exploration epic tome, Ernest Giles’ Australia Twice Traversed. The book documents his five expeditions throughout South Australia (which, pre Federation, included the Northern Territory) and Western Australia, through what was then completely unknown and uncharted lands.

Although he discovered some significant landmarks, most of the travel was perilous, unending and occasionally deadly, as they rode through some of the worst Australia has to offer. Couple that with navigation by the stars and compass, on horses that required constant wateringI and with various tribes of hostile Aboriginies keen to kill them, and you’ve got one hell of a true story adventure. Yet because he didn’t discover an inland oasis or otherwise, his name is largely forgotten, and the only landmarks that bare his name occurred after his death. The best known is the Giles Weather Station, named by another explorer, Len Beadell.

One of the greater achievements was the discovery of the Gibson Desert, named by GilesII in tribute of the first white man it claimed the life of. The story of Alfred Gibson and Giles’ travels in the desert would make for a film on it’s own.

It’s not all exciting reading however, and picking it as the first book to read on my Kindle might not have been the best decision, as Giles himself acknowledges in his appendix notes:

…and if I have any readers who have followed my story throughout its five separate phases, I may account myself fortunate indeed. A long array of tautological detail is inseparable from the records of Australian, as well as any other exploration, because it must be remembered that others, who come after, must be guided by the experiences and led to places, and waters, that the first traveller discovers…

Or if that wasn’t completely clear:

If my narrative has no other recommendation, it may at least serve to while away a vacant hour, and remind my readers of something better, they have read before.

Self-depreciation aside, he ought to have placed this disclaimer before unknowing readers plunge into what is initially (and generally)  a constant, unending search for water, in an endlessly identical landscape. I’m sure a great deal of people don’t get very far into the book because of the amount of repetition and relative unexciting progression. However, amongst the tautologies he mentioned, there is an amazing narrative and insight into what it was like to head into the great unknown with equal chances along the way of finding water or death, and it’s a far easier read than his peers’ dry journals.

Australia Twice Traversed is no longer under copyright and is a public domain book. You can download the book for free at Project Gutenberg in various formats.

  1. A phrase I still find funny to read. []
  2. As Gibson’s Desert. []
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