Authors: Sarah Hay
SARAH HAY was born in Esperance, Western Australia, in 1966. A journalist and public relations consultant, she began her career as a cadet livestock reporter in Perth. She has worked in England as a reporter for a national newspaper. She has also been a writer for two public relations firms in Perth. Currently an undergraduate at the University of Western Australia, she is completing a Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy and writing her second novel. She lives in Perth with her husband and son.
First published in 2002
Copyright Â© Sarah Hay 2002
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The Australian Copyright Act
1968 (the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.
This project has been assisted by the Commonwealth Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.
National Library of Australia
Hay, Sarah, 1966â.
Â Â Â Â Skins.
Â Â Â Â ISBN 1 86508 807 2.
1. Aborigines, AustralianâWomenâWestern AustraliaâHistory.
2. Sealers (Persons)âWestern AustraliaâHistory.
3. Aborigines, AustralianâWestern AustraliaâHistory. I. Title.
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For my family
I owe much to my parents Ian and Jan Hay for choosing to live in a special and remote part of Western Australia. This book could not have been written without the help of John Cahill who accompanied me on my trips to Middle Island.
CSIRO's Dr Peter Shaughnessy and Dr Nick Gales, who is now with the Australian Antarctic Division, shared their knowledge of sea lions and fur seals on a research trip to Kangaroo Island. Malcolm Traill and Julia Mitchell from the Local Studies Section of the Albany Library were always helpful in their responses to my numerous enquiries.
My thanks to Marcella Pollain and Dr Brenda Walker of the University of Western Australia's creative writing program for getting me started and Brenda for reading my completed manuscript.
Thanks to my grandmother Nancy Hay who read my chapters as they were written and for her belief in my work; my friends Kerry and Garry Walker for our Friday night discussions that helped me discover what I wanted to say; my husband Jamie Venerys for his support; Chris and Christine Bradley; Jill Bear; Stephen and Dorothy Purdew; and my son Robert for being there.
Do you remember the island that lay in the middle of others? Rocks washed smooth by the sea. How frightened we were? But it was only the beginning. I am so tired now and there is a coldness inside me that is spreading.
Middle Island 1835, James Manning
Manning didn't consider himself one of Anderson's men. It was nearly two years since he had left the settled shores of Sydney Town for the new Swan River colony, a journey of some three and a half thousand nautical miles. That didn't take into account the detours they would make to the sealers' camps hidden on small rocky islands that broke the surge of the Southern Ocean swell. But Manning never reached the Swan River colony. He had left Botany Bay as part of the crew of a sealing trader called the
but the schooner was wrecked off the coast of New South Wales. Some of the crew had taken the longboat back to Sydney. He and the others had gone on in the whaleboat to Kangaroo Island. It was there he met the sealer Black Jack Anderson.
Manning was sitting halfway up the sandhill that followed the curve of the main bay at Middle Island. It was called Goose Island Bay, named after the island that lay off its shore about one and a half miles to the west and which sheltered it from the Southern Ocean swell.
He watched a solitary seagull flap against the wind above the beach. It gave up and glided down and out across the dark foam-flecked sea. As it neared the tip of the waves, it flapped again, turning in a wide arc before it headed back to the beach, perhaps knowing that if it left the island, it would have to fend for itself instead of relying on the scraps left by the sealers. Manning thought if he was a bird, he would take his chances. He could see the purple hills of Mount Arid that was the mainland, six miles away. He would stretch out his wings and let the wind carry him there. No longer to be buffeted by the gusts that came up and over the island from the land of ice in the south. Manning threw out a piece of stale crust. He was tired of chewing the hard bread that stuck in his throat when he swallowed. The little gull swooped with its feet poised to take it. A black-winged Pacific gull came out of the sky and, just as the silver gull lifted the crust off the ground, the big gull snatched the bread and carried it up and over the sandhills.
Today was the 27th of March 1835. Manning knew that because he had scratched eighty-six notches on the stick he kept beside his swag to mark every day since he had arrived. He had come to Middle Island with Anderson from Kangaroo Island, on the promise the sealer would take him on to King George Sound. And from there to Swan River would be easy. But Anderson was a hard bastard, making him work for his food. Manning knew that if they didn't leave soon it would be much later in the year before the winds would be favourable again. He also knew that if he didn't get up from where he was sitting soon, Anderson would be after him.
But Anderson would always be after him. A gust of wind sent pricks of sand across his face. He picked up a handful and watched it trickle through his fist. It made him think of time passing but that was strange for since he had been on the island he had felt as though it stood still. It was very fine sand and white like snow, perhaps. He looked up, his chin resting on his knees. Suddenly he saw something on the horizon. Could it be a sail? He stood up, brushing the sand from his ragged trousers, and squinted into the distance, motionless for a moment, his eyes fixed on that point. The swell had been whipped up by a storm a couple of nights ago. Now the wind had swung around to the east and was blowing hard across the bay. It was difficult to see through the salt haze, which hovered above the white-capped waves. But yes it was the sail of a small boat. He expected to see a ship further out but there was no sign of one. He kept watching the boat as he came down the hill and along the beach. He reached the granite beyond the camp which was tucked in behind the sand dunes. Once he rounded the headland he lost sight of the sail and Goose Island blocked his view of the mainland. He continued west along a short beach littered with clumps of brown seaweed. He climbed over boulders and small rocks to reach another bay. This time he faced the massive granite dome of Flinders Peak, which stood on the northwestern corner of the island. The sun came out from behind a cloud and intensified the orange and brown stripes that ran down the purple rock face.
Anderson's whaleboat was pulled up at the foot of the sandhill and lay tilted to one side. Usually they brought their catch to the main beach but today Anderson had taken his boat around to the other side because it was sheltered. Away from the wind the sun was hot on the back of Manning's neck. A tripot rested on a ring of granite boulders. As he passed by, he felt the heat from the coals on his legs. Dinah was placing slabs of quivering white fat into the pot and stirring, her skin shiny with sweat. Anderson's other woman Sal, who was shorter and broader, squatted a short distance away and used a wooden paddle to scrape the fat from a skin pulled tight over a rock.
He walked into the smoke and the thick stench caught the back of his throat. He reached Anderson and his men at the water's edge. Seals were laid out on the sand like giant slugs. The men sliced and peeled the skin from the carcasses, widening the red stain around them. Their knives flashed as they caught the light. They brought them under the neck and down the belly to the tail, turning the seal over to take the fat and the skin from its back. And then the hide was turned inside out over the flippers like clothing being removed. Squawking gulls swooped and fought between them. Anderson looked up.
âSoger,' he growled at Manning.
He straightened, unfolding the full strength of his black body, which was barely clad in seal and kangaroo skin, looking for the pail of fresh water Manning was to have brought with him. Both hands were bloodied. A piece of dirty cloth was tied around his forehead to prevent the sweat from entering his eyes.
Before he could say anything else, Manning said: âThere's a boat.'
They stopped and looked out towards the channel between the islands but they couldn't see anything.
âWho is it?'
Manning shrugged, looking down at the ground. Anderson wiped his knife and put it away and walked towards the sandhill. He gestured for Manning to follow. They climbed the steep hill to the track through the dense bush to the camp so that they wouldn't be seen from the sea. It was hot inland. Thin scraggly trees lined the pathway and dead foliage lay amongst the undergrowth. Sticks cracked beneath their feet. Soon they reached a large area of granite that was almost completely surrounded by bush. A short track led to Anderson's hut. Anderson disappeared through the doorway and returned with his musket.