Book release: Castaway by Robert Macklin

Join us as author Robert Macklin discusses the inspiration behind his latest novel, centred around the astonishing and little-known story of Narcisse Pelletier, a French cabin boy abandoned on the Far North Queensland coast and saved by the local Uutaalnganu (Night Island people) with whom he lived for almost two decades.


In 1858, the 14-year-old Narcisse sailed from Marseilles on the French trader Saint Paul with a cargo of Bordeaux wine. They unloaded the last of it in Hong Kong and took aboard 317 Chinese prospectors bound for the Australian goldfields. However, the ship ran aground on the eastern tip of New Guinea, an area known for its cannibalism. Captain and crew left the Chinese to their fate and undertook a perilous voyage in the long boat 1000 kms over the Coral Sea to a beach north of the Daintree. There, abandoned by his Captain and left for dead, Narcisse was rescued by the Night Island people with whom he lived for the next seventeen years. In 1875, Narcisse was wrenched from his beloved Aboriginal family and returned to France where he was forced by his parents to undergo an exorcism. Traumatised, he would eventually become a lighthouse keeper.

Robert Macklin re-creates Narcisse’s experiences in vivid detail drawing on the work of the great Australian anthropologist Donald Thomson, who lived with the Kuuku Y’au and the Umpila people in Sandbeach country, together with interviews Narcisse gave on his return to France and research through the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). At the time, the brutal frontier wars in Queensland slowly advanced northwards and Robert weaves an unforgettable tale of a young man caught between two cultures in a time of transformation and violent upheaval.


Robert Macklin was born in Queensland and educated at the University of Queensland and the ANU. He is the author of 29 books, including Dark Paradise, the savage history of Norfolk Island, Hamilton Hume – Our Greatest Explorer, Dragon and Kangaroo – China and Australia’s shared history, and a series of works on Australia’s Special Forces and Intelligence Agencies including SAS Sniper, Redback One and Warrior Elite. As a journalist he has worked on The Courier-Mail, The Age, The Bulletin and was Associate Editor of The Canberra Times until 2003. He lives in Canberra and Tuross Head.

Glass of wine is included upon arrival.