The title is a misnomer, because we woke on Monday to find that the worst of the rain and wind had disappeared and Great Southern was looking something more like we had expected. The ocean had abated and was no longer an angry mass of whitecaps and the local kangaroos were grazing peacefully in the paddock in front of the apartment.


While candlelight had been very romantic during the blackout, it was nice to have power and, remarkably for us on holidays, we’ve been eating at home. Our candlelit dinner featured a pasta sauce and artisan pasta from the exquisite Margaret River Providores. We discovered that the local IGA was one of those amazing ones you find in country towns, which put the local Coles and Woolies to shame (if they had opened on a Sunday), so we grabbed a vegetarian quiche that was really quite special, and it did for a lunch and a dinner. We lunched at one pub yesterday, but really it was an excuse to try the local lager from Albany Brewing Company.

Monday was a day for looking at historic Albany and, weather permitting, getting some miles under our walking shoes. Where we are staying is tucked under West Cape Howe, midway between Denmark and Albany, so we have a 25 km drive into town; but it is well worth it to be out behind the dunes and away from the busy-ness of the Port. The Harbour front is still very much working, with grain elevators, timber, wood chips and various minerals all loading into the two bulk carriers in the inner harbour.

Our first stop was the National Anzac Memorial, on a hill above the town and overlooking King George’s Sound. For an easterner, it’s hard to see why you would put a national monument and museum here, in a town of 17,000; but when you realise that this was the last bit of Australia that one in four of those 30,000 who embarked on the first two convoys saw, then it takes on an added significance. It also serves to remind one of the history of the place: until Fremantle got its harbour just before the war, this was the mail port for all of Western Australia and the only decent harbour between Cape Town and the Eastern States. For Western Australians at the time, with no Trans-Australian Railway and just a telegraph line to the rest of the Federation, Albany was a lifeline from complete isolation. It’s pretty isolated even today.

The Memorial itself is a brilliant piece of architecture – the Entertainment Centre down at the Harbour is almost as good, with its sails and windjammer prow jutting along the jetty – which cantilevers over the steep slope down to the sound. It sits in front of the old garrison artillery base and is a stone’s throw from the coastal artillery batteries on the head. Its picture windows are designed to help you visualise what the Sound must have looked like crowded with lines of ships in December 1914, as the first and second convoys in turn swung at anchor, waiting for the last of the fleets to arrive before steaming slowly in line ahead out of the heads, past the islands and off to Egypt for the Great War.

The Memorial is modern museum curation at its best, using technology creatively and engagingly to tell the stories of the soldiers from Australia and New Zealand who left on those first convoys (after December 1914, they didn’t sail in convoy because the menace of the German raiders disappeared after HMAS Sydney defeated the Emden and the remaining German squadron was defeated in the Battle of the Falkland Islands). As you enter, you are handed a nifty audio guide that responds to swiping across special buttons on exhibits, and a card that allows you to follow the career of Aussies and Kiwis who started their war on the convoys (or, in Paula’s case, a German officer who fought all the way through the war on the Western Front and survived to be an author and entomologist!). Very much like Flanders Field in Ieper, I thought. In front of a panoramic view of the harbour, LED screens under a water sculpture scrolled the names of all those who had left Albany in 1914.


I was handed a card for Major Iven McKay – jackpot! Here was a genuine ANZAC legend: science graduate, volunteer militiaman, enlisted as Major in the AIF, ending the war highly decorated and a brevet Brigadier. And, of course, the revered leader of the 6th Div in World War Two in North Africa, after a career as a Headmaster between the warm (I could go on about how many of Australia’s great soldiers have been teachers!). Though not a big space, the Memorial allowed views of the pick of the items from the West Australian Museum and the AWM in Canberra, and told the story of many of those who suffered and died, or suffered and survived.

Two of those great characters stood out: ‘Pompey’ Elliott, one of the real characters of the era. passionate, brave and loyal Brigadier; and Hugo Throssell VC, a hero many times over. Both ultimately committed suicide (I think all the VCs struggled except Harry Murray, who buggered of into the bush and farmed). Throssell’s story I knew a little, but hadn’t realise that he became a passionate pacificist as his health failed, but totally embittered by his treatment at the hands of the ‘Repat’, and had no idea he was married to Katherine Susanna Prichard, author and feminist. HIs story was heartbreaking and I want to know more; but sadly, Australia has always struggled to care for its returned men and women.


We walked through the Naval memorial and through the artillery fort and stared at the Sound, gradually returning to some kind of calm as the wind from Antarctica started to abate. Certainly, a time to reflect.


The afternoon was spent walking nearly nine kilometres through the dunes and up onto the headland behind the apartments, relishing the fresh air after all that rain. Albany is at the end of the Bibbulun Track, the thousand-kilometre walking train from Perth through Busselton, Margarito River, Denmark and through the Albany. The south-west is wild, wild country with few townships, so I think it is a bit more adventurous than I would want to try.