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Exiles and Island wives: History, fiction and the Breaksea Islanders

Drummond, Sarah (2015) Exiles and Island wives: History, fiction and the Breaksea Islanders. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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In 1826, just prior to the colonisation of Western Australia, a disparate group of men, women and children lived on islands adjacent to what is now called Albany. They were sealers, abandoned by their bosses who had brought them from Bass Strait on the schooners Governor Brisbane and the Hunter. The small community included people native to New Zealand, Van Diemen’s Land, Canada, North America, Western Australia and England.

Exiles and Island Wives is concerned with investigating the people whom I call the Breaksea Islanders. As none of them left written records, there are three threads of this investigation: historical research, historical fiction and a discussion on the methodology of writing historical fiction.

The historical research includes individual biographies of the Breaksea Islanders and an extrapolation of their involvement of the events of 1826 – 1827, when Major Edmund Lockyer arrived in Albany aboard the Amity to annexe the western part of the continent. Here I also discuss the Aboriginal women’s responses to abduction and trauma.

The Aboriginal women and children in the small sealing community possessed little autonomy over their own lives and so the discussion on history and fiction is partly concerned with the portrayal of women’s agency in historical fiction. I also discuss the naming of Indigenous and non-Indigenous characters by both writers and people in positions of colonial power and, using Foucault’s Of Other spaces, discuss the cohesive factors unique to communities who live on boats and islands.

The historical fiction component is the novel Exiles, based on the people and events in 1826 King George Sound. The purpose of the historical fiction is to reveal aspects of the Breaksea Islanders’ lives and motivations that may not be accessible through historical research. The Breaksea Islanders silence on history’s page meant they have been previously portrayed through the lens of government and newspaper reports, and by men in positions of colonial power. The novel seeks to invert this situation by centralising the lives of the Breaksea Islanders. The fiction component of this thesis was published by Fremantle Press in 2016 as the novel The Sound.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Arts
Supervisor: Trees, Kathryn
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