National Geographic : 1957 Jan
On Australia's Coral Ramparts citedly. In a mango tree not far from our cabin she had spotted a black, devilish-looking creature with a furred muzzle, glinting eyes, and pointed ears. As we watched it rasp away at a mango fruit, others began ar riving, their wings spreading more than three feet. These eerie animals were flying foxes, the huge fruit-eating bats of the Pacific tropics. Later, on the mainland, we saw them by the thousands, hanging by their feet in trees by day and darkening the sky at dusk as they scattered in search of fruit (pages 40, 41). To Australia's Northeast Tip From Cairns we continued our aerial jour ney northward, stopping briefly at the sleepy village of Cooktown. Then on we flew, over desolate uninhabited stretches of coastal swamp and jungle-the reef's shoals always discernible out to sea. Finally, many hundreds of miles north of Green Island, we put down at land's end on the very northeast tip of the great Australian Continent. Here, in the Torres Strait, lying between Cape York and the jungled shores of New Guinea, the Barrier Reef fans out broadly before being terminated by the New Guinea land mass. In this historic strait, through which Cook,* Bligh, and Flinders all sailed, are scattered such romance-conjuring islands as Mulgrave (Badu), the Murrays, Saibai, Darnley, and, of course, Thursday. Some still attract an thropologists in search of primitive cultures; others are barren and devoid of human life. Thursday Island falls into neither class. The day we arrived on Thursday Island the first rains of the wet season soaked parched soil and flowed into nearly depleted water tanks. As one would expect only 11 degrees from the Equator, the atmosphere was hot and humid. On a hilltop behind the town of Port Ken nedy, like a ghost of the past, lay the remains of an old fort overlooking the strait; on an other hill stood the remnants of more recent installations, for during World War II this area was of high strategic significance. Pearl and trochus shell provide the eco nomic basis for the settlement on Thursday Island. Picturesque pearling luggers often lie at anchor in the harbor, their crews of native divers swarming over the decks unload ing shell or coming ashore in crowded dinghies for a look at the town (page 33). Sharing our dining table were Vince Daly, the magistrate; Arthur Kirk, of the Depart ment of Native Affairs; Tom Weeks, the wireless station manager; and our friend Charlie Peverell, the local contractor. At dinner on the night of our arrival, I noticed Mr. Kirk's eyes upon us in a puzzled, scruti nizing way. Next day at luncheon he con tinued to study us and then, abruptly, in a flood of apparent recognition, he asked: "But where are the two children?" How could this man know that we had two children on the other side of the world? Then Kirk explained that he was a member of the National Geographic Society and had recognized us from earlier articles in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC involving our whole family. I told him that during the present trip we had left the children with relatives in Michi gan. It gave us a warm feeling to realize that no matter how remote an outpost one visits, friendly members of the National Geo graphic Society and readers of its Magazine are sure to be there. "Come to my office in the morning," Kirk said, "and see the Chalice Pearl. We took it to Cairns to show the Queen when she visited last year." Bizarre Pearl of Great Beauty Tough-minded pearl buyers call irregularly formed pearls baroque and do not place a high market value on them. When David Mosby, a native diver from York Island, came into port in 1949 with a double pearl, shaped somewhat like a chalice, some ap praisers scoffed: "Baroque. No intrinsic value." Others said: "Most unusual. A col lector's item. Might be worth thousands." I know nothing of pearl values, but I do know that when Mr. Kirk took that little box out of the safe in the Native Affairs office, where the pearl is held in trust for its finder, and opened it, both my wife and I gasped at the gem's beauty (page 29). The waters around Thursday Island lack the clean, crystalline character of those far ther south or out to sea. Partly because of the strait's turbulent tides, the sea here tends to be murky, a condition apparently not dis couraging to good pearl shell and trochus growth. I went out in a government research * See "Columbus of the Pacific [Captain Cook]," by J. R. Hildebrand, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, January, 1927.