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.


  1. Isn't 'Terror' a strange thing to call a ship? Looks as though you really did have a great time, Sarah!

    1. There are some great names for ships of the day. One of my favourites was a supply ship called The Ferret. The Terror was originally a warship. Actually, the Terror was used to bomb Washington, during the war of independance.

  2. Sounds like quite a time; and sounds like you picked up a few interesting tales in the process. Jolly good stuff.

    As for the wrecks, I was wondering about the names too, Tom. What with Erebus being one of the Greek primordials who represented both darkness and the underworld.

    I was thinking maybe it was something to do with Pommy sailors in the 1800s wanting their boats' names to sound as hard as possible. But then, why name one in Greek and one in English? Did someone think Deimos was too wussy, or was it already taken? Sarah, you're the nautical expert...

  3. You are really being treated like a celebrity - must be head-spinningly wonderful.

    I love the Abrolhos mutiny story, so dark and damn interesting. There's gotta be a book in it for you, although there are probably several out there already. I LOVE that photo of the wreck too - have kept a copy.

    1. Great image yes?
      There are quite a few Batavia books, I discovered while in geraldton. A beauty is Strange Objects by Gary Crew - a fictional rendering of the story for young adults. And Hugh Edwards Island of Angry Ghosts is excellent.

  4. Was that the John Franklin expedition Sarah, the North West Passage one? A neat segue there if so as I see he won the Premiers Award there. It came up on my facebook page this morning after you popped up there yesterday on another post, looking straight out at the world and all over it too. A cool surprise.

  5. Erm, Richard Flanagan won the Premiers Award. 'Wanting' being his novel about Mathinna and John Franklin..

  6. Oh yes, I got that Ciaran, but only because I'd read the book!
    I met him ... well ambushed him actually .We talked about fish, mostly mullet.