The Young Man and the SeaAugust 28, 2014
"Where are there names dearer to us than those of the noble and devoted Columbus, of Sebastian Cabot, of Cook, of Humboldt, and of Belzoni and La Perouse? Where shall we find the generous and heroic devotion of the explorers of Africa surpassed? Of Denham, of Clapperton, of Oudeny, and of the many who have sacrificed their valuable lives to the pestilence of that climate or to the ferocity of its inhabitants? - And where shall we look for the patient and persevering endurance of Parry, of Franklin, and of Back, in the northern regions of eternal snow? If, ladies and gentlemen, fame were to wreathe a crown to the memory of such men, there would not be a leaf in it without a name."
- "Journals of expeditions of discovery into Central Australia" (Edward John Eyre, 1844)
Edward John Eyre was driven by restlessness. He achieved fame and fortune at a young age, and could have lived comfortably for the rest of his life. But he loved the outdoors. The landscape in Australia was really something.
Eyre Highway, the main road from South Australia to Western Australia, was named in his honour. There was Eyre Creek and Eyre Peninsula. Travellers would notice more places in his name, wondering who was this fellow who achieved such recognition. He was adventurous. There was no other like him.
During the 19th century, reward awaited those who dared to venture into Australia's interior. It was a race on who would be the first to find an overland route from east to west. Eyre, like the other explorers, have the same motivation. But he rather be different.
Eyre, who grew up in Whipsnade, Bedfordshire, knew what he wanted and how to get it. He made a huge profit from raising sheep and cattle and selling them. He knew the elements would be a factor in his expedition. The Englishman made it to the west, but not without enduring hardship and setbacks. He thought he had the misfortune of discovering an inland sea.
The interior has numerous salt lakes. They are proof that a large fraction of the Australian terrain is parched up. Eyre saw one lake, which would be named after him. It was the lowest point in Australia. There were months when there was little water in it, but Eyre didn't witness such a condition. It was the same case with the other lakes. There was no drought in 1840.
On September 2, Eyre saw a solitary peak and named it Mount Hopeless. He was downcasted, unaware that there were twenty five lakes in that region. Most of them are found in Western Australia and South Australia. It might have been ironic if he reached Lake Disappointment.
How he showed the way
Eyre's expeditions wasn't the only reason why his name was included in the history books. He encountered aborigines along the way. He was friendly and respectful of their customs. He won their trust. The other colonists saw this. They wanted Eyre to be their diplomat and negotiator. He did, forging a peaceful co-existence between the aborigines and the settlers in other areas. What they didn't know was Eyre was also capable of brute force. (Many would witness this side of his personality during the Morant Bay rebellion.)
Eyre's contributions are known all over. On a sweltering day, Lake Eyre can be breathtaking. Maybe Eyre had seen it that way. For a brief moment of time.
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