Jock Serong On: The Island at the End of the World

23 Mar 2018 2 Share

Jock Serong

Senior Writer

COASTALWATCH | REVIEWS

Maatsuyker Through Our Eyes
Paul Richardson and Amanda Walker

I have a framed photo in my office: a wonky sepia taken from the deck of a timber fishing boat, cane craypots loaded in the foreground. The horizon is at least ten degrees off level. In the distance, across the water, is a forbidding lump of rock. I don’t know how old the photo is – I bought it second-hand at a market in Salamanca Place. But on the back, written in swirling cursive pencil, are the words Maatsuyker Island.

That lump of rock is a mile and a half long: it’s officially the southernmost piece of land on the Australian continental shelf. It’s named after an obscure Dutch East India Company executive named Maetsuycker, who died 350 years ago. If you think you know your Australian history you might be surprised to learn that it was first charted by Abel Tasman back in 1642. Aboriginal Australians had been visiting the place in tiny bark canoes for millennia before that.

It’s a rampart in a brutal ocean, old and dark and enduring.

But Maatsuyker island, the largest of a small cluster of rocks off Tassie’s south coast (the infamous Pedra Branca is part of the same group), is important for other reasons entirely. A short, fat lighthouse was built there in 1891, and it remains the southernmost lighthouse ever built on the continent. Since that year, it has been used to record weather obs, providing a first look at storm systems rolling in from the Roaring Forties and headed for Hobart, Melbourne and beyond. It rains on Maatsuyker 250 days a year, and the winds have exceeded 112 knots. As I’m typing this I’ve taken a little dip into the BOM observations: it’s been blowing well over 100kmh from the northwest for over 24 hours straight. There are no beaches and plenty of vertical cliffs. This is not a place for the faint-hearted.

Paul Richardson and Amanda Walker are not faint-hearted. I get the impression they’re weather nerds: Paul’s been a commercial fisherman and diver off Tassie; Amanda’s a photographer and fine arts graduate. They signed up in 2013 for the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service Volunteer Caretaker Program. After a gruelling selection and induction process, the two of them were dropped by helicopter on 13 March 2014 to spend six months - the most ferocious six of the year – on Maatsuyker.

Born of that experience, Maatsuyker Through Our Eyes is a glorious, heavy hardcover feast of photography and storytelling. Cutting straight through the naive romanticism of turning your back on civilisation to stare at the sea, it details the preparation, the practical thinking, the boredom, the occasional terrors and the exhilaration of life as a modern-day lighthouse keeper. Running an enclosed vegie patch, dealing with a lightning strike and documenting massive storms – all of it is described with an intimacy and calm that’s immediately challenged by the cinematic photos.

This is a book that will nourish those odd souls who keep coming back to the violent beauty of the Southern Ocean. Ten out of ten bellowing fur seals.

You can buy Maatsuyker Through Our Eyes from Forty South Publishing – fortysouth.com.au. A portion of sales goes to Friends of Maatsuyker Island Wildcare Inc., who help to look after the island.

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