Thursday 4 May 2023

So anyway, it's Thursday


The only remarkable thing about this report is that the photo of the unfortunate - and prophetically nicknamed - Stumpy shows him proudly holding a fish that is not, for once, a barramundi. Honestly, you'd think barramundi are the only fish they have in Australia - in the sea, in rivers, on the menu. But that's by the by. What this story really reminded me of was my Cape York trip way back in 2006, before this blog began.

It was exciting to be invited because, like most people, including Australians, I'd never been to this bit of Oz before. It turned out to be a proper expedition. It started in Cairns with a flight to Horn Island, one of the Torres Strait islands, from where we chugged on a ferry to Thursday Island, naturally - this is Australia - known as TI, the smallest in the group. It was unimaginatively named by Capt. Bligh for the day he sailed past it, but some have called it Thirsty Island because it had no reliable water source. During WW2, the soldiers garrisoned there were allowed only a pint of water each a day. Ten degrees from the equator!
It's a quiet place, mostly because everyone is driven indoors for the air con. It's had a lively past, though. There's a fort built in 1892 on top of a hill, with big guns installed to repel a Russian invasion (which never came). A test shot landed in the schoolyard of a neighbouring island - at lunchtime. In the cemetery are 700 graves of Japanese pearl-divers, who actually dived for the shell rather than the 1:1000 chance of a pearl. It was the main industry in northern Australia for about 60 years until the invention of plastic for buttons. TI also claims the world's smallest cathedral, a cute wooden building with excellent stained-glass windows memorialising even more tragic events. Most notable was the sinking in 1890 of the RMS Quetta, which hit an uncharted rock and sank in five minutes, drowning almost half of the 292 people on board, mostly British migrants.
The crocs probably couldn't believe their luck. Estuarine, or salt-water crocodiles - aka salties - rule the waters here, and there are graphic warning notices right across northern Australia wherever people are likely to be tempted for a dip. Wandering around TI's little town, I ended up on the beach and watched with interest as a couple of burly workmen stripped to their grunds and took a tentative splash in the shallows. Later, when we started our week-long tour down from the tip of Cape York back to Cairns, our laid-back guide got very insistent on beach strolls - "Please, please, please stay away from the water!"

But people, even old hands like Stumpy, get careless all the time, and the crocs are always there, waiting.

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