Friday, July 19, 2013

The Mannequin Makers Location Guide: Part Two: the Antipodes Islands

What the guidebooks say

Name: Bollons Island (aka Horseshoe Island, Lemon Wedge) and Antipodes Island (aka the big island)
Nature: Real
Location: The subantactic (about 860kms south east of Steward Island)
Importance in The Mannequin Makers: the islands were Gabriel Doig is shipwrecked.
Inspired by: Museo del Fin del Mundo, birds, Wellington's south coast.

The beginning of the end of the world

Here's where it all started: Ushuaia, Argentina. The southernmost city in the world on the cusp of winter, 2009. 

And in this town there was a museum (Museo del fin del mundo, the museum of the end of the world). And in this museum there was a small room devoted shipwrecks. And in this room there was an bilingual information panel. 

And on this bilingual information panel there was a short paragraph about the final days of sail power, when steam ships were taking over the world. How some unscrupulous ship owners would send their wooden sailing ships around Cape Horn in the hopes they'd wreck to get the insurance money in order to buy a steam-powered vessel.

Okay, thought I, that's the ship owner's motivation. But what could possess a captain and crew to man an aging vessel being run hard on the most dangerous route in the hope they'd never come back? Money - sure. The thrill of defying death - perhaps. Madness? Perversion? 

As I stood before this bilingual information panel in the Museum of the End of the World, very near the end of the world, characters and plots began to form...

Moving Tierra del Fuego

I began researching what would become The Mannequin Makers in late 2010. As I mentioned in the last post, I was calling it Fin del Mundo at the time. While my initial focus was on Eugen Sandow, department stores and life in urban New Zealand in 1902/03, I knew that I'd eventually need to write about my shipwreck rounding the Horn.

But then a couple of things happened.

1. I went to another museum. This one was closer to home: the Museum of City and Sea in Wellington. And in that museum there was a glass display case. And in that glass display case there were dead albatross.

I took a photo on my phone because I was struck by the size of these birds, even as they lay supine, wings folded away.

These birds has washed up on beaches in the Wellington and Wairarapa regions after the Wahine storm of 1968.

I knew, standing in front of that glass display cabinet, that I knew so little about the southern ocean. I'd thought of albatross as big seagulls, but these were of a different order.

I went back to see these birds a couple of months later and they were gone. They belonged to Te Papa and had been loaned to the Museum of City and Sea. Could I see them in Te Papa? No, they were in storage. 

Now you see them, now you don't. 

2. An emperor penguin came to Pekapeka Beach. I heard about his arrival while at work. The next day was "a writing day", but instead I drove an hour north to sea this interloper from the Antarctic.

I blogged about it here (I'm still sore the nonsensical name of Happy Feet stuck instead of the more obvious/appropriate Peka, but that's just the novelist in me).

Around (June 2011), I felt I'd broken the back of my urban NZ research and was moving my attention to the shipwreck. I started watching Wild South DVDs from the library and reading books.

I quickly became fascinated by New Zealand's subantactic islands. I devoured books about them. The stories about shipwrecks there were amazing. The fact the Government of Southland, then NZ, set up castaway depots and sent Government steamers down there to patrol the islands and pick up the unlucky souls seemed like such a rich vein of history. 

I decided to move my shipwreck from Tierra del Fuego to the Antipodes Islands because I could. Because it would mean I could immerse myself in these books about castaway depots and poorly charted islands and put it all into my book. Because, in a rare bout of patriotism, it seemed like something Kiwi authors should be writing about.

Brass tacks

I'd learn too late about Gareth Morgan's Our Far South expedition to the very part of the world that had captured my attention and I'd attempt to depict in my novel.

So I've never been to the Antipodes.

Of course, I've never been to Marumaru. Or on board a clipper ship. I've been to Dunedin (which features in the novel for a chapter or so) but not in 1891.

I had my imagination. 

I had my books (the most important being Straight through from London: The Antipodes and Bounty Islands, New Zealand by Rowley Taylor which made my top ten books of 2012and DVDs. 

I had another museum: Te Papa, where I got to see (and touch) biscuit tins and castaway suits from the Antipodes Island castaway depot. And I got to see a scale model of the GSS Hinemoa, the steamer that patrolled the depots.

I had the South Coast at my doorstep. I'd go down to Houghton Bay and stare into the teeth of the southerly, imagine it was twice as cold and twice as windy and that I had nothing at my back but a fingernail of land dotted with tussock and penguin guano.

And I had my trip to Dunedin, where I saw Royal Southern Albatross up close and in flight, and other pelagic birds. I blogged about it here.

And it turns out that was enough.

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