LUDWIG LEICHHARDT: Above the Ordinary
Ludwig Leichhardt was born in Prussia on 23 October 1813, the year that the other side of the Blue Mountains in the colony of New South Wales was first seen by Europeans.
He confided the following aspiration to his father in a letter written when he was only 23 years old.
"All my striving is bent towards accomplishing something outstanding, to raising myself above the ordinary."
He developed a fascination for the unknown, especially in relation to the natural world and his training in Europe and England well equipped him as a natural scientist. Travel was essential to his vocation. Indeed, as he expressed it, he was "impelled … to travel as destiny seemed to dictate". His religious belief bolstered an assurance of his God's guidance and protection. Thus he could confidently express the following sentiment even before seeing Australia.
"This interior, the unknown core of the continent, is my goal, and I will never give up until I reach it."
Leichhardt arrived in Sydney in February 1842 and wasted no time in venturing into the outer areas of the settlement. It was necessary for him to begin his own first hand observations of Australia. At the end of December that same year, he began a two and a half month exploration of the country between the Hunter River and the Wollombi Range in New South Wales. On 24 January 1843 an old timber cutter, who had spent nine years in the area, accompanied him. During their first night together, Leichhardt's horse escaped. The timber cutter left to gather supplies, leaving Leichhardt alone for the next four days, except for his dog.
He made camp in the base of a large blackbutt tree trunk. This trunk had been hollowed out by fire. He used fern fronds to make a mattress and his saddle served as a pillow.
Despite this set back, his spirits were good and he spent the first day climbing Piri (now Pieri's Point) to find "the most beautiful view of the mountains". In the evening he returned to his camp and in his own words:
"prepared my tea, wrapt myself in my blanket, and watched Orion and Sirius gliding slowly through the foliage of the blackbutt … I felt myself exceedingly happy, dreamt with open eyes, till the eyelids became heavy and the head sank to the saddle which formed my pillow."
Heavy rains forced him to return to a neighbouring homestead. There he found his horse and waited for the provisions.
In his book Leichhardt – The Dauntless Explorer, Colin Roderick writes about the above-mentioned incident that occurred in early 1843. After reading this fascinating and scholarly work, I was inspired to write my song 'Dreaming With Open Eyes'. I was struck by Leichhardt's enthusiasm for life and his ability to rise above obstacles, making the best of a bad situation. I admired his dogged determination and religious zeal. Leichhardt suffered from poor vision and I immediately identified with his ability to dream "with open eyes"as I too have poor eyesight. The accuracy of his scientific observations and the manner in which he confidently negotiated his way through, what he called, "the land of (his) wander years", greatly impressed me.
In 1844 and 1845 Leichhardt successfully led an expedition from Morton Bay to Port Essington. In February 1848, he left the Darling Downs on a "long and tedious journey", intending to reach the west coast of Australia and follow it south to the Swan River settlement. He and his party were never seen again. This "dauntless explorer" was only 34 years old when he disappeared.
© Jim Low