Horn Island, Thursday Island
11 Aug 2016
|We have now travelled 1,000 km north of Cairns.
We arrived at Horn Island quite early & were taken off the ship straight after breakfast for a tour of the island. An absolute dynamo of a woman, called Vanessa Seekee, has done a huge amount of research on the role of Horn Island during WW2. She’s written a book called “In Their Steps – Horn Island WW2”, has initiated all kinds of conservation projects to preserve the sites, has interviewed hundreds of veterans & with the help of her husband’s family, has built an amazing museum.
Horn Island had huge strategic importance during WW2. It’s big enough & flat enough for an airfield so by the end of 1942, the civilian population had been evacuated & there were over 5,000 Australian & American troops based here.
The airfield was used as a refuelling point for air-raids over Japanese-held New Guinea which is only 150 km north of here but Horn Island’s most important role was to protect the Torres Strait islands & prevent the Japanese from getting a base to launch attacks down the east coast of Australia.
It was the 2nd most bombed target in Australia, after Darwin but the Allies held out & the Japanese were never able to capture the island. The base was also important in controlling the shipping in the Torres Strait which is quite narrow at this point.
After our amazing & informative tour with Vanessa, we went back on board the Trinity Bay for lunch (of course), then caught the ferry for the short ride across to Thursday Island while they finished unloading the ship.
Thursday Island is quite tiny (area 4 sq km) but has been the administrative centre of the Torres Strait Islands since 1877 & now has a population of just over 2,500. Again we got straight on a bus for a tour of the island which took longer than I expected because there’s so much history here.
Historically, the main industry on Thursday Island has been pearling but now it’s crayfishing although we didn’t get to sample any.
The main point of interest is the fort on Green Hill which was built in 2 years from 1891 to 1893, quite a feat using picks & wheelbarrows on a rocky, waterless hilltop. (Thursday Island doesn’t have any fresh water – even today water comes to the island through a pipeline from Horn Island.)
The guns at the fort are all late 19th century vintage & have probably never been fired in anger. The fort was closed in 1926 & abandoned until it was used as a signals station during WW2 & from 1954 to 1993 it was a weather station. Now it’s just a museum & a great lookout point over the surrounding islands.
The Trinity Bay came across the channel to Thursday Island so we got back on board in time for dinner then we took off around the tip of Cape York to our final destination at Seisia which is on the gulf side of the cape.
I woke up when we arrived at Seisia about midnight & after they turned the engines off I had a terrible time getting back to sleep because it was too quiet so was quite dopey when I had to front up for breakfast at 6:15am. I’ll survive though.