Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Mothers and History conference- first report coming up

In May I went to Toronto for two days, to present my research at a major conference in the new field of  motherhood critical and cultural studies, Mothers and History: Histories of Motherhood (hosted by a leading research institute at York University); it was literally a whirlwind visit - flying from Sydney across the Pacific to Toronto, an 18 hour flight with a few hours stopover in Vancouver; the conference was held in the hotel where the delegates stayed, sessions ran from 9am to 8pm, and once there I did not have time to leave the hotel, save going down to the diner at street level for 4am endless coffees to defeat my upside down jetlag. It was during the Australian university semester and back home at the University of New South Wales, I was course coordinator and Writing for Media lecturer on the MA in Journalism and Communication. In order to be able to go to the conference I had to fit my conference trip into my teaching week. Luckily all my three lectures were on one day, Tuesdays, which made it logistically feasible (just). I flew out on Wednesday morning Sydney time arriving Wednesday eve Toronto time; flew back out on Saturday evening from Toronto, arriving back in Sydney on Monday morning; and didn't miss my Tuesday lectures. In fact I also hosted a seminar the Tuesday of my return - with Professor Terry Flew speaking on the classification challenge in the new media age of convergence, at the Journalism and Media Research Centre. I took one of my classes with me to the Seminar where I hosted and introduced Terry Flew's presentation,  the room was packed with journalists, academics, journalist-academics and graduate students - one of the biggest seminar audiences this year*. No time to think of jet lag! As I flew straight back into a full load of lecturing, teaching prep and assignment setting and marking, this is a long way of saying that I have had no time until now to reflect back on the conference, and complete a short report that I began the day I returned. I've put up some photos of the flight back  (the Cloud series on the blog), but that's all I've managed until today. In the next two or so blog entries I aim to record some of my impressions and experiences at the Mothers and History: Histories of Motherhood Conference, hosted by the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI), in Toronto, Canada,  May 10-12, 2012.  

Ruth Skilbeck 

*More on the Terry Flew JMRC Seminar soon.

Third re-publication of essay on 'Exiled Writers' and fugal writing

Routledge has re-published my essay on exiled writers for the third time in the past two years since  'Exiled writers, human rights, and social advocacy movements in Australia: a critical, fugal analysis' first appeared in a special issue of Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, a leading international journal in the field of media and communications.


 Since 2008, I have published thirteen peer-reviewed book chapters and articles in internationally renowned collections (Routledge/Taylor and Francis 2012; 2011; 2010, Demeter Press- York University, Canada, 2011) and journals (Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, Pacific Journalism Review, and International Journal for the Arts in Society), and conference proceedings (time. transcendence, performance, Monash 2010; Women in Research, University of Central Queensland). My philosophy of language and creative writing, emerged from my original contribution articulated in my PhD to research which hinges on the term fugal modality. This term has grounded my current research in these ways: anchoring my approach to the creative process of writing as creative art in new digital and social media contexts, and is also a term which grounds my teaching pedagogical philosophy.

Derived from Latin for flight (fuga) and drawing on fugue’s musical and psychological meanings, multivalent fugal modality is the modality of creative psycho-linguistic re-invention in any medium of language and (potentially) infinite variation on a theme.

An example of this original experimental approach is in the reflective practice article on ‘exiled writers, trauma and journalism’ in Australia, using a critical, fugal analysis, that I applied to creative writing in (my) journalism as non-representational theoretical practice; the article has been published three times in under two years by leading communications scholarly publisher Routledge. The article was published in 2010, in a special issue of the A-listed journal Communications and Critical/Cultural Studies.  In 2011, the same article was republished as a chapter in a hardback book Critical Articulations: Cultural Studies of Rights. Last month, in May 2012, the article was republished for the second time, in an online PDF collection of Routledge’s most popular communications article published around the world;  selected to represent Australasia in innovative and ground-breaking communications scholarship in the online collection of journal articles: Communication Studies Around the World.

Cultural and political creativity, in the specific form of what Skilbeck calls “fugal writing,” is not only a non-representational theoretical practice hailed via Kristeva, Bhabha, and Bakhtin, but also a form of life-saving writing practice that restores the rights of survival and dignity”

wrote one reviewer, Professor John Erni from Lingnan University in Hong Kong, of my approach to the creative process and subjectivity in writing.          

I have recently completed a book manuscript a monograph which explores fugal modality in creative writing.

And I have "well developed plans" for publication of my PhD thesis, which is in completed manuscript form

Watch this space....


Skilbeck, Ruth (2012) 'Exiled Writers, Human Rights and Social Advocacy Movements in Australia: a Critical Fugal Analysis,' Routledge Communications Studies Around the World,

Skilbeck, Ruth (2011) 'Exiled Writers, Human Rights and Social Advocacy Movements in Australia: a Critical Fugal Analysis,' Chapter 4 in Cultural Studies of Rights: Critical Articulations. Ed. John Nguyet Erni. 9780415677295. Release date 20 July 2011. Hard cover. Routledge.

Skilbeck, Ruth (2010). 'Exiled Writers, Human Rights, and Social Advocacy Movements in Australia: A Critical Fugal Analysis'. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, Vol. 7, Issue 3, Sept 2010: 280-296

9  ('A' ranked journal]

Monday, 9 July 2012

Refugee Problem: Time to Take Action for Regional Relations?

By Ruth Skilbeck

Meanwhile, flying high above those perilous boat journeys of the world’s refugees the Australian Business section reports that: “QATAR Airways has revealed it is talking to Qantas about a strategic partnership it says would allow it to increase its presence in Australia and give Qantas better access to Europe.” (July 5, 2012).

Since the start of modernity the differences in fate of the worlds citizens has been symbolized in their modes of transport, and this is never more obvious than now in the era of globalization when the flights of the fortunate, in the free world, literally soar above those whose lives are at the mercy of the tides and laws of foreign countries they cannot control, the refugees of wars and conflicts and environmental disasters around the world.

Is it really too much to ask of our government that we let in these poor unfortunate people who arrive on our shores through desperate life endangering and terrifying voyages across savage oceans, to let them land and be ‘processed’ here subject to the laws of our land, to become citizens if they pass the tests, and join the workforces, surely this is not beyond the capacity of our fortunate country?

Now that the problem is again under regional discussion, if Australia shows sound guidance and leadership, generosity and wisdom in offering workable solutions, this may well be rewarded in better relations with our neighbors in Asia, who are also grappling with these problems of how to help the world’s most desperate peoples, refugees of war and disaster? Humanity leads to humanity.

Constructing solutions to the refugee problem

IT’s an uncomfortable truth that we in the fortunate free countries of western democracies find it much easier not to think about.  Who are these people who are trying to come here in pathetically leaking primitive boats. They are poor, they have no manners, dirty, uneducated etc. etc. these are the fears of the other. We do not know who are they are. They could be dangerous, could harm us, it’s a way that terrorists could arrive in our country or a potential route for invasion, etc. etc. These are the underlying unconscious fears. Those are not usually articulated directly, yet which underlie the desire to close the door, and shut down the debate, to forget about the problem, block it out.

But years of this ‘strategy’ have failed. The boats keep on coming. And now we are not rescuing them they are sinking and hundred of people are drowning and it is getting worse. The moral obligation, or moral pressure is increasing for Australia to take more positive action in the region.

It seems (from the distance that I am viewing from) that this may be what the Asian countries in our region are pushing for. If Indonesia says it cannot go to the rescue and Australia must. This implies a bigger scale of response is required. There is much talk of a regional solution. And by Indonesia declaring itself hopelessly ill equipped to deal with the emergencies of sinking boatful’s of people and calling on Australia, they are pushing to increase our presence in the region more broadly. Pointing out that Australia has resources that we can use; and must use to deal with the escalating problem of refugees in the region.  The Age reported yesterday: The head of Basarnas [the Indonesian search and rescue authority], Vice-Marshal Daryatmo, recently said the agency was hopelessly under-equipped for ocean rescue and needed help from Australia.” (The Age, 8 July 2012).

No, from a wider ethical perspective the boatloads of wretched people should not be leaving the shores of Indonesia to attempt the perilous crossing to Australia. But we can’t blame the people smugglers because they do not cause the wider problem; they are part of the wretched cycle of disadvantage that flings the poor filled with hope towards Australia’s shores.

Australia is a powerful country, rich with resources and strong with knowledge and information. We should step in and use this power and knowledge wisely to set up workable solutions in the region, to provide leadership and guidance, set up refugee camps, run them, process the refugees, send them to safe new homes in the region including Australia, can we can do this from Indonesia with cooperation with Indonesia? Maybe there can be several regional centers that Australia manages.

If there are viable alternatives, viable safe ways of resettlement (not waiting for years in camps but actual swift resettlement of refugees in new homes) then they will not attempt to make those desperate voyages by boat.

Surely now is the time for Australia to be working out viable humane solutions in good faith for the future of humanity not only in Australia and the region but globally. This is a global problem and needs humane global social solutions.

Creedy, Steve (2012), ‘Qantas looking to extend its reach with Qatar tie-in.’ The Australian, Sydney, Australia. July 5, 2012.

 O’Brien, Natalie (2012) ‘Australia spurned boat distress call’. The Age, Australia.  July 8, 2012

What is Happening with Qantas?

Check back later.

Cloud 2012

Ruth Skilbeck Cloudlands #5 2012

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Australia’s Regional Responsibility to Rescue Refugee Boats?

By Ruth Skilbeck

Revelations that Australia knew about but did not go to the rescue of a refugee boat, known as the Barokah, that resulted in 200 men, women and children drowning last December, have escalated debate in Australia this weekend over the responsibility and role of Australia going to the rescue of refugee boats in distress on the dangerous passage from Asia to Australia.

Latest debate in the Australian press addresses a key issue of new knowledge revealed by a Freedom of Information search, that allegedly shows that Australian authorities had knowledge of  the whereabouts and plight of  a boat in distress known as the Barokah which sank in December 2011, yet did not act on the pleas of help from Indonesia to immediately send out a search and rescue operation.

The reports of the content of the documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal background to the stories of boats in distress, adding new context to the many media reports prior to this.

An article in today’s Age outlines the events revealed by information obtained about the sinking of the Barokah,  and documents responses of authorities new impetus for discussion over regional responsibilities for maritime rescues.

The Age reports (O’Brien, The Age, 8/7/12) that according to the documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Australia's maritime authority asserted it was Indonesia’s responsibility to lead the search and rescue mission.

"Australian authorities refused to co-ordinate the search and rescue for the asylum seeker boat known as the Barokah, which sank in December killing about 200 people, despite pleas for help from Indonesia.

Documents obtained under freedom of information reveal that Australia's maritime authority told Indonesia's search and rescue agency that it was up to them to lead the mission."

The wreck  of the Barokah caused massive loss of life,  second to that of the sinking of the SIEV X in 2001 which 358 people drowned.

This revelation follows the last weeks’ dramatic incidents of a boat in distress on its way to Australia on June 19, that was left to drift for days before capsizing with 90 people on board drowning. “The boat broke up in high seas about 40 nautical miles south of Prigi Beach, Java.” (O’Briend 2012). Many survivors were left clinging to pieces of debris for hours.

Whereas media reports state that both the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and  Basarnas (the Indonesian search and recuse authority) knew about the maritime emergency,  it was apparently left up to local fishermen to rescue passengers from the ill fated boat. 

On the Australian side, the Age reported (amongst other viewpoints):

“A spokeswoman for the maritime authority denied there had been any direction from government about its response to distressed asylum seeker boats, saying its policy was consistent and in accordance with the relevant conventions and international practices.

''The operational circumstances may vary from incident to incident, and it is these operational factors that shape the actual response,'' a spokeswoman said.”

On the Indonesian side, the Age reported:

”The head of Basarnas, Vice-Marshal Daryatmo, recently said the agency was hopelessly under-equipped for ocean rescue and needed help from Australia.”

The Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Jason Clare, referred to this week’s maritime emergency (where 90 lives were lost) as a case of where a call for help was received and ''working with Indonesia, we work as hard as we possibly can to save lives''.

Mr Clare anticipated a reworking of the policy, saying that ''meetings will take place over the next few weeks between AMSA and Basarnas on how they can work more closely together' (O’Brien, The Age,  July 8 2012).

 Looking on the positive side, the 'revelations' of the information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, following this latest tragedy at sea off the coast of Australia, has the potential for a positive effect of prompting open constructive debate about Australia’s responsibilities under the international maritime acts to rescue boats in distress. 

If there are communications problems that slow response times and lack of regional resources and coordination, the new impetus is to address and fix these. Acted on now, as Mr Clare’s words may prefigure, the revelations have the potential to lead to the ‘regional solution’ that politicians on all sides are calling for, to deal with the refugee crisis in our region beyond party politics in humane and effective ways. This starts as all would wish, with developing a clear understanding of how to fulfill responsibilities under the International Maritime Act in cooperation with our regional neighbours to save lives in danger at sea.

O’Brien, Natalie (2012) Australia spurned boat distress call. The Age, Australia.  July 8, 2012

Flitton, Daniel and Bachelard, Michael (2012) 'Navy vessels rescue boat asylum seekers'. The Age . July 05 , 2012.

Turnbull's Not For Turning: Get Over It 'Left' wingers

By Ruth Skilbeck

There’s a strange phenomenon amongst Australia’s left-leaning chattering classes and that is to profess an emotion for a right-wing politician Malcolm Turnbull that brings to mind fan worship and puppy love. They talk admiringly about his leather jackets and love of contemporary art, his handsome visage and cool demeanor and his enviable relationship with his wife. Why isn’t he one of us – he is one of us! They wail and bemoan, we fancy him, we want him, like teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert.  He likes contemporary art!! Admittedly it is highly unusual for Australia’s politicians to show interest in art, but politics and art are not the same thing.  A leather jacket on Q&A is not a policy decision. And we can safely assume that the man in question has made his political allegiance, not accidentally, or for aesthetic reasons, but for the political rationale that he holds rightwing liberal, that is, conservative* convictions.
Turnbull-love would seem to be an odd form of displacement.  Maybe it’s easier in this time of compromised left wing ideologies and action, for those who still like to see themselves as left to  project their own sense of responsibility for (not) taking action, onto a bizarre desire that a right wing politician should  move to the left!
Maybe those supposed left (non-conservative) voters who have turned Turnbull-love into a fetish, should take their own advice and themselves move to the left.

*Could this be a symptom of a new projection of the confusion of the traditional idiosyncratic use in Australian politics of ‘liberal’ for a set of beliefs that in other western democracies is termedconservative’? Or maybe it also bespeaks the failure and collapse of distinctions between left and right in consumer capitalism?

Ruth Skilbeck 2012.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

New Fugal Modes of Writing and ScholarlyPublishing

By Ruth Skilbeck

Who are the best publishers to approach in this brave new world of blended digital and print publishing?  My research into new forms and modes of  Communications media and creative writing publication continues, as I go on looking for the most suitable publishers to approach.
And as I do so, strangely the search itself is reflected in the articles that I publish and the approach of the publishers that publish my work mirrors and “articulates” ideas about new modes of writing in my articles. It’s all very fugal.
At least I am talking specifically about one article that I have written that has now been published several times by Routledge.

'Exiled Writers, Human Rights, and Social Advocacy Movements in Australia: A Critical Fugal Analysis' (Skilbeck 2010; 2011, 2012). 

Fugal modality

New forms of online scholarly publication represent variations on a theme that is reminiscently fugal, as rather than mere repetition they each are performatively replayed (republished) in different forms.  This neatly and self reflexively embodies and illustrates new or rather renewed forms and modes of writing as reflexive practice that is reminiscent of the musical fugue. I researched and wrote about this in my PhD and since then  have continued to develop my research into fugue forms and modes in literary writing  and publishing in the new digital media age.

The musical fugue is a circular form, which proceeds through the replaying of its melodic subject, in variations on the theme, potentially to infinity; which morphs into a symbolic rhetorical and creative figure in (re) inventive art works throughout modernity and post modernity- think from Romanticism to remix beats; this  form of reinventive remix is also played out in the seriality of the news media  and now most recently in new forms and modes of online (softcopy) and print media  (hardcopy) publication (Skilbeck 2007; 2008; 2009; 2010; 2011; 2012).

In my article on exiled writers I wrote about 'fugal modality' and writing from the self: “In the fugal modality of writing two theories of writing are brought together.  The first derives from the philosophical concept of modality and modal logic, and is related to the concept of de re thought as articulated in linguistic propositions, The second is derived from modal music and is related to re-writing language as creative art. How it works can be conceptualized imaginatively. It is the modality of creative psycho-linguistic re-invention in any medium of language and (potentially) infinite variation on a theme.”  (Skilbeck 2010; 2011; 2012).
Since I first wrote this, it has in itself become an example of what I am talking about. 

Re-publication in new modes and forms: fugal variations

Routledge has republished the article the passage is in, three time in the past two years. Each time, the article has been published in quite a different form and mode of publication.

The first publication is in a special issue of a leading journal  in the field Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies (Vol 7, Issue 3, 2010).

The second publication was as a chapter in a hard cover book of the special issue: Cultural Studies of Rights: Critical Articulations (2011)

The third publication is (most surprisingly) a web resource, a new collection of the “most popular” Routledge Communications Studies articles published Around the World (2012).

The  Routledge publication and republication of my article on Exiled Writers is a good example. Of what I call ‘fugal modality’ as a “new” or rather re-newed  form and mode of writing and publishing. Adapting, and translating, the musical form of fugue to literary writing and publishing, in research into creative processes of writing I developed  a schema of fugue as non-representational reflexive practice, and this is ironically picked up and mirrored in the publication of the article that puts forward this very approach.
Most recently my article is re-published in the Routledge Communication Arena
Communication Studies Around the World

"Explore the world of communication studies with this new Routledge online resource! We've brought together key books and journal articles from and about all of the globe's regions. Start your tour now"

Next time around, I aim that the content of my article will be published as part of my monograph on the writer's fugue from whence it came.  

Watch this space.

Routledge Communication Arena viewed Sat July 7, 2012.

* Skilbeck, Ruth (2012) 'Exiled Writers, Human Rights and Social Advocacy Movements in Australia: a Critical Fugal Analysis,' Routledge Communications Studies Around the World,

Skilbeck, Ruth (2011) 'Exiled Writers, Human Rights and Social Advocacy Movements in Australia: a Critical Fugal Analysis,' Chapter 4 in Cultural Studies of Rights: Critical Articulations. Ed. John Nguyet Erni. 9780415677295. Release date 20 July 2011. Hard cover. Routledge.

Skilbeck, Ruth (2010). 'Exiled Writers, Human Rights, and Social Advocacy Movements in Australia: A Critical Fugal Analysis'. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, Vol. 7, Issue 3, Sept 2010: 280-296

9  [A]

Cloud 2012

Ruth Skilbeck Cloudlands #4 2012

Cloud 2012

Ruth Skilbeck Cloudlands #3 2012

All Roads Lead to Global Roaming Social Media

All Roads Lead to Global Roaming Social Media

All roads seem to lead to Social Media these days, facebook, twitter, blogs, games.
Does this mean that Digital Online Media is the new empire of signs?
When in global roam do as the global roamers do,
Resistance is futile?
Surrender to the jouissance of fugal digital writing,
The paradoxical solitary pleasures of the social media text
Infinite pleasures of procrastination
In post-post-post a note global modernity

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Presenting at Literature and Censorship AAL Conference next week

Literature and Censorship is the theme of this year's annual Australasian Association for Literature conference to be held at the National Library in Canberra next week. I am giving a presentation on  fugal modality and the limits of expression:  censorship, trauma and self-exile in ‘fugue’ writers from Joyce to exiled journalists.


To what extent can we be said to be ‘free’ to write? To what extent is self-expression and ‘freedom of expression’ ever fully possible, if as many theorists from Althusser (2003) to Holquist (1994) have alluded to, we are condemned to use a language that is social and patrolled and thereby censored? Does this then constitute an impossible contradiction for artists, writers and journalists who seek to use language as freedom of expression and free speech to further the principles of democracy and humanity, and (self) knowledge? If a writer’s work is censored and they go into self- exile, to what extent can they then be said to be responsible for their ‘censorship’? Is this what is implied by the poststructuralist stance (Holquist 1994)?  More pertinently, the author suggests, is the question of how does the experience beyond censorship, of self-exile, affect the exiled writer’s writing, in its form, content and effects. These are among the questions the author explores in this paper, re-positioning her (PhD, 2007) research into literary self-exiles and fugue writers, Joyce and Celan, in dialogue with biographical research into contemporary exiled writers including  journalists from Africa and South Africa whom the author has interviewed in Australia.

 Dr Ruth Skilbeck, is a Lecturer at the Journalism and Media Research Centre, in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, at the University of New South Wales.

Australasian Association for Literature Conference 2012


Dates: 10-12 July 2012

Venue: University of New South Wales Canberra

Cloudlands #2

Ruth Skilbeck Cloudlands #2 2012
As computing takes us into the skies I am fascinated by the contrasts between nature and manufacture captured in pixels by a digital camera, in the actual experience of flight in air travel and in the reflexive play on words that cloud ware computing wraps us in, what are these castles in the sky our thoughts and words are conjuring through infinite strings of binary symbols in the digital unconscious? And where am 'I',  where are 'we' passenger-pilots in this process of flight? When I took this photo, on May 14 2012, I was on my way back from the MIRCI conference in Toronto flying at 32,000 feet over the aptly named Pacific en route to Sydney.  Ruth Skilbeck

Monday, 2 July 2012

Jamais Arrière Douglas Clan: Australian Ancestry

By Ruth Skilbeck

This is the second edition of this article, first published on this blog as "Jamais Arrière Douglas Clan: Australian Ancestry, ‘Boat People’, Mariners and Vikings

Ghost boats have been sailing in shadowy force through the Australian media, and through my family history, these past weeks. Ghost boats have a legendary tendency to return and haunt the living when they least expect it. They sail into earshot and cause chaos with their cacophony, the wailing voices of those lost at sea, lamenting and beseeching from watery graves, pleading to be rescued and laid to rest; or reclaimed and brought back to life in family histories...
Something strange happened as I was writing these notes on the unfolding and refolding of the ‘circular’ asylum and refugee debate in Australia, the Great Southern Land in which I’m domiciled. I was researching and writing about the ‘ghost boats’, asylum seeker’s rickety “wooden boats” that sink without trace as they head from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore on the perilous voyage to Australia. The untold numbers of men, women and children lost at sea over the last couple of years. 

Then, quite unexpectedly, I received in the mail, pages from a family history, prepared by distant relatives in Perth. Emblazoned with the Clan Douglas crest Jamais Arrière  ('never behind'). This was sent to me by my stepmother and told the story of a branch of the family that I knew next to nothing about - my paternal grandmother’s side who emigrated to Australia from England in the mid nineteenth century. Apparently Clan Douglas my newfound ancestors were in the middle ages the 'ruling family' in Scotland and Clan Douglas had many castles.

Clan member crest badge- Clan Douglas

I found out I was descended from ‘boat people’ and mariners, with two ship’s captains in the Australian Douglas family tree - hailed as heroes for their numerous daring and dangerous sea rescues: a batch of press clippings from the time recounted the stories.
Thomas Douglas, born in 1823 in Foxton, Cambridgeshire, was a farm hand, his wife Phoebe (nee Wisbey)’s family lived near ‘the chalk pits’. Thomas and Phoebe and their three young children, William, Frederick and Alfred emigrated to Australia, to escape the poor economic times and food shortages that swept England in the mid 19th century; resulting in the biggest waves of migrants recorded, 350,647 persons leaving England in 1852. In 1853, Thomas, Phoebe and children sailed across the world in the wooden sailing ship Sabrina, arriving 92 days later in Albany, WA. They were ‘boat people’.
Thomas Douglas “Pioneer, orchadist and market gardener” and Phoebe Douglas nee Wisbey “our matriarch” prospered in the colony:  They had ten children and within a few years  owned a sizeable estate, numerous properties and land in Perth. Records show Thomas bequeathed a “gift” to his son William to buy a steamship; and a tugboat, Dunskey, was bought in 1896.   
William and Frederick -who sailed to Australia in the Sabrina as infants - were the nautical sons, youthful members of the Albany rowing regatta team who each grew up to be mariners and ships captains.
Captain William Douglas (b 1848) was a “mariner, police officer, pioneering orchadist and gold prospector”.
In May 1885 William Douglas was involved in the rescue of some sailors from the vessel HMS Opal, as reported in the Albany Advertiser and the Albany Mail.  Two sailors from a man-o- war had set out in a small craft in the Albany Harbour.
“The day broke with threatening skies. The strong wind and intermittent thunder presaged a fierce storm, at 11 a.m., according to custom, two sailors set out from the men-of-war in the borrowed boat to return it to the moorings. Captain Douglas in a passing steam launch (Perseverance) hailed them to hug the shore...But they ignored the warning and stood out in the middle of the harbour. Less than an hour later when they were still a long way from their objective, the storm broke over the little craft. The sailors boat capsized in deep water and with big waves breaking over them as they clung to its keel, the two men were in desperate straits...”
Captain Douglas went to the rescue in the steamship, and managed to save one of the men who was clinging to the bow, by the time he had reached him  the other sailor had “swept away and drowned”.  
“The boat had an air tank installed in the bows and that alone kept it afloat...the survivor was being dragged beneath the surface with it and was ....drowning.  When he was eventually pulled into the steam launch he was barely alive. Captain Douglas then headed for the nearer of the warships and after careful manoeuvring the sailor was taken aboard...he presently revived. Next day a signal flew from the mast-head of one of the men-of-war....requesting the attendance of Captain Douglas on board....all hands were piped and the First Lieutenant in their presence expressed his gratitude for the heroic rescue performed by the launch. Watching through our glasses he said we were astonished how quickly you got him out of the sea in such rough weather. In conclusion he handed Captain Douglas a purse of money collected by the ship’s company as a tribute of appreciation.  Captain Douglas, replying stated that he had heard that the young man who had lost his life was the sole supporter of his mother in England, and requested the lieutenant present the money to the mother on his return to England. This was agreed and three hearty cheers were given for Douglas’s gallantry and seamanship.” 
In 1896, after several years  on land gold mining with his Douglas Mining and Prospecting Company, William borrowed 1000 pounds sterling from his father Thomas  and went to Sydney were he purchased the steam tug Dunskey, which he sailed to Albany .
The family history tells another tale of a daring sea rescue this time in the Dunskey. 
“On July 12th, 1899, following a terrible gale, the sailing ship “City of York” ran onto Rottnest Island’s northern shore to become a total wreck. On the next day, in the Dunskey, William effected a daring rescue of the remaining crew still aboard the wreck, while his son Clem and Bill Riley manned the Dunskey beyond the rolling surf, William rowed his tiny 14ft (4.5 m) dinghy to the wreck and in several (some accounts three, others eight) perilous journeys laid his craft alongside the hull to save the surviving eight crew - and a cat. Recommended to the royal Humane Society for his bravery, he nonetheless received little more than the acclamation of his contemporaries for a courageous and very dangerous rescue.”
Several more incidents are recorded in the family history: William purchased and sailed a three masted barquentine “Iris”;  moved into ship building and  built a 5 ton timber steam launch “Perseverance”;  cut and exported she-oak timber to Europe; salvaged wrecked vessels (ships) before settling down to more “prosaic activities” in the 1920s, building a 45ft long lighter (wooden barge). Emma his wife died in 1929; William  died three years later in 1932. 
Captain Frederick Douglas, Master Mariner, was an “early trader on the south coast. Fred owned and operated the schooner Agnes, which was wrecked in a storm at Bremer Bayin 1890 and the topsail schooler Grace Darling, which gave stirling service to the south coastal hamlets before her sale, and eventual wrecking off Lanceline in 1914."
Like his brother William he saved many lives at sea:
“Fred was to figure greatly in the rescue of over 200 passengers and crew from the steamer Rodondo which was wrecked on Pollock Reef on the south coast in October 1894. But for his presence, it is most likely that there would have been few survivors of this dramatic shipwreck.”

Reading these stories, I cannot help but wonder, what would my mariner ancestors, the good Captain’s Douglas, saviours of many lives at sea, have thought of the shipwrecks reported in the modern day online press? The “ghost boats” that sink at night, and the men women and children all lost? Would they have set out to help? If they had rescued the drowning, though, and brought them to shore, then what would happen to them? 
It’s impossible to say, of course. Meanwhile, the circular patterns of history continue.
On my paternal grandfather’s English side of the family we may be descended from another sea faring mob of boat people who invaded England in the 8th century - the Vikings- which is where the surname comes from (Skilbeck in Norweigian means house by a stream). Although another story has it that many hundreds of years ago some blight threatened the Yorkshire village of Skilbeck and its occupants dispersed each taking Skilbeck as their surname as an identifier of where they came from.
Yesterday, I received a letter with news that my London-born nephew, who runs a scuba diving business in a coastal hamlet in WA, is taking qualifications that will lead to him being able to captain a ship...
With so much salt in the family veins, no wonder the ghost boats are circling my mind, ghosts of the future past, their phantom passengers calling out for help, before they hit the rocks.


Quoted text from ' The Family of Thomas and Phoebe Douglas in Western Australia and the descendents of John Duglas b.1731. ' Compiled by Bob Douglas, Kendenup, Western Australia, June 2011. Second Edition.

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