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Critics' Picks review - Sad topographies

There are over 2,000 new books to browse and read in our Critics’ Picks collection, in the Governor Marie Bashir Reading Room. Every book has been reviewed by top critics, including the Australian Book Review, New York Review of books, the Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books.

Have you made any surprising discoveries on our shelves?

 


Sad topographies book cover
While looking at a map of Australia, Damien Rudd happened upon Mount Hopeless in the Flinders Ranges. An artist and writer by trade, Rudd’s imagination was fired.

Where did the name Mount Hopeless originate? Is the name justified? What other places in the world have similarly melancholic names?

On further investigation, Rudd discovered a plethora of sad-sounding places, all with fascinating stories behind them. Sad topographies: a disenchanted traveller’s guide travels every continent to explore sorrowful placenames. The southern hemisphere produces many, from Deception Island in Antarctica to Isle of the Dead in Tasmania and Disappointment Island in New Zealand. The northern hemisphere gives us Doom Town (Nevada), Lonelyville (New York), Suicide Forest (Japan) and Death (Finland).

Rudd acknowledges that many of these placenames have ridden in roughshod over the names used by indigenous inhabitants for centuries previously. He mentioned Indigenous Australians in particular, referring to the songlines - rather than maps - with which Indigenous Australians traditionally find their way. Following European settlement, says Rudd, “songs and names were lost. Places were renamed, now reflecting a new kind of story; one of territorial conquest and colonial expeditions, a landscape recalling not mythical deities and spirits, but explorers, geologists, royalty and celebrities.

Each chapter focuses upon a particular name. Rudd paints the picture by delving into the history of a place, and events leading up to the naming of that place. For Cape Grim in Tasmania, for example, Rudd tells the tragic story of the massacre of thirty Indigenous men by four employees of the Van Diemen’s Land Company. He illustrates the chapter with an iconic image from this Library’s collection, that of Governor Arthur’s proclamation board of 1816 (below). The proclamation board was aimed at Tasmania’s Indigenous people, aiming to show them that murders by settlers and by Indigenous Tasmanians would result in the same consequences under colonial law: death by hanging.

The book itself is a work of art. Illustrated throughout with beautiful maps drawn by Kateryna Didyk, and embellished with contemporary paintings and prints, every page is a thing of wonder.

Though Rudd has never visited most of the sad places described in this book, he is an accomplished storyteller who manages to tease out the sadness, the desolation and the loss of life that these placenames evoke. Mount Hopeless, named by explorer Edward Eyre during his futile quest for an inland sea, is but the tip of this lugubrious iceberg.

Reviewer: Andy Carr, Librarian, Information & Access

OTHER REVIEWS

“Droll and quirky, this "anti-travel" book tantalises the reader with the melancholy pleasure of the stories behind these places while removing any need to venture there.”Sydney Morning Herald

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Damien Rudd was born in 1984 and grew up in Australia. After studying graphic deign and photography, he completed a Master’s in Fine Art at the Kunsthøgskolen in Bergen, Norway. Taking the form of installation, photography and text, Damien’s work investigates historical memory through the reading of objects implicated in past events. In 2015, he started the Instagram account @SadTopographies. He currently lives in Amsterdam.


Different sections of Governor Arthur's Proclamation to the Aborigines

About this item: 


Governor Davey's [sic - actually Governor Arthur] Proclamation to the Aborigines, 1816 [sic actually c.1828-30]
 

First Section, Governor Arthur's Proclamation to the Aborigines
ca. 1828-1830
Digital ID: 
IE3318471
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Image of the second section of Governor Arthur's Proclamation to the Aborigines
About this item: 

Governor Arthur's Proclamation to the Aborigines, ca. 1828-1830

Second section of Governor Arthur's Proclamation to the Aborigines
Digital ID: 
IE3318471
View collection item detail
Image of the third section of Second section of Governor Arthur's Proclamation to the Aborigines
About this item: 

Governor Arthur's Proclamation to the Aborigines, ca. 1828-1830

Third section of Governor Arthur's Proclamation to the Aborigines
Digital ID: 
IE3318471
View collection item detail
Image of the fourth section of Governor Arthur's Proclamation to the Aborigines
About this item: 

Governor Arthur's Proclamation to the Aborigines, ca. 1828-1830

Fourth section of Governor Arthur's Proclamation to the Aborigines
Digital ID: 
IE3318471
View collection item detail
About this item: 

Governor Arthur's Proclamation to the Aborigines, ca. 1828-1830

Governor Arthur's Proclamation to the Aborigines
Digital ID: 
IE3318471
View collection item detail

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