Navigator and cartographer Matthew Flinders is famed for mapping the coastline of Terra Australis, in a race against the French cartographer Nicolas Baudin.

Flinders had limits to his so-called empathy with the Indigenous people of Australia. Though he expressed anger verbally when his subordinate shot and killed a Djalkiripuyngu man around Blue Mud Bay in the NT, he did not punish him. The next day he sent a boat ashore to steal the  man’s dead body for ‘scientific investigation’.

A Kuringgai man called Bungaree, from what is now known as the Broken Bay area of New South Wales, was in Flinders' crew for the entirety of the voyage. He was the first ‘Australian’ to sail around his native continent. Kuringgai’s role in the expedition was invaluable as an interpreter and guide, however he has barely been recognised in our historical recantations.  

Flinders, on the other hand, has been revered in the national narrative for his cartographic work, mapping the continent’s coastline. However, many people recognise the significant role that western cartography and naming has played in ‘writing over’ Indigenous sovereignty.

Kaisa Rautio Helander, who speaks about Sámi placenames in the Norwegian context says the “production of maps, administration of land-ownership, signposting of roads and other official use of nomenclature, all support one another and can thus be used to reinforce and maintain representation.”


Helander goes to to quote Anssi Paasi: “The signs and texts, particularly maps and cartography, which have been employed to illustrate and visualize this ‘geography’ – the space of geopolitics – have always been social and political instruments of power in the division of space.”

SUGGESTED FURTHER READING:

Gillian Dooley, “The limits of empathy: Matthew Flinders’ encounters with Indigenous Australians” in The Conversation (2016)

Tony Birch, “Nothing has changed: the making and unmaking of Koori culture” in Meanjin (2003)

Kaisa Rautio Helander, “Sámi placenames, power relations and representation” in Indigenous and Minority Placenames: Australian and International Perspectives

edited by Ian D. Clark, Luise Hercus, Laura Kostanski (2014)

Yasmin Jeffery, “Bungaree was the first Australian to circumnavigate the continent, but he's less well known than Matthew Flinders”. ABC News (25 Jan 2019)