domingo, 6 de setembro de 2009

Terra Australis Incognita: from the Lost Continent to the very found one

by João Lopes Marques* (Eesti keeles)

When the subject is historical fabrication, there is no better example than Australia. In fact, the surname Cook of the official English discoverer unveils almost everything: the discovery of Australia was cooked by London and its ambitious Admiralty. Those who have the military and economic power tend to have free hand to write and rewrite History their way.

Let's face it: truth, whatever it means, is far from being essential in this exploration business. A good founding lie suits best as long as people don't question it too much. Antipodal distance helped and time accommodates the rest: Terra Australis Incognita has been a self-perpetuated fetish since Ptolemy and the ancient astronomists.

Yet unlike mysterious Atlantis, there is plenty of evidence the "Lost Continent" was found and lost and found again several times throughout the millennia. By the Aboriginals, some 60,000 years ago. By the Javanese, Timorese and other Malayan fishermen millenia before our era. Probably by Zheng He's Chinese fleet. By the Portuguese sailors early in the 16th century. By the Dutch a century later. Finally by Captain James Cook in 1770.

Weird? Very weird. As if all men were in denial till Cook settled imperialistically the question. Was it due to the absolute human need of fantasy? It is more than a coincidence Gulliver's adventures were inspired in the fabled stories of seamen, being Lilliput shaped after present-day Tasmania.

Having invested almost three years (and savings) of my life digging this Australian enigma, or political game, I was amazed when I read Estonians now also claim their small share in the first contact with Australia, circa 1690. Tu quoque Brute fili mi? Not to forget decades earlier even the Duke of Courland, Jacob Kettler, had proposed Pope Innocent X the Latvian colonisation of the big island...

But my country, right or wrong: historical and cartographic evidence shows us that such mass of land became a Portuguese obsession early in the 16th century. In 1512 the Portuguese reached Timor island, which lays mere 390 miles north of Darwin. Plus, Australia debates these days if Cristóvão de Mendonça can be considered the first European explorer in those territories (1521-22).

It goes beyond Iberian pride. What for Portuguese can be seen as a superficial victory, it's a Pandora box for the Aussies. Why? If such a thesis is proved, in Down Under they will have to reprint all school manuals, change expensive encyclopedias and replace James Cook's prolific statues as the former USSR republics did with Lenin's.

Indeed, more, much more, than a Lost Continent, or a newly found one, Australia is becoming the ultimate metaphor of human curiosity and morbid manipulation. Soon we will conclude we all discovered it. Somehow, such Pax Australis risks becoming a symbol of post-modern ecumenism. From a quite benign variety, fortunatelly: if we are the World, why can't we all be Australia?

* author of the novel Terra Java, on Portuguese secret discovery of Australia

2 comentários:

Anónimo disse...

well done Joao..como dizem os Ozies, cheers mate!!
Jorge

Sophia disse...

Tenho pena que Portugal tenha tanta falta de brio nos seus feitos...
Somos solidários demais, parece-me.
(Esta é a minha teoria optimista de Portugal)

Moleiro

Tinha aveia para o negócio.