Book Notes: "Hamilton Hume: Our Greatest Explorer" by Robert Macklin

Hamilton Hume: Our Greatest ExplorerHamilton Hume: Our Greatest Explorer by Robert Macklin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an engaging, patriotic read. Macklin's style is scholarly yet populist, and draws on an earlier, unpublished work by his father-in-law, Robert Webster. The work includes photographs from the Cooma Cottage at Yass. Hume's story is interwoven with the history of colonial Australia and stories of the British "sterling" class who are now more familiar as place names. I enjoyed the style and I must say I was gripped by the story. I am undecided whether the poetic embellishments reduce the scholarly usefulness of the work, but the story certainly rouses a native-born Australian's regard for Hume the man, and his ultimate victory over the vainglorious Hovell and his claims over Hume's achievements. The backstory of Hume's friend, the famous explorer Charles Sturt, not to mention many of the famous early explorers, are revived in this work and go a long way to filling in the gaps provided by a nationalistic 1970s primary school education that appears now to be passé. My thoughts keep going back to Macklin's writing style, and that his father-in-law's work could not find a commercial publisher. As a reader, I appreciate Macklin's style, but it makes we wonder how much scholarly compromise is made when adapting such work for a popular audience. This is not a criticism of Macklin's style, but rather a recurring reflection for my own practice. While I am interested in Australian history and can enjoy reading scholarly historical accounts, I cannot help but wonder what has been lost in a retelling that results in a gripping yarn about an important but otherwise under-appreciated Australian explorer and bushman. At the same time, I wonder whether the story would have resurfaced had it not been written in such a style. I daresay one must simply choose and suffer the judgements of one's audience accordingly.

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