“He that would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with him. So it is in travelling. A man must carry knowledge with him if he would bring home knowledge.”
Samuel Johnson circa 1770s
I first saw this quotation in Washington DC. It adorns one of the external and very grand walls of Union Station, in the heart of the US capital. Samuel Johnson never actually made it to Australia and this text was actually written to his friend and biographer James Boswell. And the words were in reference to travel generally and, in particular, his famous study, 'A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland'.
This was one of those quotations that etched itself in my brain. It reminded me then – and has since – that meaningful travel demands mental exercise in both the preparation and whilst travelling. And it hints at the great value of travel to broaden and educate the mind.
Travel in the 18th century was significantly more challenging than it is today, when we get a bit irked if the plane is an hour late, forgetting that we have just having travelled halfway across the globe. Although Johnson never made it to Australia, I was thinking on his words as I visited Australia recently.
I have been fortunate to have been able to criss-cross the globe for leisure, study, voluntary service, family gatherings and work. This trip was for a family wedding but some leisure exploration was also included – how could I not, having travelled so far?
Australia has been in the news a lot lately, mostly because of the heat, fires and environmental impact and implications.
I’ve been in hot places before but I was unprepared for the blast furnace heat of 48C, evidenced in the car temperature gauge! My distant recall of schooldays' Geography was that Australia was often a very hot place. I found myself wondering how much of the current problem is our belief that we can easily manage nature?
All countries slip into the same trap, whether it be building on floodplains or ignoring the wild winds that can hit an area.
Of course, as human beings we are often seduced by the possibilities of wealth in new places. Much migration has been economic, sometimes out of desperation and other times avarice.
One of my destinations was Ballarat in Victoria, a city with strong Scottish connections. With a statue of Robert Burns in the centre it is hard to miss the link. The discovery of gold in 1851 led to the area becoming the epicentre of the Australian Gold rush. This was no quick boom and bust either. It lasted for decades through to the end of the 19th century and is still evidenced in many of the stunning pieces of architecture that fill the city centre.
A great example is the Coffee Palace from 1886 – not your average Costa drive-thru! (Other brands are available).
I was reared on the idea of ‘the nation state’; one in which the great majority shares the same culture and are conscious of it; an ideal in which cultural boundaries match up with political ones.
Whether it ever really existed is debatable, but we live in more diverse times, which can be disorientating for many. Perhaps it explains at least part of the yearning for strong national movements to ‘make our country great again’? These are global tensions but are being acted out on the streets where we live and work.
And yet, for hundreds of years – or more – societies have melded and fused disparate influences and peoples together. Will that not just continue, albeit with a bit more turbulence, as we have the ability to see more at the global level?
And that takes me back to Australia and the heat. The environmental issues there are causing many political and cultural questions to be asked. Is the country taking the challenges it faces seriously enough? Is there a climate apocalypse coming? Big questions. Time will tell.
But will it be too late for the koalas? This is a rescue one at the Australia Zoo, north of Brisbane.
"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page."