Our Colourful Past

Are you sitting in your office or some urban dwelling, dreaming of a place where you change careers and become a plantation owner or artist, writer, naturalist or a beachcomber? Bedarra Island and surrounds is just such a place with a wonderful history, for it is one of successes and failures, because it deals with the life stories of many people, the land and the elements of nature that we live in.

The physical evidence is scant because the weather and white ants have removed much and the rainforest has returned and taken possession of its own again.

Our Ancients left behind Shell Middens which are usually in the best possible locations, a pleasant place, that's easy to get to, where there are plenty of shell fish. They are often fairly close to fresh water, in sheltered areas and can be found on our Islands. These are the evidence from ancient aboriginal activities and can include remains of hearths and cooking fires and burials. Middens are places where debris from eating shellfish and other food has accumulated over time containing shellfish remains, bones of fish, birds, land and sea mammals used for food. They can have charcoal from campfires and tools made from stone, shell and bone.

In June 1770 Captain James Cook on his voyage of discovery sailed the Endeavour into Rockingham Bay, but because in his opinion the area was poor, he did not come ashore, sailed past our group of small islands and onto Cook Town.

It is thought about 30 aboriginals, men, women and children stood on the sandy spit of Bowden Island gazing at Captain Cook's Endeavour as he sailed by and this is what gave Cook the idea of a family group, naming our small group of islands the Family Group of Islands. Cook only named Dunk Island, leaving them for others to christen. It was Edmund Banfield who gave us their ancient Aboriginal names in preference to the uninspiring European ones put on the map by early naval surveyors. Banfield took up Captain Cook's family theme when he referred to the father, mother, twins and triplets. It was also thought that Banfield misconstrued the aboriginal pronunciation of Biagurra as Bedarra.

In 1886 Captain GE Richards RN in a Navy survey ship HMS Paluma came along and named our small group of islands in honour of the officers aboard his ship.

The father Coonanglebah Dunk Island
  Purtaboi Mound Island
  Mugum Gnackum  
  Woln-Garin Forty Foot Rock
  Timana Thorpe Island
  Peerahmah Battleship Rock
The mother Bedarra Richards Island
The twins Toolghar Wheeler Island
  Coomboo Coombe Island
The triplets Kurrumbah Smith Island
  Budjoo Bowden Island
  Coolah Hudson Island

In 1913 Captain Henry Allason became the first to take up the freehold on Bedarra and Timana Islands - both islands for a purchase price of £20. He settled on the sandspit corner of Bedarra, near the spring. By owning both islands he could swim the strait between the islands on occasion. And we don't recommend you do that! He went to war in 1914 and was gassed in France and spent the remainder of his life recovering in Nice.

During the twenties, Ivan Menzies - an actor with the Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company - sought out Allason in France. Menzies' persuaded Allason to sell the island so that a home for underprivileged English boys could be established. Allason sold the island for £500 and never returned to the island.

The boys' home project failed to eventuate and in 1932 Menzies, who had never visited the island, sold his title to the Harris Syndicate of London.

For the next forty years, Bedarra Island was divided into several different holdings, each undergoing a series of small developments by Australian and European owners.

Noel Wood

A Thoreau disciple in the truest sense, of whom the Beachcomber, EJ Banfield would have approved, was to live on Bedarra Island in a beach house hidden behind the coconut grove at Doorila Bay. From1936 to 1993 Noel Wood was the artist in residence for nearly 50 years until he sold and subdivided his land. He called his shack, House of Singing Bamboo because much of it was built from bamboo. There are now seven privately owned houses and Noels' house still stands with its famous gin bottle wall, along with the cabin he built as his winter home and for his visitors at Coomool Bay. Today the cabin is part of the East Bedarra Resort. And the old studio rebuilt by Steve and Helen Wiltshire (a local artist) in 1986, which is located in a secluded valley amongst the old orchard trees has been refurbished.

This valley is where the spring is located and when Noel was in residence he landscaped the valley with terraces and planted a beautiful garden with many exotic fruit trees.

When Noel first arrived, before he got his boat he lived subsistently for a few months during the wet, living on green coconut milk and fish. At times he found it hard to paint because of the time required to garden, fish, maintain a small oyster lease at Coomool Bay, repairs etc so he found it more profitable to sign into the Tully Hotel to paint. His paintings hang in galleries around the world. In his own words he "wanted to get to a place with a warm climate, where one could live for approximately nothing and solve ones own problems in paint and colour".

The Noel Wood story started in 1935 in Adelaide, after a successful exhibition of his paintings which enabled him to finance his venture to North Queensland and find his "Garden of Eden" on Bedarra Island. Noel rarely left the island - although he did help out from time to time with the Dunk Island Resort in the 1940's. He also spent several years in Ireland and a year in the Hollywood film industry as an art director.

Noel Woods' and fellow painter Yvonne Cohen, who lived on nearby Timana Island, both shared a style of painting that revealed an affinity with the work of the Fauves. While Emily Albiston (Yvonnes sister) showed an interest in Cubism. Some of their work is on display at the Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, Townsville and the Cairns Regional Gallery.

Later in 1940 two rich men, Englishman Dick Greatrix and Frenchman Pierre Huret owned and lived on Bedarra at the sandspit for eight years until selling and moving to New Guinea. Huret laid out an attractive garden landscape, using Italian labour to shift tons of soil and great boulders to line the paths. Exotic plants and trees were introduced from overseas and from council Gardens in Cairns to merge with the natural forest beauty of the island.

In 1951, after several years and numerous changes in ownership, Ken and Cynthia Druitt became owners of a section of the island. The Druitts developed a small resort called "Les Tropiques", along pathways developed by Huret featuring cabins quietly hidden in the rainforest, just meters away from secluded beaches. In 1980 TAA bought it and ran it in conjunction with the Dunk Island Resort. The legend of the Hideaway Resort had begun and lasted until 1991, now abandoned, the rainforest has reclaimed its own once again but there are still remnants of Hurets' lovely garden in the rainforest. Today the Druitts cottage still stands and is located by walking westward from the main complex of Hideaway through the jungle to the end cabin on the sandspit. At one time it was the staff quarters for the Hideaway.

From 1941 to 1957 the artist John Busst leased the area that is now the Bedarra Island Resort. Eventually Busst had a mud brick home built in 1947 on the site which was in an ideal position atop the narrow peninsula between two attractive beaches - Hernandia Bay and Wedgerock Bay. The front veranda of the homestead style bungalow looked out to a striking view over sloping green lawns and coconut palms, across the white sands of Hernandia beach. The original Busst house included a big art studio built Spanish style facing an inner courtyard garden, colour washed mud brick walls, with wide shady verandahs running around the three outer sides of the U shaped dwelling, and high ceilings with cool bedrooms and a spacious dining room, gave the building a gracious air. Sadly, the house no longer stands today as it was demolished in the late 1980's.