Saturday, 21 January 2012

Mad about maps: my life as a cartophile

My, you Planetarians are the kindest creatures! Thankyou so much for the encouraging comments you've left on my last two posts here and here. I can't thank you enough for the *spirit boost* you're giving me. I'll reply to your comments soon - I'm just a little tired now after another huge week of phonecalls, emails, interviews, arrangements, appointments and a reassessment of where we're going. In the interim, I've written this post about something which makes my heart sing - just the mood shift I need right now.

This is a post I've wanted to write for eons. It's about things which make my heart sing, evoke memories, cause curiosity and chart our history. 
It's about maps.

And I'm mad for them!

Growing up with maps

Since my early childhood, I've been fascinated by these little complexities, the way in which we've made our marks on the world over the centuries. Kingdoms of the ages have both risen and fallen spectacularly over them. Countless wars have been waged and innumerable lives lost. Families have been wrenched apart, and just as remarkably reunited, by them.
My interest was piqued at age 5 by my geography teacher godmother who gave me this world map for my bedroom wall but with wooden battens at the top and bottom. You know the type? That map was intriguing as it showed all the countries of the (then) British Commonwealth in pink. I revelled in spotting the other countries swathed in 'our colour' but none were as large as mine, Australia, covering an entire continent. That made me feel proud - quite hilarious now when I look back on it! 

I marvelled at the vastness of the world's oceans, the depths of its trenches and the heights of its mountains. 

Living on an island myself, I was fascinated by the other tiny islands scattered at the bottom of the Southern Hemisphere, especially at the various European countries which laid claim to them.  

It hung on my wall for 23 years, the pink slowly fading with the sunlight and the edges fraying a little. If only I'd held onto it before throwing it away when Mr PB and I started our married life - now vintage ones cost a fortune! 

The influence of my land surveyor Dad
Growing up with a land surveyor father further imprinted the importance of maps indelibly into my very essence, my sense of identity. This early map of Australia charting Captain James Cook's discoveries hung in our dining room, fascinating me as I observed the missing, (then) uncharted areas of our coastline. I pored over it, mesmerised.

Dad was Tasmania's very proud 'Registered Surveyor No143' and keenly aware of the rich cultural heritage of his predecessors. These early British colonials had trekked into the vast unknown expanses of Tasmania's wilderness, absolutely oblivious to what lay ahead of them but nevertheless doggedly determined to take measurements and make their marks on the land. 

The local Aborigines must have been absolutely flummoxed to see those strange white men, lugging their heaven wooden theodolites through the virgin bush, holding up long measuring poles and writing down numbers. Whatever were they doing?
The result? As you can see, Van Diemen's Land (as it as then known) was divided up into a number of land grants which were allocated by the authorities to various officers, free settlers and pardoned convicts. Council areas soon evolved as the penal colony became a self-governed settlement. You can read more about this intriguing history here.   

Studying history at school

Studying 20th Century History at school was even more fascinating as I discovered how the struggles to retain or alter such lines had resulted in so many bitter and bloody wars throughout the world. I was particularly intrigued by the shifting of Poland's borders over centuries, waxing and waning as powerful men toyed with them. 

My experiences as an Exchange Student
As a Rotary Exchange Student in (the then) West Germany in 1989, I visited both West and East Berlin in May 1989 and October 1989. I was rivetted as we first crossed the border from West Germany into East Germany and then into West Berlin. 
Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Berlin Wall, 1962
Inspecting Checkpoint Charlie and seeing where the city had been cleaved in two in 1961 was mind-blowing. I literally saw where some houses had been chopped in half, with one side straddling the West and the other the East.

I was fascinated by the increasing tension in East Berlin, notably made plain by the moving of the barricades around the Brandenburg Gate. Between my trips, they were pushed further away from the Gate to increase the gap to the border of the Berlin Wall where the Communist East met the Capitalist West. 
So imagine my delirious excitement when I watched the breaching of the Wall on the night of 9 November 1989! I was captivated by the country's reunification on 3 October 1990. I had seen the map-lines of history redrawn in front of my eyes!

So, my friends, does that give you an *inkling* as to why I'm a committed cartophile?! I've really only touched the surface of my passion here. I'd love to know if any of you share it. I'd like to start a little series of 'Mad about maps' posts - are you up for it? Do tell!
This post was featured in lovely Laura's Post of the Month linky over at Happy Homemaker UK on 31 January 2012.
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