Island history remembered
Standing at the highest point of Cape Inscription, wind roaring over the cliffs, Sebastian Hartog could feel the threads of history tugging at his emotions.
From the edge of the precipice, he looked out over the same vast and rugged scene Dutch captain Dirk Hartog had taken in almost 400 years earlier.
It was the perfect place to leave evidence of a visit, a natural pedestal for a man-made monument.
The Indian Ocean rolled onto jagged rocks below at the remote northern tip of Australia’s westernmost island, now known as Dirk Hartog Island.
To the east were the turquoise waters of the more forgiving Turtle Bay, where white sands greeted the Dutchman on October 25, 1616.
The merchant sailor and his ship, the Eendracht, were likely blown off course after rounding the Cape of Good Hope en route to Batavia, now Jakarta.
He spent three days on the island, then set sail for Batavia, leaving behind an inscribed pewter plate to mark his passage.
Hartog, sailing for the Dutch East India Company, was the first known European to set foot in WA and map part of its coastline.
His plate remains the oldest European artefact in Australian history.
Sebastian Hartog, 42, who traces his lineage back to the famed sailor, recently travelled to Dirk Hartog Island for the first time ahead of the 400th anniversary of the landing.
A ceremony at Cape Inscription on Tuesday was the culmination of a five-day, multimillion-dollar commemorative festival.
A first-generation Australian born of Dutch parents, Mr Hartog keeps a replica pewter plate at his home on the Gold Coast.
Even after eight years of envisaging the journey west, he was taken aback by his reaction.
“It feels like there’s something here,” Mr Hartog said.
“It’s really difficult to describe,
to pinpoint the feeling that I’m getting because it’s such a range of emotions. “It’s like, ‘This is my history’.” Although his ancestor apparently did not find anything particularly remarkable about the island, Mr Hartog was blown away.
“For me, this is a natural wonderland,” he said.
“We’ve got wildflowers that are blooming all over the island at the moment.
“We’ve got red bluffs, we’ve got turquoise, the most beautiful ocean that I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s just teeming with wildlife.
“Every bay is different and it sounds cliched, but I think it’s postcard quality.”
Mr Hartog was due to return to the island for Tuesday’s ceremony, when a new replica plate and interpretive panels were officially unveiled.
The festival was opened yesterday by the Malgana people, the traditional owners of Dirk Hartog Island, also known as Wirruwana.
Malgana man Howard Cock, 68, grew up on the island, living there until the age of seven, then returning to work as a stockman until he was 17. Those pastoral days are over and the focus has shifted to returning the natural environment to its original state.
Kieran Wardle, the grandson of former Perth Lord Mayor Sir Thomas Wardle, offers eco-tourism options on the island.
Mr Cock, a Vietnam War veteran and former police officer, wrote a song for the festival titled 1616.
He feels a deep sense of connection to Wirruwana, but he also cherishes its European history.
“I think it (the history) is wonderful,” he said. “I mean, we can’t change it. You’ve got to go forward with it and why would you want to change it? “Look at what we have got. “Look at how we live here.” Hartog’s original pewter plate will be on display at the WA Maritime Museum for six months from October 31 before its return to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
The exhibition, Travellers and Traders in the Indian Ocean World, will be opened by King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands.
Keiran Whardle’s family have run Dirk Hartog Island since his grandfather Sir Thomas Whardle bought the island’s pastoral lease in 1968.
Department of Parks and Wildlife workers ranger Steve Locke, senior ranger Chris McMonagle and Shark Bay Marine Park co-ordinator Dave Holley on Dirk Hartog Island.
Shark Bay’s Howard Cock has written a song about the landing.
The replica of the original Dirk Hartog plate.
The Shark Bay Entertainers in period costume.