Unity Books was very happy to welcome author, historian and erstwhile publisher John Dunmore to the shop at lunchtime on Thursday the 23rd of June. John was here to discuss his recent book, Chasing a Dream: The Exploration of the Imaginary Pacific, in conversation with Lydia Wevers. The book surveys the myths and traditions that grew around this undiscovered Southern Hemisphere, and the early explorers who debunked these ideas while unwittingly creating some mysteries themselves.
John was introduced by Pat Chapman of Upstart Press. Pat gave a quick outline of John’s rich and broad contribution to literature: as a playwright for radio and theatre, a novelist, author of popular non-fiction works, explorer with Kelly Tarlton, and author of academic works French Explorers in the Pacific. What is evident, as Lydia Wevers would later confirm, is that there are few with the historical and linguistic knowledge required to research and write this particular book. And indeed, what followed was a lively, informative, and at times very humorous discussion.
Lydia began by asking John how early exploration of the Pacific began. The point of view pressed on us is a very European one, John told us, and while this point of view is valid, there were many other peoples living on the edge of the Pacific for 1000s of years. These groups had their own fears and predictions of what might lie there. For instance: Where do the waters flowing into the Pacific go? Do they flow to a monstrous plughole? Can the plant of eternal life be found in the Pacific? These traditions stretch back thousands of years before European exploration began.
After a very interesting conversation on this topic, Lydia quizzed John on the research required. John discussed his primary sources, which included many ship’s logbooks and seafarers’ journals. John talked about how their accounts and maps added concrete examples to the mysteries of the Pacific. Before the chronometer, technology which Cook had access to, mapmakers were victims to the winds and the currents and often did not accurately know where they were. Islands were charted and named but never found again by other voyages. The ‘Disappearing Islands’ of Doherty, Swains and Nimrod were named and marked but seen only once – illustrative, John points out, of the vastness and difficulty of the Pacific voyage.
On the more human side to exploration, Lydia asked John if he had a favourite explorer in particular. John answered no, but the people he thought of most were the women and children who were left behind with no news, or news that would make it back to them very occasionally by chance of their husbands and fathers.
John and Lydia provided us all with an excellent lunchtime’s entertainment. John has a wonderful cache of knowledge stored up and was very generous to share this with us. A very enjoyable event.
Review and photos by Tamsin Grigg