Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May 17, 2010 - Mackay, Australia

What are all these blue butterflies doing out at sea? That’s the exciting question as we cruise up the east coast of Australia.
We left the dock at Scarborough on May 3 after a trouble free recommissioning of Rasa Manis. The first 200 miles in our northward journey was along white sand beaches where the big activity was driving 4WD vehicles on the beach, far enough away that they could be seen but not heard. The next 200 miles have been inside the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef.
Almost all of the Great Barrier Reef is protected by national park and other government designations. The protection – which includes prohibitions such as don’t take any shells from the beach - seems to be working. At Lady Musgrave Island, a guano mining site and resort in past white man incarnations, and today a popular day trip destination, there were sea cucumbers, giant clams and birdlife in great abundance – more so than on some of the islands in the middle of the South Pacific where the species have been harvested to near extinction.
Not that this regulation is without controversy. At Middle Percy Island, the four residents are in an uproar over the government’s attempt to convert the whole of the island to a national park. Ever since a lethal group of Aboriginal Australians were ejected from the island in the mid-1800s, the island has been operated by white men under government leases as a sheep and goat ranch, farm, resort, and commune.
The current leaseholders are struggling to fulfill their contractual obligation to maintain the historical homestead and amenities for passing boaters. Among other things, the government is raising the rent, demanding the eradication of feral goats and bees and the removal of all the garbage that has accumulated since white men first started bringing stuff onto the island – at the tenants’ expense.
Middle Percy has almost mythic status. Seems like it marks the spot where recreational boaters from East Coast cities become maritime adventurers as they head up to the remote north. Since 1948 mariners have been leaving tangible mementos of their stay in a hut ashore. Three years ago the government funded a study which located and catalogued 6500 different pieces of boat memorabilia – wooden plaques, glass bottles, a pair of red lace undies. We added ours – a plaque, not undies - to the collection. The flotsam and jetsam represents just a small percentage of the visitors, most of whom leave in a hurry for a more comfortable anchorage as soon as the wind picks up.
The island folk are struggling to maintain this unique spot against big odds. Yesterday we watched them undertake a major logistical operation. The men had started at 4 am at Marble Island, the home of a small barge that serves a deer ranch where rich Americans and Russians come to shoot for trophy antlers. Twelve hours later they returned to Percy with a small dumptruck on the barge and worked til dark to move the truck up the beach before the tide came in. This morning, early, they left on the barge. Like a barnraising, the Percy Islanders will return the favor with a work party on Marble Island. Then they will come back and figure out a way to move the truck up the track to the homestead, about 2.5 miles away. They will use the truck to restore the old orchards to productivity, in the hopes of raising fruit to sell to yachties, if, of course, the government lets them remain on the island.
And the butterflies? They are blue tiger butterflies that travel out the islands every autumn from the mainland and were noted as remarkable by Captain Cook’s botanist, Joseph Banks. No one here could explain what draws them 50 miles out to sea to flock in huge numbers in the shady spots on the islands in the Great Barrier Reef.


Blogger Silver Cathy said...

Hi Guys, just looked at your card and realised on blogspot too. Very informative. You have answered my question about the butterflies. Spent last night at south Percy.
Cathy & Mal from Silver Gull (you helped us tie up at Bundaberg)

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