The genesis of the Western Australian Explorers’ Diaries Project was John Septimus Roe, the Swan River Colony’s first Surveyor General. From 1827 Roe took great pains to transcribe every journal of exploration in Western Australia that came across his desk.
After Roe retired in December 1870 the collection of exploration reports was not updated.
The Lands and Surveys Department continued to receive and hold surveyors’ fieldbooks, journals and reports, but these documents were not kept in a single form of reference.
More disturbingly, journals, diaries and reports of private explorations were not systematically recorded and to this day the location of each and every one of these important documents is not completely known – although many are with the Royal Western Australian Historical Society and the State Records Office of Western Australia (SROWA).
In the 1950s, the Lands and Surveys Department started using aerial photography to map the topography of Western Australia.
Aerial photography quickly made it clear that there were issues with the methods of land survey used in the 19th century. Cartographers found that the location of many features, such as hills, did not match.
Quite simply – we did not know our State. And this was only 50-70 years ago!!!
There was a pressing need to go back to source documents – the explorers’ journals – to determine the names and locations of many, many features throughout our State.
One of the main sources of reference for names of places and features and their origins was a set of six volumes of exploration journals from 1827 to 1871. This collection, prepared in 1966, consisted of bound photocopies of typescripts, made in the early 1920s of the Lands and Surveys’ record of exploration journals. Entitled Exploration Diaries, this material is held by the Battye Library. But these typescripts proved to be an unreliable source of information as many words, including the names of places and people, had not been accurately transcribed. In addition, many diaries of explorations were missing from these volumes.
In 1980 and 1981 Peter Bridge of Hesperian Press approached the Lands and Surveys Department for access to maps, exploration diaries, journals, reports and other material relating to exploration related held by them. But almost 20 years would elapse before the project would commence in earnest.
In early 2000 Kim Epton and Peter Bridge formally approached the Department of Land Administration (now Landgate) for assistance with access to records they held – although the focus in accessing these records fairly quickly moved to the SROWA. A Project Committee was formed and it quickly expanded to include geographers, historians, botanists, ecologists, typists, proofreaders, editors, genealogists and persons generally and genuinely interested in assisting.
And from it emerged the Western Australian Explorers’ Diaries Project.
So what’s happening now? Fourteen years on nine Volumes have been published, three are nearly ready to be published, three more are in preparation and many more are in the pipeline. More details in The Volumes.