His Excellency M. Michel Filhol
Clausewitz said that “war was politics by other means.” Hydrography too, at least at the turn of the 19th century, was politics by other means. The case of Freycinet/Flinders is a perfect illustration.
Today, the echoes are muffled. Muffled but not totally silenced, so that we can imagine the vivacity of the quarrel and the rivalry at the time. The stakes, it is true, were of paramount importance. But nowadays Australia, within the Commonwealth, is Australian and we are happy that this country friend of ours bears some names that are ours. Names that testify to the ancient relations, and inscribe the history of the discovery and of its explorers, are in its toponomy.
I am happy today to utter these words in this very National Library. One of the locations, with the Archives, where we can walk back along history lane, listen to its spontaneous stories and understand them through a reflection enlightened by studies and centuries.
What do these spontaneous stories say?
They say Baudin was a poor captain. They resound with attacks against him from his crew and the scientists on board the Géographe and Naturaliste. They also echo the attacks from across the Channel. They pick their winner, sometimes against the facts. They decide on behalf of Posterity.
What is left of them today?
- The proof that collective history is inseparable from individual history, as we know it; that it forces itself upon the individual, sometimes to extol him, sometimes to crush him, sometimes to set him aside.
- The proof that the scientific conquest of the globe did not exclude colonial conquest and that its champions were less differentiated by their individual deeds than by the weight of the country to which they belonged.
- The proof, at last, that if we feel compelled to put a name on a discovery, a success, a scientific progress, we must be aware that this name is thrust to the fore by the episteme which is the genuine discoverer. “Worship maternity, Paternity is no more than a chance,” as Nietzsche said.
Having said that, let us come back to the extraordinary adventure that was the discovery of Australia and its mapping. It was the last great adventure before the landing on the moon.
I am delighted that today homage is being paid, in the presence of his descendant, to Freycinet, who, in the midst of the Baudin expedition, played an important role in the emergence of Australia. We have known it since the Bible: existing depends on naming and Freycinet contributed to naming parts of Australia. Existing also depends on a form and body. Freycinet has been instrumental in providing complete and permanent form to Australia. This is the theme, or at least part of the theme, of today’s symposium, and I want to thank the Australia on the Map Division of the Australasian Hydrographic Society, the National Library, the academics who take interest in this adventure and Henry de Freycinet who embodies it.