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NATURAL and HUMAN HISTORIAN – Howard has been captivated by the marine ecosystems and rich maritime history of the west coast of Australia for nearly four decades. The Houtman Abrolhos Islands has been of particular interest since his first visits in 1980. In the decades since, through his first-hand diving and exploring trips and delving into the research material and archives, he has built up a considerable knowledge of this amazing archipelago. Investigating its Dutch discovery and shipwreck history has extended his research into the East Indies, particularly the early spice trading era.
Howard is a founding member and currently Chair of the Batavia Coast Maritime Heritage Association and Reviews Editor for the Australian Association for Maritime History (AAMH) and in 2016 presented their prestigious Vaughan Evans Memorial Lecture. He frequently acts as a tour guide at the Houtman Abrolhos Islands on charter vessels and with education and other groups. He initiated the highly successful Abrolhos Discovery Tours run by the EcoAbrolhos tour operator and currently undertakes 3-4 five-day cruises through the archipelago with this company with extremely positive feedback from clients.
He has also worked as guest lecturer aboard cruise ships along the Western Australian coast and to South-East Asia (and keeps getting asked back!). His interest in the Houtman Abrolhos Islands and the amazing story of the discoverer Frederik de Houtman has taken him to his haunts and into the archives in the Netherlands in preparation for a biography and a lecture tour for the AAMH commemorating in July 2019 the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the southwest of WA and the Houtman Abrolhos Islands. He convened the highly successful Balayi-Open Your Eyes! Houtman400 Festival in 2019.
His research and writing into Houtman has inspired complementary commemorative events in the Netherlands at which he has delivered lectures. His December 2018 publication Jambinbirri-Champion Bay has brought to light much of the amazing history of this region and been received enthusiastically by the community, including the local Wilunyu/Amangu people. This publication won the Royal West Australian Historical Society Williams/Lee Steere Prize for ‘the best book on the history of Western Australia for 2019’.