Thursday 21 October 2010

The Blue-Eyed Aborigine

The Blue-Eyed Aborigine by Rosemary Hayes (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-84780-078-7
Reviewed by Heather Zubek

There was almost a sniff of indignation when I learned that not only was the writer of this book not a Western Australian but not even an Australian. Indeed! After reading the book though all is forgiven. The Blue-Eyed Aborigine is based on the diaries of the Commander of the ship Batavia. Those who are unaware of the story are not prejudiced when reading the book. The background story is cleverly and subtlety revealed.

Rosemary Hayes, from Cambridgeshire, UK, recaptures some of maritime history’s most horrific moments through both factual and imagined events. These events are viewed through the eyes of young Dutch sailors Jan Pelgrom and briefly through Wouter Looes.

Those interested in Australian history will be fascinated by the story and the theory that some of today’s Aboriginals in Western Australia are descendants of the survivors of the Batavia. At the time of going to press initial DNA tests confirm that some of these Aboriginals carry Western European blood raising the question about the legacy of the shipwreck survivors. Rosemary Hayes fills in the missing years intuitively and sensitively. We follow the fate of young Jan as he takes to the way of life of the Aboriginals effortlessly and wholeheartedly. The reader begins to feel sorry for the sailor and views his actions during the mutiny as ones borne of survival rather than of a dark heart. 

After reading The Blue-Eyed Aborigine I read a story about the Batavia describing Jan Pelgrom as murderous and cruel. I felt an injustice had been done describing him in this way. It seemed as though they were describing someone else. One will never know I guess. I would like to think that Jan did survive on the shores of Western Australia and become part of the Aboriginal culture. I enjoyed the way the writer concluded the story with visions of blue-eyed Aboriginals coming home from the hunt. It was a fitting end to a rather gruesome tale.

Note: The publishers suggest a reading age of 13+ but I feel that parents should be aware of the adult themes contained in the book.

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