Under the sea, grass sways like a hula skirt around a giant clam. The underwater gardens of the Mackay Reef, off Cape Tribulation, in Far North Queensland, Australia are a natural wonderland. Global warming, the crown of thorns star fish invasion and coal mining, with its associated dredging and dumping off the coast, are the main threats to their survival.
The Great Barrier Reef risks being downgraded to a ‘World Heritage Site in danger’, thanks to the short sightedness of the current Australian Government. Despite warnings from UNESCO, a mega port development has been approved for dredging to create three shipping terminals as part of the construction of a coal port. The process will create around 3 million cubic metres of dredged seabed that will be dumped within the Great Barrier Reef marine park area.¹
Captain Cook, navigator and explorer, came up with some atrocious names for the spots he ‘discovered’ and mapped along the east coast of Australia. Many were named after jumped up lords, earls, and the odd prince, many of whom were dissolute and pompous members of the British aristocracy of the day.¹ Cook, the son of a farmer and once shopkeeper, was a self-made man and capitano, so was probably in awe of this lot, or was currying favour.
Other spots on the map were given sad, desolate names reflecting the way James felt at the time. Cape Tribulation and the nearby Mt Sorrow are two of these. As his ship, the Endeavour, ran aground on a coral reef midst this dazzling wonderland, the Great Barrier Reef, he was stuck for 46 days as repairs were carried out in nearby Cooktown. After he cursed and cussed, he named the area Cape Tribulation “because here began all our Troubles”.
Those of you who have visited the rainforest area around Cape Tribulation would not have experienced much sorrow, unless confronted by an ominous crocodile, or pestered by the incessant sand flies and mosquitoes. Dense rainforest fringes the ocean, the climate in the dry months is warm and the sea and its reefs offer an underworld garden of delight.
I’m sure that while Captain Cook was stressing about his boat repairs and writing his journal, the crew may have gone fishing and caught large prawns, coral trout and Barramundi, all abundant in these coral seas. Some of the crew may have gone beneath the sea to view the enchanting gardens of the reef.
Joseph Banks, naturalist and botanist, stole the show as he busied himself with documenting the exotic plants and flowers of the rainforest. Most of these plants and ancient trees can be seen today in the Daintree National Park, a listed UNESCO World Heritage site.
In his later and final voyage, Captain Cook was killed by Hawaiians, his body boiled up and stripped of flesh. Another rather bad day for this captain. He was known for treating the local inhabitants badly.
¹ Some place names in Australia named by Captain Cook after 18th century aristocrats include: Temple, Cockburn, Moreton, Keppel, Palmerston, Hillsborough, Townshead, Edgecombe, Halifax, Hervey, Hawke, Stephens, Howe, Cumberland, Gloucester, Grafton, Bedford, Weymouth, York, Rockingham and Dunk.
The original aboriginal name of Dunk Island was Coonanglebah meaning ‘ the island of Peace andPlenty.’ What a lovely name indeed!
Internet and phone service is patchy in Far North Queensland and non-existent in the Daintree National Park and Cape Tribulation. Hooray. Does absence make the heart grow fonder? I’m not sure: a break from constant contact is like a breath of fresh air. More conversational time spent in communal kitchens with world travellers, and more time to indulge in lazy afternoon reading.