- Strange Objects
"Strange Objects" is a 1991 novel by acclaimed
Australianauthor Gary Crew.
This book, set in Western Australia, is based on the shipwreck of the Dutch vessel the Batavia. Using the framing device of a collection of papers made by a missing boy, Steven Messenger, it is an intriguing mystery story that explores the construction of history. When Steven discovers relics from the wreck of the Batavia, (a diary and a mummified finger with a gold ring on it, the two inside a steel pot), he investigates the media frenzy surrounding them, and in particular the stories of two murderers from the doomed ship who are sent away to what they think is a deserted island for committing crimes of mutiny. The book parallels characters from the past and present in an exploration of human nature, and the presentation of self through the written word. It features an unusual construction, similar to Bram Stoker's "Dracula" in that the book is purportedly a compilation of letters, diary entries and photocopies; there is no authoritative narrative voice.
The book was partly a response to Australia's Bicentenary, which occurred in 1988. This event caused a revival of interest in Australian history, particularly in the "discovery" of the land. The bicentenary celebrated the landing of the "
First Fleet" in 1788, and the beginning of permanent European settlement in Australia. James Cookcharted the east coast of Australia in 1770, however there were a number of sightings and landings prior to this.
In "Strange Objects", Gary Crew takes the premise that survivors from the Batavia made it to the mainland, and lived with the Aboriginal people of the area. This actually happened, with European settlers noticing that the aboriginals had fair hair and more complex bush huts, which resembled their houses. This very deeply interested scientists.
Batavia, the ship they were on, sunk in 1629 with 300 people on board (and the Tyrallearlier in 1622). Two Hundred and fifty made it ashore, on a tiny desolate sand bank known as Beacon island. The commander took a boat and sailed to Java to get help, leaving the rest to wait.The man who took charge was a satanic worshipper called jeronimous Cornelius, a satanicworshipper who instantly rallied up a council and took charge.He sent out the soldiers on boats to look for water, and told them to leave their guns. When The soldiers found a hospitable island (West Wallabi Island) they signalled to the rest with smoke. However, when no reply came, they became instantly suspicious. Jeronimous and his men had killed over 120 people, with another 40 escaping to West Wallabi Island.By the time help came, the soldiers had repelled attacks with rocks and sticks, where as the Satanics had guns and bayonnetes.The commander and the rescue team came, and executed most of the Satanic worshippers, then let two of the men to walk free on the then unknown land of Western Australia.
"Strange Objects" in part examines the place of Aboriginal people, both in an historical context and in a contemporary context. The contemporary context is a poor one. The Aboriginal people live in a reserve which is tattered and ruined. They largely shun contact with white society, and are regarded by them as "Abos". We also see them in the 1629 era. Here they are masters of the land, and more adapt to survival here than are the Dutch sailors. We are also shown glimpses of the 19th century, where the Aboriginal people are largely regarded uncivilised or savages.
What unfolds throughout the novel is the complexity of the Aboriginal past including its history told in rock art and passed down in oral stories.
Recognition and Awards
"Strange Objects" has had the following accolades:
Winner of the Australian Children's Book Council Book of the Year for Older Readers.
Winner of the 1991 Victorian Premier's Literary Award.
It was also shortlisted for the Edgar Allan Poe Mystery Fiction Award (Crime Writers of America).
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