Tropical islands abound along the length of Australia’s northern coast, from the Whitsundays in North Queensland, around the four thousand kilometre stretch of coastline to Broome, in the Kimberleys of Western Australia.
The notion of living on one of the many Australian islands is a romantic one and many adventurers and artists have succumbed to the idea – the more wealthy amongst them even owning the leasehold of one. Before you rush off on a search for islands for sale, do consider basics – such as the availability of transport, food and water. Nothing wrong with dreaming, though!
One writer and researcher, who lived his dream on a tropical island, was EJ Banfield – you might like to read a little of his story here.
With a friend, I had been caretaking for a few days on Low Isles, two tiny specks in the Coral Sea, an hour’s sail from the small resort town of Port Douglas in North Queensland.
Separated by a channel half a kilometre wide at high tide and by, mostly, sand and corals at very low tide, the islands (Low Island and Woody Island) are the summer home of a variety of migratory birds, including Torres Strait pigeons, which fly to the mainland every day to feast on seasonal fruits growing in the rainforests there.
Low Island is a meteorological station, so recording and transmitting weather details is one of the duties of relief caretakers, such as we were. Adjacent Woody Island is heavily covered with mangrove trees, in which the pigeons and other bird species nest, laying eggs and raising their young.
Early each morning one of each pigeon pair sets off for the mainland to gather rainforest fruits. Skimming low across the ocean in the evening, they return with fruits to be regurgitated for their offspring.
In addition to regular weather reporting several times each day, other duties of caretakers are keeping the island paths and beaches clean and informing visitors about safety procedures and the protection of reef corals, turtles, fish and shells.
The island is a research base for the University of Queensland and a very busy tourist destination during daylight hours. Its coral lagoon is the subject of exploration for snorkelers and divers, as is the deeper channel where the large yachts anchor.
But at night no unauthorised person is allowed to land. That particular morning, I had hauled myself out of a comfortable bed to make weather observations at first light.
There had been a high tide overnight and, what I could see of the beach in the faint light, was beautifully smooth and clean. So, after uploading details of wind speeds and direction, precipitation and cloud types, I set off for a walk around the island, a leisurely journey that takes about fifteen minutes.
I was enjoying the peace and solitude of this pristine morning when - shock! horror! What’s this I see? A line of footprints in the sand! Who could it be? What are they doing here? Where are they?
Can you guess? Yes, they were my own footprints and I had circumnavigated the island!
Woody Island comprises mostly dense growths of mangroves, branches interwoven to form secure nesting places, roots harbouring the occasional crocodile.
Mangroves are able to survive and thrive in highly salty sea water, from which they miraculously, extract fresh water. Much of the unused salt is stored in their leaves, which eventually drop, thus disposing of the trees’ salty and toxic load.
The time had come to leave these little tropical islands or sand cays.
A few minutes’ trip by run-about had us back on board Quicksilver’s Wavedancer and ready for the sail back to Port Douglas, a very relaxing journey, sometimes made more so by the performance on deck of a band of musicians and singers.
As we waited to leave, I looked back to Woody Island and noticed a steady stream of red, pink, orange, green and yellow mangrove leaves, with their toxic load, floating on the surface of the ocean, drifting seawards with the outgoing tide.
Thus, collage ideas for the painting (triptych) ‘From the Islands’ were born. The square silk scarf, derived from that painting, is shown, below. This and other other sizes and shapes may be seen here.