The Story Behind The Islands
The Islands is inspired by my family’s experiences living and working on the Abrolhos Islands between 1959 – 1972. While I have not had the pleasure of calling the Abrolhos home, the islands have existed in my family’s collective imagination for many years. My grandfather, a newly arrived migrant from Finland, began crayfishing off Little Rat Island in 1959. My grandmother and their three girls, when they came along, would join him on the islands for long stints during the fishing season. The family sold up and left the west coast in 1972, and by the time I was born in 1989, the island years were a distant but happy memory.
When I read Islands of Angry Ghosts by Hugh Edwards, a book about the Batavia shipwreck and mutiny, my imagination was drawn to the fishing families of the Abrolhos, my own included. What was it like to live on this incredibly remote archipelago, with the knowledge of what had once happened there? An expedition was in order.
I travelled to the Abrolhos on a 6-seater plane with my mother, who had not been back to the islands since she was nine years old. While the area is not currently open to overnight tourism, an old family acquaintance invited us to stay for five days in his fisherman's shack. The week was spent exploring the island and others by boat, swimming, talking with crayfishers, writing, and eating fresh-caught fish for dinner. During my stay I wrote the outline of five short stories, which, in time, became the foundational chapters of The Islands.
As the work progressed, I found my interest turning from the Batavia wreck towards the Finns and other families who made up the small crayfishing community on Little Rat. Now I see the book as an homage to my grandparents and the working-class migrant experience, and an exploration of my Finnish identity.
Below are archival family photos taken on the islands in the early 70s, and a selection from mine and Mum's more recent trip.