Mount Barker, South Australia
The sun was almost beyond the horizon as it set spectacularly over the ocean, tinging the wispy clouds a stunning crimson and mauve, while the deep sapphire of the sky provided the perfect backdrop to the picture postcard scene. This would have been the best photo opportunity Trevor had had all week, if it weren’t for the fact that on the opposite side of the sky an even more impressive scene was evident: an enormous blue moon was rising, also over the ocean. How is it possible that Trevor could see ocean in both the east and the west? Not so hard if you’re marooned on a desert island in its midst. The beauty and rarity of the scene should have filled him with wonder. Instead, he was frustrated and feeling rather cross.
Trevor, although he was brought up in Fiji, was not an outdoors man. He’d been travelling in a small boat around the top of Australia as part of a project to photograph the tropical sunsets and islands he came across. As a freelance photographer he was happy to have landed a lucrative contract with Life Magazine. For the first couple of days all had gone well. He’d got some good shots then gone to shore each night and tented on the beach. His supply of beer and pretzels was holding up well and the lack of mobile phone signal meant his wife and mother-in-law couldn’t bother him.
One day when the sea was choppy and the wind was up, he had some problems with the steering. The boat seemed intent on going around in circles. He’d just corrected course to head for shore when an Australian naval vessel intercepted him.
‘This is the Australian Navy. Turn off your engines and prepare to be boarded.’
Trevor panicked, thinking frantically about what he had on board that might be illegal. He pulled to, and was astonished to see five Navy personnel clamber aboard.
‘Your papers?’ one demanded.
‘Eh? I’ve got an old copy of “The Australian” if that’s any good,’ offered Trevor.
‘Don’t be clever with us,’ growled another officer, ‘do you have a passport or not?’
‘Yes, but it’s in Darwin.’
‘So, you’ve got no identification with you?’ the first man said.
‘Just my Video Ezy membership card.’
‘You are an illegal immigrant attempting to enter Australia by boat. You will prepare to be “turned back” to where you came from.’
‘Not back to Darwin,’ groaned Trevor, ‘it’s yonks away.’
‘Certainly not to Darwin,’ agreed an officer. ‘You’ll be turned back to Indonesia.’
‘Eh? That’s even further! Why are you sending me there?’
‘Operation Sovereign Borders,’ said the man. ‘It’s our job to return all asylum seekers to where they came from, making sure they never set foot in Australia.’
‘That’s all very well,’ said Trevor, ‘but I’m not an asylum seeker and I’ve never been to Indonesia.’
‘So you say,’ replied the man, ‘but as you have no identification, our orders are to turn you around.’
Despite Trevor’s claims to be Australian the Naval vessel towed his little boat out into the open sea and pushed him off in the direction of Indonesia, with dire warnings of what would happen if he didn’t keep going. He obeyed until they were out of sight, and then turned back towards the northern coast. The swell had become huge and the little boat almost disappeared down the side of the mountains of water. Trevor was not a good sailor. He saw land and headed for it. He didn’t see the rocks, however, until they ripped through the bottom of the boat. His precious camera went overboard and he dived in after it. Somehow he arrived on the beach, spluttering and swearing with only minor scrapes and bruises but no camera. He watched the boat break up on the rocks and cursed the Australian Navy for their pigheadedness.
Trevor thought he was back on the mainland, but a brief tour of the environs soon revealed he was on a small island, surrounded by sea. I’m bloody Robinson Crusoe, he said to himself.
He could see the horizon in every direction, but there was nothing on it. The island had plentiful coconut palms and some other fruit and he supposed he could spear a fish or two. On stormy days like today, he would sleep up a tree as the seawater swirled over the land. When the next day dawned, the sea was still and the sun shone relentlessly. Trevor constructed a huge message of coconuts on the beach that he hoped could be seen from the air.
His hair grew longer, and he got heartily sick of coconuts, but he was okay, as long as the mosquitoes let him sleep. He remembered some survival tips and smeared his flesh with mud to keep off both the sun and the bities. On his head he wore a sort of hat of palm leaves. Finally, on the tenth day as he scratched another mark on a tree, he saw a dot on the horizon. He peered at it intently as it grew and grew. I’m saved! He said to himself, and started to jump up and down and wave his arms. But when the vessel kept on course and appeared to be heading directly for him, he began to have doubts. The thing was bright orange and looked like a huge lozenge. He retreated away from the beach and watched behind a couple of trees as the vessel charged up the beach, grinding to an ungraceful halt, having missed the deadly rocks by sheer luck. The top popped open and an unending stream of humanity climbed out, men, women and children. They looked around, confused, and then spotted Trevor.
‘Help us!’ they cried, ‘Is this Australia?’
‘Buggered if I know, mate,’ replied Trevor, realising that this was definitely not a rescue boat. The people told him similar stories of being intercepted by the Australian Navy. Unlike him, they were taken off their unseaworthy boat and loaded onto this orange lifeboat. They too were supposed to go back to Indonesia. Was this Indonesia? It seemed rather small.
Trevor went on board and marvelled at the high-tech equipment and large stores of food and drink. There was even a first-aid kit. He wondered if he could get the boat started, that is if he could stop stuffing himself with bottled water and TimTams. He helped the others to coconut water and showed them anti-mosquito techniques, then returned to study the craft’s navigational equipment. Once he’d established which direction to go, he hot-wired the starting motor and called all the people to push the lifeboat out into the water and get back on board.
Some months later, the Australian government were red-faced when the press reported on the apparent beaching of one of the mythical orange lifeboats on the remote northern coast of Australia. No trace of its occupants was ever found. A later census would show a large increase in the population of the Tiwi Islands.
Bio: A whimsical take of the government’s ‘Sovereign Borders’ policy, featuring the stalwart freelance photographer Trevor, and his misadventures at sea.