Visit to Shacks at Grey

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Visit to Grey

by Al Jansen
In April my relatively new friends Christine and Darren “turned left”, as they put it, from their home in Perth and kept on going, but not before they’d spent a couple of months living in a “shack” at a community called Grey which is just south of Cervantes (where the famous Pinnacles Dessert is).

I got an invite to go up for a weekend with their good friend Maureen and the four of us chilled out in the rather basic surroundings of a tin-roofed, cobbled-together construction with few of the home comforts we all take for granted.  I never dreamed that I could shower in a few cupfuls of water!  Toilet flushing was with buckets of sea-water, and then only if you really had to, and the kitchen was regularly visited by semi-tame lizards and a carpet python who I think was called George (but thankfully I didn’t actually see him that weekend!).

Happy hour on the veranda over-looking the ocean seemed to go on all evening (well at least until it was time for dinner and Canasta) so I can imagine just how hard Christine and Darren found it to continue with their trip.  Since then they’ve visited some really remote areas that I wasn’t able to get to on my trip, so when they pass through Perth again on their way to Europe in April I’ll be keen to hear all about it.

They’ve done fantastic updates over the months but even in two pages worth it’s difficult to do anything more than whet the reader’s appetite, as I well remember.

Beach and Shacks at Grey
Beach and Shacks at Grey

Nambung National Park

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NAMBUNG NATIONAL PARK “Discovering  Nambung National Park” by Carolyn Thomson, Keith Hockey and David Rose. CALM1997

Nyoongars collective name for a number of tribal groups.  Nambung area was the Whadjug and Yued tribes.  1658 first known European recording of the Nambung are when North & South Hummocks appeared on Dutch maps. The Frederick Smith river named by Grey was later renamed the Nambung River by surveyor J S Brooking in 1874-75.  Nambung is an aboriginal work meaning crooked or winding.

From 1889 the Old North Road Stock Route ran between Dongara and Perth passing through part of what is now the park. In the early 1900s phosphate was discovered in the caves of the Nambung River valley and it was mined by local farmers intermittently from 1906. A temporary reserve was placed over Nambung River valley to protect the caves in 1927. The first mention of the Pinnacles is in 1934 when they were first mentioned in a Geological Survey report.

During World War II the stock route was used by the army and after the war by beekeepers, hunters. Fishermen and holiday makers. In the late 1960s the Pinnacles Desert was added to the already existing national park which had been established in 1956.

The Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park, Western Australia is very impressive as is all the scenery in Western Australia.  The Pinnacles area is something one might imagine Mars could be like.

The Pinnacles Nambung National Park
The Pinnacles Nambung National Park

Explorer George Grey

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“Shark Bay Through Four Centuries 1616 to 2000. A World Heritage Area” by Hugh Edwards 1999 Scott Four Colour Print , Perth WA

Chapter 7 gives much information about Explorer George Grey

Grey was a dashing young Englishman a lieutenant in Her Majesty’s 83rd Regiment of foot. Born in 1813 he was only 24 years in 1837 when he led an expedition to the Kimberley area. He had unintentionally offended Goverrnor James Stirling using Cape Town not Fremantle for his first sortie to the Kimberley. In addition his skill and knowledge of harsh, unforgiving WA conditions did not yet match his boundless enthusiasm for exploration and adventure. He had come close to being killed on his first Kimberley expedition and had lost most of his dogs, ponies, sheep and gear and was himself speared by natives before being rescued by HMS Beagle.

In 1839 Grey, being an incurable optimist, decided to mount another expedition to Shark Bay – another recipe for disaster. The basic problems were always water & feed for the animals and the fickle nature of the weather and seasonal conditions. Mariners had drawn charts of the WA coast since 1616 when Dirk Hartog had mounted his plate at Cape Inscription but very little was known of the interior north east of about York. The arid region of 200 miles of sand plain north of Yanchep and aggressive Aborigines reputed to be ‘cannibals” had discouraged travellers in that direction. Grey purchased some whale-boats and hired a Yankee whaler to drop him with his people, boats and stores at Shark Bay. He planned to arrive in February, a month when ‘southerlies’ are still howling and roughing up the sea. Whaleboats were built of very light timber with a fine bow entry, double-ended stern and narrow beam. Normally it was used for a quick chase of a whale and carrying only oarsmen and the harpooner, not the loads Grey had in mind in very short seas. Grey proposed to sail (or row) along the coast go ashore at night to camp and explore. This meant running through surf in heavily-loaded whale-boats.

Grey and 11 companions, stores and 3 whale-boats were offloaded on Bernier Island on February 25th 1839.

In the course of the trip he named Gascoyne River (at Carnarvon), sailed and rowed in 56 hours the 120 miles from Steep Point to Gantheaume Bay where the boats were wrecked trying to land in heavy surf at end of March. Now they commenced a nightmare trek on foot back to the Swan River which Grey with Kaiber his faithful aboriginal member of the expedition, reached 3 weeks later, starving, thirsty, exhausted and emaciated. After he was (with difficulty) recognised, rescue parties went north and found the other members of the group some as much as 150 kilometres behind and close to death. One, Frederick Smith, was found dead and buried north of Moore River. Throughout the trek Grey kept a detailed daily journal naming the Gascoyne, Murchison, Hutt, Bowes, Buller, Chapman, Greenough, Irwin, Arrowsmith, and Smith Rivers. The Frederick Smith river was later renamed the Nambung River by surveyor J S Brooking in 1874-75. Grey wrote detailed accounts of his adventures which were well received in England. At 28 years of age in 1840 he was appointed Governor of South Australia, was knighted in 1850 and became Governor of South Africa and twice a Governor of New Zealand.

Sir George Grey
Sir George Grey

Gilt Dragon Marooned Vergulde Draeck

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“MAROONED” The wreck of the Vergulde Draeck and the abandonment and escape from the southland of Abraham Leeman in 1658 by JAMES A . HENDERSON St George Books Perth WA 1982

For many years/centuries the coast of Western Australia (Nieuw Holland) was an unwanted dangerous lee shore to be shunned by sailing ships. However in the 17th Century a growing trade between Europe and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) forced ships to travel up this dangerous and unexplored coastline.

Developments in 2nd half 16th Century in navigation & mapping. 1541 Flemish cartographer Gerard Mercator produced a globe showing the parallels of latitude and the meridians of longitude, and compass roses. In 1569 Mercator’s world map was published making allowance for the convergence of the meridians towards the poles while showing parallels and meridians in proper proportion on a flat surface.

The sailing ship Gilt Dragon was wrecked off the WA coast in April 1656 on her voyage from Amsterdam in the Netherlands to Batavia (now Jakarta) in Indonesia. She carried 118 people – two months later a boat with 7 men arrived in Batavia and said that 68 survivors were onshore in the Southland.

The Gilt Dragon wrecksite lies off the coast south of Lancelin between what are now Ledge Point and Seabird.

Ships were sent as soon as possible to try to rescue the survivors but the ships arrived in the bad weather of winter months and suffered all sorts of problems including losing a party of sailors sent ashore.

Another ship the Waeckende Boey (translated Watching Buoy or Watchman’s Buoy) skippered by Samuel Volkersen with a crew of 40 was sent from Batavia on 1st January 1658 nearly two years after the shipwreck to search for survivors of the Gilt Dragon. The Emeloordt skippered by Aucke Pieters Jonck with a crew of 25 accompanied the Waeckende Boey.

The Waeckende Boey was a small fluyt a freightcarrying vessel designed by shipbuilders in Hoorn around 1594. It was designed as long & narrow with an extreme incline from the waterline to give it a narrow deck thus reducing the taxes levied on it in the Baltic where deck measurements were the critical measure. As well as the salt trade in the Baltic the design was useful in the East India trade about to develop. The Waeckende Boey was 30 metres long 6.6 metres wide and 3.3 metres depth in the hold. The Emeloordt was a galliot a fishing vessel design used for whaling and as a merchantman. The Emeloordt was probably around 22 metres long and of beam 5 metres with a cargo capacity of about 60 tonnes. Each carried 6 months provisions for the voyage.

The captain of the Waeckende Boey seems to have been a difficult personality.

Abraham Leeman van Santwits was the first officer and navigator of Waeckend Boey and he and 13 sailors were marooned on an island off the coast while trying to find survivors of the Gilt Dragon. They ate seabirds and seals to survive and dug a small well from which surprisingly they obtained reasonably fresh water to drink. This island is believed to be the Green Islets.

28th March 1658 6th day since the boat had been sent ashore with 14 crew before a storm and the ship had sailed away. They sighted a sail, lit a fire and thought they were saved but next morning the ship had gone. Leeman urged his men to make repairs to the boat including a make shift sail of seal skins. On 8th April 1658 they began their voyage home to Batavia. About 11th April they were off the northern tip of Dirk Hartog Island having covered some 30 mile but the Java coast lay another 1000 miles or more north and Batavia at least 1500 sea miles away. The story is one of extreme thirst and deprivation weakness and death. On 19th April one man died – the same day that the Waeckende Boey and the Emeloordt anchored safely at Batavia 22 days after the Waeckende Boey had sailed away from the men who had lit their signal fires on Green Islets. On 28th April they made landfall in Java on a hostile coast. 7 crew deserted here after a good drink of fresh water leaving Leeman with 3 men. The boat was wrecked and and they had to walk around the coast. However with fresh water and food a plenty they gathered strength as they went for about 5 weeks. Then conditions became more difficult and food scarce. Around end of June they were assisted by some Javanese natives and then held hostage for a time before the VOC (Dutch East India Co) negotiated their release and return to Batavia on 23rd September almost 6 months after being left by their captain.

Gilt Dragon
Gilt Dragon