Terra Australis Cognitus

Hendrik Hondius Polus Antarcticus

Hendrik Hondius Polus Antarcticus

As usual for me, I’m already plotting and researching the next book, whilst still finishing the current manuscript. And, as usual for a writer drawn to magic realism as a socio-political storytelling device, it involves truth-telling of the macro (historical events, including injustices) through the micro (everyday life).

The next book comes from my fascination with the intersection of European superstition, religion and science during the 17 to 19th centuries, and the impact that has had on First Peoples (Australia). Focusing on the baggage that explorers, privateers and other pirates carried with them as they sailed the seas in search of fame, power and fortunes, I’ve delved back in to the history books.

Of course my envisioned fictional interpretation will include invasion, massacres, genocide, land/resource theft, and forced assimilation. It will look at the culturally biased reasoning behind these abhorrent actions. The foundations of systemic racism in Australia. In a way, this next story is an attempt to deconstruct racism and explore hope, through fiction as opposed to twitter rants.

Honestly, I am tired of talking about racism. I’d much rather we were at a stage of collective consciousness where it didn’t exist anymore. Or at least a critical mass working on mitigation of the harm racism causes. Instead, in Australia we are still having the ‘yes that is racist. And that. Can you at least listen? Urgh!’ conversation.

Delving in to Australian history, discussions about racism need to include facing up to theft. How can we talk about justice if we can’t talk about injustice? And as Australia was founded on a rolling-wave of robbery, then let’s talk about that.

In the seventeenth century, the legend of Terra Australis Incognita played on many a man’s imagination. The mythical unknown lands of the south were once thought to contain riches beyond belief, and perhaps a few scary monsters. The idea of Terra Australis came from a theory of balance – land mass/es of equal weight of those in the north must exist in the south.

Although scientific exploration was behind the searches for this unknown southern land, it was commerce that enabled the journeying. France, England, Portugal, Spain and Holland were all racing to find the best sources of spices, fabrics, wood, precious minerals, and more. And that meant finding the safest, most economical passages to these foreign lands. Wars were staged, pacts were made and unmade, unsavoury weather was endured, and new sea routes were opened. And still, the myth of Terra Australis Incognita existed.

Whilst it was England that first mapped the entire perimeter of the great southern land, documenting that it was indeed a separate continent, over a hundred years prior the Dutch were the first Europeans to set foot on this land. And the Spanish were the first Europeans to note that it was not connected to nearby land masses, such as New Guinea, as previously thought.

There were a few factors that stopped these other European nations from invading the territories of the First Peoples of the great southern land. And there was also the more ethical nations that came here to trade decades before the Europeans, such as the Makassans.

Of all the nations, it was the English who invaded, and set in place many decades of theft and violence. And they brought with them the seeds of systemic racism. Would things have been different if another European nation had ‘claimed’ this land? Probably not. Although, there is a slim possibility that they would have plundered the resources, and then left.

Terra Nullius was the lie that Australia was founded on. A culturally-biased belief that the land belonged to nobody. And this conclusion was reached by the English invaders’ believing that the First Peoples were not equal to them. In fact, they were not even seen as people. The earliest colonisers may have tried to justify their rationale with science, and even religion and economics, but at the very root of the violent occupation was racism.

And so the many decades of *Terra Furatus commenced. Theft of land. Which could not have occurred without Hominem Furatus. (attempted) theft of humanness. (*excuse the Latin via Google)

Racism is the denial of another’s humanness. This denial occurs on an individual basis (discrimination, antagonism, violence etc) and systemic (forced assimilation, inequitable services/treatment, police/custodial violence etc). Until systems of power (law, policing, governance, economics) and systems for people (education, health, commerce, social services) acknowledge inbuilt unconscious bias, then much needed societal change will be difficult to bring about.

The crimes of colonisation need to be acknowledged. The violence and theft need to be taught in schools and universities, and in workplaces/sectors. And this includes a more honest discourse on the world views of those who did the deeds – the explorers, the privateers, the missionaries, the pastoralists, the mavericks, the scientists, the politicians, the ‘heroes’ of history. Even if that is uncomfortable for those who now reside on stolen lands. There can be no justice until the past is acknowledged. And myths are debunked.

There was never a Terra Australis Incognita. It was just a myth that led to invasion and centuries of ongoing settler colonisation. To the First Peoples who’d been living on the great southern lands for 80,000 years, and to their neighbouring nations across the seas, this land was Cognitus > known. What was unknown before the arrival of Europeans was racism. And the many injustices that have racism at their core.

Justice is the logical next step. And justice can take many forms – treaty/ies, truth-telling, land rights, retribution, repatriation, plus more. But justice won’t be possible until the widespread unconscious bias is no longer denied, and the harmful impacts of racism are addressed.

The past can show us the way forward. Researching history leaves me in awe of the courage and achievements of those long dead. Imagine what future generations can achieve if we, the present, are committed to being brave, truthful, and empathetic. Many nations around the globe seem to be in a dark age, but I still have hope.

Illustration: Hendrik Hondius’s plate. Originally published in 1637. Above version is from Jansson’s¬†Grooten Atlas, showing Tasman’s explorations of the western coastline of New Holland, ‘Nova Hollandia detect Anno 1644’, the southern tip of Van Dieman’s Land and an edge of New Zealand. Source: State Library NSW – http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/collection-items/polus-antarcticus¬†

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Lot 1: The Maiden

This is the first item in my Silent Auction of Stories. If this item could only be explained in three words, those words would be: hope, strength and resilience.

Item description:

Rose-coloured glass with gilded designs. The handled-jug is 25 cm tall. It features what could probably be called a wood nymph. She is leaning against a tree, playing a wind instrument. The six glasses are 14 cm tall, and are decorated in gold ferns. The set is in perfect condition.

Its Story:

This set was given to me in 1985. I was 21 years old, moving into my fourth accommodation after leaving the family home. It felt more like my first real home since moving out. Which could have partly been because I was in the nesting stage of my first pregnancy. Almost all of my income was going into rent, but to have a place of my own felt good. Who needs fancy furniture? Or food? Luckily, I vomited throughout that whole pregnancy, so I didn’t really feel like eating anyway.

I digress. So I had just moved into this old shack on a cliff, overlooking the sea. Surrounded by nothing either side of me, with the sea out the front, I could easily ignore the other houses some distance behind me. The place was haunted, but that is another digression.

My sister’s friend gave me this jug and glasses as a house-warming present. She’d found it in an antique shop – she’s always had an eye for pre-loved treasure. It was my very first house-warming present, so it was indeed treasure. I put it in a place of honour, and admired not only the lovely pink glass and fancy gold design, but the woman on it. She symbolised me, a young woman – free, single, and alone. Well, as much as one could be with a baby on the way.

Once that baby arrived, I was still young and single. But not alone. In addition to my daughter, my sister’s friend moved in. She had the second bedroom, whilst I had the bedroom over looking the ocean. Our lifestyles were a little bit in conflict – I had a baby who wouldn’t settle, and the housemate had parties and boyfriends. And parties there were. An isolated house on a cliff is soon filled with young people, and bands, and more people.

Luckily, I had a baby who didn’t like sleeping. She did like people. And playing with the musical instruments whenever a band came over to practice, with an audience in tow. Oh my! How did we survive!

And how did this lovely jug and glasses survive that? I had it tucked away safely. Which was a good thing, as my daughter was walking by the time she turned 10 months. And climbing on chairs, up onto shelves, or out the door by the time she was 11 months.

By the time she’d turned 2 years old, we’d moved to the country. Where it was quieter. In an old farmhouse, in the middle of a vineyard. My rent would be reduced every row of vines I tied, which was a bonus. But working in a vineyard with a stubborn toddler is near impossible. We lived there for a while, but had to move out when someone broke in and stole my rent money and lots of belongings.

This nymph jug of course didn’t get stolen. It has lived in twelve other houses with me. I moved often not because I wanted to, but because that is what the rental market was/is like. Which is why I really don’t want to lose my house; the one I built and am paying off.

This glass set survived parties, an adventurous toddler and many house moves. It’s also survived a house fire, two boisterous boys, and numerous cats. It some how didn’t get targeted by my abusive ex-husband, who had a thing for hunting down items that meant something to me and making me watch as he destroyed it. Which is how I developed a non-blinking poker-face. But I digress again.

I’m no longer The Maiden. I am fast approaching my Hag stage – and have the grey hairs to prove it. I have loved, treasured and protected this jug and glasses set, but its time for this gilded wood nymph to find a home without me.

Like me, she is strong and resilient. I hope someone likes her enough to bid on her. And will treasure her as much as I have.

***

Let the silent auction begin!

A refresher on how this will work:

  • If interested in the item, you can send me your confidential bid via twitter DM (@1KarenWyld) or by using the¬†contact form¬†on this website.
  • Remember to factor in packaging and postage when you are bidding.
  • Once at least one bid has hit the reserve level, I‚Äôll close the auction and contact the highest buyer.
  • Bidding is restricted to people residing in Australia only, due to delivery costs.

If you aren’t interested in owning the item, but you did like its story, then feel free to contribute to more stories. There is a PayPal pay now button in the upper right-hand of this page. Or you can use my PayPal payme account.