Captain of Solitude

I am delighted to announce, after more years than I can tally, that I now have the first published copies of my book, Captain of Solitude, in my hands. I only ordered a small number to begin with, (for checking) but I have fifty more on the way, and will be re-ordering some more soon. The books are ‘publish-on-demand’ through Amazon U.S., the answer to my pointless attempts to get funding over the years.

The book is also available as an e-book in Kindle, ibooks and other on-line suppliers. Interested parties can order their own print on demand through Amazon, but I suggest that they purchase directly through me, as it is cheaper (no Amazon royalty) and nets me a little more in consequence.

I can be contacted at desertdreams@mac.com and I can process credit cards or take pay-pal payments. The book tells the story of Captain Collet Barker’s time in Australia, and ends with the dramatic confrontation at the Murray Mouth in 1831. It is approximately A4 in size, with colour photographs taken during my research. It sells for AU$40, plus any postage and packing required.

This section of the book reproduced below explains the journey I undertook to arrive at this satisfactory conclusion.

The Search for Collet Barker

My fascination with Collet Barker’s story as an officer of the 39th Regiment in Australia began in a primary school class, in 1956. It was Grade four, at Grange Primary School. Mrs Renfrey obviously loved her history. A large relief map of South Australia would be displayed at the front of the class, and Mrs Renfrey was able to relate the exploits of Captain Flinders as he mapped the southern coast in 1802, and to point specifically to the locations he observed and named on that expedition. She also told us about Flinders’ meeting with the French expedition of Captain Baudin, at the place they named Encounter Bay in commemoration of the occasion.


The next exciting chapter of South Australian history she related to us concerned Captain Charles Sturt’s journey down the river Murray, in 1828-29, and again we were able to follow Sturt’s adventures on the giant relief map. We learnt of the exhilarating journey of discovery as the party boated downstream, and a little of his interaction with the Aboriginal tribes during the trip. We also learnt of the laborious return upriver, rowing against the current for a thousand miles, all but blinded by the reflection of the sun off the water.


We then heard about the death of Captain Collet Barker, by spearing, at the mouth of the Murray. The details were sparse, but we were told that Mount Barker Summit, in the Adelaide Hills, was named after him, as was the town which sprang up in its shadow.


This was where my interest was really fired up, as I had been born at Mount Barker, and lived in the nearby village of Littlehampton for the first year or two of my life. We had moved to Whyalla for a while, and then to Grange, but were gradually circling our way back to Littlehampton, where my mother had inherited a fifty acre farm.


I excitedly told the class of my contacts with Mount Barker, and how I lived on Sturt Street in Grange, and I was fascinated to learn of the way some places get their names from the historical figures of the past. I remember doing a drawing of Captain Barker struggling up the steep face of Mount Barker, in the mistaken belief that he had done such a thing.


We moved to the Littlehampton farm during mid 1956, and the crown of Mount Barker Summit was visible from the front verandah. The wooded reserve of the summit became everyone’s favourite picnic spot and look-out over the years.


In 1983 the Mount Barker Council commissioned Bob Schmidt, a local high school teacher, to write a history of the Mount Barker district. The book, Mountain Upon The Plain, gives a brief summary of Barker’s death in the opening chapter, including Charles Sturt’s moving summation of Barker’s death and his tribute to him.


It was Sturt who named the mount after his friend. Sturt had spied the mount during his journey downstream, but because he had no working chronometer, he thought he was looking at Mount Lofty, as named by Flinders. It was Barker who proved that there were two mountains, when he climbed Mount Lofty and saw the other mountain blocking the view to the lakes.


Although Schmidt referred to Barker being previously involved with duties in Western Australia, and of having a good relationship with the natives there, little more was shed on the background or origins of Barker.


In 1984 there was a bitter and protracted battle about a decision to place a communications tower on Mount Barker. I was opposed to the tower, as were other local environmentalists; and Aboriginal activists and the union movement also got involved. A compromise, which still saw the intrusion of a large tower on the summit was eventually reached. Although the result was disappointing, the revelation that Aboriginal people have had, and still have a cultural association with the summit was firmly established.


In 1988 on a trip through the Northern Territory, I wandered into a remote Aboriginal Community to visit a nephew who was working there. I stayed for two years, and became the Arts Administrator. It was a wonderful experience to work with the traditional Anmatjerre and Warlpiri people of the Yuelamu Community

at Mount Allan Station. I still have links with the community, and my website, desertdreams.com.au has information and artworks about this period.


In 1992, back in the Adelaide Hills, I heard a radio interview on Radio National, with a Western Australian academic called Neville Green. He and prehistorian John Mulvaney had transcribed the journals of Collet Barker, written during his eleven months as Commandant of the Raffles Bay settlement in the Northern Territory, from September 1828, until August 1829; they also transcribed his journals from his time at King Georges Sound in Western Australia, (modern Albany) from November 1829 until March 1831.


These journals languished in the vaults for over one hundred and fifty years, unread, because of the almost illegible scrawl they were written in. Green and Mulvaney projected the microfiche of Barker’s journals onto a screen as they laboriously transcribed the entries.


Finally they produced a fine book, called Commandant Of Solitude: The Journals of Captain Collet Barker, 1828 – 1831.


Needless to say, I immediately tracked this book down. I thought that the story was so fascinating that it was worthy of a film script, and I set about researching what I could about the places Barker had spent his time at during his Australian duties. I spent time on Croker Island, with the Iwaidja people, and hired a small boat to journey across Bowen Strait to find the remnants of the Fort Wellington settlement on the Coburg Penninsula.
I flew to Albany in Western Australia, and familiarised myself with the places Barker describes in his journals. I spent time in their history centre, and met members of the Noongah people there.


Eventually, I decided that Barker’s story was more suited to a historical novel, and this book is the result of all that research.


Barker’s obvious rapport with the Iwaidja of Coburg Peninsula and the Mineng, (a subgroup of the Noongah people of the south-west) comes through strongly in his journals. I have drawn on his descriptions, and on my own adventures with my friends in the centre to tell hopefully, an entertaining and educational story.


I have taken some obvious liberties with dialogue, self reflections, and ‘dream like’ perceptions, (some of which I have taken from my own experiences) and I have invented some scenes because of there being no written account by Barker, but which are of obvious importance, such as farewells to the people when he departed.


As well as the Mulvaney/Green book, I have drawn on some other invaluable sources in compiling my story. Surgeon Braidwood Wilson became a close friend of Barker’s when he made his way to Raffles Bay after being shipwrecked in Torres Strait. He accompanied Barker during his transfer to King Georges Sound, and named Mount Barker in Western Australia after his friend when he spent a week exploring with Mokare, later to become Barker’s closest guide and conduit.


Wilson had served on convict ships, ensuring that the prisoners arrived in Australia in good health, and he wrote up his memoirs in a book called Narrative of a Voyage Round the World. His time spent with Barker includes incidents Barker has not included in his journals, such as the children on Croker Island calling “Comm’dant, Comm’dant” even though they had never met him, reflecting the high regard in which Barker was held.
I have also drawn on the memoirs of Edith Hassell, the wife of a grazier in the south-west during the 1870s and 1880s. Edith wrote a book called My Dusky Friends, which provided more invaluable information about Noongah lifestyle and beliefs.


History in Portraits, Biographies of nineteenth century South Australian Aboriginal people, edited by Jane Simpson and Luise Hercus, and Kangaroo Island, 1800 – 1836, by John Cumpston provided important information about Aboriginal people and white sealers on Kangaroo Island. The voyage to Marege’ : Macassan trepangers in Northern Australia by C.C. Macknight provided valuable information about the Macassan trepangers.

The statement by “Fireball” Bates to the Advertiser concerning the investigation into Barker’s death is not verbatim, but is true in its content.
The massacre described at the beginning of the book is in my own words, but true in every respect as witnesses attested to at the enquiry held at the time. The story of the raid, revealed at the inquest held days later, was obtained from Historical Records of Australia.


In general, most of the events described in this book are taken directly from Barker’s journals.


Finally, I have attempted to tell the story of Captain Collet Barker and his accomplishments in Australia, in particular of his enlightened relationship with the Aboriginal people he engaged with; but if I have also conveyed something of the rich culture and relationship to the land of the Aboriginal people, I am sure that it would please Captain Collet Barker very much.

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