Life on the Reef - Wednesday afternoon

If it was Wednesday, it had to be Thursday! This was an amusing and quite relaxing little stop off that filled the lunch time and afternoon nicely!

Once the breakfast was cleared by those who were up, after being eaten by those who were heading for an hour of quality bunk time, it was off underway again for the short cruise to Thursday Island.

Thursday Island is the administrative center for the Torres Strait islands which have been part of Queensland since 1872. "T.I." as it's usually known, is the most popular of the Torres Strait Islands. It's only just over three square km in area and 39km off the top of Cape York. The strait's population of 25 000 live on more than 20 islands, and is engaged mostly in fishing, prawning and a declining pearling industry.

TI is the point were Australia blends slowly with Asia and Polynesia in a charismatic, if slightly scruffy, trading port and defence post. As Australia's most northerly point, it has been a bustling commercial, fishing and pearling center as well as supplying the first line of defence from any northerly attack. All of this has made it an interesting place with a rich culture and history, enough to occupy a couple of museums there.

For our part, it was a case of dropping the passengers off for a 2 or 3 hour bus tour and wander round the streets of the main town shopping for souvenirs, A favourite of which was the amusingly sarcastic 'Thursday Island Institute of Technology' T shirt (yes, I own one!), a delightfully ironic gesture to the limited size of the place. It features a traditional college crest emblazoned with a prawn, an oyster and a can of beer.

Whilst the happy passengers went off for a soak in Island culture, the hard working crew slipped off for a couple hours well earned R & R in the famous Grand Hotel, again the irony wasn't lost on anyone who visited it! Before that, it was my task to visit the Coast Guard station to fax through the kitchen and bar orders for the following week of cruising. Miss this and nobody eats, or perhaps more importantly, drinks on the next trip.

The original Grand Hotel was opened in 1890 and entertained, amongst others, W Somerset Maughan who is believed to have written a few short stories from the veranda of the old hotel whilst enjoying a gin sling and taking in the spectacular view of the Torres Strait. But now it was the turn of the celebrity crew of the little ship to enjoy a few cold ones on the same wooden boards. Whilst researching this project, I discovered that the original Grand Hotel was sadly destroyed by fire in 1993, taking a lot of history with it.

One of the oddities of TI, at least it was then, was a slightly lax licensing system. What that meant was all you had to do was turn up at TI Police Station with any driving licence, pose for a mug shot and pay 20 bucks, and come away with a shiny new QLD driving licence! Yes, I picked up one of them too to go with my Institute of Technology T shirt.

Once we had sunk a few at the Grand, it was a race to get back to the boat before the passengers. Then the complex task of checking everybody back in to avoid the horrifying embarrassment of leaving somebody at TI! And no, never happened during my tenure!

Once all loaded, we made the turn and headed back south. The afternoon was one of the most scenic spells of the whole journey as, tide permitting, we headed through the narrow Albany Passage to get back to the reef. This is a narrow pass between York Island and mainland Australia, a beautiful cruise through rocks and beaches stunningly close by and offering fantastic views. Definitely an 'all on deck' part of the trip! Searched on the Internet for some pictures of this part but sadly nothing forthcoming, and as I have none myself, will have to leave it to your imagination (or memory if you made the trip!).


Cape York and Thursday Island
Thursday Island
Thursday Island circa 1900
Crew relaxing in the Grand Hotel

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