1787 By Nick Brodie (2016 ). A Review by John Cook

1787

 

This is something of a hybrid text. The author is a professional historian and has a thesis to proclaim. It is that the common tendency to see 1788 as a starting point and everything before that point as being hazy stretching back to the arrival of Australia’s original inhabitants. Such history has been “relegated to archaeology and hermetically sealed by the founding of a British colony” and he wants to open up 1787 and before. He does done so quite well.

 

I would regard myself as having read a little about the Makassan, Portuguese, Dutch, French and Spanish (Don Diego de Prado y Tovar and Torres ) contacts but was intrigued by the detail he presents particularly on the Spanish. Typical is his treatment of Dampier where the basics which are well-known are fleshed out in more detail. I particularly enjoyed his presentations on the voyages of discovery between 1770 and 1788 (including Cook) especially with regard to New Zealand and less so with Van Diemans Land.

 

The sole problem I had with this book relates to Brodie’s tendency to repeat his thesis. It is clearly basic to his task and it is appropriate to filter his raw material against the point he is making and re-evaluate our overview of history. It does, however, become a little heavy and repetitious at times. It is, nevertheless, well organised and helpfully presented so generalist readers have nothing to fear.

Typical of the unusual source material he employs (particularly personal accounts of travel that are not necessarily exploratory) would be the much-discussed and challenged writings of Marco Polo. These are thoughtfully used to explore the world of our nearest neighbours well before 1787. The use of paintings and maps that I have never seen before was also very helpful.

If you are curious about our history pre 1788 and appreciate the diversity of that past, this could be a rewarding read for you.

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