Accidental trilogy about sailing to Australia

It wasn’t until I was doing last minute edits to Matthew Flinders: Adventures on Leaky Ships that I realised my three most recent non-fiction books have all been about sailing to Australia – an accidental trilogy!

SS Arcadia
SS Arcadia

Ten Pound Pom

The first was my own story. I was only 12 years old when, in 1963, I sailed half-way around the world (about 20,000 kilometres) from England to Australia. My family made the journey on a 30,000 tonne passenger ship called the SS Arcadia.

The book is called Ten Pound Pom because we travelled under a government scheme to encourage migrants to come to Australia. It was very cheap. The fare was £10 ($20) each for my parents. My brother and I travelled for free. Like all good voyagers, I kept a diary.

We sailed through the Mediterranean Sea, down the Suez Canal, through the Red Sea, on to Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka) and finally across the Indian Ocean to Australia. It was an exciting journey for a kid who, before that, had never travelled more than 200 kilometres for a week at the seaside. But there was no danger. We weren’t escaping war or racism. In fact, the journey was a fun holiday. Even so, it was a big step for my family, leaving family and friends behind. In our own small way, my family and I were part of Australian history. (Walker Books Australia)

Putting Australia on the Map

Replica of the Dutch ship Duyfken which was the first recorded ship to reach Australian shores in 1606, captained by Willem Janzoon.

We’re so familiar with the shape of Australia and its place on the map of the world, it’s hard to imagine there was a time when no one knew the huge continent of Australia existed. (Apart from Aboriginal people who have lived here for at least 60,000 years, of course.) 

I never studied Australian history. I vaguely knew that Captain Cook “discovered” Australia in 1770. Then I saw an amazing 1664 map of Australia in the floor of the Mitchell Library. It was joined on to New Guinea. The whole Eastern coast was missing. Someone had definitely sailed to Australia before Cook. But who were they?

I discovered that more than 50 intrepid men – traders, explorers, naval officers – had sailed to our shores (quite a few of them accidentally) over a period of 200 years before Cook arrived. They were Dutch, Spanish and English. (Abel Tasman was responsible for the 1664 map.) I wanted to tell some of their stories and document how the map of Australia was slowly put together, bit by bit. That’s what inspired me to write Putting Australia on the Map. (Wild Dog Books)

Matthew Flinders: Adventures on Leaky Ships

Artist’s impression of the Investigator

The final book in my accidentally trilogy, Matthew Flinders: Adventures on Leaky Ships, has just been published. It’s about one intrepid sailor– Matthew Flinders–who sailed to Australia. He had an amazing life, a lot of it spent at sea in the service of the British Navy. He sailed to Australia in the wake of Captain Cook, not once, but three times.

On his first voyage, aged just 17, Matthew passed through Torres Strait and perhaps glimpsed Cape York as he sailed to Tahiti with Captain Bligh (1791) to bring back breadfruit trees.

A few years later he served on HMS Reliance on a voyage to Port Jackson to deliver stores and a new Governor to the young colony. He did some exploring of his own in his free time, including circumnavigating Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). On the way home, he adopted a black and white cat called Trim.

On his third voyage to Australia, Matthew was the commander of his own ship, the HMS Investigator. In it, he was the first to sail around Australia, he completed the map, and gave Australia its name. (Wild Dog Books)

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