Lasseter's Gold by Warren Brown
Hachette, 2015. ISBN 9780733631603
Like most Australians, I had heard of the legend of Lasseter's reef of gold, discovered in the late 1890's but never located again. What I wasn't aware of was the amazing expedition undertaken in 1930 in an attempt to rediscover what was believed to be a vast deposit worth countless millions of pounds. This is the story cleverly told by the well-known cartoonist Warren Brown.
Harold Lasseter claimed to have made this spectacular find by accident, having become hopelessly lost whilst trying to cross the Continent from Cairns to Kalgoorlie on horseback. Having lost his horses, and near death, he discovered the reef somewhere near the border of Western Australia and the Northern Territory in Central Australia. He stated that he took samples before staggering deliriously through the desert for days, finally being miraculously rescued by an Afghan camel driver.
In 1930 he approached the Australian Workers Union with a proposal to put together an expedition to find the reef. The subsequent gold fever and greedy scheming he stirred up created a wild commitment to his plan, based upon this outrageous tale, which seems incredible with the benefit of hindsight. Brown explains the various machinations which came together to fund and assemble a grossly unprepared and laughably disorganised expedition into some of the harshest terrain on earth - all based on fervent hope rather than a bushman's experience and common sense.
The author provides all the background to the gold legend, however the real story in this book is the expedition itself as the characters involved and their wild exploits are truly remarkable. The reader is captivated by descriptions of a group of men (some of whom intensely dislike each other), working together to force a heavy truck through murderously difficult mulga scrub and almost impassable and impossible sand dunes. The presence of aircraft, used for the first time in Australian geological surveying, gives another dimension. Like many thunderingly good stories, there is much mystery and speculation about what motivated some very strange characters to act in the duplicitous and irregular ways that they did whilst risking death over and over in the arid wilderness.
There are so many complexities to this tale that it could have become difficult to understand, yet the style and structure of the narrative is such that everything is explained in a manner which is meaningful and connected whilst the book reads like an exciting thriller. The many photographs of the events are amazing to see.
I really like that this author has dedicated so much time to researching and writing about this incredible expedition and the legend which started it all, yet he avoids claiming to have solved the riddle or having written the definitive version of events as many would have done in his place. Instead, the details are presented and some bewildering options are discussed, yet the legend is treated with a kind of respect that recognises that the exact truth will probably be never known and the reader is left with a definite sense of wonder that maybe there is some minute chance that the reef really did exist
This book will circulate like mad in public libraries, however I sadly believe that school students would fail to appreciate what they are missing in this marvellous story.