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- The Confessions of a Beachcomber - 6/57 -

in their canoes and paid us a visit, bringing with them a quantity of shell-fish (SANGUINOLARIA RUGOSA), which they eagerly exchanged for biscuit. For a few days afterwards we occasionally met them on the beach, but at length they disappeared altogether, in consequence of having been fired at with shot by one of two 'young gentlemen' of the BRAMBLE on a shooting excursion, whom they wished to prevent approaching too closely a small village where they had their wives and children. Immediate steps were taken in consequence to prevent the recurrence of such collisions when thoughtless curiosity on one side is apt to be promptly resented on the other if numerically superior in force... The men had large cicatrices on the shoulders and across the breast and belly, the septum of the nose was perforated, and none of the teeth had been removed. I saw no weapons, and some rude armlets were their only ornaments."

Tam o' Shanter Point derives its title from the barque of that name, in which the members of the Kennedy Exploring Expedition voyaged from Sydney, whence they disembarked on 24th and 25th May 1848. H.M.S. RATTLESNAKE had been commissioned to lend Kennedy assistance, and Macgillivray relates that everything belonging to the party (with the exception of one horse drowned while swimming ashore) was safely landed. The first camp was formed on some open forest-land behind the beach at a small fresh-water creek. On the 27th Mr Carson, the botanist of the party, commenced digging a piece of ground, in which he sowed seeds of cabbages, turnips, leek, pumpkin, rock and water melons, pomegranate, peach-stones and apple-pips. No trace of this first venture in gardening in North Queensland is now discernible. No doubt, inquisitive and curious blacks would rummage the freshly turned soil as soon as the back of the good-natured gardener was turned. It occurred to me that possibly the pomegranate seeds might have germinated, and the plants become established and acclimatised, but search proved resultless. Carson makes no reference to the coco-nut palm which once flourished at the mouth of the creek. The inference is that the nut whence it sprang drifted ashore after his attempt to civilise the vicinity by the planting of seeds. Dalrymple refers to the tree which, at the date of his visit (September 1873), was "about fourteen feet in height, but without fruit!" It grew to a great tree, and blacks found in the fruit a refreshing, nutritious food; but an evil thing came along one day in the shape of a thirsty Chinaman, and as he could not climb the tree he cut it down, and blacks, even to this day, hate the name of Chinaman. Opposite the Point is the Island of Timana, known to some as "the Island on which the Chinaman was killed!" Whether "the Chinaman" was the person who cut down the coco-nut palm is not known, but somehow his fate and that of the palm have become associated.

The only traces of the expedition of half a century ago are marks upon trees at the mouth of the Hull River--2 miles to the south, at the spot which it appears to have crossed. The object of Kennedy's expedition was to explore the country to the eastward of the dividing range running along the north-east coast of Australia. Difficulties assailed them at the outset, as many weeks passed before they got clear of Rockingham Bay, its rivers, swamps, and dense scrubs fenced in by a mountain chain. The cart was abandoned on July 18th and the horses were packed. An axle and other ironwork of a cart was found many years ago in the neighbourhood of the upper Murray River. As the axle was slotted for the old style of linchpins, no reasonable doubt exists as to its identity, and its discovery affords collateral proof of a statement published in Mr Dalrymple's official report--"It is noteworthy that several gins of the Rockingham Bay tribe now in service in private families, and with the native police are unanimous in their statements that an elderly white man is still resident amongst them, and they associate his capture with 'white fellow leave him wheel-barrow along a scrub.' Kennedy abandoned his horse-cart in the scrub of the Rockingham Bay Range before these gins were born!" Kennedy's expedition was a disastrous failure. The brave leader was killed by the blacks far up Cape York Peninsula while he was heroically pushing on to obtain succour for his famishing and weary followers. Three only were subsequently rescued. All this has, perhaps, little to do with Dunk Island: but the scene is so close at hand that the temptation to include a slight reference to one of the most sensational and romantic episodes in the exploration of Australia could not be resisted.

Twenty-five years lapsed, and then another official landing took place. In the meantime the island had been frequently visited, but there are no records, until the 29th September 1873, when the "Queensland North-East Coast Expedition," under the leadership of Mr G. Elphinstone Dalrymple, F.R.G.S., landed. Three members of the party have left pleasing testimonies of their first impressions, and I turn to the remarks of the leader for geological definitions. He says--"The formation of Dunk Island is clay slates and micaceous schist. A level stratum of a soft, greasy, and very red decomposing granitic clay was exposed along the southwest tide-flats, and quartz veins and blue slates were found on the same side of the island further in!" The huge granite boulders on the south-east aspect and the granite escarpments on the shoulders of the hills above did not apparently attract attention.

One feature then existent has also disappeared. The explorers referred to the belt of magnificent calophyllum trees along the margin of the south-west beach, and Mr Dalrymple thus describes a vegetable wonder-- "Some large fig-trees sent out great lateral roots, large as their own trunks, fifty feet into salt water; an anchor-root extending perpendicularly at the extremity to support them. Thence they have sent up another tree as large as the parent stem, at high-water presenting the peculiarity of twin-trees, on shore and in the sea, connected by a rustic root bridge." These trees have no place or part now.

My chronicles are fated to be tinged with the ashen hue of the commonplace, though the scenes they attempt to depict are all of the sun-blessed tropics.


Consultation of the map will show that Dunk Island has four satellites and seven near relations. Though not formally included in the Family Group it stands as sponsor to all its members, and overlords the islets within a few yards of its superior shores. The official chart has been revised,

Only a few examples of current titles are given, as the crowding in of the full list would have obscured the map in a maze of words. Many of the geographical titles of the blacks are without meaning, being used merely to indicate a locality. Others were bestowed because of the presence of a particular tree or plant or a remarkable rock. Some few commemorate incidents. Two places on Dunk Island perpetuate the names of females. The coast-line is so varied that specific names for localities a few hundred yards apart hardly seem necessary; but the original inhabitants, frugal of their speech, found it less trouble to strew names thickly than to enter into explanations one to another when relating the direction and extent which the adventures and the sport of the day led them. Few names for any part of the island away from the beach seem to have existed, although the site of camps along the edge of the jungle, and even in gullies as remote as may be from the sea, are even now apparent. Camps were not honoured by titles, but all the creeks and watercourses and other places where water was obtainable were so invariably, and camps were generally, though not always, made near water.

Brief reference to each of the satellites and neighbours of Dunk Island may not be out of place; if only to preserve distinctions which were current long before the advent of white folks, and to make clear remarks in future pages upon the different features of the domain over which the Beachcomber exercises jurisdiction. Not to many men is permitted the privilege of choosing for his day's excursion from among so many beautiful spots, certain in the knowledge that to whichsoever he may elect to flutter his handkerchief is reserved for his delight; certain that the sands will be free from the traces of any other human being; certain that no sound save those of nature will break in upon his musings and meditations.

Purtaboi, the first and the nearest of the satellites, lies three-quarters of a mile from the middle of the sweep of Brammo Bay--always in view through the tracery of the melaleuca trees. Mung-um-gnackum and Kumboola, to the south-west, are linked at low-water spring tides to Dunk Island and to each other; and Wooln-garin, to the south-east, is separated from the rocky cliffs and ledges of the island by 300 yards of deep and swiftly-flowing water.

Purtaboi--dainty and unique--its hill crowned with low-growing trees and shrubs, a ruddy precipice, groups of pandanus palms, beach lined with casuarinas, banks of snow-white coral debris, ridge of sharped-edged rocks jutting out to the north-western cove and out-lying reef of coral, tangle of orchids and scrub all in miniature--save the orchids--gigantic and gross and profuse of old-gold bloom. In October and November hosts of sea-birds come hither to nest, and so also do nutmeg or Torres Straits pigeons, blue doves, peaceful doves, honey-eaters, wood-swallows, the blue reef heron, and occasionally the little black cormorant. The large-billed shore plover (ESACUS MAGNIROSTRIS) deposits her single egg on the sand, merely carelessly whisking aside the casuarina needles for its reception.

Hundreds of terns (six species) lay their eggs among the tinkling coral chips, and discarding all attempts at concealment, practise artistic deception. So perfect is the artifice that the eggs are frequently the least conspicuous of the elements of the banks of drift, broken coral and bleached shells. Not until each square yard is steadfastly inspected can they be detected, though there may be dozens around one's feet, the colours--creamy white with grey and brown and purple spots, and blotches and scribblings--blending perfectly with their environment. The eggs, by the way, are a great delicacy, sweet, nutty, and absolutely devoid of fishy flavour. When the downy young are hatched they, too, are almost invisible. They cunningly lie motionless, though within a few inches of your hand, and remain perfectly passive when lifted. Snoodling beside lumps of coral or beneath weather-beaten drift-wood, they afford startling proof of the effect of sympathetic coloration. When one stoops to pick up a piece of wood, whitened and roughened by the salt of the sea, and finds that more than half its apparent bulk is made up of several infants in soft swaddles, crowded together into a homogeneous mass, the result is pleasing astonishment. Only when individuals of the group move do they become visible to their natural enemies. These tender young birds enjoy no protection nor any of the comfort of a nest; and if they were not endowed from the moment of birth with rare consciousness of their helplessness, the species, no doubt, would speedily become exterminated, for keen-sighted hawks hover about, picking up those which, failing to obey the first law of nature, reveal themselves by movement. If the wind is tempered to the shorn lamb, what is the provision of Nature which enables so tender a thing as a young bird, a mere helpless ball of creamy fluff, to withstand the frizzling heat with which the sun bleaches the broken coral? Many do avail themselves of the meagre shadow of shells and lumps of coral, but the majority are exposed to the direct rays of the sun, which brings the coral to such a heat that even the hardened beachcomber walks thereon with "uneasy steps," reminding him of another outcast who used that oft-quoted staff as a support over the "burning marl." Gilbert White relates that a pair of fly-catchers which inadvertently placed their nests in an intolerably hot situation hovered over it "all the hotter hours, while with wings expanded and mouths gaping for breath, they screened the heat from their suffering young." Parental duty of the like nature does not appear to be practised for the benefit of the young tern; but they are well fed with what may be considered thirst-provoking food. Thirst does occasionally overcome the instinct which the young birds obey by absolute stillness, and a proportion of those which give way to the ever-present temptation of the sea falls to the lot of the hawks. Mere fluffy toddlers, with mouths

The Confessions of a Beachcomber - 6/57

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