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.
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
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.