Lake Ballard and Sir Antony Gormley’s ‘Inside Australia’ exhibit. Australia’s largest outdoor Art gallery.

Sir Antony Gormley is a Turner Prize Winning British sculptor who managed to convince 51 Aboriginal and white people from the town of Menzies 51 kms from Lake Ballard to strip naked and have their bodies laser scanned. He then shrunk these scans by two thirds but left them life sized in height. He then made metal sculptures from these and placed 51 of them on Lake Ballard. Because lake Ballard is so flat you can see 360 degrees around it. There is also a big hill to climb to give you another vantage point of the sculptures. You can see them for miles and they really feel like people out there on the lake. It is strange how you don’t feel alone out there. You walk from sculpture to sculpture leaving foot prints in the soft crust of the lake between them. Gormley saw these footprint tracks between the sculptures as part of the work. Not really sure what is all means but it was interesting to see and you really feel like you are not alone out there. They also make the lake have even more of a presence. Maybe this was it!  M

the woman on the lake

keddie from the hill
We were camped on the edge of the lake
lake ballard from the lookout
Lake Ballard from a lookout. The centre has more of the white salt crust that is normally seen at the edges too, when there is more rain. They lake only gets enough rain to be wet every few years and then there is an huge influx of Banded Stilts that come to eat the Brine Shrimp that have hatched from eggs that were laying dormant and waiting for the rain.
lake ballard camp view
This was our view from camp. You can see the first figure close by but it takes many hours to get around to all 51 as they are spaced far apart and they look in all four directions. It was in the high 30’s this day and the flies were epic!
feeling fat and flat
First contact and we are friends already!
lake ballard friend
Trying to make contact with this one. I’m jealous that there are no flies on him while I am covered!
even they hate the flies
Steve liked this one so much he gave his trusty fly net up!
little boy
This little girl was the smallest of the sculptures we saw.
three figures
Friends of E. T. perhaps?

perkyfigure in the distance

sunset with flies
Sunset on Ballard
back in the fly zone
I just have no words!!!!

Gwalia Ghost Town

Well here we are back in mining country. We are now dodging the dust, road trains, oversize vehicles and mine utes on the road again, but there are not many other people out here. While I’m not crazy about hanging out with modern mining again, I do like a good ghost town and Gwalia near Leonora was a bit of a special find and our next free camp.

This is probably our most unique free camp yet! Tonight we are camped on a hill 60 metres away from an old open pit gold mine that is now operating as an underground mine 24 hrs a day. Thankfully we can’t really hear anything, although there are plenty of lights. Apparently the mine shaft runs under the car park we are on and goes down 1660      metres!

Gwalia mine pit
St Barbara Ltd gold mine

About the same distance in the opposite direction is the Gwalia Ghost town. We are alone here, as it is too hot for normal people. We did run the generator (for only the third time this trip) for an hour, to cool down the caravan. It is 9pm and still 30deg!

using the gererator
The generator out behind the caravan cooling it down in the  37 deg  heat!
gwalia ghost town
Gwalia Ghost town view camp. It is so quiet here we can’t believe we are parked right next to an underground gold mine one side and an old mine ghost town the other.
gwalia mine 1898
The original Son’s of Gwalia mine opened in 1896 and closed in 1964. The town of Gwalia then became a ghost town overnight. In 1983 open pit mining recommences after Sons of Gwalia NL is floated on the stock market. In 2005 a new mining phase begins when St Barbara Ltd purchases Sons of Gwalia NL assets when it goes into receivership. This mine is now underground again entered from the old pit.
gwalia ghost town and museum
In 2010 the Shire of Leonora acquired ownership of  the old town of Gwalia and takes on the management of the Leonora Gwalia Historical Museum and changed the name to Gwalia Ghost Town and Museum.  2013 sees conservation work start on the Gwalia cottages.

Gwalia is one of the Welsh poetic names for Wales which signified the Welsh heritage of the original investors of the mine, which was started in 1896. This quiet almost deserted town is a unique heritage listed site, that was once the home of around 1000 people in the late 1890’s. The people came from all around the world for the gold and it’s promise of wealth. The population of around 1700 in 1963 disappeared almost overnight, when the mine closed. They left in a mass exodus to work on other mines. Many went to Kalgoorlie. In 2010 the Shire of Leonora acquired the old town site and started work to restore the cottages and improve the museum to the interesting place it is today.

young hoover
Baby faced 23 yr old American Herbert Hoover came over to manage this mine. I wondered how they could give such a responsible job to such a young man and then I read below. 

hoover info

Hoover was a hard worker and ambitious and made many changes to mine conditions to improve productivity. Seems he learned the lessons of immigrant labour back home and made changes to the work force here. Aussie’s didn’t work hard enough it seems!


This 23 yr old American mining engineer later to become the 31st American President- Herbert Hoover was appointed mine manager of Gwalia mine in 1898. He designed and built the manager’s mine complex and lived briefly in what is now called “Hoover House” before moving on to other ventures in China. It took 2 years to build due to conflicts with those that had to fund it. It ended up costing 6 times the cost of a house built in the day. You can stay in this lovely house today. M

hoover house gwalia
Hoover House cost 6 times the usual cost of a house at that time. Hoover liked to spend money! He was also the highest paid person of his age in the world at the time!

The dining room and the “Gold Bar” dinner that took place here. 4 gold bars sit on the at the front of the dining table!

hoovers bedroom
Hoover slept here.

Don’t you like the view of the mine from the veranda. One could have a cocktail in hand and check on your mine workers. In Steve’s case it’s scones, jam and cream!

hoover house and pit
Hoover House comes complete with “pit” view!

hoovers car

gwalia state hotel
The old state hotel was built to service the miners and help stop the “sly grog trade”.

Steve in front of the head frame and all the mine workers at shift change in front of it.

There are many buildings that you can walk through to get an idea of how people lived at the time the old mine operated. The many single men lived in single mens accom. and boarding houses. Whole families lived in these little huts built of whatever they could find. Most houses had gardens to grow veggies and chicken houses or a place to keep the goat. Despite these basic homes people still dressed up for special occasions. Many of the walls in these houses were made of hessian painted white to resemble a solid wall. Bathrooms were homemade. Plumbing was basic but still people were able to get themselves dressed up as in the photo  below. It was from many accounts a very happy place. Mgwalia people

One of the reasons so many people wanted to be involved in the restoration of this site is that most people have very fond memories of their time in Gwalia. It was a multicultural melting pot. Aussie’s and other nationalities working together happily and when the mine was doing well all prospered .M

gwalia horses underground
The mine used horses underground and even had stables down below. The horses eventually came up blind.

These photos of miners from different times and different decades all show hard and dangerous work.

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Most of the old gravestones in the cemetary showed many young men who died in the mine, woman dying in what looked to be childbirth and very young children or babies dying  probably to diseases we no longer see today.

Heading outback again

Our last night near the coast was a lovely free camp on the golf course at the historic town of Northampton, we then headed inland through the wheat belt. We stopped at a nature reserve for lunch and found the sign below at the lookout. It tells a story of what goes on quietly out here in these lands of drought.

wheat belt lookout sign

roadside beauty
Very tiny but very sweet side of the road wildflower
roadside fluffy
More leftovers from Spring on the side of the road.
the multicoloured bungle bungle termite mound
While we were about 1500km south of the bungle bungles, this termite mound reminded me of their beehive formations.  S
varigated fairy wren
Variegated fairy wren singing
wheat belt loading
A big pile of Wheat ready to load into a road train.
outback sign
Suddenly the wheat stopped and this sign appeared on the side of the road just in case we didn’t notice. The temp went from 23 on the coast to 34 before we knew it!

roadside beauty

yalgoo sign
We are on the Miner’s Pathway now and Yalgoo was hive of mining activity long ago.
grasstree sculpture
Yalgoo grass tree never needs water!
jokers tunnel free camp view
The view from our free camp at Jokers Tunnel.

jokers tunnel sign

jokers tunnel and maddy
Maddy making her way into the tunnel.  At this point she had not yet noticed what was on the roof just above her head…
tunnel crickets
…thousands of crickets.  It was rather gross.
tunnel redback spider
We also spotted this fine red backed spider specimen.
tunnel bat
Continuing on the gross theme, we then started to encounter hundreds of these little guys – microbats.  Their bodies are about 5cm long.  Individually they are actually quite cute.
But seeing them in these seething huddles turned up the gross factor again.  If you shone the torch on them too long they started to drop off and fly around.
big tunnel bat
We also encountered a few of these slightly larger but more handsome fellows
dr spock bat
Once they were flying around, the microbats would swerve just an inch or so before hitting you.  However this one seemed to have hit its head a couple of times too many and was sporting a few bald patches.  Maybe its sonar was not quite up to scratch.
bat swarm
Here a couple of the bats can be seen flying about.
exiting the joker
While it was an interesting experience it was good to emerge again as the sun was setting.  Despite the sign at the entrance, we never saw any snakes.
miners pathway
From Jokers Tunnel we drove back into Yalgoo for a quick look at St Hyacinth’s Chapel before continuing east.

St Hyacinth’s Chapel is a quaint little building – originally part of a larger convent designed by an interesting character called Monsignor John Hawes – an architect who became a priest, but used his prior skills to great effect in designing several interesting buildings in the area.

The next two days were spent covering kilometers in dry, mostly flat mulga country as we headed towards then into Australia’s gold mining region.  Of course we had cause to stop on several occasions to see the odd attraction, more wildflowers and to avoid a few grossly oversized vehicles.

Just south of a small town called sandstone are some basalt capped outcrops that were worthy of a small detour.  One such outcrop was used as a brewery with a hollowed out cave serving as the cellar.  A bit further along – a nice arch called london bridge.

peter denny free camp
Being in the middle of nowhere allowed for some amazing isolated free camps.   This site perched on the edge of another basalt capped outcrop gave great views over the endless mulga plains and at night some lovely dark skies.
magelanic clouds
A one minute exposure towards the south celestial pole with large and small Magellanic Clouds
jokers tunnel milky way
The milky way with the tail of scorpius and Jupiter setting behind the trees
jokers tunnel andromeda galaxy
The vertically oriented fuzzy patch just left of centre is the Andomeda Galaxy.   Lying about 24,000,000,000,000,000,000 km away it is normally regarded as the furthest thing one can see with the unaided eye.   It feels amazing to gaze on something so unbelievably far away and to consider that the photons hitting my retina and exciting the sensor in my camera left its stars at around the time that my Homo habilis ancestors were roaming around east Africa.
agnew panarama
Along the way we saw bits and pieces of old mining relics – like these at the abandoned town of Agnew.  However these were just a foretaste of those to come at the beautifully restored ghost town of Gwalia, which will be the subject of the next post.









murchison house station
There was no camping in Kalbarri National Park so we camped close by on the Murchison river on this goat farm.
carnabys cockatoo
The first excitement was Steve finding a Carnaby’s Cockatoo near the river. Not so easy to find these guys. Number 328!

We had heard how amazing the Spring wildflowers were in this area, but we were a bit late. We got only the left overs from Spring but we were still impressed with the road either side of the car looking like a garden at times.



purple spikey flower with light yellow tipswhite petalled red flower with tiny yellow wormy bits

purple centred orange flower with white bits
Many of the flowers were tiny and just magnificent when you got down close to look. Works of art of nature.
thorny devil 2
How gorgeous is this guy!!!Steve had to swerve to miss him.
thorn devil 3
Would anything actually try to eat this guy?
thorny devil
We were both really excited to finally see a “Thorny Devil” . It was after about 15 yrs of looking for these in the outback. They are so well camouflaged that we nearly drove over it on the road. We pushed it off the road and then had a closer look. It was very cute and walked like a hesitant toddler. Hard to pick up though!
murchison river info sign
The Murchison is a huge river with many rivers emptying into it and the river mouth is at Kalbarri town so we knew we would get some swimming in here.
ross graham lookout
A bend in the Murchison River at Ross Graham lookout.


This was a weird huge dinosaur scorpian/crab thing with the sign being the actual size and it’s fossil tracks it left in the rock. Lots of weird and wonderful stuff here in WA.

z bend lo
The view at z bend lookout



99% of people that came to this part of the park walked only the 400 metres to “Natures Window” rock formation for a photo opportunity and then walked back to their cars. However, the best park of the park was the Loop Trail. It was a lovely varied walk that followed a big bend in the river walking both up on the cliff line for great views or down on the riverside for great swims. Since most people didn’t go down there, were had the pools to ourselves! Well not quite. There were heaps of black swans honking away at each other and Pelicans, Cormorants and Grebes. No new birds though.

loop walk panorama
Panorama from the start of the walk


loop trail info

Once again we are walking on an ancient sea bed and there was plenty of ripple stone to tell the story.



walking along the ledges of the loop

loop walk looking back



loop walk with happy maddy



black swan
There were plenty of these guys all along the walk.
loop walk with happy maddy
Enter a caption



Little Black Cormorant 2

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We did the walk down to Eagle Bluff Beach but with a huge swell it was not swim friendly. The pink lake near Port Gregory was amazing. The pink is caused by carotenoid producing algae Dunaliella Salina in the water. Beta Carotene is used as a food colouring agent,  and a source of vitamin A.


pink lake walk

pink lake salt crystal
The salt crystals were huge. Much bigger than any other salt lake we have seen.
pink lake view
The lake is below sea level so sea water seeps in and the lake gets more and more salty. They also breed brine shrimp in there for the fishing industry and the aquarium trade.
pink lake dragon
This dragon didn’t mind the salt.
pink lake stilts
Stilts seem to like salt lakes too as we have seen them on a few.
pink lake underwater
The disappearing pink lake sign.
gorgeous pink lake and gorgeous girl
Trying hard to fit in with the lake.
pink lake sparkle
Huge salt crystals shining in the sun like diamonds.

Five days in the Abrolhos Islands on the Eco Abrolhos boat

The Houtman Abrolhos Islands are a chain of 122 islands in the Indian Ocean about 60km west of Geraldton, Western Australia.   A combination of beautiful reefs, rich fauna, intriguing history and interesting recent fishing and pearling culture make the Abrolhos Islands a fascinating destination.  The best way to experience them is to take a 5 day cruise aboard the Eco Abrolhos – a small family owned vessel that takes you to the various points of interest while the owner (previously an Abrolhos Island cray fisherman) provides intimate insights into both the history and life on the island.

docked in geraldton
We traded our compact caravan home for an even smaller cabin on the Eco Abrolhos.  However it was great to have all meals prepared, no dust and no flies.

The Abrolhos Islands are an important seabird breeding site and after a rather rough 4 hour crossing from Geraldton we were pleased to pull into the sheltered lagoon of the southern most island group and go ashore on Pelsaert Island to view some of the birds that had recently started to turn up in their thousands to breed.

wedge tailed shearwater
A wedge-tailed shearwater weaves alongside the boat providing a foretaste of the rich bird life to come
boats on boat
The Eco Abrolhos carried 2 glass bottomed boats, 2 large surveyed tenders (one can be seen on the lower left) and an all purpose fishing/diving vessel was towed behind facilitating activities for the 30 odd guests on board.
bow shot
Arriving at Pelsaert Island, a 20km long sliver of land.
pelsaert island
A drone photo of Eco Abrolhos parked off Pelsaert Island on a calm day.
fancy tenders
Arriving ashore on Pelsaert Island. The island was named after the commander of the Dutch East India Company ship the Batavia which was initially believed to have been wrecked in this area until the early 1960’s when the wreck was found in the northern part of the archipelago.

One of the crew is also a professional photographer and provides guests with a record of the trip.  Here Paul is seen in action leaving Geraldton and one of his fantastic bird photos – a crested tern taking a bath at Pelsaert Island

pelsaert island sign
Pelsaert Island information sign installed by the Western Australia department of fisheries who managed the islands until national parks took over in July 2019.
bird viewing pelsaert island
A huddle of birdwatchers with common noddy wheeling overhead (photo by Paul Hogger).
fairy terns
Soon after stepping ashore I spotted a new bird for the list.  Fairy terns – the first of 5 new species I saw in the Abrolhos Islands.
crested and roseate
Soon after, number 2: roseate terns were spotted with their pink washed chests next to a much larger crested tern
noddies and turnies
However most of the nesting birds on Pelsaert Island are made up of an estimated 250,000 sooty terns (no 3) and common noddies.

Birds on Pelsaert Island: sooty tern; common noddy and roseate terns – photos by Paul Hogger

happy maddy in the shells
Although sunny and mild, the 35 knot southerly winds were a bit chilly.  A wind-proof jacket and occasionally sitting down in the shelter of the low heath helped Maddy stay warm.
abrolhos islands skink
Several skinks and dragons can be found on the Islands  (Photo by P Hogger)
pacific gull with lipstick
The large pacific gull applies lipstick whenever it ventures out in public.   The more common silver gull behind is not so particular.  (Photo by P Hogger)
hey seal
I gave this sheltering Australian sea-lion a bit of a fright when I stepped off the platform above it.   The Abrolhos Islands are one of the few places in the world where sea-lions and tropical coral reefs can be found together.
king diver sunset
The King-diver, a small fishing/diving launch, followed us around on a lead. Photo by P Hogger
lifejacket drill
No cruise would be complete without a life jacket drill
top deck drinks
At sundown drinks on the top deck.   The prevailing southerly winds and high latitude means it does get a bit chilly in the evenings so we traded the life jackets for more comfortable fleece and down.
morley island
On day 2 we explored another island in the the central “Easter Group” of islands called Morley Island
lesser noddy 2
The mangroves of Morley Island provide a breeding habitat for the vulnerable lesser noddy (4th new bird).  The only other place that this bird is known to breed is in the Seychelles
morley island lagoon
Morley Island’s central lagoon – home to thousands of lesser noddies and a sea-lion sheltering from the wind
sharp tailed sandpiper
A sharp-tailed sandpiper on Morley Island
seal n samphire
Hey, you woke me up!
bridled tern
Bridled tern
lesser noddy and chick
Lesser noddy and chick.  Photo by Paul Hogger
silver gull eating lesser noddy chick
A silver gull – normally known for stealing ones chips on the beach – took the opportunity to scavenge this poor noddy chick that must have fallen from its nest.  Photo by P Hogger
hayden and sea lion
Inquisitive sea-lion at Morley Island

The Abrolhos Islands are the centre of Western Australia’s biggest Western Rock Lobster Fishery.   It was Australia’s first fishery to be certified as sustainable and is closely managed through a quota system for commercial fishers and bag limits for recreational fishers.   Today rock lobster fishing is a $400m industry making it Australia’s most valuable single species fishery.   Since its establishment, rock lobster (or cray) fishers have set up camps on some of the islands where they base themselves during the fishing season.   The fisher’s camps certainly stick out on these low lying islands, however their bright colours lend a certain appeal.

big rat shacks
Some brightly coloured fisher’s huts on Big Rat Island.   While rats were accidentally introduced in the 1800s (hence the name), they have since been eradicated.
fish eye view of big rat
Gathering on the jetty to visit Big Rat Island
big rat island with terns
With the rats gone, sea birds have returned to breed in their thousands.
russell the cray fisherman from big rat island
The owner of the Eco Abrolhos was a friend of one of the fishermen, named Russell.  So we dropped by and he gave us an interesting account of his life on the island.

Scenes from the fishing camps on Big Rat Island

eco abrolhos on the mooring
On day 3 the wind dropped, so it was great to join the owner on a trip to retrieve that cray pots that he had set the previous day.
cray pot pulling
We got quite a haul.  From 6 pots we got 26 crayfish of legal size, many more small ones and some pregnant females that were all thrown back. Because we had a bag limit of 24, we also had to throw two legal size ones back too.  Here the two deckhands, Josh and Curtis, haul up a laden pot.
curtis and wobbegong
Some rather large wobbegongs managed to get into the pots too. Remarkable considering the size of the hole in the trap.  These were also thrown back – carefully to avoid loosing a finger.
Tonight’s dinner
half crays
Under preparation.
crayfish dinner
The final product
tender pulling
After pulling the crays, it was time to offload the tenders to visit Leo’s Island – named after Leo Seppala, a finish immigrant.
leos island drone
An aerial view of Leo’s Island (back right with the green lagoon) and others in the group (drone photo supplied by Eco Abrolhos)
jays story
On Leo’s Island listening to one of the Jay’s stories.  Jay is the Eco Abrolhos owner and grew up and spent much of his early life on the islands.  As a result he knows plenty of recent island history and gossip.
leos huts
The beautifully painted lone cottage on Leo’s island
surf abrolhos
Although the wind had dropped, the swell was still quite impressive – we were hoping that it would drop off as we were planning to snorkel on the Batavia wreck in 2 days time and it would have to be much smaller to do so.
estuarine cod feeding
Maddy feeding an Estuarine Cod that had been placed in the lagoon on Leo’s Island.  According to Jay there were previously some cod there that were perhaps washed in during heavy seas, however some thoughtless mainland fishermen got to hear about it once and killed them spear-fishing so some of the locals caught a couple of new ones to replace them that have since become rather tame.
shells on leos
Clam shells and urchins on the seaward shore of Leo’s Island
little shearwater chick
Shearwaters (aka. muttonbirds) also nest in their thousands on Houtmans Abrolhos.  The adults incubate their eggs and rear their eggs in burrows.  Here a little shearwater chick sits at the entrance to its burrow on Leo’s Island
fisheye tender
Heading back from Leo’s Island on a glass bottom boat to get changed to go snorkeling on a nearby bombora called anemone lump
anemone lump
A drone photo of the anemone lump on a much calmer day than we had (Leo’s Island in the distance).   While the wind had dropped, we were there during the year’s biggest tides, so the current was a bit too strong to explore the lump properly.  Instead we had to be content to swim at almost full pace just behind the boat to keep up.  However we did see a fair number of fish including spangled emperor like those below taken by Paul Hogger.  Unfortunately I accidentally deleted all my day 3 snorkeling photos which showed some of the amazingly coloured coral of the Abrolhos and a sandbar shark.  While there were fewer fish than I had seen further north in Ningaloo Reef, the coral colours and diversity made up for it.

spangled emporer

top deck sunset
Sunset on the top deck at the end of day 3.

The islands are the site of many shipwrecks including Dutch ships the Batavia (1629) and Zeewijk (1727).  The Batavia’s story is one of the most interesting shipwreck/mutiny stories ever. A Titanic and Bounty story all rolled into one that Maddy has described in a separate post.   So day 4, had us visit the island where the shipwreck survivors came ashore and where the horrific subsequent reign of terror followed while the Batavia’s captain and commander were away on the Batavia’s longboat to seek help.

beacon island with morning reef
Drone photo of Beacon Island (where the Batavia survivors initially camped) with Morning Reef (where the Batavia ran aground) behind.  Fortunately the swell had dropped off dramatically so we were eagerly anticipating being able to snorkel on the wreck the following morning.
restricted access sign
Permits are required to visit Beacon Island to protect the Batavia relics.
beacon island group
The Eco Abrolhos mob at the Batavia commemorative cairn

batavia plaque

beacon island sermon over the graves
Commander Jay giving a sermon at one of the archaeological dig sites.   Several graves and mass graves have been found where people were buried during the reign of terror that ensued before the rescue ship arrived.
bridal tern
A bridled tern looks on seemingly oblivious to the islands dark history.

Back on board we steamed north and anchored off East Wallabi Island – one of the largest islands in Houtman’s Abrolhos to visit a picturesque beach for some walking, snorkeling and final sunset drinks.

cliff side
The view from one of the highest points in Houtmans Abrolhos.
skink on wallabi
Being a bigger island it supported quite a variety of fauna including tamar wallabies.  Unfortunately we didn’t manage to find any wallabies, but we did see a few skinks and dragons.
turtle bay
Turtle bay beach
bearded dragon
An Abrolhos dwarf bearded dragon (photo by Paul Hogger)
dr howard gray
We had an historian on board (Dr Howard Gray – white jacket).  He has written several books on the Abrolhos Islands and their history and he provided much interesting background.
brain coral
Brain coral skeleton on East Wallabi Island
Many ospreys nest on the islands.  Here one has just launched itself from its nest.  Photo P Hogger
snorkel herd
Snorkeling off Turtle Bay – East Wallabi Island
abrolhos coral
It is amazing that such vibrant coral can survive in such a cold environment.   The water temperature seldom exceeds 22 degrees.
turtle bay sunset drinks
Final sunset drinks.  The young ones in the photo are crew members (apart from Maddy and I who are, of course, also young).  Even the Eco Abrolhos’ captain Bronson is still in his twenties (he is the one on the far right with the beard).   The captain is actually the owner’s son.  Jay the owner is not in this photo – he was back on board preparing his famous seafood chowder
turtle bay sunset
Sunset drinks – the shelter was build by a company that does fly-in day tours to the island.
jay and tara in the kitchen
Jay finessing his seafood chowder assisted by Tara.  For more details on how to prepare it, click here
dinner sign
Food on board was generally pretty good. Best of all, someone else cooked it.  However the menu above had us slightly concerned.

On the final day we awoke to calm conditions and a nearly flat sea – yes we were off to snorkel the Batavia wreck.  It was truly amazing how much there was to see – one of the best snorkels we have done.   While the West Australia Museum salvaged most of the wreck site and relics are now on display in museums in Geraldton and Fremantle, there are still many cannons and anchors scattered on the site as well as a deep sandy depression where the ship originally gouged out the coral on impact and subsequent settling as it pounded on the reef in the months after it ran aground.

batavia wreck site
A drone photo of the Batavia wreck site taken on the previous week’s trip.  The sandy depression on the left is where the wreck was located and the snorkelers are over the area where cannons and anchors remain.  Many of which were thrown overboard in an effort to refloat the ship.  We had similar calm conditions when we visited, although it was overcast.   Still, considering that conditions were suitable for snorkeling on only 3 out of this year’s 14 trips we were very fortunate.
batavia sand site
Maddy diving down into the wreck depression

Various cannons and anchors on the 390 year old wreck site.  The large fish in the last photo is a bald chinned grouper.

long island coral
The coral rubble beach on Long Island – our final shore excursion before heading back to Geraldton.

Long Island lies about 200m west of Beacon Island.   Some of the Batavia survivors were sent here by the psychopathic mutiny leader Cornelisz – initially on the pretense of reducing the demand on the limited food resources on Beacon Island – but in fact this was simply a divide and conquer strategy and he eventually had all of them murdered, except for one or two who managed to swim away to another island about 2km away where Cornelisz had cunningly sent all the soldiers who had been on board – without their weapons – on a pretense to search for water.    While he had hoped that the soldiers would not find water and would soon die, they did find water and plentiful food too.  When the swimmers alerted the soldiers of the massacres going on, they were able to prepare and defend themselves from subsequent attacks from Cornelisz’s henchmen and ultimately foil the mutiny.

long island coral beach
Although over 40 people were massacred on Long Island and several of the mutineers were ultimately hanged there too, all we were able to find were coral skeletons.
flotsam art
Long Island art: depicting the gallows, skulls and hangman’s ropes of the Batavia history.  Medium: wood, polystyrene, polyethylene, sea sponge.
spannish dancer
A spanish dancer.  A large hand sized nudibranch in the shallows off long island

sea star long island

daves corneliusz reenactment
A re-enactment of the hanging of Cornelisz, featuring Dave from the Eco Abrolhos amateur drama society.
ancient stone wall
Could this stone shelter be a remnant from the original survivors of the Batavia on Long Island.  While there is no known reason for anyone else to have built it, who knows for sure?






The Batavia- one of the most interesting shipwrecks of all time!

This is such an interesting part of Australian history that I am surprised more people are not aware of this ship. Everyone knows about the Titanic and the Bounty but very few people can tell you the story of the Batavia. It may have been a Dutch ship, but it is a part of Australia’s history now. It is only a matter of time before a Hollywood movie is made about this story. It has it all. A beautiful sailing ship, treasure chests, mutiny, murder, scull duggery, a love interest, slavery, adventure, torture. What more do you need?  M

bataviaIn 1629 the magnificent ship the Batavia of the Dutch East India Company sets sail from Amsterdam full of treasure headed for the walled city of Batavia, in the Dutch East Indies to buy spices. This was a time when spices were so expensive that only royalty could afford them.

In charge of the ship is Commander Francisco Pelsaert with Ariaen Jacobsz as Skipper. These two do not like each other and don’t get along, having known each other from a previous voyage and a previous altercation. They could not be more different in breeding or personality. Also on board was a number of wealthy paying passengers, including the beautiful Lucretia van der Mijlen heading to the Spice Islands to meet her husband. She travels with her maid Zwaantje. Jacobsz tries but fails miserably to gain Lucretia’s attention from the outset of the voyage. However Lucretia had time for Pelsaert, even going as far as tending to him in his sick bed, with fevers which were most likely Malaria. This had the other woman on board spreading rumours of what might be going on in the Commanders cabin between the two! Lucretia tending to the Commander further enraged Jacobsz and he then resents both Pelsaert and Lucretia. Zwaantje then takes up with Jacobsz and ignores her mistress for the remainder of the voyage. Later in the voyage Lucretia is assaulted by a masked gang of men, dragged along the deck by her ankles and smeared tar with excrement.  M

batavia geralton museum
A cross section of what the Batavia’s cargo hold might have looked like with bricks and sandstone blocks used to build parts of the city of Batavia. The sandstone was for a portico that would have been the entrance to the walled city. All these blocks were found on the wreck and now stand in the museum of Geraldton.
Stone blocks found on the Batavia wreck standing as they might have, at the entrance to the walled city of Batavia if only they had made it there. They are now in the Geraldton museum.


Pelsaert is outraged by this assault on Lucretia, but senses something untoward is happening on the ship. He does nothing about finding out who is responsible, waiting until they get to port instead to have the full weight of the law behind him. During the voyage Jacobsz and Junior Merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz (possibly Australia’s first psycopath) become friends and hatch a plan to “take the ship” and use the huge supply of silver on board to start a new life somewhere. They begin their plan by setting the ship off course while the Commander is laying sick in his bed. But on June 4, 1629, before they were able to fully execute their plan,under full sail the ship hits Morning Reef. In an attempt to lighten the ship and hopefully float off the reef, some of the cannons are thrown overboard and the mast is cut down. This does little and the ship sinks near Beacon Island in the Houtman Abrolhos Islands, off the coast of what will later be Western Australia. M

batavia cannon
One of the Batavia’s 30 cannons at the Geraldton museum.

Most of the 341 aboard make it ashore with only 40 people drowning. Beacon Island was found to have no water and limited food, so Commander Pelsaert and skipper Ariaen Jacobsz set sail with a number of others in a 9 metre long boat on a rather adventurous trip to the “mainland” which was not yet Australia. When no water was found, Pelsaert abandons the survivors on Beacon island and sails this small boat with 48 people, 2000 miles to the Dutch East Indies to get help. This is an amazing feat in only 30 days with no loss of life and with even a baby on board. Though Pelsaert felt something was going on on the ship, he is unaware of the mutiny plans of some of his men.

long boat repica
The replica of the Batavia’s long boat in Geraldton harbour.  The longboat successfully sailed 2000 miles from the wreck site to the walled city of Batavia (Java, Indonesia) with 48 people including a baby, with no loss of life.

Meanwhile left in charge of the survivors is Jeronimus Cornelisz, who together with other mutineers continues his mutiny plans on land. He plans to take by force, the rescue ship that he knows will come back for them and more importantly, the treasure on the Batavia ship. In the meantime he must reduce the number of mouths to feed and rid the island of anyone who is not “with them” in their mutiny plan. He and his men murder all the children and most of the women leaving alive only those that can be of “service” to the men. Lucretia Cornelisz he keeps for himself, not “sharing” her with the other men. At first she resists his advances but is threatened by one of Cornelisz’ henchmen and decide’s to relent. Cornelisz has his men puts to death any of the men who will not help with their cause. He also gets rid of all the soldiers off the ship confiscating their weapons, and leaves them on a nearby island without food or water, thinking they will starve to death. Many people were murdered by being hacked to death or beheaded by swords, strangled or drowned. 125 men, women and children are killed by Cornelisz and his men. M

skull from batavias graveyard
Scull recovered from Beacon Island or “Batavia’s graveyard” as it was known with obviously fatal sword injury.

What he doesn’t know is that the soldiers led by Wiebbe Hayes, not only find water but thrive, eating birds and wallaby’s they call “jumping cats”. Despite having no weapons they are able to hold their own when Cornelisz’ men return to finish them off. One of the men escape from Beacon Island and is able to warn Hayes about the plan to take the rescue yacht. Hayes then makes his own plans to get to the rescue ship before the mutineers and warn them. M


Pelsaert returns on the ship Sardam taking 63days from Java, having to find his way back through the many islands and reefs in the area. Wiebbe Hayes and his men race to the ship and are able to get to the Sardam before Cornelisz and his men and the mutineers are overpowered and held under arrest.

Trials then take place on the island and many of the mutineers were tortured into confessing to their crimes, which was the norm of the day. Many were hung for their crimes after first having a hand chopped off. Two of the men were exiled on the Australian coast near Shark Bay, never to be heard from again. Some were brought back to Java to stand trial. Jeronimus Cornelisz was hanged in the islands, after first having both hands chopped off by hammer and chisel. Even at the gallows, he never confesses to his crimes and shows no remorse, crying out his that he is an innocent man! M

batavia plaque
The Batavia wreck was found in 1963 and most of it is in the Museum at Fremantle and some in the Geraldton museum. Some of the 28 cannons and numerous anchors are still at the wreck site, next to the depression in the sand where she carved her shape into the reef.
beacon island with morning reef
Beacon Island (Batavia’s Graveyard) and morning reef in the background where she was wrecked. A drone shot on a very unusually calm day.
restricted access sign
There is restricted access to Beacon Island. Although many graves were found on the island there would be many bodies still to be found buried here.
batavia cannon
A 400 yr old cannon from the Batavia wreck beautifully encrusted with 400 yrs of sea life!
batavia anchor
One of Batavia’s anchors sitting at the bottom of the Indian ocean near morning reef in the Wallabi group of the Houtman Abrolhos Islands 400 hundered year on! Fish seem to love the site too making it even better.
batavia wreck site 2
Drone photo of  the Batavia dive site on a very unusually calm day. The ship was travelling full sail when it hit and carved a hole in morning reef. It sat in the sandy depression seen left of centre. Divers are looking at the many anchors and cannons left behind after the wreck was salvaged. Most days it is just too rough here to dive on this wreck and helped to keep it a secret for so long even after it was found by Cray fisherman living on beacon island, who didn’t like visitors. One even dug up a scull while putting in a pole for a clothes line and then reburied it as he thought it would attract attention to the islands!!! Eventually the Geraldton police 65 kms away  on the mainland heard the rumour, came out and the search was on. The rest is history!  M

The text for this blog was researched from 2 books I read on the Batavia, from info on the Abrolhos picked up from Historian Dr Howard Gray and from the internet. It is only the outline and the full story is even more interesting and it is worth reading a book on the subject.


Batavia’s Graveyard by Mike Dash would be my pick, if you want the real history, well researched.

Batavia by Peter Fitzsimon  if you like an easy more bestseller type read, but you are not big on historical details or background.

Dr Howard Gray has even written a “Lucretia’s diary” of what Lucretia might have thought if she had kept a diary, trying to stay as close to the history as possible. I have not read this one.


Would you believe many of the fishermen on the Abrolhos still don’t like visitors! M














Denham on Shark Bay and the worst Naval Battle in Australia’s history.

shattered selfie
For the past 11 months each time a road train passed us, it loosened our towing mirrors from their draft. We then had to tighten them up again. Finally on the way into Shark Bay, a road train managed to blow them right off and into the road. I had to run and get it before the next car ran it over. It still works, thanks to some superglue and hopefully will get us back to Sydney. The moral of the story is….Buy the expensive mirrors everyone!!!!
denham sculpture
Denham sculpture on the foreshore
pearl galli gurci
A nice old pearling lugger parked in the Denham’s bay for bird toileting.

The walls of the Old Pearler restaurant in Denham are made entirely of shells!



dumbest sign ever
The dumbest west Australian risk sign we have seen on this trip. Talking about a “Nanny State”.

20 Km south of Denham is Eagle Bluff. The boardwalk offers beautiful views across Denham sound. These waters support the worlds largest meadows of sea grass and are home to an estimated population of 10,000 dugongs which is 10% of the world’s   remaining population of this lovely animal.

eagle bluff
The view from Eagle Bluff
eagle pose
Steve doing a bit of yoga on a post. Yes it is the eagle Pose at Eagle bluff! I was impressed, as I couldn’t stay up there when I tried it!
shark bay shark
From the walkway you could clearly see into the water here and there were plenty of sharks- Lemon and Nervous Sharks, stingrays etc.
eagle bluff panorama
Panorama from walkway at Eagle Bluff
eagle island
Eagle Island was mined for bird Guano back in the day. Now it is a refuge for them.


One of the interesting things about this trip for Steve and I is learning more of Australia’s history. We stopped at the Shark Bay Visitor Centre in the main town of Denham to see this historical display and excellent deep sea footage of the encounter between the Sydney II and the German ship HSK Kormoran. The 15min 3D film and exhibit tells the story of the World War II naval battle between these ships 200km off the coast of Shark Bay in 1941. This was the worst naval battle in Australia’s history with all 645 men on board the Sydney II lost. The Germans also lost men but most were able to get off their ship before it sank and made it to shore. It was these survivors that became POW’s that gave accounts of the battle and told the story of how both ships were lost.


Both Ships are now at the bottom of the sea 2.5 kilometers down and were found 67 years after the battle that put them there. In 2015 an expedition to the wreck sites used remotely-operated vehicles and took extraordinary images of the two ships on the seabed. They say a picture paints a thousand words and this exhibit shows in pictures the horrors of war. At the end of the film the footage was of soldiers boots abandoned on the deck as if they had run right out of them. Perhaps jumping overboard to avoid the entire ship on fire. Horrible war!!!!

fire on the water

hmas sydney II
The Sydney in Sydney harbour.

fire on ththe water info

Torpedos and torpedo tubes open and ready to fire.
sydneys b turret
One of Sydney’s gun turrets.

kormoran linda gun

list of boats sunk or captured
This is a list written on the side of Kormoran of all previous boats that they had captured still legible 70+ years on.
sea life on sydney
Sea life takes over in the deep ocean.
sydney picture
Fire damage is visible on bot.h ships
shell hole
A shell hole blown in the side of the Sydney next to a port hole.