LOFTY, a young English ship's boy, is sent far from home to work on board the ship, The Mermaid, under Captain King to map the west and northern coasts of Australia in the early 1800s – the bits that Matthew Flinders did not get to. His mother sees this as his chance to become an ‘explorer’ and escape the inevitable fate of working in the coal mines which have killed his dad and are making his brothers sick. Lofty doesn’t see it this way. He is homesick, misses his family terribly, hates all the flies and finds this new place hard to understand – there are sharks, pirates and snakes! How is he going to make it through this journey? When is he going to see home again?
Homesick and experiencing the difficulties of ship life, he is taken under the wing of Alan Cunningham, an English botanist, he calls Plant Spy. Plant Spy is fascinated by the Australian landscape, plants and animals and over time his enthusiasm makes Lofty aware of what a unique and magical place he has found himself in. There are ant castles (termite mounds), clouds of beautiful blue butterflies on Magnet Island (Blue Tigers), a meat eating plant (Albany Pitcher Plant), black cockatoos (which become his Manitou/totem) and an extraordinary lizard with an umbrella around its neck (Frilled Neck Lizard).
There are also many adventures and near misses aboard the Mermaid -
Encounters with large flotillas of Maccassans/Malays who collect sea slugs in the north - are they friend or foe?
Sailing through the Barrier Reef – will they make it or does their ship get damaged and need extensive repairs like Captain Cook and his ship the Endeavour?
A theodolite is taken on Melville Island by the Aboriginal Australians which is crucial for their mapping work – how can they get it back?
There is no water to be found and the rats have destroyed the last water barrels – do they turn back and end their trip without finishing what they need to do?
Lofty’s diary not only captures the trials and tribulations of navigating the Australian coast but also reveal the journey of a young boy into a young man who learns to become independent and think for himself. His encounters with Aboriginal Australians and their ways of living also lead him to develop a strong awareness and sensitivity towards Aboriginal Australian peoples and their culture.
Through Lofty's eyes we experience what is was like to be an explorer in Australia as his story is closely based on the original journals of Lieutenant Phillip Parker King's surveying trips of Australia’s north and west coasts from 1818 - 1822.
Where does Lofty’s journey end? It's time to go home and he must decide where home is. Has Australia's spirit seeped under his skin, or is the pull of his English home still strong?
This story is a fictionalised version of true events and is based on the journals of Lieutenant Phillip Parker King's surveying trips of Australia’s north and west coasts from 1818 – 1822. His journals are called Narrative of a Survey of the Intertropical and Western Coasts of Australia: Performed between the Years 1818 and 1822.