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
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!
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!
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.
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
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!
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!
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. M
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
These photos of miners from different times and different decades all show hard and dangerous work.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Birds on Pelsaert Island: sooty tern; common noddy and roseate terns – photos by Paul Hogger
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.
Scenes from the fishing camps on Big Rat Island
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
In 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
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
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.
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
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
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
The walls of the Old Pearler restaurant in Denham are made entirely of shells!
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.
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!!!!