The explorer Ludwig Leichhardt (*1813 in Trebatsch – †1848? in Central Australia) is a colonial figure shared by Germany and Australia alike. After a successful expedition together with a party of Indigenous and non-Indigenous men, travelling north – east from Moreton Bay (Brisbane) to Port Essington in 1844 and 1845 – Leichhardt was hailed as hero in both his native Prussia and in the Australian colonies. His and his party’s subsequent disappearance in the Australian interior on a further expedition in 1848 bound for the west coast remains a mystery, and together with his controversial character and the mixed nature of his legacies, continues to fascinate, engage or trouble Australians, Germans and others.
Today Leichhardt is remembered as a scientific hero, a cultural enquirer, and as an agent of colonial expansion. He has been portrayed through fiction and visual art, sung about, and cudgelled by opinion. He has been claimed or vilified by the Australian colonies, the British Empire and Prussia, by National Socialism and the East German state, as well as by contemporary Germany and Australia. Still missing, he is found in so many places.
In the light of important contemporary reassessments of Germany’s colonial past, how can cultural studies adequately engage with such a legacy? Given how little we can ever know about Leichhardt’s fate, what is the potential, in this context, of a fragmented yet composite picture of the explorer? A little over 200 years after his birth and exactly 170 years after departing on the journey from which he never returned, researchers, cultural producers and family members within and beyond the Academy were asked to experiment with the memory of this ambiguous colonial actor. They were invited to share a Leichhardt yarn and to contribute to the ongoing renegotiations of meaning attached to him as a dynamic figure enmeshed in the forces of memory.
In ‘Failure: The Curse of Leichhardt’, Anna Haebich introduces the reader to the Australian politician Bill Grayden, who set out on an expedition to find Leichhardt and returned as a modern-day prophet with a new cause: to “help” the Ngaanyatjarra desert people.
In ‘Dreaming Leichhardt: Wim Wenders at the End of the World’, Gail Jones analyses how Wim Wenders is cinema-seancing Leichhardt in his movie “Until the End of the World” (1991).
Lindsay Barret describes a traumatic experience he had, living in the inner-Sydney suburb of Leichhardt. He explains how the suburb was named after Leichhardt and how he and Leichhardt actually share a few things in common, especially the urge to record, observe and make traces.
Gerrit Haas’s, ‘How to Write About Leichhardt? _Towards a Ficto/critical Manifesto‘, is a declaration on how to write about Leichhardt in a ficto/critical way and why Leichhardt is a subject for ficto-critical writing. His essay ‘How to Write Like … Hard? – Manifestly Untoward: The Ficto/critical –’, is the performance of ficto-critical writing on Leichhardt.
In ‘Schoolbook Leichhardts: Discovering Ludwig Leichhardt in Historical Narratives for Children‘, Stefanie Land-Hilbert reflects on her discoveries on Leichhardt in Australian and German textbooks.
Anja Schwarz reflects on a puzzling comment by Irrwanyere elder Bingey Lowe in ‘Too many Ludwig Leichhardts‘.
These and many other Leichhardt stories can be accessed here.