Elaine Forrestal

Discovery of Baudin’s Journal

Cover of Reflec­tions on New South Wales 1788–1839, by Louis de Freycinet, trans­lated by Tom Cullity

Much has been writ­ten about the French pres­ence off the coast of Aus­tralia in the late 16th and early 17th cen­tury. Our coast­line car­ries a per­ma­nent record of vis­its by La Parouse, Per­ron, Baudin, de Freycinet and oth­ers. Per­haps the best known of these French explor­ers and nav­i­ga­tors is Baudin, mainly because of his well doc­u­mented meet­ing with Matthew Flinders at Encounter Bay in the Great Aus­tralian Bight. A meet­ing which lead directly to the pub­li­ca­tion of the first com­plete map of Aus­tralia by Louis de Freycinet in 1811. The fairly recent dis­cov­ery of Baudin’s Jour­nal from the voy­age (1800–1804) is excit­ing news for fol­low­ers of the Rose de Freycinet story, in par­tic­u­lar, and early French explo­ration of Aus­tralia in general.

Louis de Freycinet (who would later marry Rose) was a young lieu­tenant under Baudin’s com­mand on board the Nat­u­ral­iste at the begin­ning of the voy­age in 1800, and had risen to com­man­der of the Casua­r­ina by 1803The Casua­r­ina was pur­chased by Baudin in Syd­ney to replace the Nat­u­ral­iste, which he had sent home to France with most of the botan­i­cal spec­i­mens and sci­en­tific dis­cov­er­ies on board, while the Geo­graphe and the Casua­r­ina con­tin­ued with their map­ping and sur­vey­ing. It was in this lat­ter part of the voy­age that the meet­ing between the French and the Eng­lish ships took place. In spite of recent hos­til­i­ties between Eng­land and France the meet­ing was friendly and pro­duc­tive. Louis de Freycinet, being Baudin’s chief sur­veyor and nav­i­ga­tor by then, exchanged mate­r­ial with Flinders and the three ships went their sep­a­rate ways.

Even­tu­ally, after the death of Baudin and the impris­on­ment of Flinders on Mau­ri­tius, it fell to Louis de Freycinet to com­plete the offi­cial report of Baudin’s voy­age for the French gov­ern­ment, who had financed it. In his report, which was pub­lished in 1811, the first com­plete map of Aus­tralia appeared. In spite of his report receiv­ing praise from all quar­ters, Louis still felt he had unfin­ished busi­ness in Aus­tralia, espe­cially in and around Shark Bay on the north coast of West­ern Aus­tralia. He per­suaded the French Navy to sup­ply him with a ship and set off in 1817 to cir­cum­nav­i­gate the world, with Shark Bay firmly in his sights. It was on this voy­age that the newly mar­ried Rose made her mark on history.

Check out the whole story of the voy­age of the Uranie (1817–1820) in To See the World.

The ‘fact’ of the matter

Two very dif­fer­ent cov­ers rep­re­sent­ing the same story of The Watch­ing Lake.

I am still strug­gling to define how and why it is that fic­tion can so often give us a bet­ter grasp of his­tor­i­cal events than non-fiction can.

I have been read­ing and think­ing about this in terms of my own adven­tures into the research and writ­ing of nov­els based on facts. I now believe that fic­tion dis­tills the essence of events and allows a  clearer pic­ture to be painted. It is often not until we break things down to their essen­tial com­po­nents that we see them for what they really are. It’s like an abstract paint­ing that strips away our pre-conceptions. It speaks to the heart of the mat­ter and sur­prises us with its clar­ity. The artist has delib­er­ately  left some things out, hinted at or exag­ger­ated oth­ers, in order to show more clearly what lies hid­den behind an elu­sive ‘truth’.

I know that there is prob­a­bly no per­fect way to express this. Every per­son must find their own way to view the com­plex­i­ties of life. The impor­tant thing is to keep an open mind.

I’m work­ing on it.

New Workshops

Elaine For­re­stal con­duct­ing a writ­ing work­shop with Year 9 students.

It’s NAPLAN time again and writ­ing work­shops are all the go.

While I’m sure NAPLAN has its uses, I think the expec­ta­tion that stu­dents will write any sort of nar­ra­tive in twenty min­utes, with­out the oppor­tu­nity to re-draft, is ridicu­lous. Nev­er­the­less, while NAPLAN is a fact of life, we need to give our stu­dents their best chance of doing well. The usual strat­egy is to give them prac­tise at writ­ing nar­ra­tive. But they also need to go into the test with a firm idea in their head about which of their many sto­ries they will spend that pre­cious twenty min­utes writ­ing. They need to have the basic plot worked out, and to already be famil­iar with their char­ac­ters — who does what? when? and why? They also need to be aware of the most com­mon destroy­ers of good nar­ra­tive. Too many char­ac­ters, too much irrel­e­vant detail and, while a few adjec­tives are a good thing, too many of them are poi­so­nous. They can kill off a good nar­ra­tive faster than almost any­thing else.

I always feel dis­tressed when I think about how much impor­tance is attached to such an unre­al­is­tic test. But that’s the real­ity we have to live with, so i am busily devel­op­ing two new work­shop out­lines to add to the list in ‘Pages’ on this site.

Keep watch­ing this space.

Walking the History/Fiction Tightrope

Elaine For­re­stal trans­port­ing read­ers back to 1817 via To See the World

Splic­ing his­tory with fic­tion has always cre­ated a dif­fi­cult bal­anc­ing act. And yet I still firmly believe that his­tor­i­cal fic­tion is by far the best way to present the peo­ple and events of the past to a new audi­ence, young or old.

His­tor­i­cal facts, with­out a good fiction-flavoured sauce to bind them together, make a dry and crumbly meal. It is reas­sur­ing to know that this sauce is not just adding flavour. A much bet­ter under­stand­ing of the facts can be gained when they are pre­sented in a fic­tional form rather than the more tra­di­tional his­tor­i­cal text. The fic­tion brings those long lost peo­ple to life and makes them much more mem­o­rable than the flat two-dimensional char­ac­ters we tend to find in his­tory books. Research sup­port­ing this idea is now widely avail­able through The Lit­er­a­ture Cen­tre and var­i­ous uni­ver­si­ties around the world. Of course for this read­ing of his­tory to be effec­tive the fic­tion must be well researched, the story engag­ing and the char­ac­ters fleshed out so that they are not only believ­able, but so con­vinc­ing that they can take the reader with them, back in time, and to their own spe­cial places. Along the way the reader will gain insights into how the times and cir­cum­stances in which peo­ple lived influ­enced their actions. They may also dis­cover that even heroes are not perfect.

Walk­ing any tightrope can be fraught with dan­ger. The trick is to stay focused and believe that every­thing is possible.

On Wings of Steel has flown the coup

The South­ern Cross. With its can­vas body and open cock­pit it car­ried Ulm and Smithy around the world in the 1920s and 1930s.

Recently my NLA Pub­lish­ing edi­tor and I fin­ished our work on the new man­u­script, On Wings of Steel. Our ‘baby’ has now moved on into the hands of the designer. From there it will go to the rest of the pub­lish­ing team. There will still be final proof-reading and tiny adjust­ments to be made but, when I think of that book now, the expres­sion ‘flown the coup’ seems to invari­ably come to mind. I know these words are some­times used when a pris­oner has escaped from gaol, but for me it has always had much more fam­ily ori­ented con­no­ta­tions. It was used by my par­ents when­ever teenagers or young adults, their own or other people’s, were leav­ing home for the first time and going off to make their own way in the world.

When I’m talk­ing to stu­dents in work­shops and meet-the-author sit­u­a­tions one of the ques­tions they fre­quently ask me is, ‘which one of your books do you like the best?’ Strangely, I find this the hard­est of all ques­tions to answer. Per­haps that is because, inevitably, my books become my ‘chil­dren’. The older ones grow up and leave home, find­ing their place in book shops, libraries, pri­vate homes and pubic col­lec­tions, leav­ing the new one behind to even­tu­ally fol­low in their foot­steps. The new one — the one I am still work­ing on — then becomes the baby of the fam­ily. It demands the most atten­tion, sit­ting there at the front of my mind. It’s the one that I am clos­est to, but Iron­i­cally it’s the one that is most dif­fi­cult to talk to the stu­dents about. With all my other books I have some­thing to show for my efforts. I have the copy in my hand. I can talk about the story, the process of writ­ing it. They can see for them­selves what the cover looks like, how thick the book is, what size print it has. They can relate to it much more eas­ily than they can to some­thing less con­crete, some­thing I can only describe through the eyes of other peo­ple because I am still too close to it to be objective.

Nev­er­the­less it is very excit­ing stage and I can hardly wait  to see how the new book will look and feel. The trans­for­ma­tion from a bun­dle of typed pages to a real book with cov­ers is quite mag­i­cal and rates, for me, as the best part of being an author.