Flinders Island, a memory

Flinders Island, a memory. (After three score years and nine)

Island after island arose from the sparkling waters of The Bass Strait,
Excitement gathered in the cabin, for a new adventure had begun.
The ANA, DC3 landed into a gentle westerly wind
At Whitemark, on Flinders Island, on July the eighth nineteen fifty-one.
The plane taxied back along the runway and halted beside the terminal,
A small building, standing alone, basking quietly, in the morning sun.

We walked down the sloping aisle, through the cabin door, to stand on the tarmac,
Breathing in the clear, pure, island air, taking in all that surrounded us.
The smells were intriguingly new, and after Launceston, the people few.
Met at the airport by the foreman of operations, welcoming, no fuss,
Then into the ‘company’ transport, different, not what was expected,
For the company’s limousine turned out to be a Land Rover, as bus.

We were taken to our new home, a vertical board, prefabricated cottage,
In ‘the camp’, nestled in a ti-tree clearing adjacent to Whitemark,
The principal town on the island and now centre for Soldier Settlement;
The rehoming of soldiers after World War Two, among swamp and paperbark,
Following land clearing by the Agricultural Bank, on Flinders Island.
My Dad, Pop, took up his position with the Ag Bank, as a storeman-clerk.

Whitemark, hunkered down in the ti-tree, administrative centre for the islands
At the eastern end of The Bass Strait, with Aitken’s Interstate Hotel in main street,
A Post Office, Bowman’s General store, Blundstone’s store and butchers shop,
Hospital, hall, Police Station and generator made this town complete;
Complemented with mail, fruit and bread brought in by air three times a week,
Servicing a thousand islanders and their needs, unobtrusively, – discreet.

We soon imported an A Model Ford, trailer and a ten foot dinghy
That opened up a new world of picnics, camping, fishing; a new lifestyle
When values were set, when each day new wonders were experienced.
Four kids, running free in an island paradise, having fun while
Exploring beach and ti-tree, in sunshine and wind, season upon season.
For four years and more this time in our lives proved so worthwhile.

Camping at the North East River, in cottage tents, sleeping on hessian hammocks
Made by stretching chaff bags between ti-tree poles mounted on forked sticks,
Innovative, comfortable, great for kids to dream of that day’s adventures;
Swimming, exploring, rowing boats, digging in the sand, took our pick.
Wading a net to catch fish for tea whilst dancing among crabs, constantly.
Lots of memories, lots of fun, so easy to be – forever nostalgic.

Beach hockey at Sawyers Bay, maybe a picnic at Trousers Point,
Watching cricket at the picturesque Ranga recreation ground.
Catching rock lobster from rocky ledges at Palana using limpets,
Threaded on wire and a landing net, not quite as easy as it sounds.
Ducks congregating at Logan Lagoon, Cape Barren Geese on paddocks feed
While Moon-Birds on the tens of Furneaux Islands are in burrows found.

Hours spent on Whitemark jetty watching the island traders come and go,
Unloading supplies brought from the Tamar, arriving when tide is high,
On the bottom at low tide, winches rattling, lifting goods ashore
While westerly winds sweep clouds across that enormous island sky.
The Shearwater, Prion, Margaret Thwaites and Leprena, Whitemark bound,
With Loatta, at deep water Port Davey, on the Flinders run all ply.

Lady Barron was the port where landing barges invariably came and went
Carrying dragline excavators to drain the swamps, bulldozers of many sizes
To clear the ti-tree, trucks to carry supplies and versatile Land Rovers
To access difficult sites, to ferry men from the camps, who specialized
In clearing the land, turning ti-tree scrub to farmland, grazing pastures.
The Returned Soldier Settlement Plan had begun to materialise.

Three classrooms at the school; grades 1/2, grades 3/4, grades 5 to 9,
All composites, all fun, lots of learning from older kids, good teaching staff
Who made learning interesting, in spite of a limited curriculum.
Early to school to grab a cricket bat in summer, or enjoying having a laugh
In winter, when all the kids played British Bulldogs at playtime breaks,
A less complex time without computers, mobile phones or telegraph.

Learn to Swim on the Whitemark beach, treading water in the swell.
The school dentist with his treadle, tooth-drilling machine grinding away
Before the school finally installed a diesel generator for light and power,
Enabling kids to see much better on those grey, overcast, winter days.
Riding bikes home in a westerly gale that sand blasted our legs with gravel
From the roadside – so much to recall about our Flinders Island stay.

During our stay, we moved from ‘The Camp’ into Whitemark, near the hospital
And the large Agricultural Bank store shed, the seat of administration.
The family grew by two, as both our sisters are Flinders Island born.
The A Model Ford was pensioned off, sold for farmland operations,
Sadly, converted to a ute, replaced by a ‘thirties something nine seater Ford,
Three doors down each side, V8, perfect for Flinders Island exploration.

In November fifty-five, to end this chapter in our lives, we left the island
Because I was in grade six, and as my parents valued education,
I was to go to high school in Launceston, better my chances, they reasoned,
For my siblings too, when their time came to each choose their vocation.
Island days were rarely replicated during the decades to come;
Always treasured, to be remembered, and having their own fascination.

We’ve sailed back several times since that time in our early, formative years
And when the Strzelecki Peaks appear above the horizon, I feel a welling inside,
A feeling of ‘coming home’, such was the experience I had back then.
I remember reading in later years that values are certainly allied
To when you are ten; ‘what you are is what you were when . . .’
I love the bush, the seascapes, the sun, the sand and the changing tide.

Bill Edmunds
July 2020