Al and I arrived at Melbourne airport with an hour to spare – only to find the flight was delayed by 2 hours due to high winds. A sign of what was to follow. The 30 seater aircraft took 45 minutes to the island – with a very bumpy descent. The wind seemed very strong as soon as we got to tarmac. As soon as we reached the small terminal we met the event organiser, Ann, and several Skermans who were very welcoming.
Our room at the Boomerang motel faced out to sea – about 500 metres away. There was an ever present noise and pressure of wind on the full length patio windows. The first two nights it increased and the result on the third day was even locals thought it had been bad.
We took our first morning driving up to the northerly point and lighthouse through wind and rain (the latter in short sharp bursts). At the lighthouse it was so strong we could not stand up in the wind and rain was coming in horizontally. The cattle were turned with backs to the wind and close together. The wild turkeys and peacocks huddled with the wallabies under scrub by the roadside. Very dramatic but not nice for long so we retreated back to our motel with food for lunch from the local supermarket (local cheeses, salad, and ham). There were a couple of wallabies on the golf course next to our room who ventured close.
The second day had sun and high winds. The noise during the night had been deafening. There were trees cleared from most roads as we went south – but when we walked to the calcified forest we had to scramble through scrub and trees across the path. The sea at the cliffs was raging – magnetic and moving as a taste of what the shipwreck folk experienced. Then we had to turn round where power lines and trees lay across the road. Even our laconic motel manager thought it had been a “bad blow”.
We went to the local club for an evening meal in the storm to bump into the island Skerman, Jim Benn, who spent most of the evening with us. He was also the compere for the celebration event in the Town Hall later in the week, and someone who wanted to keep things moving. The other key person was Ann Rutte, the event organiser, who was friendly and with her husband inveigled me (Al declined the same offer) into joining her in an interview on the island radio – a tiny room next to the school with a Dutchman and a New Zealander running the show.
Lots of stories about their Australian families and the wreck from people we met over for the events throughout the week. The depth of research in the island museum, aural history, and written was remarkable. I met Helen Vivian, a journalist from Victoria, who is close to completing a new book on the shipwreck and the follow on for the survivors. Besides sharing what I had from my father’s and Len Skerman (his second cousin)’s research, we tried to solve the problem of who were the parents of the 4 year old Lucy Skerman who died on the voyage passenger lists and family trees did not reconcile. Something to solve still. Some branches of the Australian Skermans and others had not met even when sharing school or work before.
An example was my cousin on my mother’s side, Kathy Wood, was a Queensland neighbour of a Netherby descendant and they found out the link a few days before the descendant family came to King Island this week.
On one our trips to the island’s east coast there was a long sandy beach and jetty near a village. Looking for a café, we saw people in one so went in expectation of a hot drink – only to find a group of Skermans sheltering from the wind and no one else!
Al and I joined a penguin trip (the same night as the Skerman get-together) on the coast at a Grassy harbour breakwater, which needed patience and luck to see them, as the penguins are small and stay out at sea all day only coming to their burrows on land in the dark to escape gulls etc. as predators. We heard the penguin “scouts” landing ahead of the rest, call them and then saw dozens of them came up the rocky beach to their burrows near us.
We could not resist visiting the King Island Dairy – a cheese factory with 12 cheeses on offer from soft Brie to hard blue types. Al enjoyed the tasting as much as I did and we had to buy a couple for our lunches….. The cheeses are what the rest of Oz know the island by.
The celebrations of the shipwreck included two evening and one midday meals, and enough opportunities for us to meet and chat to most of the 40 something Skermans, and the other families (notably two that joined the Skermans for the voyage from associations in Enfield and their work – the Lingard and Pinnuck families). I left a small dossier of copied photos of or ancestors and family tree links to the shipwreck for the sea chest time capsule – to be checked on the island in 10 and 25 years’ time.
Meanwhile Al and I are keen to get to Melbourne for some urban culture! We fly out in calm weather very different from last Monday.