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Sunday 22 July 2012

Review: My Father's Islands: Abel Tasman's Heroic Voyages

It's so easy to underestimate the perils of the treacherous sea journeys undertaken by the world's first explorers. Sure, we know it couldn't have been easy but do we really have a solid clue on the mind-numbing bravery and skill it took to set out on world voyages, housed in the comparably rickety ships of yore?

Here we sit in our cushy living rooms, booking seamless air travel online, quickly and easily travelling upon and navigating an openly visible globe with our very own fandangled GPS machines - without a single turn of thought to the battering winds of the southern capes let alone scurvy.

GPS? No such thing in the 17th Century, when truly masterful navigators and cartographers threw themselves into the mercy of great ravenous oceans and rabid jaws of the Unknown. And Abel Tasman, almost singularly credited with just discovering Tasmania, at least in the eyes of the Australian general public, is most certainly one of the most masterful . . . and trailblazing.

Written through the eyes of his young daughter, Claesgen, respected author Cristobel Mattingley has penned an astonishing tale of Tasman's most prominent voyages. Like most famed seamen, Tasman began his seagoing career before the mast as a regular sailor before rising to the ranks of skipper.

His first journeys with the Dutch East India Company saw him travelling to Java, the Spice Islands (now the Moluccas), Sri Lanka and beyond - and each of these voyages is commented upon, with much pride and gusto, by a young Claesgen, who reports on not only the dramatic, life-threatening trails of her father's challenging sea journeys, but the glorious spoils he returns with for his daughter and her stepmother - coffee from Arabia, pepper from India, cinnamon from Ceylon, silk from Bengal.

Of course, of all his journeys, Tasman's 1642 discovery of the land he named Anthony Van Diemens Landt is one of the most thrilling, as is his subsequent sighting of New Zealand, being the first known European to do so.

The most tender and fascinating of detail is rendered by the telling of this story through the eyes of Tasman's daughter, not only in terms of the extraordinary feats Tasman and his crew undertook on their journeys, but in regard to the joy, love and excitement we experience through the eyes of his proud young daughter.

The book is peppered with striking images including Tasman's original maps, lists of ships' stores, paintings, illustrations and journal entries, making it as much a visual historical feast as a fine literary tale.

Mattingley's voice is charming, intensely descriptive, informative and detailed. Her use of annotations to describe references and modern updates is a fine way to introduce young readers to a practice normally reserved for more formal literature, and her notes on placenames and metric conversions are equally thorough and informative.

This is a priceless book for schools and libraries but equally important for the bookshelves of not only Australian children, but kids the world over. Adults will become equally enamoured by these rollicking, sea-soaked accounts that are not only fascinating and educational, they pack a priceless and adventuresome punch.

Take your sea legs with you.

You can buy a copy of this book directly from the NLA website.

Title: My Father's Islands: Abel Tasman's Heroic Voyages
Author: Cristobel Mattingley
Publisher: National Library of Australia, $16.95 RRP
Publication Date: 2012
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780642277367
For ages: 8+
Type: Historical Fiction