The Great Race

Written by David Hill
Review by Cassandra Clark

This a real tour de force, a must-read for anybody interested in the beginnings of European settlement in the Great South Land, Australia. Hill writes with vivid fluency about the great race between two intrepid sea-farers, Englishman Matthew Flinders and Frenchman Nicolas Baudin, who competed to explore the uncharted continent and produce the first map. By the time Flinders and Baudin set sail, it was still thought that the east and west coasts were separate islands. Undaunted, they defied storms, scurvy, drought, hunger and the continual fear of sailing into the unknown, as well as weevils in the biscuits and the privations suffered living in cramped, wet conditions for years on end.

Hill’s magnificent grasp of his subject makes life on board a leaky, square-rigger leap from the page and sets the voyages firmly in the historical and political context. Flinders’ seven-year imprisonment by a vindictive French commander on his way back to England with his maps and notes is the only sour note in the splendid cooperation between two nations and two men in this tale of high courage. A positive and inspiring story brilliantly told.