The map­man cometh

Barry Oliver meets an en­tre­pre­neur who’s pro­duced the world’s most im­pres­sive at­las

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

BIG ideas can take a long time to re­alise but 20 years seems a bit steep. That’s how long it has taken Gor­don Cheers to pro­duce his at­las to end all at­lases. But the 35kg mon­ster of his dreams is fi­nally hit­ting the book­stores. One hopes not lit­er­ally.

EARTH (at that size it mer­its the cap­i­tal let­ters Cheers de­mands) has sil­ver-gilded pages and is pack­aged in hand-bound leather in­tended to keep out air and pre­vent pages de­te­ri­o­rat­ing with time. The price tag is suitably large as well: $5000 a copy.

It’s so mas­sive it car­ries a sticker warn­ing it needs two peo­ple to lift it.

Cheers, from Elanora Heights on Syd­ney’s north­ern beaches, came up with the idea while work­ing on Pen­guin’s Ex­plore Aus­tralia , but his pub­lish­ers didn’t want to know. Ran­dom House, where he next worked, also took a bleak view. A book of such size and scope would be too ex­pen­sive to pro­duce.

Cheers, whose pre­vi­ous ti­tles in­clude Mi­crowave Hints , KillerPlants and Nat­u­ralDisas­ter­sandHowWe Cope , moved on to an­other out­fit, Global Book Pub­lish­ing, where he says he ‘‘ was al­lowed to do al­most any book I wanted ex­cept for this one’’.

Fi­nally he set up his own com­pany, Mil­len­nium House, and his grand scheme got un­der way about 18 months ago with a team of 60 car­tog­ra­phers, 55 writ­ers and 40 ed­i­tors, with Cheers’s home mort­gaged to back the project. But bound­aries be­ing such a con­tentious is­sue, it was in­evitable some feathers would be ruf­fled. Pro­duc­tion was moved to Hong Kong af­ter Chi­nese print­ers ob­jected to the treat­ment of Ti­bet and Tai­wan.

Jour­ney across the world: Stun­ning im­ages from EARTH , which costs up to $5000 a copy

‘‘ I spent most of my time writ­ing cheques,’’ Cheers says. ‘‘ I wanted a book that peo­ple could flick through and take a jour­ney around the world.’’

Will he prove the big pub­lish­ers wrong and make money? ‘‘ I’ll let you know in a few more months,’’ he tells me. But Cheers says profit is not the real rea­son for pub­lish­ing a book such as EARTH. ‘‘ You do it be­cause you re­ally love the idea and the con­cept and the chal­lenge of putting it all to­gether. All pub­lish­ers are try­ing to pro­duce a book that will be around for cen­turies.’’

To aid its longevity, EARTH is be­ing pub­lished in a lim­ited edi­tion of 3000, a sil­ver col­lec­tion of 2000 (each cost­ing $5000) and a gold col­lec­tion at an undis­closed price. Af­ter print­ing, all plates will be de­stroyed. Cheers says the book will be around in 500 years only if it is cher­ished, and mak­ing it rare is one way of do­ing that. He be­lieves it could be the last big at­las to be pub­lished. In fu­ture, maps will be ac­cessed and reg­u­larly up­dated on the in­ter­net.

His ef­fort, he says, is a snap­shot of the world to­day and, like a fam­ily Bi­ble, he hopes it will be passed down through gen­er­a­tions. EARTH comes with an apt en­dorse­ment from botanist David Bel­lamy: ‘‘ Treat it with the care it de­serves.’’­len­ni­um­

Pic­ture: Ka­t­rina Tep­per

Mighty tome: Gor­don Cheers with his new at­las, which weighs 35kg

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