Photos: Sean Scott

In Cape Arid, you’re always caught between land and sea and the thin ribbon of sanity that lies between.

You become part man, part amphibian, part something else. Which makes it the perfect hideaway for a 4WDer, or a pirate.

Y’see, this here cape is the sort of place where you’re immediately slapped in the face with a wave of history as soon as you step out of your vehicle.Because its long been overlooked by tourists heading to Esperance, it’s easy to imagine you’re the first person ever to visit the place. It’s easy to imagine historical events as though they happened just yesterday, because, hey, there probably haven’t been a helluva lot of people trample this beach in the time between.

Cape Arid’s most famous visitor was John Anderson, whose leather boots first set ashore here in the bad old days of the 1830s.

Anderson, or Black Jack to all who feared him, was the son of African slaves who had been emancipated in the US. Although officially ‘free’, he got as far from the US as possible and took a job on a whaling boat headed for WA’s Goldfields.

When his crew arrived in the southwest they realised there was more money in getting the pelt from fur seas than whales, and Jack earned a rep for the brutal way he dispatched of the seals on the islands off Cape Arid.

The local Kaurna tribe didn’t know what to make of the strange dark-skinned interloper when he first arrived and had mistakenly invited him to stay with them, but he wore out his welcome and was told to get lost.

Before he left though, Black Jack abducted some of the tribe’s women to become his girlfriends.

He and his crew fled with the girls to Middle Island and hid out in a cave. It was while staying in this cave that they decided robbing other people’s boats was much more lucrative than clubbing seals to death, and they made a sideways career change.

So began Black Jack’s reign of terror on this coast, and for a time he robbed every ship that dare sail past; throwing people overboard, shanking them, the works.

Black Jack and his crew would spare any convict workers on the ships they were pillaging, under the condition they join his band of pirates.

The charismatic yet unhinged leader built up a solid crew, and the lot of them plied the archipelago’s backwaters, eating seal meat, drinking homemade spirits, and robbing big boats heading to Sydney with supplies.

It turned out that he who lives by the sealer’s knife dies by the sealer’s knife. When Anderson went on one particularly over-the-top rampage, his team, scared of navy reprisals (as well as revenge attacks from the Kaurna tribe) mutineed and stabbed him in his limestone cave.

The piracy continued though, to the point where WA’s only newspaper, The Inquirer, referred to Cape Arid as a “resort full of lawless desperadoes, composed of runaway sealers and convicts.”

Sean Scott recently hit the algid sands between Cape Arid and Cape Le Grande, and while he didn’t find any bullion, bully beef or muskets, he did find Australia’s ultimate 4WDing hideout.

Cape Arid is still a place where a free man or a desperado can hide out for as long as they see fit, on their own terms.







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