A Thematic Introduction
2. The Agenbite of Outback 37
Chapter Two The Agenbite of Outback Nothing now but the greatest good luck can now save any of us ... I can only look out, like Mr. Micawber, "for something to turn up." W. J. Wills, Burke and Wills Expedition, 1861 In 1827, T. J. Maslen drew a map of the Australian continent, which he later published in a settlement tract called The Friend of Australia (rpt. Cumpston 94, Rapoport 14). The Maslen map is remarkable for its contrasts: although it is comparatively recent, and while the coastline is highly detailed, its interior is an outrageous exercise in speculative cartography. The Blue Mountains, well known at the time, are entirely missing. The western half of the interior is taken up with crudely drawn peaks, in the parallel ranges of medieval convention. The glory of Maslen's fiction, however, is the feature he designated "The Great River or the Desired Blessing," a river rising where the western slope of the Blue Mountains ought to be and flowing northwestward across twenty-four degrees of longitude, to empty at last into the Indian Ocean in the vicinity of King Sound. Wholly generous, Maslen incorporated a huge triangular lake, roughly a copy of Lake Huron, in a location now known as some of the roughest desert in the world. He felt "as assured of the existence of a great river as if it had already been navigated" (qtd. Cumpston 103). The magnitude of his construction, and the irony of it, have impressed observers ever since. The first...
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