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The Albany Connection

It's not chronologically correct, but so far my story of Captain Collet Barker's life has begun with his death, explored his first months at Raffles Bay on New Holland's northern coast, and jumped back to the aftermath of his death. Now I have travelled to Albany in Western Australia, where he was posted after his Raffles Bay appointment had concluded, with the abandonment of that settlement.

Barker's death has come first, because as a South Australian, I have been aware of his death by spearing at the mouth of the Murray River at the hands of Aboriginal people, from a very young age. As I periodically lived in the Mount Barker, South Australia, region as I grew up, was born in Mount Barker, and I am resident in Mount Barker today, the interest has remained. A few years ago I discovered a book of his journals of Raffles Bay on the north coast, and at King Georges Sound (Albany); and for almost two years now, I have been working on a film script about his life. I am currently staying at Albany, in an effort to flesh out the period when he was the Commander here, from late 1829, to the early months of 1831.

Stirling Range

Here, as at Raffles Bay, Barker nurtured a close relationship with the local Aboriginal people, interacting with them on a daily basis, respecting their culture, and venturing into the bush with them whenever the opportunity arose. He formed a close relationship with Mokarre, (as did other early settlers) a traditional owner of the region, who spoke tolerable English, and possessed a keen intelligence and a desire to learn from the strange ways of the newcomers, and to pass on his wisdom and knowledge of country in return. This is not to say that that the interaction was confined to Mokarre - in fact Barker welcomed all who visited the settlement, and apart from showing his displeasure at ritual spearing customs, was open to their ways, and comfortable in their company.

My contact with the region really began with my stay at Mount Barker, W.A., the first 'mountain' to bear his name, and to consequently have a town named after it. The W.A. Mount Barker was named by Barker's friend Surgeon Braidwood Wilson, who set out with a small party, (including Mokarre) after arriving with Barker on the Governor Phillip on 29th November, 1829. Wilson had stayed with Barker at Raffles Bay after being shipwrecked in the region, and he was keen to do some exploration during his three weeks at King Georges Sound before he departed. His explorations 'discovered' and named among other places, the Sleeman River, the Denmark River, the Kent River, and Mount Barker. As with the summit named after him in South Australia, Barker never set foot on these monuments to his name. Nor could he have imagined the thriving towns and regions which would still be bearing his name, if not his story, to this day.

Mount Barker Summit

Porongurups from the summit

The Albany of today, with its picturesque town nestled beneath heavily wooded hills, and overlooking the sheltered King Georges Sound, Princes Royal Harbour, and Oyster Bay, obviously has many physical similarities with the settlement of Barker's period, although in his time there were less than 100 residents, the majority of them convicts, and the remainder the soldiers to guard them. The population has of course, grown considerably, the Albany of today bearing the status of a city, and the property values in the stratosphere.



Apart from my extensive explorations of the physical lay-out of the region, my other satisfying discoveries so far (just four days) are as follows. Firstly, there is the full sized replica of the brig, Amity which served both the Raffles bay and the King Georges Sound settlements, (among others) as a contracted supply vessel for outposts under the governance of the New South Wales administration. This replica is dry docked close to the water where the original used to berth, and the experience of crawling through the hold and observing and photographing both the exterior and interior of the brig was very satisfying.

Salty dog

Secondly, I found the life sized statue of Mokarre just off the main street - a fine depiction of this marvellous man (based on the only portrait of him). What a pleasure to pose beside him for a photograph!

Mokarre And friend

Yesterday I drove to the coastal town of Denmark, some 50ks to the west, crossing some of the rivers named by Wilson, and photographing the inlet which bears his name.

Approaching Wilson's Inlet

Wilson's Inlet

Denmark River

The Sleeman River

I have also made contact already with some wonderfully helpful people, beginning with Steve and Ira Casserly of Mandurah, who have made a car and a house available to me for this adventure. Local historian Harry, a fine elderly gentleman I met in a bar in Mount Barker was a pleasure to share a story with. I have also had much assistance from Malcolm Traill and Julia Mitchell from the history section of the Albany Library. A major breakthrough occurred tonight though, (Friday 3rd Nov) as I shared a game of pool with Rasheed and Doris. Rasheed is a refugee from Iraq, and Doris is of Palestinian descent, and they are both wonderful examples of what it is to be truly human - as well as shooting some great pool. Doris had lived in Albany previously, and has just returned after spending some years in Perth. When I told her what I was doing in Albany, she rang some Aboriginal friends, and soon Olivia, Glenda, and Justin, who work with Aboriginal health, were sharing the table with us. Although they are not familiar with Barker, they have supplied me with names and phone numbers of people who can probably be of assistance, and in any case any insight into the Noongah point of view in this region is invaluable to my story. All in all, off to a pretty good start. Watch this space.

Posted: Sat - November 4, 2006 at 01:41 AM      
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