Senate debates

Tuesday, 25 June 2013


Leichhardt, Dr Ludwig

10:53 pm

Photo of Sue BoyceSue Boyce (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to talk to the Senate this evening about Ludwig Leichhardt. This year is the bicentenary of his birth on 23 October 2013. Ludwig Leichhardt was of course a legendary explorer and naturalist. Very much due to the efforts of our ambassador to Germany, Mr Peter Tesch, who is a proud Queenslander of German heritage, this event will be celebrated in Australia, especially throughout Queensland, and in Germany. My office has been taking part in these historical celebrations. But firstly, before we talk about the celebrations themselves, I would like to provide some background about the enigmatic, eccentric but very gifted Leichhardt.

Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig Leichhardt was born in Prussia, one of eight children. He studied philosophy, languages and natural sciences in Prussia and in Berlin but never received a university degree. He moved to England in 1837, continued his studies in the natural sciences and undertook fieldwork in several European countries, including France, Italy and Switzerland. Saying that he continued his studies is something of an understatement. I suspect that, were Ludwig Leichhardt around today, he would have a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder. He was quite manic in his efforts to pursue education and learning.

At the age of 29, Leichhardt arrived in Sydney, determined to explore the inland reaches of Australia. Here he led three major expeditions. But it was his epic journey of 4,800 kilometres in 1844 and 1845, during which he travelled from the Darling Downs to Port Essington, north-west of Darwin, that cemented him in the annals of history in Australia and in the annals of exploration worldwide.

It needs to be remembered that Ludwig Leichhardt had poor eyesight and no bush skills at all, but he was perhaps the best trained person in the natural sciences to ever explore in Australia. Leichhardt was the first European to see large tracts of inland Queensland and the first European to cross through this territory. For the colonists, Australia was virtually completely unexplored, apart from the settlements clustered around the eastern coastline at that time. The interior, to these settlers, was a vast and mysterious blank.

Ludwig's contribution to Queensland's geological understanding and his discovery of new species of flora and fauna is immeasurable. His detailed journals and scientific legacy are still being researched and appreciated. His discoveries included coal seams and serious geological formations in Queensland. During this first expedition he came across a large river, which he named the Burdekin River after a woman who had donated to his expedition.

During the 1844-45 expedition, Leichhardt passed through the current Queensland federal electorates of Groom, Flynn, Dawson, Kennedy, Maranoa, Capricornia and Leichhardt. This is what I have based my involvement in the bicentenary celebrations on. To mark Ludwig Leichhardt's bicentenary, I have organised an essay and drawing competition for high school students in mainstream and special schools in those electorates, and drawing competitions for primary school students in mainstream and special schools in those electorates. Our office has written to 710 schools in those electorates and we have had a fantastic response from both the students and their teachers. There have been more than 400 entries received. Next week I will be going to Rockhampton—along with Bill Gannon, an artist with a keen interest in Leichhardt who has written numerous papers on him, and Rod Schlenker, a surveyor from Rockhampton who also has a deep fascination with all things Leichhardt—to judge those entries and to find our winners.

I am so pleased that the response has been what it is because it demonstrates that there is still a fascination amongst Queensland students with natural history and the fate of Ludwig Leichhardt. Just some of the schools that have sent in entries are Stanthorpe, Tara, Mount Isa, Mackay, Kennedy, Banana, Dimbulah, Mareeba, Hughenden, South Townsville, South Johnstone, Mount Lofty, Flying Fish Point, Emerald, Gladstone, Wyreema, Yeppoon, Clifton, Glenmorgan, Dysart, Barcaldine and Horn Island. Those are just some of the schools that have entered. I am sorry that we cannot give everyone a prize, but I am really hoping that the competition will whet the appetite of these students for Australia's natural resources and towards becoming naturalists. Prizes for the competition will include iPads for first place getters and money vouchers and books for second and third place.

I have been stunned by the support I have received in this area. One of my staff phoned the Perth Mint and spoke to the sales and marketing manager, Mr Ron Currie, about the beautifully crafted Ludwig Leichhardt commemorative coin that the Perth Mint has produced. These are valued at $199 each and, because the bicentenary has occurred in 2013, only 2,013 of these coins have been produced. Mr Currie was told about our competition, we inquired about the coin and then, lo and behold, about three days later 12 of the coins arrived at my office at no charge from the Perth Mint to be used as prizes for the students. I thank the Perth Mint for that.

I also received copies of what is likely to become a priceless book from Mr Bernd Boschan, who is the director of the Amt Lieberose/Oberspreewald. He heard via Ambassador Tesch of the competition and has donated four copies of The Vast Silence, a book by a German artist and author which has been specially commissioned to mark the bicentenary. The woman who undertook the work is Sigrid Noack. This stunning book, as I said, was especially commissioned for this bicentenary year. It is based on the diary entries of Leichhardt with accompanying illustrations by Sigrid Noack. The diary entries are in both German and English. It is absolutely stunning and the colours of the landscapes just jump off the page. Again, it is a limited edition book.

From the German Australian Community Centre in Queensland, Mr Detlef Sulzer has donated as prizes a number of copies of the book Queensland's German Connections: Past, Present and Future: 170 Years Strong (1842-2012). Again, this is a fascinating book, rich in historical and cultural information that demonstrates the significant role that German people played in shaping Queensland.

Again as part of the celebrations, in July I am planning to retrace Leichhardt's steps—or some of them, I should say—through the Queensland electorates that he visited. We will be starting at Jimbour Station, where Leichhardt departed on that first epic trip. Jimbour Station is not far from Toowoomba, but when he left there it was the far outreaches. One of the things that makes Ludwig Leichhardt so interesting is the fact that no-one has yet discovered what happened to him. He was last seen in April 1848 at McPherson's Station, Coogoon, on the Darling Downs. His disappearance and death remain one of the enduring mysteries. There have been at least five expeditions mounted to try to discover what has happened to him, but it still remains an enduring mystery. It is wonderful that such a marvellous man is being acknowledged so thoroughly in Australia, particularly Queensland, and in Germany. (Time expired)