Geraldton is a mid-size town (20’000 people), located on the shores of the central west coast of Australia. Here, cray fishing is one of the bigger businesses and consequently the backpacker place I stayed in was full of fishermen. All activities here are based around fishing. People who love to sit on a yacht out in the sea will find this a perfect spot to stay for a couple of days.
What lured me into Geraldton was the prospect of making this a hub to explore the Kalbarri National Park in the north and the Pinnacles in the South. At least this is what tourist brochures of the various hostels suggest.
However, there is almost no tourist scene and all these side trips seem to have been abandoned. There was no way to park my swag for a couple of days in one place and do day trips to these sights. Therefore, I decided to backtrack north to the Kalbarri National Park and stay there – before heading south again to Cervantes to see the Pinnacles. While waiting two days for the bus to arrive, I made the best out of it and visited the town.
There has actually a substantial renovation project been done, with nice pedestrian areas and parks along the beaches. Although this is not a major tourist spot, the town definitely has its charm and a couple of worthwhile sights. The towns’ history is greatly influenced by 17th century explorers from the Netherlands – some being successful navigators on their ships, while others weren’t so lucky.
One of these ships, the ‘Batavia‘, became infamous after it wrecked on the Abrolhos islands, located 60km off the coast of Geraldton. This archipelago hosts 122 islands, claimed to be much more beautiful than the Great Barrier Reef on the other side of the continent.
On 4th of June 1629, the Dutch East India ship ‘Batavia’ ran aground on one of the Abrolhos reefs. Most of the crew and passengers made it to the various islands, but fresh water supply was a major problem. As the weeks passed, some of the survivors started to attack their neighbors stranded on the other islands. As if this territorial conquest on a microscopic scale wasn’t enough, one of the group’s leaders – who obviously had become mad – ordered older women and children to be executed.
As the story unfolds (much better told than by me in this great book: ‘Batavia’s Graveyard: The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Led History’s Bloodiest Mutiny‘), murder, debauchery and rape reigned among the survivors. The captain of the ‘Batavia’ was sailing to Indonesia, which was the nearest outpost of the Dutch company at that time, to get help in bringing back the goods and people (in that order). When he arrived back in the Abrolhos with a rescue vessel, he had the murderers executed – sparing two teens, because he claimed they were too young for this capital punishment. Instead he had them marooned on the Australian continent, before sailing back to Indonesia with the goods and rescued survivors.
Rumor has it, that the legacy of these boys can be found in some Dutch sounding words of the Aborigines. Another influence – seemingly measurable – had been caused by the shipwreck of the ‘Zuytdorp‘ – about 200km north of Geraldton. Some Aboriginal people carry the rare ‘Ellis van Creveld syndrome‘ gene, which was prevalent in Holland back in 1712.
The fantastic Western Australian Museum actually runs a 50 minute documentary telling the story of the ‘Batavia’ and has a large amount of collectibles from a couple of dozen shipwrecks that were found along the coastline of Geraldton.
Moreover, the museum has a great display of the development of the town, from its pioneering days to present – showcasing the challenges, such as getting enough fresh water supply and agricultural food for the growing demand. A more recent display, on a hill overlooking the city, is the ship ‘HMAS Sydney‘ memorial. It displays the names of 645 men on board who died when the ship was sunk in 1941 during an attack by a German vessel.
Filled with so much maritime history, I concluded my visit to Geraldton by visiting Fisherman’s Wharf and the scenic Point Moore beach. Although my visit started as a bit of a disappointment, because the hostels weren’t meeting the advertised expectations, I ended up in appreciating this place.
And all the beautification work currently underway leaves no doubt in me that Geraldton is eager to become a tourist hot spot in a couple of years down the road. It definitely has potential.