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Mappa Tuesdi

"Turns out that the Portuguese really did reach Australia first," Emma said, waving a photocopy of a crudely drawn map of the world.

"But they reckoned it was a secret and didn't tell anybody, and all their records were lost because Lisbon was burned down in the 1755 earthquake," Kathy said.

"They must have told some people, or I wouldn't have this," Emma said. "It's been mouldering in the archives of the University of Eastern Australia. It was donated, along with all her papers, by a rich widow that had too much clout for them to refuse. The PR guys want to call it Mappa Tuesdi, because it's later than Mappa Mundi, but not by much. Hopefully we'll be able to squash them.""

"So how come it's surfaced now?"

"Ph.D. student. Mining for new data on the European settlement of western Victoria. Since the papers were from a squatter family, on the coast near Warrnambool, she thought there might be something there, though this isn't quite what she expected."

"Warrnambool," Kathy said. "Mahogany ship. Wreck that some people think was a Portuguese caravel. Was this from that?"

"Could have been. It 's Portuguese. It's been dated to the early sixteenth century. It's got fragments of America, and most of the East coast of Australia."

"Then how come it's in a squatter's personal papers hundreds of years later?"

"That coast is shipwreck alley. You're sailing along on a nice westerly breeze, then this sticky out bit of land turns up. Set course a bit further south, another bit. Go even further south, Tasmania. If you survive the wreck, you've got to live. So you hook up with the locals. Don't underestimate them. They were pretty organised. Channels to manage water. Stone fish traps. Stone platforms for huts."

"So there was somewhere you could put a bit of paper and find it years later?"

"Apparently. And it wasn't just one wreck. There were lots. Portuguese. Dutch. French. Lots of whalers. Some survivors were picked up by other ships, but not all of them. So they weren't totally cut off. When the squatters came, everybody had a good idea about what was happening. I reckon a few nicked some sheep and claimed they were there first."

"But wasn't the local Aboriginal population wiped out by the squatters?"

"A lot of them. But they fought back."

Emma looked at her watch. "The PR people are planning a big launch. I'm supposed to go."

"Will people believe you? That the Portuguese were here first?"

Emma gritted her teeth. "Our experts say we have a good case. No doubt others will claim it's nonsense. The argument should last a good few years and hundreds of peer-reviewed papers, so everybody should be happy, but won't be."

She grimaced. "The joke is, until about forty years ago, a copy of the map was on public display. On a rock face. In ochre. Had been there forever. But nobody took it seriously. Not enough dragons. The Country Roads Board wanted to widen the road, decided it was graffiti, ignored the few protests there were and dynamited it. There's now a big roadside poster there, telling you to Discover Victoria."

Copyright D.W. Walker, 2014


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