Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Whitsundays a different slant on history

History Whitsundays

A Land Before People

My story begins 30,000-50,000 years ago, just before the Whitsundays first human inhabitants arrived. It's not quite the place we see now, but the similarities are there. My story will progress through the ages. It's a different sort of story, about the change of Australia though my eyes. The story starts in an area you might call The Whitsundays. The landscape then looked a bit different. It's an ancient, rugged landscape shaped by the upheaval of a growing earth scarred by volcanic activity and moulded by the elements. I'm standing at the site of present day Airlie Beach and all around me I see inland mountains not huge, but worn over time. I look to the east, and for the next sixty kilometers the undulating landscape continues. I notice a volcanic plug (the remnants of an anciet volcano where the softer outer rock has eroded, leaving the solidified core of harder rock exposed). It looks different, but also familiar; it's a dry, arid enviroment that is around 200 kilometers from the east coast of terra australis (a southern land mass unchartered). At this time in history the northern polar ice cap expanded half way down present day Canada and much of the worlds water was locked up in the polar caps, resulting in lower sea levels than today. The air was a bit cooler back then.

Global Warming

I'm still hanging around Airlie (I reckon this place will kick off one day). It's now 18,000 years ago and things will start to change over the next few millenia; the coast that was 200 kilometers away started to creep towards my bushshack and those mountains to the east are a hard walk through the soggy gullies and valleys. I get a great 360-degree look at rainforest in the valleys and some sort of pine trees on the rocky slopes. I don't know what started this change, but I said to the missus when them fellas up north discovered fire that something was going to change. Wouldn't you know it, they start moving into places with fire and the ice caps began melting, and I wake up one morning only 8,000 or maybe 10,000 years ago and my bushshack now has water views. Those mountains to the east seem to be floating on the most beautiful body of water I have ever seen. The waters that support those islands are teaming with life of all sizes, shapes, and colours, the land around me has also transformed into some sort of tropical oasis supporting an ever increasing diversity of flora and fauna. What else could I do, but grab the missus and sit on the verandah to watch the view change over the next few thousand years.

Bloody Tourists

As time went on, I never tired of that view (it's about 6,000 years ago now and thankfully the waters have leveled out). I've not only got water views, but I'm absolute beach front (there goes the rates!). I've thanked all my gods for the views and serinity every day, but suddenly out of the blue, people started arriving. To start with, it was only a few who seemed to have a look and move on, but the missus warned me that they would not find anywhere nicer than this; and they would be back. As usual, she was right and we now have neighbours! The Ngaro's are a family and my new neighbors, and within 2000 years they will have spread througout the region and prospered. They were in their element with all the game and seafood they could eat. One Ngaro family member, and my next door neighbour, Billy, was a family elder and a very smart man. He explained to me the importance of the family maintaining this beautiful enviroment and managing their resources so their kids and further generations would continue to thrive. Billy explained to me that this philosophy had been passed down the generations before him. In the meantime, his family had spread and diversified to the islands and became master navigators, much more adept to the ocean than himself. I went fishing with Billy once; bloody three pieces of bark whipped together with a bit of vine and a tree branch carved into a paddle (all assembled in a couple of minutes). He gave the paddle to me with a laugh, but it was funny how very safe i felt. He showed me how his family made fish traps in tidal bays and how they had decorated caves with stories of their adventures; he even showed me a quarry on an island where his family mined beautiful black volcanic rock that had a nice sharp edge and made good tools. He told me they used this rock for thousands of years and how they utilized different islands for different things. He showed me one island where he went to hunt pigeon and one beach where he hunted turtles and dugongs. Wallabies and timber for paddles were found in a different little bay. He also told me that some of his more ocean going relatives had noticed something about 95 kilometers from shore. There there seemed to be some sort of massive growth underwater which supported huge amounts of sea life. This was the Great Barrier Reef in it's infancy (the reef is only around 8,000 years old). On another of Billys trips, I saw what I thought were some of Billy's rellies in a different sort of boat. Unlike our three-piece bark canoe this was an outrigger type vessel. When I pointed this out to Billy, who had taken notice long before I, he said they weren't direct kin of his. They were island dwelling people. When I asked why he wasn't chasing them from the area, he explained to me that his family doesn't own the land, but that he and his family were part of it. They are the custodians of it, and the island was for all to enjoy. He had no problem with people sharing this place with him; smart man that Billy.

What The

Time had been travelling along pretty well. The Ngaro's and I had enjoyed the last few thousand years and I was finally understanding what Billy meant when he talked about being part of the land. Billy, his family, the missus and myself, were heading down the beach for a picnic a couple of hundred years ago, when the most amazing sight betook us and sent Billy and his kin into a real spin. Before us was a vessel of the size and shape I had never seen before. It carried many men with huge sails that pulled it through the ocean. I was excited to see such a grand vessel and I asked Billy what he thought. His answer alarmed me; he told me that his cousins down south mentioned the big ship and the aftermath of its arrivial. This worried Billy greatly. He feared that these people didn't want to share the land with his family, but that they would want the Ngaro to leave and they would claim the land for themselves. What worried him the most was the question: "Who would look after the land if he and his family were not here?" I tried to reason with Billy and tell him these strangers wouldn't simply take the land and that he should trust these men, and treat them as he would treat anyone else. Eventually Billy understood what I was saying and we decided to greet the visitors...


Billy and I jumped into the canoe and went out to greet the visitors. When we reached the vessel these strangers seemed a little reluctant to let us aboard. Soon a fair and eloquently dressed man (with what seemed to be some sort of animal on his head) introduced himself from the top deck as Leiutenant James Cook. Billy and I looked at each other, and, not knowing what else to say to this gentleman, I led the charge with a "G'day Jimmy" and then proceeded to introduce Billy and myself. Although a little taken back by our familiarity, Jimmy eventually opened up to us and indeed proved to be a good bloke. He said he could use a hand with navigating around the islands. Apparently he didn't like looking at the coral through the bottom of his boat! I jumped at the opportunity, but Billy declined. I'm not sure why, it just didn't feel good to him. I remember Jimmy showing me his ships log and making a notation in reference to the superb anchorage this area would make. I noticed the page in Jimmys diary had "Sunday the third of June 1770" written on the top. This was to be a special Sunday; Whit Sunday and thats what he said he would call this beautiful place: "The Whitsundays". After all the comotion, I quietly mentioned it was Monday, but he muttered something about datelines and how Whitmonday just didn't sound right. Later, we spent a little time cruising the islands and I showed him some different passages Billy had shown me. He recorded everything in detailed map form. Jimmy named an island to the south east of what is now known as Hamilton Island, he called it Pentecost Island. We also sailed past a familiar rock formation which was the volcanic plug I used to admire many thousands of years ago. The island this plug was on was on the east of what Jimmy named The Whitsunday Passage, this island was to become known as Whitsunday Island. Anyway, Jimmy said he had to sail up the coast and later towards The Sandwich Islands. He asked if the missus and I would like to leave with him... I must admit, I may have come across in an offensive manner, such was the haste of my declining Jimmy's offer. We weren't going anywhere! As he dropped me off at home, I mentioned to be careful of those hard playing Polynesian fellas, but he seemed to take no heed to my advice (I later found out that he indeed played with our Polynesian brothers, but not the entertaining game he was looking for).

Work In Progress

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