Tag Archives: Great Australian Bight

My Research Quest: the South Australian Farmer and Soldiers’ Messages in Bottles WWI.

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m not sure whether you can help me, but I’m hopeful.

After all, one of the things I appreciate about blogging, is how you can write and share your ideas before you’ve fully nutted them out. You can test the waters, and even hook up with others interested in the same area and collaborate in a more low-key environment. This is particularly good, too, when your nearest and dearest in terms of love, relationships and DNA, doesn’t share your research interest. Indeed, many of us would be better off talking to the dog, or trading in the cat.

However, by heading online too soon, you risk making mistakes, and there’s a definite safety in holding back until you’ve dotted the i’s crossed the t’s. Possible wisdom in staying offline perfecting your manuscript and seeing it published in print, even if your scribblings might be set in stone.

Of course, operating within the university context can provide the ideal nursery environment to safely nurture your research project and receive much needed mentoring support. However, there’s still that sense that you need to have your “shit” together before you put it out there, even as a concept. Indeed, embarking into the realms of professional research is very daunting. After all, “thou shalt not make a mistake” is its first commandment, but we’re only human. Even if it’s only a comma out of place, it’s still a mistake, and at the very least, you have to live with your own censure.

My personal journey along the serious research path is even lonelier than most. While research has been part and parcel of my writing and I have an honours degree in history, my current interests have been fuelled by the events of late 1999 and 2020. Firstly, I was forced inside by thick, suffocating bushfire smoke when I simply couldn’t breathe for weeks at a time, and I depended on our air-conditioner. After a brief intermission, I was back inside self-isolating from the coronavirus, which turned into lockdown, back to self-isolation. All I can say about that, is thank goodness for my research. It’s been a lifeline this year.

So, after keeping virtually all this research offline, I’ve decided to cast a line out into the world wide web. Moreover, just like anybody going fishing, I’m optimistic my efforts won’t return with an empty hook, and I’ll find a great big fish dangling at the end of the line,

Lieutenant Roy Mandeville Lenton wrote one of the messages found by Herbert A Stewart in 1916.

The blog has come through for me before, and I’m hoping it will deliver once again, even if this approach does seem equally random as the very messages I’m chasing. They were written by Australian and New Zealand troops and sealed inside bottles and often thrown overboard as they crossed the Great Australian Bight with a hope they’d eventually find their intended destination.

Map showing roughly where Herbert A Stewart found the messages in bottles SE of Rivoli Bay, South Australia.

However, my primary focus isn’t on the troops themselves, but on a South Australian farmer who found almost 200 messages in bottles near Rivoli Bay on the Limestone Coast. Not only that, Herbert A Stewart of “Bleakfield”, Rendelsham forwarded the messages to their intended destinations with a cover letter, and he even went to the trouble of forwarding letters written by NZ troops on to New Zealand.

While you would think that forwarding messages in bottles doesn’t make much of a difference to the war effort, when you look at it on this scale, it takes on a different slant. Indeed, I’m incredibly inspired by Herbert’s dedication, hard work, love and compassion for the soldiers and their families. Indeed, I’d love to be more like him.

Bottle housed in the Australian War Memorial.

By the way, it’s worth putting Herbert’s efforts into some kind of context. While it wasn’t unusual for soldiers to throw messages in bottles overboard in transit, so far I haven’t come across anyone else finding the sheer number of messages Herbert found. As far as I can tell, he found at least 180 bottles, and on the 31st August, 1916, he found a record 47 messages. The closest I’ve come across is Harbour Master, Ned Carrison, of Port McDonnell, South Australia who found 10 bottles on the 16th July, 1916 not far from Herbert’s stomping ground.

At the moment, I’ve only been able to identify 22 of the messages found by Herbert Stewart, and this is clearly only the tip of the iceberg. It looks like Herbert kept a record of all the messages he’d found, and I’m hoping that’s somehow been preserved. I’d also imagine that there are families out there who still know the story of how an ancestor or loved one’s message was forwarded to them by Herbert A Stewart of Bleakfield, Rendelsheim, South Australia. I would love to hear from you.

I’m also interested in the WWI messages in bottles in general. So, I’d love to hear from you if that’s of interest.

An empty chair is often used to represent a loved one who has passed away…

While researching messages in bottles might seem quirky and eccentric, the reality is that each bottle is a time capsule preserving a fragment of a much larger journey of a soldier, or group of soldiers heading across the ocean to the front. Moreover, they also tell a story about the person who finds the bottle. Who were they, and what were they do on the beach? They often had to work hard to salvage the scrap of paper which had been floating adrift at the mercy of the sea. I’ve read about bottles turning up covered in seaweed and barnacles. Messages which are wet and barely legible but the finder is just able to pick out an address, a name, a detail and the message has been printed in a newspaper. There was a message written by an Australian soldier which was found by a Maori man on the beach in New Zealand, Herbert Stewart also found a letter by a Maori man from the 1st Maori Continent which was found near Rivoli Bay, South Australia. Indeed, there’s something rather touching about the currents carrying these bottles across boarders and boundaries, especially when I’ve been conducting my research during Covid where we have boundaries on boundaries on boundaries, and we can’t even hug a friend. The ocean, on the other hand, knows no boundaries and these messages in bottles rose from the deep, and went where they went until they were found, retrieved and passed on. Sadly, some of these messages took years to research their destination and by that time, some of their scribes had inevitably died…killed in action, died of wounds, casualties of a foreign war.

Anyway, if you have any information to share or would like to pick my brains, please leave a message. I’d love to hear from you.

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin

N- Australia’s Nullarbor Plain…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to Day 14 of the Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Today, we’re leaving Melbourne to the fashionistas, gourmets and hipsters. They can pine longingly for their lattes, smashed avo and empty cafes. Meanwhile, we’re boarding Morrie the Magnificent, our trusty Morris Minor with his zipped up Datsun 180Y engine and whatever it was which allowed Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to fly, and we’re off to find Australia’s Yellow Brick Road AKA the Eyre Highway. Indeed, we’re off to cross the Nullarbor Plain.

Although I’ve also crossed the Nullarbor by train on board the Indian Pacific both with and without a sleeper (boy sitting up was painful and only the stuff of uni students and equally impoverished backpackers), I thought we’d go by road. So far, I’ve only done the road trip once. It was absolutely epic, and I’m longing to repeat the trip with Geoff and the kids. However,  of course, that will have to wait. Even travel within Australia is banned at the moment, and WA is more shut down than most. It’s even clamped down on travel within the state with an iron fist.

By the way, when it comes to social distancing and out-manouvering the Coronavirus, it doesn’t get much better than the Nullarbor Plain. With 200 km in between petrol stations, even the virus will run out of gas.

Nullarbour Ceduna roadsign

Road Sign Ceduna, South Australia.

The Nullarbor Plain covers a vast, almost incomprehensible distance, stretching about 1,100 kilometres (684 mi) kms at it’s widest point. The Eyre Highway, which is the main road (and indeed the ONLY road across the Nullarbor), is a staggering 1,664 km (1,034 mi) long. When you’re heading from East to West, it starts out in Port Augusta in South Australia and winds up in Norseman, Western Australia.

That’s a very long trip for Morrie the Magnificent to even consider, especially when he’s been rather unreliable of late and might not even make it past Woy Woy. However, since this is a virtual adventure, let’s look on the bright side. As Morrie mutters: “I think I can”, we can all shout out: “We know you can!!”

Eyre_Highway_route_map (1)

Map Showing the Eyre Highway, which crosses the Nullarbor Plain from Port Augusta, SA to Norseman, WA.

However, before we leave on the trip, there are a few things you ought to know. Firstly, no electronic devices, books or other distractions are allowed. While many have referred to the Nullarbor as the “Nullaboring”, there’s still a lot to see out there. Besides, that sense of never-ending salt bush and vast unending space, is something which needs to be experienced in its full glory. That’s even if you as the driver are going mad asking: “Are we there yet?” SORRREEE!!! No, you’re not!!! Stop being so precious and make the most of the experience. It’s like nothing else. You can be thankful when you get home, that it’s only the trip of a lifetime and you don’t have to do this journey everyday!!

Nullarbor Pink Everlastings

Pink Everlasting Daisies Flourishing Alongside the Eyre Highway.

My apologies, I got a bit sidetracked there. I was meant to be giving you what could amount to a lifesaving briefing about what you need to take with you. Given the Nullarbor’s absolute isolation, you need to travel with a good supply of water, extra petrol and food in case you break down. While there is other traffic out there and people are very mindful of stopping to help, it’s always better to be prepared and self-sufficient, especially if you’re driving at night. You have to remember there are stretches of 200 kms in between petrol stations, and there’s not a Maccas on every corner either. Rather, it’s a case of me, myself and I out there, which, as my Dad would say, could well “put hairs on your chest”.

One last warning, it’s not advisable to do this trip in the heart of our Australian Summer. It gets so hot out there, that even the flies refuse to travel.

As I said, I’ve only driven across the Nullarbor once. That was with a friend back in 1997. We were heading one-way from Sydney to Perth  via Adelaide, and sharing driving and petrol expenses. However, since my friend drove a manual Commodore, the trip also came with obligatory driving lessons and let’s just say it’s just as well the Nullarbor had no trees! I wasn’t a natural!!

Nullarbor Eagle

An eagle perched over roadkill.

To be perfectly honest, aside from never-ending salt bush, there’s not much report out here. Well, that’s until you come across an eagle perched on top of a dead kangaroo and  it’s fiercely defending it’s dinner from passing road trains and cars. It’s quite amusing to watch, especially after looking at salt bush for hours. It seems the Eyre Highway provides a sort of fast food service out here, and as you could imagine, nothing goes to waste.

Now, I’m going to start the difficult process of trying to reconstruct my memories into some kind of sequence, hoping I really don’t get things out of order. Indeed, I’m hoping that just this once, my photographs might be in the right order. That back in the days of film and printing out photos as they happened, that I won’t be left scrambling, cursing my scatter-and-shuffle brain.

Thinking back to our trip across the Nullarbor, there are a few places which really come to mind.

Rowena Great Australian Bight

The Great Australian Bight.

It’s a shame this magnificent stretch of plunging limestone cliffs is so isolated and difficult to reach. They’re breathtakingly beautiful and their sheer size and enormity blew me away. While I’ve heard it’s a great place for whale watching, we were only driving through, and weren’t looking for a more extended experience at the time. Meanwhile, I just loved the landscape itself.

Great Australian Bight truck

The road train parked on the edge of the Great Australian Bight here, gives some perspective on the enormity of the cliffs.

Eucla

The isolated town of Eucla might only be a quick 10 minute drive from the South Australian border However, it’s still a massive 1,430 kilometres from Perth. So, you’re not there yet.

Nullarbor Rowena Eucla

While in hindsight, it feels like we were hot-footing our way to Perth and didn’t stop long at any local spots along the way, we actually did check out Eucla’s impressive Bilbunya Dunes, which look like a scene straight out of Lawrence of Arabia. It reminded me of tobogganing down sand dunes on Glad bags back when I was at school, before dune rehabilitation became a concern.

Nullarbor Eucla Sand dune

I really liked this footprints climbing up the side of the dune. The lone figure at the top seems so alone and isolated and the footprints suggest a journey of self-discovery and introspection, as though they’re climbing up the sand and inside themselves. 

In addition to the dunes, we also checked out the Old Telegraph Station. I’m not sure how much was visible at the time. However, from the look of my photos, only a chimney was peering out above the sand. I’ll be writing more about the Old Telegraph Station tomorrow after I dug up a few old stories from the old newspapers. My goodness! They were great.

Nullarbor Chimney Telegraph Station

 

The 90 Mile Straight.

Once you cross the Western Australian border, the Eyre Highway itself becomes a sight to behold. Between Balladonia and Caiguna, you hit what’s colloquially known as the “90 Mile Straight” where the road stretches in a straight line for 146.6 kilometres (91.1 mi) without a bend. This is regarded as the longest straight stretch of road in Australia, and one of the longest in the world. That might not seem very exciting when you’re cruising along that endless straight line. However, once you finally reach that bend in the road, it’s a true Eureka moment!! 

The Nullarbor Links

Not being a golfer myself, I didn’t pay much attention to the Nullarbor Links on our trip. However, with my Dad being a passionate golfer, I couldn’t go past it now. The Nullarbor Links is the world’s longest golf course with 18 holes on the 1,365 kilometre course, stretching from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia to Ceduna in South Australia. Plus, there’s an added bonus. You could well have Skippy the bush kangaroo and her  mates cheering you on.

Nullarbour Roadsign

Road Signs

Road signs along the Eyre Highway make for great photo opportunities and are landmarks in themselves.

There’s a lot more to the Nullarbour Plain for those who want to venture off the main road. However, that wasn’t my experience. So, I’ll leave that for someone else.

I would’ve loved to take you further down the track to Esperance. However, just this once, I’m going to stick to the brief.

Have you ever been across the Nullarbor Plain and if so, do you have any stories to share? Or, perhaps, this is a trip you’d love to make one day. Something to cross of your bucket list.

I hope and pray that you and yours are staying safe and well.

Love & best wishes,

Rowena