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Following the grandparents' footsteps

Erwin and Gerda Feeken emigrated from Germany to Australia in 1954 to pursue their interest in geography, cartography and exploration. In order to explore the country the Feeken family embarked on a bicycle trip from Hobart through the Central Highlands of Tasmania to the north coast, then from Melbourne to Canberra and Sydney. This pilgrimage is a good indication of their dedication to the cause of Australian exploration!

Their grandson Ryan clearly has inherited their love of adventure and sent us photos of his recent trips, which can be seen below together with excerpts of his grandparents' book 'The Discovery and Exploration of Australia'. It makes for fascinating reading, to obtain more information or a copy from the National Library of Australia, click here.


... The high proportion of ancient rocks and the generally subdued relief of the surface of Australia mark it out, geologically speaking, as the oldest of the continents; in point of 'discovery' it is the youngest, but Antarctica. Really, of course, we do not know when the first discovery was made; we so often speak loosely of 'discovery' as meaning merely the first sighting or exploration by Europeans, though it is obvious that since most lands that Europeans came to were already inhabited, they must have been discovered by somebody long before. ...

... With Flinders, the coastal outlines were completed, though there were many details to be filled in, particularly in the north-west. This 'plugging of gaps' was the work of a number of able naval officers, of whom Phillip Parker King and John Lort Stokes were the most notable; the latter gave us the name of Darwin, 'after an old shipmate' then unknown but later to become the greatest biological scientist of the nineteenth century. ...

... The physical environment was indeed baffling. In the south-east, there was no real desert - that was met with later - but the great woodlands and savannahs were utterly different from the temperate humid landscapes of western Europe and eastern North America. In particular, the rivers just did not behave like the 'normal rivers' which the explorers had been used to. ...

... Not only drought and flood, but heat and cold alternated savagely. Sturt in 1845 found it 'cool and pleasant' at 95°; a week later it was 119°: screws fell from boxes, lead from pencils, combs split, ink dried on the pen as he wrote. A few months later he is complaining of the cold at 24°. Add to this flies, ants, mosquitoes. ...

... Even flying in comfort over the country between Cooper Creek and the Simpson Desert, one can scarcely repress a shudder of horror at this landscape so utterly inhuman as to seem almost actively hostile. There is beauty in the long red welts of the sand ridges, but the muddy ochres and greys and dirty whites of claypans and saltpans are repellent in the extreme. ...

... Here, in the minor tactics, bushcraft was vital, in the most literal sense: not just success but life itself very often depended on it. Water, water, water - that single word runs like a refrain through all the journals. The flight and the tracks of birds, a thin line of dark bush, the trend of a dry creek bed - even the settling of a single bird on a desert plain - such were the clues which meant water, and it took keen eyes to detect them, hard experience to evaluate them. ...

... The bushmen had not quite the skills of the Aborigines, but they were always willing to learn, and they usually took care to have at least one or two tried and true black men with them. Some of these men deserve to have their names on the Australian roll of honour: Wylie, Jacky-Jacky, Tommy Windich, Yurranigh ...

... The expedition left the Depot on 7 December, and travelled along the river banks, mostly on Oxley's route. They met numerous friendly groups of Aborigines; on one occasion, when it was necessary to cross the river, Sturt was amused to see natives voluntarily assist them; and was surprised when they took up bags of flour weighing 100 lbs each, and carried them across the river. ...

... They followed the river downstream on its southwesterly course. On 5 February they came to a native village consisting of seventy huts, each large enough to house between twelve and fifteen persons, with all entrances facing the same direction. The villagers were at the river bank and ran for their lives at the unaccustomed sight of the white men and their horses. They burned the bush for protection while retreating, but when they were not attacked they gained confidence and came, one by one, to gaze upon the intruders. ...

... The place I had chosen for our camp was a pretty spot; a sweet, short herbage had been raised by the heavy rains, from the sandy soil, and amongst this the beautous flowers, for which Australia is deservedly celebrated, were so scattered and intermixed that they gave the country an enamelled appearance. ...

... Grey was returning with a small party from a search for a route through the ranges, when they came upon some sandstone rocks, which were towering above them: I suddenly saw from one a most extraordinary large figure peering down on me. Upon examination, this proved to be a drawing at the entrance to a cave, which, on entering, I found to contain, besides, many remarkable paintings. On the backward sloping ceiling of the cave a large figure was drawn in red and white on a black-painted background, and on the left wall was a painting representing a group of four heads. A remarkable fact here is that the head dress was reported to be of a deep bright blue; as far as is known, blue hues have never been used in Aboriginal paintings elsewhere in Australia. ...

... During the early part of the journey, I promised half-a-pound of tobacco to the first person who should find gold; knowing this to be an invaluable article to persons given to its use, and because I thought it might act as an incentive to prosecute the search for it. Mr Warner claimed the reward, producing the proof of his right to it. I satisfied myself by personal inspection of the locality, and the washing of several pans of dirt, that the gold was found there, so I handed him the reward. ...

... Heavy showers fell again on 14 and 15 March and the country had deteriorated considerably. Wells reported: seeing no prospect of an improvement in the country eastward, and being satisfied that we are now in the Great Victoria Desert proper, I determined to alter our course to a northerly direction. For three days the party struggled over heavy sand ridges and in the evening of 17 March Wells decided to start the return journey the following morning. From his turning point he saw nothing but high sand ridges to the north and east, with steep southern sides, dotted with desert gum, acacias and quondong trees. ...


Artwork courtesy of Ryan Feeken, text from 'The Discovery and Exploration of Australia' by Erwin and Gerda Feeken (published by Thomas Nelson Ltd).