Celebrating 200 years of the Mermaid Boab Tree

In September 2020, explorers aboard Coral Adventurer cruised into into West Australia’s iconic Kimberley region to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Mermaid Boab Tree and Lieutenant Phillip Parker King’s survey of Australia’s northern coast.

West Australia’s Kimberley region is a one-of-a-kind nature experience. This rugged landscape is where sun-baked air is perfumed with the scent of eucalypt and history is recorded through ancient art galleries on cave walls. Coral Expeditions has been unlocking Kimberley treasures and sharing this ancient land on small ship expedition cruises for 27 years.

Australia’s Kimberley is a frontier land where Dreamtime myths and legends abound, a land inhabited by Indigenous Australians for approximately 60,000 years. Making Europeans’ influence on the landscape is a much more recent event in the intriguing history of this area.

In 1820, British Naval Officer Lt. Phillip Parker King left an indelible mark while charting Australia’s northwest coast. Beaching his leaking cutter HMC Mermaid at low tide, the crew remained stranded on this remote coastline for 17 days while affecting repairs. The cove where King’s crew set up camp was named Careening Bay after the Mermaid’s enforced stopover.

While completing repairs, the Mermaid’s carpenter carved HMC Mermaid 1820 into the bottle-shaped trunk of a boab tree 60m back from the beach. Almost 200 years later, the Mermaid Boab Tree has since split into two trunks and sports a mammoth girth of 12m. Significantly, the bulbous tree is listed on the National Register of Big Trees and the carpenter’s careful inscription now stands almost as tall as the average person.

Biding his time on the beach before repairs were completed with only survey work to keep him busy, King observed the Indigenous residents, who were no doubt equally curious about their pale-skinned visitors.

He described Aboriginal huts near his temporary camp, ‘besides the huts on the beach, which were merely strips of bark bent over to form shelter from the sun, there were others on the top of the hill over the tents, or a larger and more substantial construction… fireplaces were strewn with nuts of the sago palm.’

Ancient Aboriginal rock art etched into sandstone cliffs and cave walls throughout the Kimberley show European-style vessels and document the arrival of explorers such as Lt. Phillip Parker King. At nearby Bigge Island in the Bonaparte Archipelago, an extraordinary gallery is concealed within weathered crevices of towering boulders on the beach. It is one of several significant rock art sites that are a highlight of Coral Expeditions’ Kimberley cruise.

Guests can view the Mermaid Boab Tree whilst visiting Careening Bay as part of Coral Expeditions 10 night Kimberley cruises. The once-only  35th Anniversary Circumnavigation of Australia cruise celebrates not only the small ship expedition company’s 35th year but also the 200th anniversary of Parker King’s Kimberley voyage and the Mermaid Boab Tree’s special place in history.


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