“Abri vossos olhos” 

The Abrohlos Archipelago lies about 50 miles west north west of Geraldton, in the Indian Ocean.  It’s a set of 122 islands, and is essentially the coral reef rising above the sea. It’s the southernmost true coral reef on the planet, and is the center of the Western Australian rock lobster industry, as well as producing valuable pearls for jewelry in shades of pink, cream and gray.

 Its name comes from the ship captain Houtman, who stumbled across the reef. A new, faster shipping route from the cape of Africa up to what is now Jakarta was established in the 1600’s, using the sustained winds in the Roaring Forties latitude to sail down to the south west end of Australia and straight up the Western Australian coastline, saving the Dutch East India Trading ships many months and men in their long journeys from the Netherlands to the Spice Islands. It was along this route that Houtman was traveling when he made the following notes in a letter:

“On the 29th do. deeming ourselves to be in an open sea, we shaped oureast. At noon we were in 29° 32′ S. Lat.; at night about three hours before daybreak, we again unexpectedly came upon a low-lying coast, a level, broken country with reefs all round it. We saw no high land or mainland, so that this shoal is to be carefully avoided as very dangerous to ships that wish to touch at this coast. It is fully ten miles in length, lying in 28° 46.”

The VOC, or the Dutch East India Trading Company, has a fascinating history all of its own, and we encourage you to read about it. Massive ships went back and forth, returning laden with spices that were more valuable as gold in Europe.  The VOC loved the shorter route via the Roaring 40’s. Its savings in time meant more money but didn’t lead to a happy ending for many ships that didn’t take Houtman’s warning seriously. 
The Islands are named Houtman Abrohlos, the second part of the name possibly coming from Abri Vossos Ohlos, a Portuguese phrase meaning “keep your eyes open”. 

The reef extends about 100km and is very wide. Many skippers mistook the breaking white waves as moonlight on the water.

This ended tragically for the Batavia, which shipwrecked here in 1629. Although most survived the actual wreck, the events took a terrorizing turn when the commandeur Pelseart took a boat and around 30 crew up to Batavia (now Jakarta) for help. While he was gone, the second in command, the under-merchant Cornelisz, convinced a group of men to join him in the brutal massacre of 120 men, women and children.

The story ended when Pelseart returned, trying all involved in the mutiny, there on one of the islands, and hanging most of those involved.

And this incredible and terrible story took place in a place that appears as paradise. The juxtaposition is unfathomable.

Yesterday we took a flight out to the Abrohlos on a 7 seater plane,  spending the day snorkeling, wandering and enjoying the beauty. It’s hard to imagine such a thing took place in this beautiful place and yet evidence remains: the fort where soldiers holed themselves up to protect themselves from the maniac is still there, and the wreck of the ship appears as a skeleton under the water. And they still find skeletal remains of the victims.

Here’s some photos.

   
    
    

    
    
Lobster fisherman live in these huts. I’m sure you’ll agree, there’s worse jobs….

    
   
Here’s mum and dad. Looking like they are on the set of Lost, or Castaway, or The Swiss Family Robinson. Except they have water a yummy lunch awaiting and a way off. 

You get the picture…

    
    
   
If I haven’t put you off too much, there’s all kinds of interesting history at:

http://museum.wa.gov.au/research/research-areas/maritime-archaeology/batavia-cape-inscription/batavia

We also have lots of Go Pro snorkeling footage and I’ll try to have one of my tech-savvy kids put up some video.

Agility Rally

Since our day at the races last week, Will has developed a sudden passion for horses. We have wonderful church friends who have horses and invited us to an event this morning where they and several others coached horses through different unsettling obstacles, such as paddling pools, waving flags and pool noodles. 

Our dear friend Barb let Will ride bareback for a while followed by Addie.

    
    
    
 
Horses are ridden in English style here, very different to our Western style. Trotting for example, is very graceful when done correctly. Painful when not! 

At the location of the rally, there was also a remarkable tin collection – 8000 in total. Funny the little treasures you find in different locations. This one was a feast for the eyes, and some reminiscing for the heart. 

   
   

Sydney sunsets

We did a Sydney post or two at the beginning of our trip, but Sam was blessed to be able to take a mini-trip back to meet Aunt Jane who came to visit us. Here’s some photos from the trip. 

 
Do you know if you take a picture of a spinning propeller, depending on your shutter speed, it looks like the propeller has stopped? Twenty thousand feet up.

Spooky.

   

   This is the view from Doyle’s restaurant in Watson’s Bay. It’s a great place to eat – every kind of seafood you could ask for, and then you can enjoy the harbor lights as you ride back to the city on the ferry.
   
    

The Chinese Tea Gardens in Darling Harbor are remarkable. A little oasis in the city. 

http://www.darlingharbour.com   
This was Aunt Jane’s favorite thing, I think. She loved the animals.

    
 

We also took a trip to the beautiful Blue Mountains.

Move yer bloomin’…! (Eliza Doolitte)

Geraldton Turf Club is not allowed to run horse and rider without a doctor on the premises. So today, courtesy of Scott, we went to the  races!

  


It’s a lovely spot, a huge track with several types of surfaces, lots of shady spots to sit, comfy benches, lawn and trees. We had absolutely no idea what was going on with regard to favorites etc, and none of us are in the habit of betting, but it was great fun to watch the horses running past with their hooves thudding in unison on the grass.  

Mum and I even had our photos taken for the social section of the newspaper! 

    
  

Sweethearts of the sea

A couple of weeks ago we took a trip to the Coral Coast area, almost 3 hours south of Geraldton. It is also referred to as the Turquoise Coast which is an equally fitting name. Here, you turn off of The Northwest Highway which runs all the way up this Western edge of Australia, and head toward the coastline on the Indian Ocean Rd. The road runs through several conservation parks, and edges extremely close to the ocean at several points where you emerge around a curve in the road to see crashing waves and little fishing shanties clinging to the scrub. 

There are a few towns along this road, Jurien Bay is the largest town, catering to those escaping from Perth for a few days, and to those who love anything to do with the ocean. We stayed in Cervantes, a quiet little town in the southern part of the region and had a great couple of days taking mum and dad to the Pinnacles, doing a little herring fishing and just enjoying the environment.

The Jurien Bay Marine park runs along this stretch of coastline and is home to the Australian sealion, which are relatively small in number, due to an unusual breeding cycle, and a long period of pup dependency, due to the teaching required for the extreme diving conditions of the Australian oceans.

Nevertheless, around here they seem to be all over the place. The girls saw one yesterday while scuba diving and I often see them pop up when we are swimming or paddle boarding. They are naturally curious.

We decided, on this recent trip, to go out to one of the tiny islands along this coast and swim with the sea lions. Brendan, with Green Head Sea Lion charter was a great skipper. After a bit of a choppy ride out, we pulled into a calm sandy cove at an island to see groups of bulls, pups and females sunning themselves on the shore. As soon as they saw us, out came the pups (with a big bull in tow, just to make sure all was ok).

No food was given to them. Brendan says if he has missed a visit, they all come tearing out into the sea when he finally turns up.

It was delightful. After watching them play around the boat for a few minutes, we donned wetsuits, flippers, snorkels and goggles and joined them in the crystal clear turquoise sea.

They were like children. They swam over, stared at you with big eyes, looked at your bright green flippers then back up to your face, trying to decide what you were. The more you twisted and wiggled around in the water, the more they did too. There were sea lion pups playing with each other like dog puppies do, rolling over and over in the water, biting on each other with fairly sizeable teeth!

They were close enough to touch, and you’d bump into them occasionally, being the inelegant human swimmers that we are. They seemed fascinated by our flippers and one chewed on mine for a while. 

Sometimes they’d sit on the shallow bottom and just watch and then play again as you dived down to meet them.

Every now and then a big bull sailed past, reminding us he was watching but never threatening despite his extreme size.

The rip dragged us away from the boat, and we burned a lot of energy trying to stay close to the vessel. In contrast it struck me how perfectly these creatures were made for their environment, slipping effortlessly through the water next to the landlubbers.

We played for a good long while, around and around, over and under, spinning in circles with these beautiful creatures. It was a blessing beyond compare, and we will never forget it.

Brendan made us a hot cuppa with cookies when we returned, tired, to the boat. 

It might have been the best cuppa ever.