The forgotten islands, by Michael Veitch (Penguin books Australia) is a must read book for anyone with an interest in the islands of Bass Strait.
Michael Veitch is best known for his on-screen comedy roles in The Comedy Company and Fast Forward, and to a lesser degree for his books on World War 2 aviation.
The forgotten islands is a more of a personal quest to find some resolution to a story told to him in his adolescence by a dodgy family friend, a quest that becomes an obsession to get to Deal Island, albeit the long way around. Along the way, he travels by yacht, plane, car and on foot, meeting an interesting cast of slightly eccentric characters inhabiting Australia’s most remote islands.
His narrative is not overtly comedic as you might expect but feels more like a relaxed conversation with a friend, the one that makes you laugh. His hapless, accident prone adventures connected with me, especially his chapters on Flinders Island. I read the whole book with a huge smile on my face and a nagging tugging sensation from somewhere deep inside, calling me to go back.
The islands have a certain magical quality about them that the author describes as ‘gothic’. The story develops into a personal adventure of discovery, overshadowing the original premise which centers on the story of an apprentice lighthouse keeper who disappeared whilst fishing off the rocks on Deal Island and the giant squid that took him. Veitch tells this story to almost everyone he meets on the islands in an attempt to uncover some missing key that will unlock the legend and finally reveal it as either fact or fiction, but he is consistently met with disappointment.
If only he had visited the Furneaux Museum. I recall reading a very similar story in the archives, written by a descendant of one of the lighthouse keepers children who spent her early childhood on one of the smaller islands. In the account I read, the two children – brother and sister, were swimming and jumping off the island jetty. I don’t remember the details but something; I think it was a family pet, disappeared without a trace. Some time later, a giant tentacled arm rolled up and over the jetty in the exact place where the children had been, feeling around the weathered boards as if searching for something and then disappearing silently beneath the shadows of the jetty. I’d forgotten all about that story until I read this book. How interesting. I wonder if we should tell him?
I have since written a junior fiction middle grade short story based on the legend.
The ending of the book sums it up nicely: …‘This trip through Bass Strait and its islands had felt like one day discovering a door to a room in your house you never knew existed. Come back the next day though, and that door might not be there at all, tantalising you with the dream-like memories of magical islands in the sea.’