For foure and twenty houres the storme in a restlesse tumult, had blowne so exceedingly,
we could not apprehend in our imaginations any possibility of greater violence,
yet did wee still finde it, not onely more terrible, but more constant, fury added to fury, and one storme vrging a second more outragious then the former.
On that night the muse rode aboard the vessel Sea Venture, learning the wiles of Neptune. A phosphorescent light now at the beak, now the mast-head, now at the waist, sending panic to and fro.
And the lowly creature Caliban bunked deep below decks moaning and clutching at his matted hair as the ship rolled and yawed, dreaming of his release, or finding kinship.
There is even a fleeting apparition of the Magician himself, flickering into being, for a moment, wrenching the wheel from the steersman, who with teeth clenched is thrown to larboard, then to starboard as the vessel plunges like a corkscrew into the troughs, spars cracking, canvas splitting and cables flailing, dancing to the song of the devil himself.
Hast thou, spirit, perform’d to point the tempest that I bade thee?
To every article.
I boarded the king’s ship; now on the beak,
now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin,
I flamed amazement: sometime I’d divide,
and burn in many places; on the topmast
The yards and bowsprit, would I flame distinctly,
then meet and join. Jove’s lightnings, the precursors
o’ the dreadful thunder-claps, more momentary
and sight-outrunning were not; the fire and cracks
of sulphurous roaring the most mighty Neptune
seem to besiege and make his bold waves tremble.
The spectral Master vanishes leaving the beaten Sea Venture leaking and dismasted to flounder on towards the Bermudas where she will find respite. The exhausted crew repair broken planking, re-rig the spars and mend the sails. She is victualled with fresh water, fruit, dried fish, live hogs and chickens and once again put to sea on a course for the Virginia colony, seven hundred miles to the Northwest.
On the three and twentieth of May we cast Anchor before James Towne, where we landed, and our much grieued Gouernour first visiting the Church caused the Bell to be rung.
The James Town fort is a sorry sight, its palisades torn down, the Portals open, the gates of houses abandoned after the death of their owners, torn off their hinges and rent apart for firewood by the surviving colonists, rather than risk a trip into the woodlands where…
the Indian killed as fast without, if our men stirred
but beyond the bounds of their Block-house
as Famine and Pestilence did within.
Of the 600 original colonists only 70 souls remain, emaciated, diseased and terrified of the native’s arrows; the seasick console the landsick. The storm at sea is over but the storm on land has just begun.
The imperative remains, the narrative must continue, the future Colony of Virginia must for the sake of Empire succeed, it shall develop into a Utopia of productivity, of escalating share prices and commodity booms, paying fat dividends to the comfortable parlours of Liverpool, Edinburgh, Bath and London. A vast agrarian engine powered by sugar, rum and human flesh, black human flesh, spitting out ship holds full of cotton and tobacco to the tune of Cockney cusses, African chants and the crack of bull-whips.
The Cambion Caliban takes well to this new, much bigger island; at least he has companions here amongst the African sorcerers and the Indian shamans, who are treated with equal distain by the white overlords, the ruffian horse-thieves and kleptomaniac house maids, transported here as indentured labour. Like his African counterparts he has the capacity to internalise and hide his culture, biding time to break-out and build their own utopias. In contrast everything that belongs to the Masters is solid, blunt and obvious, things of power and pain, things only of external value and trade.
Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
that, if I then had waked after long sleep,
will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
the clouds methought would open and show riches
ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
The Virginia Colony will spread westward across this land to spawn a future where everything has to be dug, pumped and burnt; everything must burn. At night crosses burn, flames reflected in the eye-whites of the Blacks. Coal, oil and tar formed by a million years of swampy growth must be cindered in an instant of geologic time, boiling the atmosphere and too often the skin; without it there is no progress. And the dispossessed, what are the Indians of Virginia left with in the end but concessions to sell tax-free cigarettes and alcohol; maybe to operate a cheap casino here and there.
The World smoulders, slaves escape to form Maroon colonies in the swamps and infested places where even their tyrannical Masters care not to follow. Refugees continue to board leaking vessels and put to sea, parted from their homelands and their money, terrified of the elements, dreaming of a better life, without suicide bombers or State terror.
Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an
acre of barren ground, long heath, brown furze, anything.
The wills above be done! but I would fain
die a dry death.
Other outposts of Empire congeal. Other vessels arrive to describe and chart entry points into the shrinking unknown. In1606 Willem Janszoon sails the tiny Jacht Duyfken to Cape York which is swampy and lethal; ten of his crew speared. The Duyfken quits the continent that Janzoon names Nieu Zeland after charting several hundred kilometres of low lying coastline. Later, during a second southern voyage in 1618, Janzoon grazes the West Australian coast and correctly presumes he is charting a large island.
However in1616 immediately prior to Janzoon’s latter voyage, Dirk Hartog sailing the V.o.C. shipEendracht en route to Batavia,accidentally encounters an archipelago of low islands off Shark Bay in Western Australia. Hartog’s crew explore the bay for three days but finding nothing of significance they content themselves to name the region Eendrachtsland. They prepare to sail to Java but before they leave they engrave a pewter plate recording their landfall and nail it to a post.
1616 DEN 25 OCTOBER IS HIER AEN GECOMEN
HET SCHIP DEENDRAGHT VAN AMSTERDAM
DE OPPERKOPMAN GILLIS MIBAIS VAN LVIK
SCHIPPER DIRCK HATICHS VAN AMSTERDAM
DE 27 DITO TE SEIL GEGHM NA BANTVM
DE ONDERKOPMAN JAN STINS DE OPPERSTVIERMAN
PIETER DOOKES VAN BIL ANNO 1616
And so it is that after millennia a new category of objects colonise Terra Australia. At the far western edge of the continent two hundred and sixteen European letters glitter each evening in the brilliant orange sunsets and slowly begin to oxidise in the daily on-shore sea breeze. Their destiny, to be found by those who can read….
Once again the land slumbers in the heat haze until 1699 when the former buccaneer Dampier sailing the Roebuck makes extensive botanical notes as the first English explorer of Australia. The Roebuck cruises the rocky shores of north western Australia, short of water food and female company, but there is nothing to excite the English mercantile sensibility on these arid shores, only desolation and hostility.
Despised by the officer class of the Royal Navy, but ironically a darling of the Royal Society, Dampier’s unconventional career cost him his rightful place in history, ousted by Captain Cook as the most suitable candidate for explorer statues in the new colony. Even Cook’s childhood cottage has managed to find its way from Yorkshire to be re-erected in a Melbourne public park, an authentic bit of the old country!
The new land is a sleeper. For the time being no-one can imagine a use for this empty place, devoid of spices, decent timber, or minerals. The sand, flies and heat must wait another hundred years until other new-world colonists rebel against the Imperium and deny it the right to ship riff-raff to the Virginia plantations. Finally Terra Incognita is transformed from a biological curiosity into a Gulag. The cancer spreads and contamination is assured.
Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine
inheritance,and the uttermost parts
of the earth for thy possession.
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron;
thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
Psalms Chapter 2.
North of the Burrup peninsula, a paint-flaked Indonesian fishing boat capsizes, spilling one hundred refugees into the salt water, many drown a stones-throw from the shore. A coast guard vessel stands by to video the event and haul the survivors off to a remote detention centre. Here the dispossessed wait under the fluorescent lights of a purgatory designed to trade human dignity for political advantage. They will wait a long time, a very long time, in this place conceived by hard hearted men, the same breed that would crush the World’s oldest rock-art for road-base.
Full fathom five thy father lies;
of his bones are coral made;
those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
but doth suffer a sea-change
into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell.
Hark! now I hear them,–Ding-dong, bell.
South of the disaster scene, well beyond the attention of the naval video cameras, the chaotically piled rock formations of the Burrup peninsula are engraved with thousands of sacred images of Kangaroo and Emu. They have been here for more than forty-thousand years. The totem animals stare out at the flume from the gas refinery that squats heavily upon their land. Everything must burn.
We are social creatures she said, gazing down at the face, its eyes wide, staring fixedly at the heavens. We know we are social creatures because we devote seventy percent of our visual cortex to face recognition, We both look down at the face that has searched the skies for the past forty-thousand years, engraved into the weathered surface of the rock.
By night the face of the moon and the creatures formed by the stars, slowly track across the field of vision of these archaic eyes. By day the sun scorches the boulder rubble hills, varnishing the surface to a deep glossy red oxide, a surface too hot to touch by midday.
The eyes peer back through the heat shimmer, two perfect circles enclosed by a series of concentric lines forming the face, the first face, the first and oldest known image of a face on earth; it looks at me, I look back and shiver.
I try to imagine someone perched up here on top of this boulder mountain for days on end, a stone in each hand, impact upon impact. Most of the world was still frozen, the land crushed under massive walls of ice, the rest arid and windswept. Here by chance a small enclave of milder,
moister climate offered a foothold some hundred kilometres from the coast with small gorges, running creeks and game, providing a homeland and triggering the desire to converse with the world.
I lift my field-glasses and scan the rocks that form the other side of this small gorge. Almost every jagged boulder carries a petroglyph, kangaroos, snakes and fish, turtles men, women and faces. In this small area, maybe seven thousand images; on this island, maybe one and a half million.
I can see the glitter of the Indian Ocean barely one kilometre away and it dawns upon me that these images must continue underwater for tens of kilometres out to sea, toward the original prehistoric coastline, this is the tip of the iceberg.
Fade from Black – the white paleo-archeologist from the city poses in front of the TV crew to explain the history of the ancient images to an indigenous Ranger, who quietly nods his head and makes occasional affirmative noises. The scientist explains that the older petroglyphs represent terrestrial animals, commonly hunted when men first walked across the land-bridge from South East Asia during the last Ice-age, sixty-thousand years ago. At that time this archipelago was a range of rocky hills far inland. The black ranger knows a different story about Murujuga but nods for the camera all the same.
The cameras cut to a nearby location, this time showing some more recent images of exclusively marine species, carved, the archeologist explains, a mere seven to five-thousand years ago. The climate was warming fast and after a big thaw the land-bridge to Asia disappeared under the sea. Australia became an Island continent, and Noah’s Ark endured the storms on the newly formed Black Sea. The Ranger smiles to himself; Black Sea, wicked name he thinks.
Eons ago his ancestors walked here, from what we now call Asia, wrapped in skins across the frozen tundra. No trees then and not much game, just space, plenty of space and no people. Then the trees slowly marched south and covered the land and the sea surged into the valleys and swallowed the shorelines. But since the Balanda came in ships, even these islands have begun to drown, as if these pale ghosts caused the Pacific to swell up and suck down whole islands into the belly of the ocean.
White men floating on wooden islands, explorers, sealers and pirates – they too were swallowed up by the waters – some in the fury of a maelstrom, others manacled to iron rings at London’s Execution Dock. They say that those poor souls remained chained for three tides. Three tides to make sure they were drowned and gone and all the while Judge Jeffreys sitting in his private room in the Angel Inn across the river in Bermondsey, sipping ale with a twisted grin on his face – everything must burn, burn and drown.
The scientist is drawing a mud-map with a stick. A saw tooth pattern in the sand. Long slow diagonals descending from the left, followed by sharp upward strokes, representing gradual cooling followed by a rapid warming, the brief inter-glacial she calls it. That’s the way it works and has done so for millions of years. Again she scratches in the sand, the slow warming rise has gone vertical in the past fifty years, it’s a hockey stick lying on its back – everything must burn, burn and drown.