The discussion around the excerpt that Scott G.F. Bailey posted on his blog from the rough manuscript known as The Bottom of the Earth included the suggestion that northern hemisphere people used to think of the southern hemisphere as “the bottom of the earth,” or another phrase that was something like that, and so (looking for more knowledge in that area) I read Weitemeyer’s book out of curiosity to see if he used those words or any other while he was planning (euphemism) his move to Australia, but Weitemeyer did not use any phrase at all: he used a series of scenes that suggested a difficulty in obtaining accurate information; difficulty was his description of distance. “Travellers who come from this distant continent, bring us very conflicting statements,” he remembers his school textbook telling him before it segued into a paragraph about kangaroos, wool, and the “vast lake of salt water” that it saw in the centre of the island – imagination – didn’t exist. “It was really an ignorant and disgraceful morsel of information for one of the best schools in Copenhagen to offer to its pupils,” he writes, “but it was all the knowledge I had or could get.” He spoke to a man in Hamburg who was being paid to encourage European citizens to migrate to Queensland.
"Do you yourself know anything much about Queensland?" I ventured to ask; "I suppose you never were there?" "I, no, I never was there-- [says the man] I wish I had been, I should not have to stand here to-day. But we have every information. They have found gold-diggings again. Here are the statistics of exports; I will read them for you:--
Weitemeyer buys his ticket, trusts that he knows nothing; imagines that bushranging will be his recourse if all else fails. “To be the captain of a gang of warriors, half robbers, half gold-miners, roaming over the continent of Australia, seemed a delightful prospect.” On the ship he “stood aloof looking round me in silent wonder as to what the end would be.” Distance is underinformednation and so is wonder. Proust, corresponding about stock investments with his cousin Lionel Hauser, once mentioned that he was interested in Australian gold mines. “With Marcel his investments reflected not incompetence but aspects of his character,” writes Jean-Yves Tadié. “When he dreamed about these names, stock exchange quotations came to resemble railway timetables.” Marcel Proust: a Life, 1996, tr. Euan Cameron. The dying man who whispers the murderer’s identity to his son in The Boscombe Valley Mystery, Doyle, 1892, would not have been able to name his killer if Sherlock Holmes had not been capable of covering the mental distance between the “allusion to a rat” that the son heard and the presence of a large goldfield town west of Melbourne. “He mumbled a few words,” says the son, “but I could only catch some allusion to a rat.” The Coroner asks him how he interpreted the rat. “It conveyed no meaning to me,” says the son. “I thought that he was delirious.” Not until Holmes has wired to Bristol for a map of Victoria with place names marked on it is he in a position to show Watson that “a rat” is not a rat but the end of a word, “-arat.” The abstract proceeds to materialism. “We have come now out of mere vagueness to the definite conception of an Australian from Ballarat with a grey cloak,” Holmes says. The son who, on the day of his father’s death, heard his father calling, “Cooee,” thought that he was being summoned, but the father was shouting to someone else and he did not expect to see the son crossing a distance towards him. “He appeared to be much surprised at seeing me and asked me rather roughly what I was doing there.” Here, at first, is the sound -- in the son’s imagination -- of the father absolutely desiring the presence of his son, and now secondly the father is nonplussed, he appears to have cried out ambiguously and confusingly, both desiring and not-desiring his son – but then thirdly and finally, thanks to Holmes, we all know that he did not think he was calling his son at all, in spite of the fact that “Cooee” was understood by the young man to be “a usual signal between my father and myself.”
Now this specific cry of “Cooee” identifies the father as a man who could utter that word without regarding it, as the son does, as a privately-owned set of consonants and vowels. Why is the father in this position of wisdom? Because he has emigrated from Australia. He is trying to communicate with a different man, one who has lived in Ballarat, a diabetic who is about to hit him on the head with a rock: someone who is still remembered on the Victorian goldfields by the name he called himself while he was living out Weitemeyer’s dream of bushranging. “'Cooee' is a distinctly Australian cry, and one which is used between Australians,” Holmes explains to Watson. The word that the son thinks of as his own is shared by thousands of people he has never met, inhabiting a continent that he has never visited, all so far away that the news of ownership has never reached him. When Captain James Cook wrote about his Voyage Towards the South Pole and Round the World, 1777, he gave you some idea of the distance between the hemispheres partly by describing the volume of supplies he would have to order before he left, and if I am wrong about this (I haven’t read the book in a while) then I am focussed on it because the phrase, “inspissated juice of wort” has stuck with me. What’s this word, “inspissated”? I wondered, when I read it. In my recollection I crossed the distance between myself and “inspissated” immediately by looking it up. Cook meant that the juice of wort was thickened by a process of dehydration. If I had not been impatient I would have discovered after a few more lines or paragraphs (I forget which) that he wanted to explain inspissation to me himself. Today I know the definition but I am still not comforted and calmed and undisturbed by the words “inspissated juice of wort” and I expect to go on being uneasy until I have found some and drunk it. Fanny Burney’s brother sailed with Cook, by the way: he must have known what it tasted like. A small bat-shaped island near the Australian coast has been named after him. See Henry Stuart Russell’s The Genesis of Queensland, 1888.