Opening Remarks – The Freycinet Map Symposium, 19 June 2011

Vice Admiral Chris Ritchie AO RANR

Today’s symposium to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of the first map of Australia has been arranged through the good offices of the French Embassy here in Canberra, the National Library of Australia and the Australia on the Map Division of the Australasian Hydrographic Society.

We are here today as part of the Australasian Hydrographic Society’s activities in honour of World Hydrography Day next Tuesday 21 June. World Hydrography Day was established by the International Hydrographic Organisation and endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2005, as a day set aside as an opportunity to increase public awareness of the vital role that hydrography plays in the lives of all of us.

The International Hydrographic Organisation, in publicising World Hydrography Day, reminds us that from the beginning of recorded history mankind has sought to cross the seas and oceans and in so doing has always faced the risk of disaster because of our limited knowledge of the hazards of the deep and perhaps more often, the not deep enough. They tell us that even today when we have mapped the surface of the moon and of Mars there remain parts of the world’s oceans and coastlines where there are no surveys at all, or where the depth is known only every few kilometres. Despite centuries of dedicated toil by many mariners exploring and charting the oceans, more often than not in the face of extreme hardship and danger, there remains much work to be done by the national hydrographic offices which collectively form the International Hydrographic Organisation.

Today’s symposium looks at some of the earlier hydrographic work done on the Australian coast. It is not the earliest. We know little of our Indigenous people’s early knowledge of the sea but many believe that they must have crossed some of it as they moved south along the land bridges into Australia those tens of thousands of years ago. Perhaps they were amongst the earliest true seafarers.

But we do know that our earliest reliably recorded charting of our coast is that of Willem Janszoon in the Duyfken on Cape York in 1606. Celebration of the 400th anniversary of that event was the initial inspiration for the founding of Australia on the Map.

Today’s subject, Freycinet’s map of 1811, might be seen as coming full circle from that small beginning in 1606 in that finally there was published, for the first time, a complete map of the Australian coast. The initial work of Janszoon, added to by many others sailing under Dutch, Spanish, French and British flags was finally complete. It took 205 years.

We are fortunate to be able today to hear a group of eminently qualified speakers including a descendent of the original cartographer, talk of the detail of such a significant hydrographic achievement. It is a very appropriate way to celebrate World Hydrography Day and this is a significant event on the World Hydrography Day calendar. I thank you all for joining us and look forward to a rewarding day ahead.

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