by Graeme Dobson
The history of Australia’s north coast is a story of ancient industry and international trade with tentacles that reached as far as China. It tells of travel to the far reaches of the world where an old, mid-19th century Groote Eylandt man, spoke of chasing huge fish across cold seas and hunting furred creatures on seas hard as stone.
It’s a story of great, forgotten empires on Australia’s doorstep and rich Sultans who claimed that Australia’s north as their own long before Cook laid eyes on it.
It’s a story very few Australians know about.
When marine biologist Graeme Dobson asked elders about the origins of a strange stone structure in the middle of a bay, off a tiny island, near the coast of Arnhem Land they replied ‘Not ours’, and so began a remarkable quest that became a mystery wrapped in an adventure, folded into history. His research took him to the far corners of Arnhem Land and into the Seas and Islands to its north. It led him back through time, past missionaries, colonists, huge fishing fleets, Dutch map-makers, Portuguese explorers-come-slavers, unknown settlers and miners, and pearl cultivating tribesmen until he finally found the answer in another bay off another tiny island, this time in the remote Indonesian Aru Islands.
This is a mystery/adventure with a difference, plus fascinating insights into little discussed history of northern Australia.