Tourist trap: the natural allure of a sunburnt country
873 words
6 November 2005
Sunday Age
(c) 2005 Copyright John Fairfax Holdings Limited. www.theage.com.au[http://www.theage.com.au]. Not available for re-distribution.




By Julia Horne

The Miegunyah Press, $39.95

Warwick McFadyen Reviewer

THE notion of tourism, and of being a tourist, is so commonplace these days that it's taken for granted. Everyday people metamorphose into tourists for a while and then return to their other life. We inject billions of dollars into its pursuit and the industry spends billions of dollars in giving us what we want. The sense of exploration is still there, of course, and in a few cases, of wonder.

Julia Horne takes us to another world - the foreign country that is our nation's past. She is an authoritative, entertaining and thought-provoking pilot and guide.

In The Pursuit of Wonder she takes the reader back to when a sense of wonder was a constant companion to travellers. It's a fascinating trip to the first days of white settlement and through the 19th century when the word "touring" was loaded with more connotations than it is now.

Horne, a historian at the University of Sydney and author of Jenolan Caves: When the Tourists Came, has set out on foot, by horseback, boat and train to rediscover the sheer joy and, at times, hardship of experiencing nature.

A featured quote from NSW politician John Lucas in 1863, sets the tone of the work: "Never had anything given me such a conception of indefinite space as this vast cavern before me. The same feeling - that of reverential awe; and the same current of thought - the utter insignificance of man, when face to face with the Creator and His works - seemed to pervade the whole party as we gazed . . ."

Who comes home from a trip away with these flights of grandiloquence nowadays? Australia was, of course, a new world and a strange one to people of European sensibilities. Indeed, the senses would have been working overtime to take in such basic shifts in perception as the different light, the climate, the bush sounds, the harshness and the gradation of harmony in the landscape.

As Horne writes, "implicit in much early travel writing was 'wonder', especially associated with observing what to European explorers and travellers were unusual phenomena, and this prepared the ground for an increasing Australian interest, even pride, in local surroundings.

"By the end of the 19th-century, natural wonders as a destination in themselves helped create local tourist interest and concerned primarily with attracting Australian residents they were part of a broader image-making process providing information about colonial life, its social, economic and political characteristics, and its built and natural environments."

The Pursuit of Wonder is divided stylistically into fact and fiction - Horne in two sections draws upon contemporary accounts of travelling to present a sort of fictionalised summary of the experiences of travelling in the 19th century. The words are interspersed with a treasure trove of illustrations - the artistic representations are an integral part of the book, showing how imagination and reality can commingle to present a view of the world.

"What magic did stalagmites hold for the 19th-century tourist? Why were fern and waterfalls such big attractions at the turn of the century? . . . Such questions take us into the territory of how culture defines scenery, but also how the environment shapes culture."

The first mountain range to attract colonists' interests was the Blue Mountains. Their contour and nature were such as to befuddle many explorers wanting to cross them. In 1815, Governor Macquarie set out from Parramatta to go across the mountains to the Bathurst plains. There was a reason of commerce to the expedition, but the landscape also had its effect on the governor. Horne quotes his writings: "Mountains rising beyond mountains, with stupendous masses of rock in the foreground, here strike the eye with admiration and astonishment . . . We passed a very extensive deep romantic glen, full of picturesque and wild scenery."

Only 20 years later, a young Charles Darwin stopped off in the colonies as part of a five-year voyage around the world on the Beagle. Four days after his arrival in Sydney he was off to the Blue Mountains "partly for geology, (he wrote) but chiefly to get an idea of the state of the colony and see the country". Looking at the mountains he wrote: "This kind of view was to me quite novel, and extremely magnificent."

The evolution of travel in Australia was not without its hardships, but the hope of discovery and the wonderment it might bring were powerful motivations.

A favourite illustration in the book is of a young woman being hoisted in what looks like a barrel from a rocking boat to land at Wilsons Promontory. As Horne reiterates, it was worth it for the glories that might await the intrepid traveller. "Australia was not just a land of sheep, wheat, bushmen and pioneers. It was also a place of sublime landscape, natural beauty and stimulating travel," she writes.

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