Peter Purchase is a West Australian jack-of-all-trades: a teacher, sailor, hospital orderly, professional fisherman, truck driver, HR consultant – and now a first-time historical novelist.
When Purchase learned about the Zuytdorp shipwreck on the cliffs in the north-west in 1712, he knew there was a fascinating story waiting to be told - and survivor Gerrit de Waal materialised as though expecting his turn in the spotlight.
Purchase was working up in Arnhem Land at the time, in the Yothu Yindi heartland when the push for Aboriginal acknowledgement and reconciliation was at its height. That gave him the social and cultural backdrop for the novel. In that context part-Aboriginal glass sculptor Lennard Currie appeared one day as if for an audition – and his ancestral connection to Gerrit de Waal made logical sense.
Purchase examines the lives of survivors of the Zuytdorp shipwreck rescued by Malgana tribesmen in 1712 and the devastating impact of British settlement in Fremantle and Perth on Australian Aborigines in 1829; and he explores current issues around Aboriginal acknowledgement and reconciliation. He says the book, which he started in 1997, is one that demanded to be written.
WHEN the Zuytdorp sank off Shark Bay in 1712, it became one of seven Dutch East India ships lost off the WA coast. No survivors from the wreck reached the European settlement in Indonesia. What happened is still a mystery for researchers, with only a few days a year suitable to explore the wreckage.
Willetton author Peter Purchase takes this mystery and transforms it into a compelling two-part book The Albatross Necklace, providing a fictional account of what could have happened to the survivors through the eyes of a part-indigenous glass sculptor who believes he is a descendant of one of the survivors.
NEW YEAR’S DAY 1997, several minutes after midnight. Stefan Novak is on the balcony of his third storey unit. He’s alone, his mood sombre. His face is lean, his black hair thick with curls and his dark eyes brooding. Striking cheekbones and a trim beard lend him an unconventional piratical look. Distracted, he watches rockets soaring skywards from Yarra’s Southbank, their detonations thumping among car horns blaring on Lygon Street at the end of the laneway below. Blazing spheres of red and green and blue erupt over the silhouette of Melbourne’s city centre, where they hang suspended beneath the upturned vault of a cloud-streaked sky before waning in a glitter of powdered dust and smoke as more stream up in dazzling showers of sparks.
New beginnings, Stefan thinks. It’s time. Time to get my act together, to do something out of left field to rebuild my shipwrecked life, to swim for it across the current and avoid going under.