Batavia mutiny stirs Renegade spirit

Francesca MannGeraldton Guardian
The West logo

The dramatic tale of the 1629 shipwreck of the Batavia on the Houtman Abrolhos Islands has everything a Hollywood blockbuster film needs — murder, betrayal, sex, mystery and a hero to save the day.

So when Renier Beukes first learnt about the Dutch East India Company ship when he was 12, he was shocked to find no films had been made about the historical event.

An aspiring young actor, Beukes dreamt of one day acting in a film about the shipwreck and subsequent mutiny, which led to the massacre of 110 men, women and children.

But in Beukes’ final year at Geraldton Senior College the compelling story remained untouched by the film industry, so he decided to write a rough script and storyboard.

After a short stint at university and several trips overseas, Beukes returned to Geraldton and got to work on the script in 2017, finally completing it in July.

Working with a small team through his production company, Renegade Studios, the 21-year-old is determined to retell the fateful event on the silver screen.

“I can’t even tell you how many people don’t know about the story of the Batavia,” he said.

“We want people to know the story, and we want to give respect to the victims and memorialise them in a way that people can appreciate.

“It’s also one of the oldest stories Australia has. The two mutineers who were marooned on mainland Australia were the first European ‘residents’, and the fort Wiebbe Hayes built to protect the soldiers, that’s the first European structure in Australia.

“It’s everything a story is, and it’s all real — you don’t have to make anything up.”

Renier Beukes has written a script for a feature-length film about the Batavia mutiny. He is pictured near the Geraldton memorial to Batavia hero Wiebbe Hayes.
Camera IconRenier Beukes has written a script for a feature-length film about the Batavia mutiny. He is pictured near the Geraldton memorial to Batavia hero Wiebbe Hayes. Credit: Francesca Mann

Originally from South Africa, Beukes and his family moved to Perth when he was four years old, moving around the State before eventually settling in Geraldton in 2008.

A year later a statue of Hayes was erected on the Geraldton foreshore, commemorating the man who led a group of Batavia survivors against the murderous mutineers, led by apothecary Jeronimus Cornelisz.

Hayes has often been regarded as the hero of the mutiny, but Beukes said few people knew about the soldier, who was just 21 years old at the time.

Although Beukes has directed in the past — most recently directing Theatre 8’s adaption of Macbeth — the multi-talented artist plans on stepping in front of the camera to assume the role of Hayes.

“Even though I love directing, I love acting more and I’ve always wanted to play Hayes,” he said.

“A lot of the time Hayes gets the sideline, which I don’t understand because he’s the hero of the whole story — he’s the one that saved everyone in the end.

“You can act and direct, but it’s tiring ... so I’ll take a step back and be a creative producer and actor.”

With plans to film mostly in Geraldton, Beukes believes the coastal city will benefit greatly through a boost to the economy and an increase in tourism.

The history fanatic also hopes the movie will kickstart a much-needed film industry in the State, with Renegade Studios planning on using WA-based actors, producers and crew.

“We want it to be completely WA-made by new fresh people,” he said.

“I think WA needs its own film industry, making WA films with WA actors and filmmakers.

“There’s so much talent here, but they’re not given the chance or they go overseas.”

With the script completed, Beukes said the team were now hoping to raise enough funds to give the production the green light and start filming early next year. If all goes to plan the film may premiere in 2020.

“It’s such a good story to tell, but whenever we hear about Australian history we always think of Captain James Cook or Ned Kelly,” Beukes said.

“But there’s more to tell around the Batavia story as well ... and we have plans for sequels, but we can’t tell those stories until we tell the Batavia one.”

To find out more about the film visit renegadestudios.site.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails