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Psalter world map, c.1265  British Library, London ©The British Library Board (Additional 28681)

Psalter world map, c.1265
British Library, London
©The British Library Board (Additional 28681)

Have you ever been lost? So well and truly lost that you haven’t seen another person or a town for hours or even days?

I’ve never been that lost but I do recall a road trip in Queensland during which a wrong turn meant a five hour drive in the wrong direction. We thought the road we were on went around a mountain range, unfortunately we’d missed that one turn in the road and there were very few subsequent ones. An adventure though with lots of giggles and gorgeous views!

Have you ever tried to find your way across a foreign country with just a mudmap?

I’ve done that but luckily I was with someone who could navigate with very minimal information. Left on my own I’d follow the sun and hope for the best!

Imagine if you were on a ship, not a cruise ship, but a sailing ship and you were sailing into the unknown. Unexplored territory surrounded by myth, mystery and rumours. Imagine sailing towards the end of the earth not knowing if you would return. You are on a mission to expand your countries trading routes, or you are an explorer hoping for riches beyond your dreams, or perhaps, you are just curious and want to know where the horizon ends.

I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to chart the unknown but this week I’ve seen how the world was discovered. I saw the gradual transition of mapping across the ages to include Australia and New Zealand. I saw Australia on top of the world, then I saw it called ‘beach’, then it was connected as one land to Indonesia. Fascinating the assumptions that were made before the land was discovered.

I saw interpretations of the world based on trade routes and political importance. I saw maps that included the Tower of Babel and sea monsters. I saw sketches and ornate images, beautiful artistry and images of fantasy dating back centuries. There was a 15th century interpretation of Ptolemy’s 2nd century map, the Babylonian map from the 6th century and the beautiful Fra Mauro map (c 1459).

The exhibition was Mapping Our World: Terra Incognita to Australia at the National Library in Canberra. The age of some of the maps was astounding and what it revealed was insightful.

I’ve always loved history but this was the first time I’d explored history through maps. It put a whole new perspective on ‘lost’ and ‘travel’. I am amazed at the courage and perseverance it took to give us the view of the world as a map and I am astounded at mankind’s endeavours to explore and record the world.

Without this curiosity we could not have developed – we wouldn’t have medicine, science, gone to space, learnt to read, made tools. Regardless of where you look, everything we have today we owe to our curiosity to know more.

If you are in Canberra I highly recommend the exhibition, if not, check out some of the maps on the National Library website (http://www.nla.gov.au/exhibitions/mapping-our-world).

The good life? Discovering new worlds.

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