We revere our explorers here in Australia. Of all our historical giants, few are more respected than those brave, confused men who ventured forth in colonial times from the safe coastal enclaves, to discover what lay in the vast stretches of land hitherto unknown except to all the people who lived there. The fact that they were quite often fairly incompetent and reasonably stupid should not in any way detract from their achievements.
Which brings us to the tale of Hume and Hovell, two men who overcame the fact they hated each other’s guts to successfully accidentally make some important discoveries.
Mr Hamilton Hume and Captain William Hovell joined forces in 1824 with the intention of travelling from Lake George in south-eastern New South Wales, to the Bass Strait. Why did they decide to do this? Because it was there. Or at least they assumed it was there. Mainly they wanted to find out whether inland Australia was an impenetrable waste or a pleasant place to have a stroll.
You might have thought that since the two men chose to make an expedition together that they were friends, but in fact they loathed each other from the start. This was in large part due to the fact that Hovell was a posh Englishman who had served in the Royal Navy, and Hume was a second-generation Australian, born at Seven Hills, which made him in the eyes of nineteenth-century Englishman barely one step above a chimpanzee. Little did he know that in the end, half of Australia would be named after Hume and he would only be known as a synonym for terrible housing.
Hume and Hovell set out, with six companions, several horses, and, for some reason, a pram, on October 2, 1824. They immediately set to fighting. They couldn’t agree on anything: which way to go, where to camp, who the river should be named after (obviously it ended up being Hume). Just three weeks into the trip, the party ran up against a mountain range, and a furious argument broke out over which was the best way to proceed. And by “furious”, I mean “basically very stupid”.
In fact, this was the point at which the proud history of Australian colonial exploration turned into a wacky sitcom. Unable to resolve their disagreement, Hume and Hovell agreed to go their separate ways, and proceeded to divide up the equipment. At one point they prepared to cut their tent in half, this brilliant idea only failing to come to fruition presumably because a passing wise king declared which of the explorers was the tent’s true father. Things really came to a head over the expedition’s frying pan, which Hume and Hovell fought over physically until it broke. Finding this most convenient, one man took the pan and one the handle, this seeming a sensible compromise.
Eventually, regretting their haste, the pair met up again and continued their expedition, which was a success, sort of. Among their notable accomplishments was the discovery of Mount Disappointment, which Hovell named after his children. Their biggest triumph, though, was the discovery of a fertile spot on Corio Bay, which would become the site of the city of Geelong. It shouldn’t necessarily tarnish that discovery that at the time they thought they were in a completely different place. In a classic Hume-and-Hovell move, their instruments had broken and they hadn’t noticed, causing them to believe they were at Western Port Bay, a hundred clicks or so east. As a result of this, a party was sent to Western Port to found a new settlement in a completely inappropriate location. But after the confusion was cleared up, everything was fine and we got Geelong out of the deal, which some people might consider a positive.
Overall, Hume and Hovell were a couple of obnoxious, bad-tempered, clueless blunderers. It’s no wonder they’re the ultimate icons of Australian exploration.