Last Leaves from Dunk Island, by E. J. Banfield

In Reserve

Though flocks of light-hearted tourists flee from. the searching cold of the South to bask for a brief season in the genial warmth of the North, there are scenes of fascination denied them. They may wander with unquiet haste far and wide to accredited beauty-spots, but sequestered ones of infinite charm are in reserve for the permanent dweller, who abhors the misuse of God’s good time, and disdains unholy zeal for quantity rather than quality in his scenery.

It may be but a proof of conceited simplicity on the part of an individual to proclaim such a spot or such another as the most satisfying, since a bare half-dozen people may be capable of confirming his opinions or confounding them. Yet, if these little-known charms were to remain uncommended, mischief might be wrought. Chivalry, too, should compel the fortunate individual who may have joy, special and peculiar, in a particular scene to give others pleasure by telling of the combination of blue sea and green islets and glowing sky which appeals more strongly than other land and sea scapes.

Among the islets of the Family group, sprinkled between Hinchinbrook and Dunk islands, not one is denied distinction. All are, for the most part, rugged on the Pacific slope, though some decorate even that exposed aspect with vegetation of a sumptuousness that conceals the crude, confused masses of granite. Each has a truncated sand-spit jutting out to the north-west, while two have masses of snow-white coral spoil, which clinks and chinks underfoot, and upon which shrill-voiced terns scatter, with careless profusion, daubed and spotted eggs. The waves that break on it with measured stride, scarcely whiter than the coral, wallow among its finger-shaped fragments, combing and rustling them, until all point obediently to the reef whence old Ocean tore them.

But not always does the sea burst roughly on those banks to overhaul and re-arrange its treasures in severe lines. More often it sleeps, and smiles in its sleep; and then the lighter and unconsidered coinage tinkles as it rolls under the impulse of playfully indifferent touches. Then, too, the hot rocks glisten with micaceous spangles, and, where the sand is, our toughened and unworthy feet are dusted with glittering specks. It is all wealth of a kind — not material in the accepted sense, but real enough if you are in the state of mind which is superior to the “toil of fools.”

When one wanders among such scenes, where there is no sign of traffic save that of his own footprints, no sound save the confidential whispering of the sea, the thin screams of terns and the whimsical cackling of scrub-fowl in the jungle, he becomes a part of the realm of Nature, a trivial and insignificant item soon to disappear, but for a brief space supreme — the only part of teeming Nature capable of disinterested joy in all the other parts. The sea will quickly smooth away the last trace of his trespassing feet, and will moan and gurgle in cool crevices whither bottle-green crabs scurry when the red-backed sea-eagle soars vigilantly overhead. Yet for a time he has been absorbed into the scene. He possesses it and is possessed by it, and will bring away with him a loving remembrance of it which entices beyond power of abstinence.

There is, of course, one scene which combines more of excellences than the others, however admirable individually. A little bay lies open to the turbulent south-easters, yet lacks not a sheltering cove wherein a small boat may nestle. The cove is formed by a bold and rounded mass of granite, on which pandanus palms and straggling shrubs find foothold. The boat glides round the sturdy rock, revealing a white beach, the sand of which has been ground to such singular fineness that it feels as silk underfoot. Where the anchor rests, it is rippled in correspondence with the gentle heaving of the sea, while patches of golden-brown weed sway to the same poetic motion. Coarse grass marks time at high-water limit.

From a low pinnacle of rock, on which an osprey is fond of perching, the virtues of the wider scene are best revealed. Five islets, wildernesses of leafage, trip out to the east. A mass of fantastic rocks, round which confusing currents swill, intercepts the fairway, and beyond the islets are the Brooke group, with Goold Island and Hinchinbrook to the right to complete the picture. The bay beneath is shallow close inshore, for coral is industriously building substantial domes and fragile lacework in limestone. The reef gleams dull-red through the blue water, and white and pale green patches show where sand has occupation of the unallotted places.

On a very still and clear day you may see turtles browsing on the weed below, and at any time they may burst upwards through the surface with splash and bubble for gulps of scented air.

On the rocks, piled high, is a long pencil-cedar log, weathered almost to the tone of the granite. It has reposed there, with but slight changes of position, for fifteen years and more, and the salt spray and the tepid rains have done it but small harm; but the rocks have fretted its sides as it has rolled uneasily when the seas have sought to claim it again. The old log is the one relic of the coarse effects of the hands of man. Few visit the spot. All its charms are held in reserve.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50