153. LASSETER'S DIARY.
|"again we come to the diary found by members of the second expedition".|
|Idriess, Ion. L. Lasseter's Last Ride. 243.|
Of the several hundred entries in LASSETERIA, Lasseter's so called diary is proving to be the most difficult to comment on. It is not a diary in the usual sense, that is, a daily or regular record of events, and it's provenance is decidedly dubious. But until some plausible conclusions can be made the readers might find the following notes of interest.
The second C.A.G.E. Expedition found the diary on 16/10/31, buried in the floor of Lasseter's Cave on the Hull River, the date of the discovery is one of the many anomalies surrounding the diary and inclusion of excerpts in Lasseter's Last Ride. The first edition of Idriess's bestseller appeared on the bookshelves in early September, some seven weeks prior to the discovery of the diary, questionable anticipation on Idriess's part. To add to confusion, Eley in her biography of Idriess, records that Angus and Robertson purchased Lasseter's diary from his widow in mid 1931, "the buying of the diary was a 'hush-hush' affair". The reasons for secrecy are unclear, and knowing Idriess, one would have thought potential publicity on the acquisition of this historical document would be welcome. It could be that Idriess's publishers purchased the papers discovered near Lasseter's body by Bob Buck in March that year and early editions of Lasseter's Last Ride included passages from these letters. Later editions of the best seller, post diary discovery, included extracts from the buried notebook. Rumour has it that the first five editions of Lasseter's Last Ride were amended as further information became available from Central Australia, however finding early editions of the book are as difficult as finding Lasseter's Reef.
The 'diary' is in fact nothing more or less than an unordered collection of letter drafts, maps, drawings and translations, not one page in the document is dated, although several pages allude to dates. Pages 17 and 19 are the clearest references, where Lasseter bemoans his fate and writes, "It is now in January but I have lost count by date. I think about 16th or 18th ~ it is now 25 days since the camels bolted". Thus making the timing of this unfortunate event the 23rd or 25th of December, however to confuse the issue, Lasseter moves on to page 27 where he mentions that "to my way of thinking this is the ninth day after the camels bolted".??. (By the way, it is remarkable the number of significant happenings in Lasseter's life that occur at Christmas). There are other references to dates, at page 71 Lasseter writes, "I photographed the datum peg dated 23rd Dec", and at page 86 where he mentions the effects of three inches of rain at Lake Christopher, while Lasseter is quite specific about the time of the downpour the bracketed date has been (suspiciously or conveniently) obliterated by the elements or termites.
There is also the vexing issue of, "Just how many diaries did Lasseter have?", to quote Henry Domeyer in a letter to the editor of the Perth 'Daily News' on 14/2/68. In this article Domeyer refers to yet another search for Lasseter's Reef, based on some hopeful cracking a code hidden in a Lasseter diary, and Domeyer "would like to know where are all of Lasseter's diaries and maps coming from?. Every party that goes after the lost reef has his last map or diary". In chapter sixteen of Dream Millions, titled Lasseter's Diary, Blakeley describes an entirely different daily record kept by Lasseter, "Every night since we started he had written in his diary, a nice-looking volume about eight inches long, six inches wide and perhaps two inches thick. It was well bound, with a very fine black morocco cover and exceptionally good paper". It is not clear from Blakeley's narrative what happened to this diary if it ever existed, but there's an inference that it travelled with Lasseter on his journey to the Petermanns and therefore lost when the camels bolted.
The original diary was purchased from Angus and Robertson by the Mitchell Library in 1977 and a facsimile is available through most public libraries. For the purposes of detailed study I have numbered pages in the document starting from the 'Preface' as page one and page two the manufacturers imprint. Apparently the notebook, later to become 'Lasseter's diary' cost three shillings and sixpence, hardly a very cheap notebook, "something like what kiddies buy for a penny". The diary can also be viewed at http://www.acmi.net.au/FOD/FOD0683.html.
And it just may be that Lasseter never kept a diary or notebook, later to be found by the second expedition. Bear in mind that Bob Buck visited Sydney prior to setting out on the second expedition, and while there may have colluded with Idriess to arrange the finding of the record to add an evocative note to and further publicity for Lasseter's Last Ride. In a 1974 interview, "Mr. Idriess said the key to the mystery was a page missing from the diary found near Lasseter's body ~ Whether the missing page was inadvertently lost or deliberately torn out, I don't know he said". But matching Machiavellian plots with that "wily bushman" Idriess usually leads to confusion, excellent cover for the truth.
© R.Ross. 1999-2006