- Clark, Bryan
- Biographies and personal histories, RAN operations, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney I
- September 1989 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
One tree in the neighbourhood bore coconuts. For half an hour we ineffectually tried to climb 40 feet to them. Eventually I succeeded in reaching the fruit and threw down a half hundred. It is a good thing I had the foresight to throw four of them clear for myself because my mates had unthinkingly begun eating every one. I shared mine with those who were too weak to come to the tree. I remember that in my madness, brought on by thirst, I was visited by the apparition of a big glass of Weiss Beer, cool and foaming over the side of the glass. This elusive glass of beer evaded me and I chased it until I finally fell un-conscious to the ground. The water that we condensed and kept in tanks on the ship, often roundly cursed by the crew, now came into my dreams.
When I awoke I found that little vermin had fixed themselves to my skin. They bit painfully and had to be dug out with a sharp twig. Large birds were descending on us and, with sharp hooked beaks, were tearing away parts of the flesh of those who were too weak to resist. In my fear and rage, I killed several dozen of these birds and we found it necessary to maintain two guards to beat them away from the wounded.
Roaming through the brush, looking for something to eat and drink, I came upon a large breeding sea bird. Up in-to the air it went, a snow-white bird (with a) six feet wing spread, leaving big eggs on the white sand. When I took one in my hand it cracked all over and, somewhat surprised, I put it back into the nest and witnessed one of nature’s great wonders.
A small beak broke through the shell, which then burst into two halves, and then there was lying on the sand a large, green coloured, helpless bird, crying weakly for its mother. I gazed and gazed. As a city boy I had never seen that before. Meanwhile, the old bird, which had been circling around my head, gently swooped down drawing nearer towards me, protecting its little one from the burning sun with its right wing. Then it sat down on the nest just in front of me.
And now imagine! On a remote island somewhere in the Indian Ocean, on a small patch of white sand, in the midst of a thicket sat a snow white bird guarding its little one against the burning sun and against a so-called white man kneeling before it, who was yellow-tinted by gun powder and bruised all over his body and half mad with thirst. It needed only one grasp to take hold of about 40 lbs of fresh meat, but I could not do it because the bird’s eyes looked at me so full of confidence. I forgot everything around me, cowered and mused about the queer ways of life.
Some time later I again searched the bush and came upon some full grown sea gulls not yet fledged. They were aU lined up on a branch. When I passed them they were crying for food. Me with food! That made me wild. I grasped the biggest of the flock and tried to tear off its head but in vain. His neck stretched like a rubber string. I twisted it round. It came back again. At last I bit his head off and sucked his blood. It was a terrible taste! Being Robinson Crusoe, the idol of my boyhood, was so different to what I had dreamed. For instance, I had never read in the books that there were thousands of sand bugs on those white beaches just waiting for me so that they could make my skin their abode.
By night our strength had returned. It was a case of getting aboard the Sydney, which we saw in the distance dropping anchor, or remaining prey to vermin, man-eating birds and the mercies (or lack of them) of the elements. Accordingly, 12 of us rigged up an abandoned and very unseaworthy lifeboat and tried to launch it in the face of heavy surf. For two hours we struggled with the boat, but every time we would rush into the water with it the surf would drive us back, the heavy boat crushing those in the way of it. After two hours exhausting effort there were only three of us left, the other nine having been killed under the boat or driven back by the tide. We managed to drag it far out into the bay where the water was up to our necks and, with a final shove and a prayer to heaven, we all climbed in. Of the eight oars we had started with all but one had been washed away and with this we desperately pulled away slowly and uncertainly. I was never more glad to put land behind me.