History on Our Doorstep Part Two – Wiebbe Hayes and Australia’s first real estate ‘Home Open’ 

Human beings are tested, especially by adversity, and out of the sorry saga of a famous shipwreck on the morning of June 4th, 1629, the unlikely hero Wiebbe Hayes came to the fore and is still remembered today for his courage and leadership.

Statue of Wiebbe Hayes in Geraldton

On board Batavia, thebrand new flagship of the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) a mutiny was planned by Ariaen Jacobsz and others including a psychopathic apothecary called Jeronimus Cornelisz and over 20 other potential mutineers. Jacobsz’ plan was to take over the ship from the VOC, steal the valuable cargo of gold, silver and jewels, and use her for piracy in the Dutch East Indies. Jacobsz had deliberately steered the Batavia away from the main fleet towards the coast of Australia, the plan being to head north when the overall VOC commander, ‘upper merchant’ Francisco Pelsaert, loyal soldiers, undesirable passengers and unnecessary crew had been slaughtered and thrown overboard.

At this point, fate and the effects of seriously faulty navigation intervened. Thinking they were still hundreds of kilometres away from the coastline, Jacobsz ignored a warning cry from the lookout who thought he had seen breaking surf and Batavia slammed into the Morning Reef on the Houtman Abrolhos Islands at full speed and quickly began to break up. At least 40 of the 322 aboard were killed by the impact or drowned and the survivors were gathered on Beacon Island where a Private soldier named Wiebbe Hayes started to show considerable leadership qualities in helping others, cheering up the crestfallen, harvesting water and building makeshift accommodation.

The survivors lacked food as well as water and Pelsaert and Jacobsz then set off in an open boat with around 40 others in an attempt to reach Batavia (now known as Jakarta) and bring a rescue ship back.

As the most senior VOC left on Beacon Island, the highly unsuitable but crafty Jeronimus Cornelisz was placed in charge and quickly realised that to make the mutiny work, he needed to get Wiebbe Hayes and as many soldiers as possible out of the way. They were sent, unarmed, to the nearby West Wallaby Island to look for food and water and Cornelisz thought he had got rid of them for good … they would hopefully starve and go mad for lack of water. However, once again fate intervened. Hayes and his companions discovered water as well as a plentiful supply of small wallabies which became a useful food source. In the meantime, Cornelisz and the mutineers started slaughtering over 120 survivors and anyone not involved in the plans for mutiny on Beacon Island … men, children and the less appealing women … the rest were kept for ‘companionship’. In the dark of night, some survivors were able to make their way to West Wallabi Island and Wiebbe Hayes at last knew the truth – it was going to be a life and death struggle between his small group and the mutineers.

Battle lines were drawn, preparations made and a small fort was built 100 metres from the shore at the top of an incline… the first man made surviving structure in Australian history … and a well was dug which you can still see today. Cornelisz and his motley crew then organised the first ‘Home Open’ visit which was repelled on the beach with sharp stones, broken pieces of wood with nails attached and anything ese that came to hand and mind. 

A second attack was defeated in similar fashion and then Cornelisz tried a different tactic … negotiation for the taking over of Wiebbe Hayes’ real estate with the promise of reward and generous commission. This simply resulted in the capture of Cornelisz and the execution of his handful of companions.

The remaining mutineers then attempted to overrun Wiebbe Hayes with the assistance of a few muskets fired from long range and a more determined attack. It might have succeeded as Hayes had no firearms, but at this point, at the height of the battle, the sails of the rescue ship Sardam were seen on the horizon. Once again Hayes was the first to react, he and some companions reached the ship ahead of the mutineers in their heavier longboat and explained what had occurred to Pelsaert.

The rest is history. After a brief battle, Cornelisz and the lead mutineers suffered gruesome execution on Seal Island, and the rest were either put to death or taken back to Batavia for trial and retribution. Two of the minor mutineers were marooned on the mainland and Wiebbe Hayes was promoted to sergeant on the spot and put in charge of the surviving soldiers. On arriving at Batavia, he was feted as a hero and further promoted to Lieutenant with a generous increase in salary.

The reward for mutiny was swift, grim and painful

At this point, history does not tell us any more about Wiebbe Hayes or shed any more light on his story. He is remembered today as an ordinary soldier with exceptional leadership skills, the ability to motivate others and find solutions to life-threatening problems. He is responsible for building the first habitable building in Australia and is remembered in Geraldton by a statue and a street that bears his name. His defensive structures survive to this day and the trip to West Wallabi Island is well worth the time and effort. Look from the fort, through defenders’ eyes, and imagine the mutineers rowing fiercely towards the shore with murderous shouts and mayhem on their minds. Put yourself in the same place as one of this Continent’s first heroes who was called to action and was not found wanting.

This really is ‘Living History’ at your doorstep!

History on Our Doorstep Part One – The HMAS SYDNEY 11 MEMORIAL  

Mount Scott, Geraldton

High on the Mount Scott bluff, overlooking Geraldton Harbour and Champion Bay, stands the bronze figure of a woman, a mother perhaps, shading her eyes as she stares endlessly out to sea. Faithfully keeping watch regardless of the season, wind or weather, the woman looks out for a ship – the HMAS Sydney 11 - a famous cruiser and pride of the Australian fleet - that will never return.

On 11th November 1941, in the dark early days of World War Two, HMAS Sydney, left Fremantle, with the mission to escort a troopship north to the Sunda Straight. That mission accomplished, she turned south towards the Western Australian coast and late in the afternoon of 19 th November, encountered a disguised German commerce raider, the Kormoran.

Having lured the Sydney too close, the Kormoran, finally revealed her true colours and opened fire at point blank range. A terrible battle then ensued with both ships suffering mortal hits. The Kormoran sank with over 300 survivors, but of Sydney’s crew of 645 souls, not one lived to tell the tale as she went down with all hands.

The loss of the Sydney, which called Geraldton one of the ‘home’ ports, represented Australia’s greatest naval tragedy and accounted for around a third of her total naval losses in World War Two. The mystery of Sydney’s destruction with no survivors and virtually no wreckage sparked controversy and speculation with many unresolved theories. The search for the Sydney took shape with the creation of The Finding Sydney Foundation.

On November 18th 1998, having set aside land on Mount Scott to erect a memorial for HMAS Sydney, the ground for the Memorial was dedicated and as the Last Post was played, a large flock of silver gulls flew, in an apparent formation, over the crowd. The Memorial’s sculptor, Joan Walsh Smith, who was present at the event, was so moved by the flight of the birds, and the timing of their visit, that the idea for a dome incorporating 645 sculptured seagulls with each representing one of the lost souls, took shape in her mind.

The result is a stunning piece of sculpture which forms part of a large and symbolic Memorial which consists of a number of elements:

The bollards moved from the Geraldton quay where Sydney may have tied up during her various visits to the Port, and now positioned close to the entrance of the Memorial; 
The Stele, representing the ship’s bow
The Dome of Souls;
The Eternal Flame, with one green light and one red to represent Port and Starboard;
The Wall of Remembrance, commemorating the name of each crew member lost with the ship.
When the wreck of HMAS Sydney was eventually located in 2008, the Pool of Remembrance was added with a silver seagull’s wing pointing to longitude and latitude of Sydney’s final position.
Tellingly, the Waiting Woman is gazing to a point, some 300 kilometres over the horizon, where HMAS Sydney found her final resting place.
A final element, a Sanctuary of the Deep Interpretive Centre is planned for the future.

What does it mean today? And why has this Memorial has become an essential part of the Australian people’s consciousness?

The HMAS Sydney 11 Memorial, since 2009, has been officially listed as one of three Memorials of National importance. The significance of the Dome of Lost Souls and the Waiting Woman go beyond the loss of the Sydney … they represent the loss of life and sacrifice willingly given in the defence of Australia in the dark years of war.

Please take a moment to visit http://www.hmassydneymemorialgeraldton.com.au/ which explains the history of the ship and the thinking behind the sculptures and structures that form the memorial. You might also care to visit http://www.findingsydney.com/

Above all, Australians, especially those who are proud of their Nation and who wish to reflect on sacrifice in time of war, should take time to visit the HMAS Sydney Memorial in Geraldton, wherever they live in this great country. They will be rewarded with an unbelievably moving and spiritually uplifting experience. The sculptors and architects who set out with a vision in mind and a passionate desire to build a world class Memorial overlooking the Indian Ocean in Geraldton, achieved everything they set out to do – and more – in recognising the sacrifice of this famous vessel and her crew.

Geraldton has every right to be proud of its Memorial

The HMAS Sydney 11 Memorial has been Awarded No 1 in Western Australia and No 7 in Australia for visitor category, ‘ Top 10 Museums‘ and No 1 Attraction in Geraldton for visitor category, ‘ Attractions in Geraldton’

The West Australian has also accorded Geraldton’s memorial to HMAS Sydney as Western Australia’s most popular museum attraction.

Introduction to Geraldton Scene

Geraldton… the City just over 440 kilometres from the overcrowded, traffic-jammed State Metropolis, the place we love that has everything going for it. The great undiscovered secret of the Mid West for all but the 41,000 who enjoy everything this magnificent City has to offer and appreciate the friendly, relaxed lifestyle, sea, surf, some of the best beaches in the State, water and other sports of every description, fishing, fresh local produce, highly affordable quality housing and a climate that rivals the Mediterranean for its warm and embracing welcome.

To all of us who know Geraldton inside out, this all comes as no surprise – and we probably take much of it for granted, but for visitors, those coming from far and wide to work and others still who are considering retirement far away from the hustle and bustle of the Perth metro area, chilly South West and red hot mining interior, this City has so much to offer – so much to give, and so much to share.

In the coming months, and for the foreseeable future, Geraldton Scene will capture all this and like a tried and tested mirror, reflect it back to our readers and visitors. We’ll being talking to local people, local characters and recording their thoughts and impressions of this remarkable City over past years. We’ll be taking photographs for your enjoyment (lots of them) and we’ll be shooting video (plenty of it) to capture the living reality of Geraldton throughout the year. We’ll be taking a walk on the wild side and having a look at Geraldton after dark and sampling the night life, restaurants, bistros and cafes. We’ll check out the thriving foreshore, enjoy the harbour lights, tread lightly along the beaches, walk the streets to sample the shops and see what makes the City tick … we’ll head for where the Community meets for work, sport, relaxation, education and entertainment.

Geraldton Scene knows no boundaries and is the place to be seen and to visit – an insight into a special world which finds a remarkable balance between relaxed lifestyle without needing to compromise on services, facilities and amenities. A City where you can drive from one side to the other in less than ten minutes, a great place to bring up children, which has everything you could possibly need at your doorstep, which keeps Winter at bay with its warm breezes and long autumnal nights –and which is, quite literally, a breeze in Summer!

You’ll find articles on real estate with handy hints on where to look for property that meets your family’s unique requirements and lifestyle aspirations, and our team will look at the suburbs that make up our City with an introduction on each and notes on what makes each locality special.

When it comes to property, there’s no doubt that Geraldton offers incredible value, variety and quality – so look out for lead articles and features in the weeks to come.

A transformational city
Geraldton is benefitting from carefully planned transformational change and we’ll be looking at what that means to the population now and the growing City and hinterland that’s planned for the future. We live in a City of rich variety, where many cultures happily intermingle – a place where the farming community spreads for hundreds of kilometres and yet is just around the corner, where the rich tapestry of history is never far away, a place which you can come to call home and be welcomed and valued for what you can bring to the overall Community.

Geraldton, where opportunities, work and lifestyle are in perfect harmony. Loving life and the #GeraldtonScene

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