Cursed and Haunted – the Houtman Abrolhos

What better setting for a historical romance book than a cursed, haunted island? A place of murder, mutiny and lust that really happened?

I’ve made no secret that the Houtman Abrolhos Islands are cursed. Now, if you’re after the story of the Batavia in 1629, you’d best get some background by watching this video:

For an overview of the cursed islands in the present day, there’s this video:

But the islands have been a tourist destination for a century, and they’ve been protected as a public reserve since 1929. I was lucky enough to get copies of some holiday snaps taken at the Abrolhos in 1930, at the time when Ocean’s Trial is set.

The WA Naturalist Club really did organise a birding expedition out to the Houtman Abrolhos Islands in 1930 – with Dominic and Lucia Serventy, a brother and sister who were founding members of the club. Lucia took a lot of photographs on the trip.

The tourists loaded up on supplies in Geraldton, before heading out by sailing boat to the Abrolhos.

Supplies were lightered into the shallows off Pelsaert Island and then hauled ashore. This included most of their food and all of their water, as there was no water supply on coral shingle Pelsaert Island.

Bringing water barrels ashore low res


At the time, tourists visiting Pelsaert Island were accommodated in the old guano mining hut and the dining room was very much an open air affair. Trigg's Hut on Pelsaert Island

Tea on Pelsaert Island

Rat Island had accommodation that was a bit more civilised – the old stone buildings and sheds there, which were usually occupied by fishermen.
Fishermen at Rat Island, early 1900s

Some are still in use today.

Coral shingle hut at the Abrolhos

Rat Island had an old stone jetty that was used by fishing boats then…

Stone Jetty with fishing boats Rat Island - slwa_b3740435_1

…and now.

Rat Island dawn over the stone jetty

Both islands have some of the largest seabird populations in the Abrolhos – or, in fact, in the Indian Ocean.

Bird in flight low resBirds with conveyor in background low res

The Abrolhos has plenty of sea lions, which tend to be big, lazy and generally tolerant of the occasional human. Get too close, though, and they’ll either attack or retreat into the water. They’re surprisingly fast, so outrunning them on a beach is harder than you’d expect. Yes, I do know this from personal experience.

Fishing then was pretty much what it is now – nothing short of absolutely awesome. I’ve never actually fished the Abrolhos myself, though I’ve spent plenty of time in the water with the fish and my camera, and I’ve helped eat what others have caught while I was off swimming.

Fish caught on trip low res


While one of the most popular Abrolhos activities both then and now, fishing isn’t all there is to do out there. There’s always time for a swim or taking some pictures…
On the beach at Pelsaert low resPainting with ship in background low res


A trip to the Abrolhos wouldn’t be complete without a shipwreck sighting – in this case, the Windsor, which hit the reef south of Pelsaert Island on the 2nd February 1908.

Windsor in background low resStanding on the Windsor's boiler low res

The Windsor‘s boiler and hull plating is still visible today.

Windsor boiler

As for Giuseppe, who was aboard the Columbia when it sank in 1921, his story is best told here:

If you’re looking to read my (fictional) account of the 1930s Naturalist Club expedition to the Abrolhos, it’s in Ocean’s Trial and How To Catch Crabs.