Saturday, September 20, 2014

Big Skies, Islands and Shipwrecks

Now here are some meanderings about shipwrecks and books and adventures on islands ...

Last week I flew up to Geraldton as a guest of the Big Sky Writers and Readers Festival, which is one of the choicer small festivals in Australia. I mean, despite missing my plane, I came home completely buzzed. I'd hung out with a Doug Anthony Allstar, kissed a knight in shining armour, ate copious amounts of beautiful food, bought way too many books, extracted a 'I was a wild female deckie' confession from a rather dignified old lady, sold every copy of Salt Story in Geraldton, bought an antique fox stole, stayed in a luxurious hotel and generally had a ball.

An authority of writers: Dawn Barker 'Fractured', Annamaria Weldon 'The Lake's Apprentice', Tim Ferguson 'Cheeky Monkey', Craig Sherbourne 'Hoi Polloi', Liz Byrski 'Family Secrets, Agatha and Christine from WritingWA.
A Doug Anthony Allstars' self portrait, just for me!
The most amazing thing the Big Sky organisers do for their writerly guests is to fly them to the Abrolhos Islands for a night before the festival kicks off. These islands are soaked in a history of 17th Century shipwrecks, castaways and mutinies - plus a massacre led by a drug-addicted psychopath. There's more info on the Batavia mutiny over here at Antipodean Nemo. On Rat Island part of the Wallaby Group of the Abrolhos, festival guests were able to swap yarns and get to know each other. It was a special time, I heard a splendid saga of a love affair spanning decades and continents, and we even had fresh dhufish for dinner.

Okay, though it is hard, I'll stop rolling about in how wonderful it all was. The other shipwrecks that I want to mention here are those of the long-lost ships from Sir John Franklin's doomed expedition to find the North West Passage in 1846. As I was travelling north to Geraldton, news came through that the Canadians have found one of the ships. They released this amazing sonar image of the wreck resting on the sea floor.

The Erebus and Terror were the two ships that became trapped in ice. Apparently the sailors were stranded for eighteen months and all of then died eventually, with rumours that some men had resorted to cannibalism to survive. Until the other day, the Erebus and Terror have remained missing for more than a century - one of the enduring mysteries of colonial exploration.

Whether or not the find of the Erebus or the Terror (they are not yet sure which one it is yet) is connected to Canadian nationalism and claims to extra territories, was an aside to me as I read this news. It is a thrilling story but what got me really excited was the ships' connection to my book Salt Story.

On the cover and throughout the book are illustrations of fish and other marine critters. They were drawn during Sir James Clarke Ross's zoological expedition to the Southern Ocean and Antarctica.
The images can be found online via Google books as The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Erebus & Terror: under the command of Captain Sir James Ross, during the years 1839 to 1843. After this journey the ships, already fitted with plated hulls for Arctic conditions, went off to find the Northwest Passage.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Creeping Grief of a Dead Dog

We landed in Geraldton. When Sally turned on her phone, the first message she got was that her dog had died.

I didn't know Sally then but I knew that castaway look in her eyes, those stranded eyes when someone has died and you are a long way away from home. And it is the dog. You wonder if the kids will be okay, who will bury it. You knew the dog was on its last legs anyway. Last. Legs.
The dog.
How can a dead dog hurt so bad?

This afternoon I pulled into my friends' house. They'd sent me a message: "Toby is on his final visit to the vet. 5pm."
He was out on the highway apparently. He'd wandered out there and caused a minor traffic jam. Cars stopped, people tried to help him. Blind, he'd wandered through the line of stalled cars, bumping into metal. Someone tried to pack him into their car and take him to the vet. His owners' daughter finally found him in the melee, and led him away home. I've seen him ... oh anyway ... I've seen him go down really fast over the last six months.

So I dropped in today to say goodbye. As I was driving there, I wondered if I'd missed the 5pm deadline but when I turned into their driveway the car was still there. I got out of my car and went straight to the dog. He crept towards me, and as he came closer and smelled me his ears pricked. The family came out of the house. They were all red-eyed, crying."I've come to say goodbye," I said.

That dog, he knows me. He stuffed his nose straight up my skirt. I was surrounded by two teenagers, two adults and a demented, ancient golden retriever, and everyone except for him knew he was going to die within forty five minutes.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Saturday, September 6, 2014


I've come across emu tracks and their poops all over the old townsite of Kundip, but they have never stalked through when I'm around. One such resident was hit by a car the night before last. It was the third emu carcass I saw on my drive into town this morning.

Feathers were strewn along the road for several hundred metres. Something I've noticed about emu feathers: they are always joined to another by a ... their ... follicle? I walked along the highway picking up whisping, curling tendrils of roadkill, two by two, trying to keep a hand on the feathers as the wind blew.

The swallow was quick to cash in on the tragedy. Within hours she'd added new plumage to her nest in the rest area's public toilets.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The last whalers

This is so cool: it's a great article if you are interested in Australian whaling history, or even if you just want to read a ripping yarn full of home truths.
"He likened seeing into the eye of a live whale as coming before God."
The story of one of Albany's last whalers.

Kase Van Der Gaag. Portrait by Jonny Lewis. Copyright 2007

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sarah's Sandwich Seminar

This map, taken from Lynette Russell's book Roving Mariners, is commonly called The Great Circle.  The map has been the best way for me to get my head around the movements of nineteenth century Southern Ocean sealers and whalers and is one of the images I'll be using as presenter at Thursday's Friends of UWA Sandwich Seminar:
'Reimagining the Breaksea Islanders. History and Fiction on the Eve of Colonisation'.

Before West Australia was colonised, a small community of seal hunters lived on the islands around Albany, where I live now. Their origins were diverse - African American, English, Maori and several men and women indigenous to Van Diemen's Land, New South Wales and South Australia.
Pigeon or Warroba, pictured below, was one such sealer.
(John Glover, 1833, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart)

When Major Lockyer arrived on the Amity to found the settlement of King George Sound, he wrote that there had been 'some bad work done here' and within a fortnight he'd arrested several of the sealers with charges of murder and abduction.

Part of my PhD thesis is a fictional account of this snippet of history.  On Thursday, I'll talk history first, of the characters and events that I've found by delving into explorers' journals and reports. Then I'll go into the process of writing historical fiction based on these stories.

Here are the deets:
12.30 - 1.30 pm, August 28th
in the function room at UWA Albany.
Entry by donation.
You can ring 98 420850 to rsvp
You can bring yer lunch! And eat it too!

I hope to see any interested folk there.
Please be nice.
I'll be nervous.