These images go with the
Modern-Day Castaway audiobook.
Note: The print version of the book has B&W photos on the main text pages and a colour insert in the middle. Here, all photo’s are colour and the order is slightly different so images appear in rough chronological order
Author – Michael Atkinson
Catching yabbies at age 11.
‘Wreck of the Barque Peruvian’ by Pamela Griffith shows the shipwreck survivors onboard their makeshift raft sailing toward the Queensland coast.
‘Castaways at Cleveland Bay’. Pamela Griffith depicts the remaining survivors ashore with their Birri Gubba rescuers.
‘Fishing with Friends’. Pamela Griffith depicts James Morrill fishing with the Birri Gubba.
‘Grand Corroboree’. Pamela Griffith depicts the eventual sole survivor of the wreck, James Morrill fully integrated into Aboriginal society.
Portrait of James Morrill by artist Samuel Calvert, 18 April 1863. The rug around his shoulders is presumably one he sewed during his time with the Birri Gubba clan.
An 1857 sketch by Lieutenant W Chimmo of the HMSV Torch of the Post Office Cave, the rescue haven set up on Booby Island by Governor Bligh in the 1820s, and the goal destination of my expedition.
German woodcarving of Booby Island: ‘Infel Boobie in Australien’ [Booby Island in Australia ] John Oxley Library, State Library of Qld, Image No 6963-1v000r-001.
The four tonne, five metre Norfolk pine log sliding off the truck into my backyard. The thin section to the right is the top of the same tree which I carved accessories from like the rudder. Note how many knots protrude through the bark!!
The norfolk pine log before I started work. It weighed 4 tonne, was 5 metres long and 90 centimetres wide.
Flattening the top with an axe (in hand) and adze (laying behind).
Wood borer larvae turning the log into Swiss cheese.
Using fire to kill thousands of wood borers that were burrowing into the log. Pesticides were off limits because of my shipwreck scenario.
Bending bamboo to guide the curved shape of the hull.
Shaping the bow with an axe. Because I wasn’t following plans the canoe took shape largely by feel.
Carving out the sides with a small adze. I left a thick rim of would around the top of the canoe to provide additional strength, particularly where the crossbeams attached.
The first float test in my swimming pool.
Lashing on the crossbeams. Note how the beams are anchored to a short length of wood braced across the hull lower down.
Bashing attachment stakes into the outrigger floats.
The rudder, designed to swing up out of harm’s way by rotating around the upper horizontal support. It was held into the lower support notch by a weak piece of string designed to break if I hit an obstacle. The unfortunate knot I discovered in the rudder shaft is at the thinnest and most critical point where it slots into the support notch (bathed in bright light).
Using an improvised bow drill. The holes stopped the edge of the hatch splitting when I hammered copper shipping nails in.
Experimenting will sail positions and rigging. This is the small sail designed for high winds. It functions like a conventional mainsail on a catamaran.
Testing my self-rescue kit. The paddleboard I’m inflating was lashed on deck so I could abandon ship easily in an emergency. My modern self-rescue plan (separate from my primary historic survival scenario) was devised so I could reach the mainland without requiring assistance. From there I could walk out (hundreds of kilometres) to the nearest dirt road assisted by modern items in the emergency grab bag (floating near my feet).
The ‘mostly’ finished canoe on its first ocean test sail. This was just before I left the shelter of this bay and things went pear shaped.
Part of the news article in the Daily Mail about my failed test sail on the ocean off Port Stephens. Courtesy Daily Mail Australia. Author Zoe Zaczek.
Saying goodbye to my family before leaving on the expedition.
The southern point of Cape Cleveland (named Cape Ferguson). The beach on the right side is where James came ashore on a raft, the AIMS buildings are visible in the bush behind and their Marine Operations facility where I launched the canoe, is on the left (near the break wall).
Visiting the cave where the shipwreck survivors first sheltered when they came ashore.
All of my gear laid out in the carpark before I left. The modern gear surrounding me is filming equipment and safety gear. The gear laid out in a line across the bottom is my historic equipment.
Waving goodbye after launch at the boat ramp. (Photo: Mark Stoneman)
A section of the 19th-century chart I used.
Set up for my first night aboard. Note the mix of modern and historic gear on the platforms either side and the hammock strung up in the centre of the hull with my possum skin rug on top.
Raising the big crab claw sail with the sail-rest (the pole in my hand that props the sail up). The sharpened point at the bottom slots into holes in the hatches. It required all my strength to raise and often involved repeated failed attempts.
Paddling up an estuary to find fresh water.
Filling up with freshwater.
Rough conditions took a big toll on my nerves and the canoe.
Struggling to steer with my emergency oar as I search for the next available shelter.
On the lookout for crocodiles while dragging the canoe up an estuary to look for a camping spot.
It was nice to occasionally stretch my legs while searching for food and water.
Dinner at last! Using my teeth (a technique copied from Aboriginal people) to clamp the slippery tail of a stingray while I cut the dangerous barb off.
A year and a half of spear throwing practice paid off because the line fishing was remarkably poor during the populated southern portion of my journey.
Enjoying fast progress moments before the rudder snapped in half.
The rudder moments after it snapped clean in half.
Shaping the broken rudder blade to fit snuggly to an improved shaft (seen lying across my knees) which was made from the only solid piece of driftwood I could find.
Had I not developed my woodworking skills during the canoe build I would never have been able to fix the rudder out here on an island.
I was very happy with the snug fit.
A ‘before’ shot of the rudder.
The repaired version on the right was much stronger but less streamlined.
The 100-metre long fish trap made by the Bandjin and Girramay people.
It works! Testing the rudder after the repair.
Flying my big crab claw sail which was designed for light wind. Note that it’s leaning to one side. I learned later that it performed much better when raised Waving goodbye. I was very glad to symmetrically over the deck.
In calmer seas I lay down on the deck and steered with my foot. Note the lifejacket around my waist that I wore at all times while sailing.
A standard day at sea. I sailed from sunrise to sunset most days to maximise progress.
The swimming goggles that I improvised from sextant glass, native bees’ wax and bamboo.
Searching for crayfish with my bamboo and beeswax goggles. The lenses were made from spare mirror glass from the sextant.
Catching the drone while sailing backwards at full speed. Note the short length of foam pool noodle strapped underneath to give me a safer grip area. The controller is mounted on my waist to allow single handed flying.
Pulling in my first shark. Note the wooden handline sitting on deck.
Strips of shark meat drying on the bow. Not good for reducing the risk of crocodile attack while sleeping onboard!
Shark and queenfish meat preserved by drying on the bow. It tasted surprisingly good!
Life on board took a while to get used to but it eventually felt like home.
Rounding Cape Tribulation (the canoe is the tiny speck bottom left) along the Daintree Rainforest. I anchored overnight on the northern (right) side and cooked my first shark dinner.
A large saltwater crocodile. One of my biggest nightmares. I had a stressful exit from this estuary the following morning when the same croc entered the water as I poled out to sea in the dark.
A before-and-after comparison of how Cooktown’s Grassy Hill (left side of both images) has changed since Aboriginal land management ceased. This is Sydney Parkinson’s painting of the Endeavour careened on the riverbank at the mouth of the Endeavour River in 1770. Note the mix of grass and trees (enough for it to be given the name ‘Grassy Hill’).
This is a photo taken from a similar perspective with my drone. The hill is now covered with trees and undergrowth. It is no longer ‘grassy’.
Wongai plums and another variety of native plum. These were important sources of vitamin C to ward of scurvy.
There are worse places to be stuck while waiting for the trade winds to return.
Carrying my water barrel up to camp on a remote island.
Giant clams like this are one of the many food sources I had to leave alone because they are protected.
I was so happy to finally catch a fish (queenfish) that I literally cried with happiness. Note the rope around its tail. There was no way I was going to risk losing it while taking a photo!
Cooked queenfish leftovers wrapped in canvas being eaten the next day while under sail.
Approaching the remote coastline of Cape York again after journeying offshore and camping on islands for days.
Washing the salt off at a hidden spring after refilling my water barrel.
Rock art of the Aba Yalgayi people, a clan of the Yiithuwarra (photo permission granted by Elders). Note the many depictions of tall ships that capture the first contact period.
Sailing into the wild blue yonder with no land in sight while trying to shortcut across an enormous bay.
Navigating with my antique style marine compass, attached to the centre of the rear crossbeam.
My camp using the main crab claw sail as a tent.
The mullet that had its tail bitten off by a trevally after I speared it the first time (the three holes in its side). Note the woomera (spear thrower) in my other hand.
A long range head shot (pure luck to be honest!) on a sea mullet. It tasted great and was full of delicious egg row.
Former French cabin boy Narcisse Pelletier. Photo taken in 1876 (wikicommons). Narcisse fully assimilated into Uutaalnganu culture and lived happily with them for 17 years until he was removed against his will by the crew of a passing ship.
Using an antique sextant to measure latitude and confirm which island I was on.
Sharks attacked this queenfish as I pulled it in, but there was still enough for dinner.
A wave slapping against the side. Constant saltwater exposure made it difficult to keep electronics functioning, like camera gear and the emergency electric engine (seen here).
A pod of dolphins playing around the canoe. It feels lonely out there, miles offshore with no land insight. These guys made it feel like everything would be OK.
Wayne Butcher, Mayor of Lockhart River explaining some of the methods they use to successfully live off the land. I was taking a lot of mental notes!
Dave Glasheen (The Millionaire Castaway) and I on Restoration Island. He’s lived there alone for 25 years.
Dave with the ‘Salty Kangaroo’.
Trying unsuccessfully to scope my route through a reef north of Restoration Island. Dave lives on the sandspit centre left.
A dingo coming to investigate the strange new vessel and human that pulled up on the sand.
A crayfish found hiding under a coral ledge that I grasped with a gloved hand. The bundle of canvas on deck is an improvised sea anchor that could be quickly thrown out in an emergency to keep the bow pointing into the waves.
Eating crayfish cooked whole on the coals. Yum!
Setting up a trip-wire warning system for crocodiles. The fishing line ran through the handle of a mug filled with cutlery which falls noisily onto a plank below.
Using bees’ wax mixed with ash to mark the Guugu Yimithirr spelling of ‘Salty Kangaroo’ (Salty Gangurru) on the other side of the bow (although I misspelt it!)
Carving a notch on the stern for each day of the expedition so far.
Fishing with bait while at anchor.
My spear leaving the end of the woomera (spear thrower). The woomera adds power and accuracy to the throw. After six weeks there is almost no fat left on my body.
Fulfilling the dream! I’d imagined sailing along the reef like this for years leading up to the expedition and it was great to finally be doing it.
Richard, a local Murray Islander, pulled up alongside in a commercial crayfishing tender and took this picture. This was just before I started eating the mackerel raw as seen in the previous picture. Credit-Richard from Murray Is.
A mackerel caught while trolling. Note the two improvised lures (lower right). One is an antique spoon and the other a popper carved from beach hibiscus. They were towed simultaneously on opposite sides of the canoe.
Towards the end of journey I started to eat raw fish straight off the bone, because I was too hungry to wait until I could get a fire going. Also, fish caught early in the day started to go off in the heat.
A crocodile slide on a remote sand island. Due to the rough conditions I had to sleep onboard just off this beach knowing the crocodile was probably watching.
When there were big crocs around I took the extra precaution of sleeping under the hatches. If one climbed aboard I could stab upward through small gaps to encourage them to get off.
I’m underneath demonstrating how I could push a knife up between the croc protection hatches if required. It was a contingency plan to ‘encourage’ a croc to get off the canoe if I was underneath.
Trying to get across the busy shipping channel.
I felt so exposed out on these remote islands close to the tip of Cape York. The seas were wild and so was the wildlife.
A croc swimming toward me as I prepared to sleep aboard.
Getting set up for a night at anchor. I’m chopping up a coconut for dinner and drying my wet clothes.
Casting a nervous glance behind to check for breaking waves and to assess the severity of an approaching squall.
The sinking canoe on the cusp of capsize. My other worst nightmare.
Trying to raise the sail in squally conditions as waves hit side on.
The boom eventually snapped in high winds.
Rounding Cape York, the northern most point of the Australian mainland.
Feeling stunned on the tip of Cape York immediately after rounding it.
A before and after comparison. This picture on the left was taken on Day 1 as I paddled away from the boat ramp.
This picture was taken on Day 48 after rounding Cape York. The physical and mental toll was immense.
Tightening the mainsheet (a rope attached to the loose end of the sail). It looped through the end of the rear outrigger crossbeam and was tied off to a cleat either side of the cockpit (centre of image).
Pointing at the entrance of the Post Office Cave, the rescue haven set up on Booby Island by Governor Bligh in the 1820s. I wasn’t allowed to set foot on the island due to asbestos contamination, so hovered next to it in a helicopter.
Traditional Owner Enid Tom and I with a freshly dug yam from her garden. It was a privilege to meet her and learn some Kaurareg history (although some if it is very sad).
Enid Tom and her family and friends seeing me off from Horn Island (Ngurapai). It was a privilege spending time with the Kuarareg people.
Checking my skin fold after completing the expedition. Not an ounce of fat anywhere.
Checking myself out in a hotel room mirror after finishing the expedition at Thursday Island (Waiben). I barely recognised myself.
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