The Mysteries of Mystery Island — Part One

In 2018 I found and reunited with my biological family, discovering that my people go back to 1842 on Lord Howe Island. On my first visit that Christmas, I became fascinated by the mystery surrounding the early talkie Mystery Island, which was shot on Lord Howe in 1936. Why did its leading man Brian Abbot — who had everything to live for — try to sail to Sydney across the treacherous Tasman Sea in a tiny motor launch? Was he mad, like they said, or was there something else at play?

In the past few months, my investigations have unearthed dozens of startling stranger-than-fiction stories that each shine a different light on this question. So, strap in for an eight-part epic series. You're going to meet Hollywood hopefuls, surf rescuers, plucky canoeists, turf tricksters, war heroes, daredevil aviators, shipwreck survivors and a handful of accused killers. Then there’s one chap who wrestled an octopus, rode sharks, hunted a humpback whale in Sydney Harbour, tried to reel in an Olympic swimming champion and led an expedition to catch a mysterious sea serpent — twice. Underlying all of these dramatic, tragic and comic tales is a haunting question: what role does “the element of luck” play in who lives and who dies?

In Part One, we meet young George Rikard-Bell, who rejected his privileged upbringing to become an adventurer and a conman in the Great Depression — before reinventing himself as the actor Brian Abbot. Part Two will be released on Thursday. Instalments will be out on Mondays after that. But you can binge all eight parts now by becoming a Forgotten Australia supporter for just a few bucks per month — go to:

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