Charles Darwin never made it to the Abrolhos. He left the Beagle to go write some books about coral reefs, evolution and the origin of species. So it was John Lort Stokes in the HMS Beagle who made the initial survey of Rat Island in 1840. His notes are quite descriptive:
“As we threaded our way among the patches of coral, the view from the masthead of the submarine forests through the still pellucid water was very striking. The dark blue of the deep portions of the lagoon contrasted beautifully with the various patches of light colours interspersed.
The centre island we named Rat Island, from the quantity of that vermin with which it was infested. We also saw here a few seals, and numbers of a very pretty lizard with its tail covered in spines…”
Joe Fisher is hardly the first bloke to go visit the Abrolhos or even Rat Island for a holiday. In the 1930s, Rat Island was considered a holiday resort.
In the Geraldton Guardian and Express Saturday 26 February 1938:
“Further testimony to the attractions of the Abrolhos Islands as a holiday resort was made last week by two young city men, who had spent a week on the islands. Both were loud in their praises of the islands and expressed appreciation of the recreation to be had there in fishing and swimming, and of the wonders of bird life and the coral formations. The latter, they described as marvellous. Thanks to the skipper the trip had been splendid. Rat Island was used as a base, from where they spent a good deal of time in cruising round the islands…”
It’s also the island where you can see Giuseppe’s grave. Giuseppe drowned in mysterious circumstances after the Columbia sank in February, 1921.
The island was infested with rats, but they have since been eradicated, and the birds have moved back in force. At last count, I think there were at least 100,000 seabirds on Rat Island. From little peeping terns right up to soaring sea-eagles.
Rat Island is home to a number of rock lobster fishers like Skipper, Joe and Vanessa from Ocean’s Gift. There are around thirty fishing camps and a research station on Rat Island, too.
There are a couple of little beaches, but you’ll be sharing them with a sleepy sea lion or two.
It has one of only three airstrips on the 122 islands at the Houtman Abrolhos, but the air strip is at the southern end of the island near the water, so landing always feels like you’re about to go for a swim.