Whistling the death march? Listening in to the acoustics of ludwig leichhardt’s Australian exploration

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Australian Historical Studies, 2019, 50 (2), pp. 155 - 170
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© 2019, Routledge. All rights reserved. Scholars considering the acoustics of exploration have focused on how explorers heard Australian space in terms of silence, to argue this silenced Indigenous presence, or that stillness, was incongruous with how a place to be colonised should sound. I focus on the acoustically attuned Ludwig Leichhardt, a science-poet indebted to the Enlightenment, but also engaged with the German Romantic legacy. The manifold acoustic dimensions of expeditioning – including music – were important to him in different ways. The acoustic world could be assayed and harnessed in ways that were often consistent with colonialism. But there was also something fugitive about acoustics. They could mark a site for emotional engagement with place, and sometimes embryonic cross-cultural dialogue. Yet the possibilities were not always heard and, in line with Romanticism, the acoustic could drag down expeditioners’ spirits just as it could buoy them up. It could baffle or be a site for Indigenous resistance.
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