Walter Gee remembered

In 2019, caravanning home from a holiday with family, Joan Ward got to Karratha and said she wanted to go to Sheep Island.

Her daughter-in-law Margie Ward recalls that the woman on duty at the local tourist bureau explained they needed to retrace their steps – sort of – by around 2000 kilometres.

Joan’s great-grandfather was police constable Walter Gee, who died of wounds received in a skirmish with first inhabitants at Camden Harbour.

Joan’s grandmother was the baby who Mary Gee delivered not long after Walter died. Baby Mary Ann Gee, (much) later McIntyre.

Howard Ward, Joan’s son, and his wife Margie decided they had better try to get his mother to the island.

With the invaluable help of sports fisherman and fishing charter operator Peter Tucker, this eventually happened, in August 2021. Adding to the thrill of the venture was the fact that Peter is passionate about the area’s history.

The trip involved a boat plane from Broome to Kuri Bay, then a four-hour boat tour of Brecknock and Camden harbours, including the government settlement, Sheep Island and grave sites.

A family video of the event makes extensive use of original extracts from ‘There Were Three Ships’.

Exact details of the failed expedition of the 1800s are uncovered for the first and so far only time in this book, which followed exhaustive international research. Few modern users acknowledge this – and if they do any research of their own, grab the references from the book’s appendix. (Ouch). But history is only part of it – the story is told in an interesting narrative style, with the timeline of a multitude of contributing events clearly laid out. This led to the Fellowship of Australian Writers honouring ‘There Were Three Ships’ with an award as best local history.

By 1990, only the barest details of the Camden Harbour expedition were known. Joan notes that University of Western Australia Press – it published the book that year – still appears to believe it has permission rights over it. But the Press declined to reprint after a successful first run. The author took the publishing work on himself, and has done so ever since.