Next week I’m running a short workshop as part of the university’s school open days, looking at setting up a colony. There will be First Fleet Bingo and an activity looking at what we prioritise in the world around us. This post is written as part of preparation, as I work through the activities.
You are in the world. A real land, with real places and, more importantly for the purposes of this piece, real landmarks. I don’t mean Mount Wellington or Big Ben type landmarks, I mean day to day landmarks you use to navigate. The spot you cross the road because that side is definitely steeper than this one. The bus stop you push yourself to run to before collapsing to a slow crawl, the pothole you correct your steering for before its even visible. They mark your process from A to B, and passing them gives you a message about your journey – you’re halfway there, keep an eye out for that steep hill coming up.
These landmarks tell us a lot about what we pay attention to, what is important as we move from place to place. A map of my journey (by foot) from home to work shows the friendly cat, the sustenance stop, the steep hill, the weird house, and the massive detour that is somehow the most direct route.
These are apparently the things my subconscious notices every time I walk along this route. They’re the things that are important to me. And I’m sure you could tell a lot about an individual from this kind of map. But not only individuals.
Maps reveal what is important to societies or groups. That’s not news, it’s obvious when you think about it. But they also reveal what is important to those people at that point of time. My landmark map has very different priorities to the first map of a British settlement in Van Diemen’s Land.
Living in a 21st century city, I don’t need to note the marshy ground, or the soil qualities. Where I buy a hot chocolate on a cold dull day is far more important than where I can plant the wheat that will ensure my survival.
These early maps of the Van Diemen’s Land settlements reveal a lot about the important elements of establishing a viable colony. Soils, drainage, river access, ground cover, topography, these were the priorities of explorers looking for lands to colonise and exploit.