Lady Elliot Island memories
One of the reasons my wife, Willy, and I moved to Australia (in 1958) from Indonesia, as Dutch immigrants, was the Great Barrier Reef. Before the children were born, and as soon as they were old enough afterwards, we would take camping holidays on different islands of the Great Barrier Reef. In those days there weren’t many resorts and, frankly, we preferred to camp anyway – money being only one consideration. Usually we had to bring everything, our own water even. Compared to that, our two trips to Lady Elliot Island in the 1970s were a luxury. There was a hut and even water on the island!
Our first trip was in the mid-1970s and we had a very exciting plane trip to the island. We left from Maryborough in a two propeller plane and it was very cloudy. After a while the pilot said to us, “I wonder where the island is? It should be around here somewhere.”!!!!! Then, thankfully, there was a brief gap in the clouds and he saw the island, “There it is!” he exclaimed joyfully and quickly aimed the plane down to the dirt landing strip. Because of the weather, and the angle we came down at and the fact that the strip was dirt and short, it was very exciting. I think my wife thought we would end up in the water at the other end.
The “tourist” part of the island had been leased out to an entrepreneur from who we rented the only “donga” available as accommodation. So we didn’t have to bring tents, our blow-up sleeping mattresses or water – what opulence! There was a larger, two story building intended, we think, as a community hall/dining room area. There may have been accommodation associated with it. It was unused and we only went there once for a look. These two buildings were, as I recall, somewhere towards the north-eastern part of the island (or perhaps the south-east? – it was a while ago) so not in the same location as the resort today. That was the sum total of the “resort”; there were no staff or other facilities.
The old lighthouse was still in operation at that time and manned by a lighthouse keeper who we got to know a little. His wife had an extraordinary collection of thousands of seashells which she was keen to show off to Willy and I.
I recall a very large and fancy sailboat that had run aground on the edge of the reef some years before. We were able to walk right up to is and have a look at the time. It’s hull had been destroyed and its ballast spread all over the reef and reef flat.
We spent a lot of our time snorkelling off our donga, that was off the eastern part of the north-east side of the island. We also snorkelled off the eastern end of the south-east part of the island. A couple of times we went off the lighthouse but the weather was generally a bit rougher there. We also did reef walking and walking around the island was a regular ritual. Our hobby was looking for aquarium fish to collect for our saltwater fish tanks at home (we got permits to do this). While we were there, we kept the fish we caught in washing baskets with old, inflated car tyres tied to the top which could then float, anchored, in the lagoon. We lined the washing baskets with fine mesh nets to help keep the small fish in the basket. At the end of our two week trip, we used the tanks of oxygen we’d brought with us add oxygen to double-bagged plastic bags each containing one or two fish. The bags were then packed into Styrofoam lined cardboard boxes for the plane ride, and then car ride, home to Brisbane.
Each of our trips there was for about 2-3 weeks. We did most of our snorkelling in the reef lagoon. It was safer and easier since my wife wasn’t a diver. I had done quite a bit of diving with the diving club in Brisbane. We built our own dive gear in those days and dived in Moreton Bay. But I didn’t take that gear with me. I did, however, build my own underwater housing for the camera and took some underwater photos on LEI. Not very impressive photos, though procured at great effort.
Lady Elliot was very special to us; one of the few islands we came back to more than once. And now, just one more time...