A quick weekend in Townsville

Having spent Christmas on Norfolk Island with a lovely trip to Phillip Island, I got back to North West Queensland but hadn’t quite shaken the travel bug. There was nothing happening in Mount Isa that first weekend so I decided to do a quick 900km trip to Mount Isa-On-Sea, or Townsville as it is sometimes known.  I set off early on Friday morning and got to the coast by 4pm. I took a detour 9km to the summit of Mt Stuart to take in the view of Castle Hill, the city and Magnetic Island in the distance.

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Named for Clarendon Stuart, Townsville’s first district surveyor in 1859, it has an elevation of 584 metres with great views in every direction. Below is the view through the haze of the Hervey Range north-west of Townsville.

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The summit is composed of granite formed 265 million years ago. Mt Stuart is high enough to have its own ecosystem including endemic grass trees. Also called blackboys for their distinctive colour, the scientifically-named Xanthorrhoea johnsonii can grow to five metres with spikes containing thousands of tiny white flowers. Bushfires blacken the trunks but do not kill the plants. The highly resinous leaves depend on fire for survival and it stimulates flowering.

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After walking around the summit track I drove the short distance to town and checked into a hotel. The following morning was the event that was the excuse for the weekend. That was the parkrun at Riverway. I got up early Saturday morning and drove the 10km to the suburb of Thuringowa. The course runs alongside the Ross River and this was the view from the Federation Footbridge at Black Weir near the start line.

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I enjoy doing parkruns every Saturday morning, mostly at Mount Isa. But I’ve become a parkrun tourist and Riverway was the 14th different course I’ve done. It was a lovely course with beautiful riverside views though the stifling humidity ensured there would be no Personal Best times set. The organisers didn’t manage to get a photo of me, but I’m in the pack here somewhere.

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After getting back to the hotel for a shower, I set out for breakfast and then some exploration. I’ve travelled to Townsville numerous times before but I think it is an underrated town especially compared to its more glamorous neighbour Cairns. Below is the Victoria Bridge, a heritage-listed swing bridge over the Ross Creek. The central-pivoting swing bridge was constructed in 1888 and is one of only two of its type in Australia. To the right is Townsville’s tallest building, the Hotel Grand Chancellor, nicknamed the “Sugar Shaker”.

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Across the creek is Towsnville’s newest attraction, the 25,000-seater North Queensland Stadium (with Mt Stuart in the background). The stadium opens in February and as the sign says Elton John will play there on leap year day. It will be the permanent home of the North Queensland Cowboys rugby league team.

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Next up was a walk to Castle Hill via the Goat Track. To get to that I had to walk up Hale St with the heritage-listed Sacred Heart Catholic cathedral in a commanding position in the foreground. Built between 1896 and 1902, it is a substantial brick building of Gothic style.

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The Goat Track to the top of Castle Hill is only 1.3km long but with a thousand steps to negotiate, it is a tough undertaking especially in the middle of a humid summer. As the name suggests, wild goats lived on the hill but ravaged native vegetation. In the 1880s the Townsville Herald voiced public outrage at the denudation of Castle Hill and the Townsville Municipal Council established a Recreation Reserve of 228 hectares.

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The path is hard work even for Townsville’s many fitness fanatics. But the views from its many lookouts at the top make the effort worthwhile, such as this one straight out east over the beachside suburbs, Cleveland Bay and Magnetic Island.

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Townsville sprung into being thanks to its port. The Burdekin River’s seasonal flooding made the establishment of a seaport further north essential to the growing cattle industry in the 19th century. Cattle remains important but Townsville’s proximity to Asia is strategically important in the 21st century. The Port of Townsville operates eight berths and is the largest container and automotive port in Northern Australia. Much of Mount Isa’s mineral wealth ends up here.

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The height of Mt Stuart and its dominant position west of town can be most clearly appreciated from the top of Castle Hill. Like Mt Stuart, Castle Hill itself is a pink granite monolith 286 metres high (some 300m shorter than Mt Stuart).town10

The view north of Castle Hill shows Cape Pallerenda. Now a conservation park, Cape Pallarenda was once a quarantine station in the early 1900s and a strategic defence location in World War II. Visitors can walk and ride the Cape Pallarenda Trails to see the World War II structures on the headland. This photo also shows the WWII communications and observation post on Castle Hill itself.

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After heading back to the hotel for another shower, I headed out again, this time to The Strand, the city’s long strip along the coast. I was keen to cool down with a swim in one of the netted areas which keep out the summertime marine stingers. But even here the lifeguards had closed the beach. The reason: sightings of crocodiles. Fair enough, I doubt if a bit of netting would be much impediment to a big hungry reptile.

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I walked further along the Strand and found this monument which was not there last I was here. This is the Ocean Siren, the inaugural sculpture in what is planned to be the Southern Hemisphere’s first Museum of Underwater Art. Installed just before Christmas, British marine sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor’s Ocean Siren is an environmental warning modelled on local Wulgurukaba Traditional Owner Takoda Johnson. It reacts to live water temperature data from the Davies Reef weather station and changes colour in response to live variations in water temperature.

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By now hot and sweaty for the third time that day, I did finally find a place to swim. This was at the safe Strand Rockpool. The pool was shut down with an algal bloom infection in September but was open and packed when I came calling in January. And not a croc in sight.

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Refreshed after a dip I continued north to Jezzine Barracks at Kissing Point. Kissing Point Fort was built in 1891 as a two-gun battery and part of the coastal defence scheme being established to protect Queensland from fear of attack from imagined European enemies such France and Russia. The Barracks complex was built in the second world war to counter a more real enemy: Japan. Along the path is a large-scale map of the Battle of the Coral Sea. Townsville was the largest Allied operational base in the South West Pacific and played an important support role in that battle.

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Townsville was bombed three times in WWII. The first raid on the night of 25-26 July 1942 saw several Japanese flying boats dropping six bombs, all landing in the sea. The second raid on 28 July saw an airboat dropping eight bombs which landed near Many Peaks Range. The following night the same pilot returned and six allied aircraft unsuccessfully attempted to intercept him before he jettisoned seven bombs in Cleveland Bay and an eighth near the Animal Health Station at Oonoonba, causing the only casualty: a coconut tree.

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Tired after my exertions and sweating profusely yet again, I retreated towards my hotel, for yet another shower and the comfort of air conditioning. The following day it was back on the road west to the Isa, a quick 1800km round trip in three days. But Townsville, I’ll be back. There’s at least two other parkrun venues there to be explored.

John McDouall Stuart, Australia’s greatest European explorer

captureI confess that of the European explorers of Australia, the one I’ve least found fascination for is John McDouall Stuart. I can’t fully explain why this is the case, maybe it’s his surly Scottishness (the word dour is even hidden in his name) or the fact that his exploits came from South Australia and not the east coast which I’m more familiar with.  Whatever it was, I admit I have underestimated his greatness after reading John Bailey’s Mr Stuart’s Track.

Stuart was a loner who battled alcoholism and ill-health due to stomach ulcers to become the first European to cross Australia from south to north and then back again. His exploits ensured Adelaide was the base of the Overland Telegraph to the East Indies. It was a journey a long way from Dysart, north of Edinburgh, where Stuart was born in 1815 and was orphaned by age 10. After a difficult youth he enrolled at the Scottish Naval and Military Academy and graduated as a surveyor. Career options were limited due to his short stature and his chronic stomach ulcers and he sailed to Adelaide in 1838 where he joined the South Australian survey department.

Here he learned the rudiments of bushcraft travelling to the edge of settled regions for weeks at a time dividing the bush into squares for settlement. He quickly became an accomplished bushman, learning self reliance and outlasting most others on long rides, often 50km or more a day.  But he lost his job after the economic depression of the early 1840s. In 1844 he heard his former surveyor-general boss and explorer Charles Sturt was launching a new expedition to the still unknown centre of Australia. Sturt believed the birds he saw flying north were heading to an inland sea and he was determined to find it.

Stuart signed on to Sturt’s expedition as a draughtsman and they left Adelaide for Menindee. Despite several sorties west from the Darling, the party found no waterholes and they were trapped for months at Depot Glen near Milparinka. After the death of a fellow traveller, Stuart was promoted to chief draughtsman and he led several sorties to find Sturt’s phantom lake. But all they found was Sturt’s Stony Desert (SA) and the Simpson Desert (Qld) and the expedition returned to Adelaide after 18 month feeling it was a failure.

Stuart’s stomach ulcers flared up on his return home and out of action for 12 months, his doctor feared he would not recover. He slowly recovered and worked as a surveyor in the outback. In the Flinders Ranges he took on engagements for wealthy business partners and landholders William Finke and James Chambers. Finke took Stuart into uncharted regions to find copper and gold. While out prospecting, Stuart would tell Finke about the Sturt expedition and his belief in Wingillpin, supposed well-watered country known to Aborigines beyond the frontier.

In 1858, Finke decided to fund Stuart’s first expedition as leader to find Wingillpin and its treasured grazing lands. Setting out from Chambers’ Oratunga mine they went clockwise around Lake Torrens and then north-west, 50km a day, heading wherever he thought he could find water. The sight of ducks was cheery and he arrived at a place he named Chambers Creek, which would become crucial in the journeys to follow.  After another 12 days he was surrounded by sandhills, which gave way to bare stony plains, quashing his hopes of finding Wingillpin. He headed south low on water past where Coober Pedy would be founded, through stony plains, mulga scrub and sandhills before arriving at the Great Australian Bight and eventually finding a settler’s outstation supplied by sea.

Stuart’s three month journey was the talk of Adelaide on his return. He was a hero and a battling bushman who made great discoveries without any government assistance. Finke and Chambers studied Stuart’s map and journal with particular interest in Chambers Creek. Under Chambers’ direction Stuart applied for 1500 square miles of land but the government demanded a fresh survey to clear up inconsistencies in maps. In 1859 Chambers and Finke charged Stuart to take Chambers’ cattle to the creek and see what else of value he could find in the region. The second expedition was born.

The squatters were particularly interested in the possibility of finding gold, which had transformed the next door colony of Victoria. Stuart set off on April 2, taking a new route between Lake Torrens and Lake Eyre. He named Herrgott Springs for David Herrgott, the Bavarian artist commissioned by Chambers, who found the new water source. A week later Stuart was back at Chambers Creek where he named a hill Mount Polly after his faithful horse. After completing a survey his party headed north-west and found Elizabeth Springs named for Chambers’ daughter. They found no gold but came upon a spring of water gushing from a creekbed he called the Spring of Hope. Further springs fed by the Great Artesian Basin took them north of present day Oodnadatta but Stuart’s flaring ulcer and the lack of horse shoes forced him to retreat just 160km from the border of the Northern Territory, then administered by New South Wales.

On his return to Adelaide Stuart went immediately to Chambers’ house and gave him the new maps. Chambers retraced the maps, removed the locations of good lands and possible golds and renamed many of Stuart’s features in favour of local politicians. Mount Polly was one of the few features to survive the cull and the new sketch map was sent to Governor Richard MacDonnell, who, while angry at the missing bits, was even more galled at having nothing named for him.

The government remained reluctant to issue Stuart his permit and instead sold some of it at auction. But there was a new consideration. The rival colony of Victoria had announced a transcontinental crossing using camels and South Australia needed to send its own exploring hero to win the race. Nevertheless Chambers had already Stuart north – to find what lay north of Lake Eyre and also see where gold might lie.

Barely a month after the second expedition and not fully recovered, Stuart was off on his third in November 1859. This time his second-in-command was William Kekwick, whose quiet ways suited Stuart. They followed the Lake, even finding fish. However Stuart could not solve its mystery and it wasn’t until 1897 that its massive basin was fully mapped. Stuart meanwhile was suffering with the eye infection trachoma but still found springs he named for Kekwick. They found no gold and returned to Chambers Creek where he sacked his team except for his loyal deputy.

There at Chambers Creek he decided on his fourth expedition to find a way through to the centre with the help of Kekwick. They found only one other taker, an 18-year-old youth named Ben Head. They started in a rare downpour, floundering in mud and high creeks. Three week out from Chambers Creek they were in new country and west of Oodnadatta they named Mount Ben and Heads Range for their new companion. Heading North West they moved into the Territory where they threw their hats into the air and cheered. Stuart found central Australia’s largest river (though it was only a few pools) which he named the Finke for his sponsor.

They then found a sandstone monolith they called Chambers Pillar for his other sponsor and a week later a high broken range that finally got the governor on to the map – the MacDonnell Ranges.  Heading north they found no water so they headed back but continued their hunt for the centre which Stuart judged to be his camp site at 111° 00′ 30″. A few kms north Stuart named a high mount Mount Sturt “after my commander” (though it was later renamed Central Mount Stuart by Chambers).  They planted a flag in the cairn and gave three cheers as “a sign to the natives that the dawn of liberty, civilisation and Christianity is about to break on them”.

They continued north, Stuart aiming for the Victoria River, 800km away.  Headed for the harsh Tanami Desert they found a spring and then a native well but then nothing. After three dry days Stuart knew he had to turn around and began a desperate journey back in thirsty ill-health. As well as scurvy, Stuart had his ulcers and severe shoulder pain when Polly dismounted him when frightened by a wallaby. Yet back at Mount Sturt they headed north again finding water and helped by thunderstorms. They found Bonney Creek, Tennant Creek and Bishop Creek but ended up back in the Tanami stuck in heavy scrub. At another creek he encountered the Warumungu people who were initially friendly.  Then suddenly they had 30 warriors blocking their path screaming and holding raised spears. The three white men retreated showered in boomerangs, their way confused by deliberately lit grass fires. Stuart and Kekwick fired shots at them and they dispersed with Stuart not giving much away about how many he killed, “coming near us we gave them another reception.” He named the site Attack Creek they arguably the Warumungu were defending their scarce water supply.

They whites headed for home, an agonising slow journey 1900km to the steamer at Port Augusta. When finally back in Adelaide on October 7, 1860 everyone knew he had solved the mystery of the inland, but he rushed to Chambers who again changed names on Stuart’s maps (including Central Mount Stuart). The newspapers however were more worried about a race to the north as Victoria had mounted the Burke and Wills Expedition. South Australia was in doubt their hero could beat them if given the chance.

The South Australian government gave £2500 to outfit the expedition and offered another £2000 if successfully completed. Stuart was still weakened from his fourth expedition but interviewed nine men to join him on the fifth as well as Kekwick and Head. Stuart arrived at Chambers Creek on December 12 and set off north on New Year’s Eve with 11 men and 49 horses, his biggest and best equipped expedition. In intense heat they travelled north to the Finke River finding little water and the tracks from his previous trip to the MacDonnell Ranges were still visible. They marched on through the ranges to Bonney Creek which he hoped would lead to the Victoria River and the north coast but it dribbled away to nothing.

They headed north into the Sturt Plains and found an important new reach of water. A jubilant Stuart named it Glandfield Lagoon after the mayor of Adelaide though Chambers would again have the last word later changing it to Newcastle Waters for the British secretary of state for the colonies. Attempts to reach the Gulf of Carpentaria from here were thwarted by deep holes in the black alluvial soil which trapped the horses. Other sorties north ended in dry scrub. In nine weeks he made 11 failed attempts to break through Sturt Plains and he retreated back to Adelaide feeling he had let his men down.

Despite failing to reach the sea, his support remained overwhelming. With no news of Burke and Wills, a telegraph line that needed laying and barely 100 miles to the Victoria, the state parliament was keen to fund a sixth expedition. As that prepared in November 1861 news came through Burke and Wills were dead. Stuart was more determined than ever to finish the job. He set off from Chambers Creek in January 1862 without Head but with Kekwick and others.

They rode hard through the summer heat heading north through the MacDonnell Ranges. By mid march they were at Bonney Creek, the first running water they had seen in 1500km. Back at Newcastle Waters Stuart considered how to bypass the Sturt Plain. In the next five weeks, he led sorties until one day he found an open grassy plain fed by natural basin. He called it Frew’s Ironstone Pond after a man in his party and later found Howell Ponds. He had found a path north.

Here they were stuck for a while before they found King’s Chain of Ponds and then McGorrerey Ponds. They followed the ponds which turned into a broad and deep creek he joyfully named Daly Waters for new governor Sir Dominic Daly who replaced MacDonnell. Stuart continue to go where the water led him. They followed a mostly dry riverbed he called the Strangways and was now in lands Europeans had travelled before (Leichhardt in 1845 and Augustus Gregory in 1856). The Strangways emptied into the fast flowing Roper River which they crossed with difficulty.

Here Stuart diverged from Gregory’s track to the Gulf to find a direct route to the top of the top end. They followed a Roper tributary he called the Chambers River through Arnhem Land into a lush tropical forest and landed on the Adelaide River which had been surveyed by British sailor Ben Helpman in 1839. They moved to a parallel river called the Mary for one of Chambers’ daughters and followed to the coast where it disappeared among the mangroves. The men sloshed through water for 10 kms before they cut their way through bushes and saw the waters of Van Diemen Gulf (east of Darwin) on 24 July, 1862. “The sea! the sea!” they cried in disbelief. Stuart took off his boots and lit his pipe, having satisfied a life dream. His travelling days were over.

Except of course, he needed to get home. They had a 3100km ride to do and dwindling supplies. Stuart’s comrades noticed the life seemed to have gone out of him and he no longer led from the front. On the Roper River, Stuart was seized with shoulder pain and had trouble breathing. Though he later resumed riding, it was in constant pain and his eyesight worsened.

Heading south through Sturt Plains was just as hard as heading north and the need for water was always desperate. Stuart was afflicted with scurvy and severe malnutrition and his men thought he would die. The journey was slow and difficult with Stuart needing to be lifted onto his horse. Eventually they constructed a stretcher for him to be carried between two horses. By November the emaciated party were spotted by a South Australian herdsman who told them Chambers had died three months earlier.

With Stuart fragile, Kekwick raced on to Adelaide to deliver the news. Stuart was mobbed in every town and his train finally arrived in the city on 17 December, greeted by a huge crowd. A doctor prescribed immediate rest and Stuart lay low until planned celebrations in the new year. On 21 January Adelaide’s biggest ever crowd gathered to watch the cavalcade as Stuart formally presented his journals and maps to governor Daly. It was the same day as 40,000 people attended Burke and Wills’ funeral in Melbourne.

Stuart took to the drink afterwards, to ill to travel bush again. He retired to Cobdogla station on the Murray then back to Adelaide before quietly sailing back to Britain in 1864. There he presented papers to Royal Geographical Society but lived in straitened circumstances until he died on 5 June, 1866, aged 50. He was buried at Kensal Green with seven mourners including his sister.

Stuart’s legacy was immense. Port Darwin was established in 1869. The international telegraph line followed his route within 10 years, linking Australia with news of the world. The railway line followed the track of his second expedition and the second world war saw the need for a highway to replaced the rutted telegraph track between Alice Springs and Darwin. In 1943 it was sealed and named for Stuart though only the central sections follow his route.

John Bailey calls Stuart Australia’s greatest explorer. He spent more time in the field and travelled further than any other taking part in Sturt’s exploration and leading six expeditions of his own. He revealed Central Australia in all its rugged glory,  though his promised “dawn of liberty, civilisation and Christianity” was never delivered to the original inhabitants who mostly lost their land and the lives to the settlers that followed Stuart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Phillip Island, Norfolk Island’s little brother

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I’m back on the mainland after a second visit to Norfolk Island over Christmas. Having explored much of the island on my earlier trip, this visit was more relaxing but it allowed me to do one unfinished item of business. That was a visit to the uninhabited smaller Phillip Island tantalisingly close, 7km to the south. Rough seas stopped me from getting there in October and it seemed I would be frustrated again this time round until the ocean calmed down on my last day.pi2
At 5am that final morning we headed down to Kingston pier and joined a half dozen other tourists for the short journey. A local charter company took us over. Skipper Dave (aboard) guided the boat into the water using the crane. Ron (in the light blue shirt) was our island guide.pi3

We were soon hoisted down and then away through the break in the reef into the open ocean on an overcast morning. It was a quick and bumpy ride over choppy waves accompanied by flying fish who swooped out of the water while birds hovered above.pi4

Fifteen minutes we were slowing down as we approached Phillip Island. I was looking carefully for our landing spot and assumed it was where the two poles were. Whereever it was, it looked basic.pi5

As we pulled in, it seemed our landing spot was just a rock. Ron manouevered himself to the front of the boat and hopped off on to the rocks. I was next but had to wait as we bobbed to and fro in the tide. Eventually Ron gave me the signal and I jumped onto the rocks. It was slippery and I found out it was better to take off my walking shoes and walk on the wet rocks in my socks. After several attempts Dave and Ron got all the passengers off the boat. The concern was how this process would take place in reverse when we had to get back on.

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But for now there was exploring to be done. We had landed opposite the poles which were at the base of a makeshift hut used by fishers. It was a tricky landing for anyone, yet it was the best harbour the cliff-faced island had to offer.

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Speaking of cliffs, they were right above us and had to be climbed to begin our walk to the summit. I quickly put my boots on. There were steps and ropes but gravity made this an easier deal going up. Like the boarding, the hard part would be later when we had to descend.

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Just as I was the first off the boat, I was also the first to climb the ropes (one at a time) before we could start the walk proper. The entire island is part of Norfolk Island National Park.pi9

Though the island is uninhabited, it has felt the brunt of human interference. In the penal era, the British introduced pests such as pigs, goats and rabbits who removed the topsoil. They caused massive erosion devastating vegetation and leaving much of the island looking like a moonscape. The pigs and goats were removed by the early 20th century, and rabbits were exterminated by 1988.

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National Parks staff have undertaken a massive regeneration program and greenery is returning to Phillip Island. The island was named in 1788 by Norfolk’s first governor Philip Gidley King in honour of Arthur Phillip, the first governor of New South Wales. That put it ahead of its bigger and better known synonym in Victoria named for the same Phillip in 1798.pi10

The island’s isolation is a haven for the birds who inhabit it in large numbers such Sula dactylatra tasmani, or the Masked Booby (Tasman Sea). It breeds on Norfolk and Lord Howe Islands, including satellite islands. Boobies range widely over the ocean and occasionally reach Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. The chick (left) is as big as its parent. Booby comes from the Spanish word “bobo” meaning stupid person. The birds were considered stupid by Spanish sailors because they were unused to the danger of humans and landed on ships where they were easily killed for food.

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In the air the booby is far from ungainly. The male advertises his territory to females by flight circuiting—making a short flight and holding his wings in a ‘V’ shape and making a call as he lands. Their prey is the flying fish of which we saw plenty on the way to the island.pi11

Up top we could see Dave making his way back to the island again after dropping us off. The only other people we saw later in the day were a couple of volunteers who were planning to stay on the island for a month to monitor the bird life. There were no other tourists on Phillip Island that morning.

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Ron told more about the island. He has a long conservation history with the island and with Norfolk itself where he helped protect the endangered green parrot. Here he showed us subsidence between two ledges. This was level ground as recently as a decade ago and has subsided two metres due to topsoil erosion.

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Ron showed us Hibiscus insularis. This is the Phillip Island hibiscus, a species endemic to the island. H. Insularis was believed to be extinct and this is one of two small clumps where it survives. It has been propagated and planted more widely on the island, but only vegetatively which does not increase the genetic diversity. It produces greenish-yellow flowers that fade to mauve through most of the year.

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He also showed us this magnificent whitewood. The tree somehow survives despite having all its roots exposed as the erosion does its work.

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Birds such as the white-capped noddy love what vegetation survives. These birds are called noddies because of the behaviour of both sexes as they constantly dip their heads during their breeding display.  The bird breeds in large numbers on Norfolk, Phillip and the smaller Nepean Island.

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The Kermadec petrel ranges over subtropical and tropical waters of the South Pacific but Phillip Island and Lord Howe Island are the only two breeding places in Australian waters. The bird nests in a crevice among rocks and lives on squid and crustaceans.pi20

This old hut on the high end of Phillip Island is mostly disused but was the home of a now dead couple who tagged many of birds on the island. There is a more substantial hut lower down used by National Parks staff and volunteers.pi21

As we approach the summit, we get a view of the south east cliff faces at the appropriately named Lonely Bay. The cliffs are over 250m high and a great nesting place for birds.

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This was as close as we could get to the island’s highest point at Jacky Jacky. There was a razorback and insecure cliffs between where I took this photo and the highest point that kept it out of reach.

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This was the view looking north from the same spot over the island and the track we had taken with Norfolk and Nepean Islands in the distance.

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These cliffs on the south-east side were almost as high. In winter the cliff cavities provide homes for the Providence Petrel. The bird was hunted to extinction on Norfolk Island after the starving colonists arrived in 1798 but survived in this remoter region. Here and Lord Howe Island remain its only homes.

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Being summer I didn’t see any Providence Petrels but I did see plenty of sooty terns. Sooty terns breed in colonies on rocky or coral islands and are common on Norfolk and Phillip Islands. This migratory bird nests in a ground scrape or hole and lays one to three eggs. It feeds by picking fish from the surface in marine environments, often in large flocks, and rarely comes to land except to breed.

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The way back was less eventful and we all managed to clamber over the rocks and back on to the boat without too much difficulty, thanks to the expert reading of the waves by skipper Dave. But near the end, we did spot another item of unique local fauna. This is Cormocephalus coynei, a species of centipede found only on Phillip and Nepean islands. Also known as the Phillip Island centipede, it has been known since convict times but only scientifically recognised in 1984.