Message in a Bottle on a Mission

14th August 2014, Fred and Sue Higgins found a message in a bottle washed up on the sand at Mission Beach, Tropical North Queensland and brought it into the Visitor Information Centre.

message in a bottle, mission beach Fred and Sue originally from Townsville but have spent the past 6 years travelling Australia, were thrilled to find an authentic message. The letter was quite lengthy and written by a woman intended for her friend in the United States. The message had faded in places with no date but according to the author was thrown into the ocean in Sydney. She asked that if found, the message be sent on to her friend and thankfully the intended recipients address was still clear. Fred and Sue said they would honour the writer’s wishes sending the message on to the States.

I was keen to know where the bottles likely travel path would have been so discussed this with a Meteorologist. He said due to the South Pacific Gyre it was highly unlikely that the bottle travelled north from Sydney. Potentially, after leaving the shores of Sydney, it may have travelled around New Zealand, on to South America, over to the equator before travelling west and then down to Mission Beach. If this is what happened, it may have taken up to 10 years.

south pacific gyre, message in a bottleMy Meteorologist friend said there was also another possibility. The bottle would have been full of air, bobbing on the surface and due to the strong anti-cyclones experienced in the Bass Strait over the past 6 months, wind could have blown it around New Zealand. From New Zealand, over time, these strong south east winds may have blown our mysterious bottle all the way to Mission Beach.

We may never know the secret attached to this message in a bottle but it sure is romantic thinking about it.

The world’s oldest discovered message in a bottle was presented to the sender’s granddaughter, years after it was thrown into the ocean in Germany.

FOUND BY: Konrad Fischer in the Baltic Sea, 2014
SENT FROM: Richard Platz in the Baltic Sea, 1913
TIME AT SEA: 101 years

angi matveyeff, ceo mission beach tourism Angi Matveyeff – CEO Mission Beach Tourism

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Gac – Vibrant and Wacky

A native of South Eastern Asia, this vibrant, vine growing whacky fruit has no comparison. Though odd looking it has huge benefits, but you need to be careful when indulging, as some of it can be poisonous.

Gak-fruitThis large fruit, which can grow to the size of a rockmelon, starts its life a beautiful shade of neon green and then ripening to a bright hot-orange. This rare fruit is easy to grow in Tropical North Queensland and if the vibrant outside colour isn’t enough to impress then the inside is bound to.

The Gac or Gak is covered in pointy spikes which adds more interest to what’s already a bizarre portfolio of features. With all its glorious colour it doesn’t taste like much though, very delicate and watermelon like.

What it lacks in taste it makes up for in nutritional assets. A newby to the world of nutrient science not too much is known at this time but what scientists know for sure about Gac that it has the world’s most concentrated source of lycopene (as much as 76 times more than tomato). Lycopene is chemically a carotenoid and is the bright red carotene pigment found in fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes and papaya. Even though it’s a normal part of our diet, it’s not essential nutrient for us. As you can imagine, it makes a useful food colouring due not only to its rich colouring but also its lack of toxins. It may turn out to be a useful anti-carcinogenic preventing some cancers like prostate.

gak-fruit-skinIt has very high levels of Beta Carotene (10 times that of a carrot) making Gac a great help for your eyes. Also, it is an ideal source of Omegas 6 and 9 fatty acids, which of course your body needs but cannot produce on its’ own.

Some notable and unusual bits about Gac; the word Gac is urban language for cocaine, so mentioning you’re going out the back for some Gac, could mean something completely different to some. Also, we heard that Gac came in tablet form in Australia years ago (but have since been banned). They were promoted back in the day as a sun tanning tablet due to the high level of carotene.

The poisonous bit is the yellow pith layer just under the skin, so if you come across Gac in your travels, you should leave that part alone.

You can experience Gac, when in season, at the Mission Beach Tropical Fruit Safari Mon and Tues. at 1pm sharp. Arrive and register prior to 12.45pm.

angi matveyeff, ceo mission beach tourism Angi Matveyeff – CEO Mission Beach Tourism

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A Premier Visit

The Mission Beach Visitor Information Centre had the honour of launching the new Queensland Visitor Centre app on Monday 24th February with some very special guests. To help us spread the word was Premier Campbell Newman, Tourism Minister Jann Stuckey and Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, Andrew Cripps, along with a plethora of media.

launch of qld visitor centres app“The Premier and Minister for Tourism even signed the visitor book, which is going to be a hard act for anyone to follow!!” said the Visitor Centre Manager, Angi Matveyeff.

The new app makes it easy to find the next centre in whatever region you’re in within Queensland and it has fabulous local tips. “We’re literally now in the palm of visitors’ hands” Angi said. The app, designed to help visitors find a Queensland Accredited Visitor Information Centre can found by searching ‘info centre finder’ or visit

All the Visitor Centres will also have information on how to download the app.

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Time to Turn the Tide

“This is so right…….it hurts.”

With these words Chris Jahnke, Chairman of Mission Beach Business & Tourism closed one of the most amazing functions the region had seen for some considerable time.

turning the tideThe guest list at the official launch of Turning the Tide read like a Who’s Who of Tourism in Queensland and with good reason. ‘Turning the Tide’ will create a new interpretive complex to house the Wet Tropics Visitor Information Centre. It will gather all the elements of the story of the ‘Birth of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park’ in the tourist information area and focus on the Wet Tropics Rainforest in the environment area. This project has the capacity to once again position Mission Beach and the Cassowary Coast as a tourism gem in the North, a position that was compromised by two cyclones, Larry and Yasi in short succession.

Professor Iain McCalman, Author, Filmmaker and Historian from Sydney University, has agreed to present the story of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park creation using Augmented Reality. The high tech Interpretative Centre will use Google Glass style technology to tell the fascinating history and include multitude of facets of the Great Barrier Reef.

than 100 invited guests enjoyed superb and utterly exotic finger food prepared by Castaways Resort staff, while one speaker after another pledged their support. Praising the initiative and tenacity of Mission Beach Business and community in rising from the debris and despair of the Cyclone Yasi aftermath, the speakers said by pulling together and harnessing authentic and legitimate stories to rebuild, is a vital community tourism component of the economy.

Tourism Tropical North Queensland CEO Alex de Waal said “Certainly from TTNQ’s perspective I look very much forward to working with you all into the future and making sure this project becomes reality.”

David Morgans, Director of Development, Tourism and Events Queensland included that, “It’s an exciting time when we see projects like this coming ahead”. He congratulated the region on a project that really got to the heart of what our destination was about, explaining it was critical in terms of wowing our guests with its focus on the story of the Great Barrier Reef. “It’s your story, you own it, it’s what’s original about you and it’s authentic” he said.

Daniel Gschwind, another notable speaker from the Queensland Tourism Industry Council added, “When times are tough it’s even more obvious that we rely on each other”. He explained the importance of industry leaders who through sheer determination turn things around, ‘Turning the Tide’, if you like” he said.

Mayor Bill Shannon summed up the project with, “Turning the Tide links with Council plans and it’s totally consistent with State and Federal initiatives”.

The next stage of the project is to seek funds to make these aspirations a reality and so enable business and community to flourish once again.

Turning the Tide launch on Youtube

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Riveting Stories

On top of all this, there are numerous other riveting stories of lives, places and events, which I believe could merit inclusion in the proposed Mission Beach interpretation centre. Colourful and talented artistic personalities such as the painters John Busst, Noel Wood, Bruce Arthur, Valerie Albiston and Yvonne Cohen, who all lived and worked on one or other of the Family Group Islands, have produced an oeuvre of artworks depicting local land and seascapes that now attract mounting national appreciation.

james-cookIt is also true that many of the pioneering Reef navigators, sailors and scientists, such as the Britons James Cook, Matthew Flinders, Joseph Jukes and William Saville-Kent and the Americans Alex Agassiz and Alfred Mayor, conducted important work on the Mission Beach and Cassowary coasts. Such stories, like that of the founding of the Reef Marine Park, will enable us to intertwine international, national, regional and local stories in what amounts to a rich digital mosaic.

With this kind of material at our disposal I believe we can make the proposed Interpretation Centre and its associated Visitor and Environment facilities into one of the great tourist magnets of the Great Barrier Reef. It can be the one the one and only place on the Great Barrier Reef where peoples of many ages and backgrounds can discover the human history of the greatest marine environment our planet has ever known.

Iain McCalman, AO, FASSA, FAHA, FRHistS, University of Sydney Professorial Research Fellow in History and Co-Director, Sydney Environment Institute.

"professor iain mccalman"Professor Iain McCalman, Ambassador of Mission Beach Tourism’s Turning the Tide project. His new book, The Reef – A Passionate History, from Captain Cook to Climate Change, has been published by Penguin in Australia in November and by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux in the USA in May 2014.

Mission Beach Tourism would like to thank Professor Iain McCalman for contributing to this project.

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Working with Turning the Tide

For all these reasons I would personally love to work with the Mission Beach community on the next phase of the ‘Turning the Tide’ project. I believe, too, that I can bring to the task a variety of useful skills — as a social, cultural and environmental historian of the Great Barrier Reef, as a biographical storyteller, and as a digital commentator and writer. My Penguin book of 2009, called Darwin’s Armada. How Four Voyagers to Australasia Won the Battle for Evolution and Changed the World made me fall in love with Reef history. It also won three Australian book prizes and generated an ABC educational website, two national museum exhibitions, and an international television series, Darwin’s Brave New World.

professor iain mccalman, turning the tideIts current successor, The Reef — A Passionate History, also published in Australia by Penguin, has attracted gratifying reviews and will be published next year in the United States by Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Scientific American, and in Great Britain by Scribe. Three of The Reef’s chapters tell stories that relate specifically to fascinating individuals from the Mission Beach, Family Islands and Cassowary Coast regions.

Naturally I tell the story of how John Busst of Bingil Bay and his friends Judith Wright and Len Webb led the popular movement to create the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Another local story describes how Ted Banfield and his wife lived for nearly thirty years on Dunk Island. I show how the couple were sustained by the help of Aboriginal men and women from Mission Beach, how their lives, houses and habitats were torn apart by a cyclone in 1918, how they determined to stay and help to rehabilitate the environment, and, finally, how Ted’s bestselling books created a national and international legend of a Barrier Reef Island paradise. Another chapter recounts how a shipwrecked English sailor, Jem Morrill, became the Aboriginal clansman Karkynjib Wombil, who lived and hunted over this rich tropical wetland region for seventeen years and who helped to negotiate the founding of the modern Cassowary Coast port of Cardwell.

My educational website, also offers digital versions of many of these stories, designed to reach school and student audiences.

To be continued ……

"professor iain mccalman"Professor Iain McCalman, Ambassador of Mission Beach Tourism’s Turning the Tide project. His new book, The Reef – A Passionate History, from Captain Cook to Climate Change, has been published by Penguin in Australia in November and by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux in the USA in May 2014.

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Courage and Resilience

"mission beach visitor information centre" Far from collapsing, the affected communities have responded with extraordinary courage and resilience. Offered some State Government and private philanthropic redevelopment funds, they have come up with the ‘Turning the Tide’ Project, which works inspirationally to secure the region’s future utilising the Mission Beach Wet Tropics Visitor Centre as a regional hub to showcase the location’s significance as the birthplace of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and role of tropical foods in communities in Far North Queensland’.

An interpretation center, using cutting edge digital technologies, will tell the compelling stories that reveal the region to be a wet tropics environmental heartland, an inspirer of the modern Reef Marine Park, a preserver of the endangered Southern Cassowary, a fount of sustainable eco-tourism and tropical food produce, and a living archive of Reef heritage and history.

It is this exciting mandate, and the palpable energy and enthusiasm that drives its unique local collaboration of sustainable businesses and far-sighted conservationists, that has attracted me to want to help in ‘Turning the Tide’. This project shares my conviction that collaborations which fuse community idealism and enlightened self-interest represent our most realistic opportunity to protect the Reef and Rainforest, as well as to enable humans to enjoy and make sustainable livings among these wondrous environments.

To be continued …..

"professor iain mccalman"Professor Iain McCalman, Ambassador of Mission Beach Tourism’s Turning the Tide project. His new book, The Reef – A Passionate History, from Captain Cook to Climate Change, has been published by Penguin in Australia in November and by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux in the USA in May 2014.

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A Complex Struggle

There is neither time nor space here to detail the complex struggle that eventually won the trio the support of the majority of Queenslanders and of the Australian nation. It is enough to say that John Busst and his Mission Beach supporters stood in the vanguard of the triumphant movement to save the Reef.

"harold holt" "mission beach"John successfully lobbied Harold Holt (pictured) and, after his death, the Liberal and Labour Party successors, John Gorton and Gough Whitlam, to test the sovereignty of the Reef in the courts. He wrote barrages of impassioned and informed letters to newspapers and other media all over the country. He was the chief advocate of the urgent need for a government funded marine research center that eventually became the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville. He even wrote to the President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson, urging him to give his support to a scheme for the foundation of a Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in memory of Harold Holt, whose death had cost the Reef’s one of its most influential political supporters.

Much of John’s exhausting advocacy was undertaken, too, while he was struggling with the onset of throat cancer, a disease that ultimately took his life just as he was preparing to give evidence to the Royal Commission to inquire into mining on the Reef. Though he did not live to see the fruits of his campaign, his story and his wonderful heritage house at Ninney Rise stands as an inspiring symbol to the Mission Beach community and others. A moving local memorial composed by Judith Wright commemorates his memory: ‘John Busst/ Artist and Lover of Beauty/Who Fought that Man and Nature Might Survive.

Yet John Busst’s is not the only inspirational story that has come out of this lovely place and the people who live here. While concluding the book I also became aware of the region’s involvement in another, more current, struggle. This time Mission Beach has been forced to fight for its very survival and regeneration in the face of near obliteration by two massive and successive cyclones. For those of us who have not experienced disasters on this scale, the environmental, economic, cultural and psychic damage they engender is almost unimaginable. First Cyclone Larry, then six years later, Cyclone Yasi, literally tore Mission Beach and many of other parts of the Cassowary Coast region to shreds. Tourism, the keystone of the region’s economy was especially hard hit.

To be continued …..

"professor iain mccalman"Professor Iain McCalman, Ambassador of Mission Beach Tourism’s Turning the Tide project. His new book, The Reef – A Passionate History, from Captain Cook to Climate Change, has been published by Penguin in Australia in November and by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux in the USA in May 2014.

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John Busst moves to Ninney Rise

On the night that the Busst’s first moved their belongings into Ninney Rise, however, they learned that a substantial patch of rainforest at the rear of the house had been co opted by the army for exercises in defoliant bombing. Determined to fight this violation of their local environment, they recruited to their cause a close friend called Len Webb. He was a CSIRO forester, a passionate rainforest ecologist and Vice President of the newly formed Queensland Wildlife Preservation Society. Len in turn introduced them to the Society’s President, the brilliant poet Judith Wright, who encouraged John to open a new local branch of the Society centered at the nearby cane town of Innisfail.

"john busst" "mission beach" John soon proved to be an energetic and persuasive campaigner for local environments, demonstrating exceptional skills in lobbying, organizing and communicating. His fiery letters against the indiscriminate use of chemical weed killers and water pollutants and the rampant clearing of ancient forest trees soon earned him the proud nickname of ‘The Bingil Bay Bastard.’ His keen eyes also noticed in 1967 that a Cairns sugar cane farmer had applied to the Queensland Government to mine a supposedly dead reef, called Ellison, for cheap limestone fertilizer. Sensing that this would become a precedent for much more extensive oil and gas mining, John determined to fight the case. With the assistance of Judith Wright, the Busst’s house Ninney Rise became the headquarters of a local and national campaign to prove that Ellison was actually a living hub of biodiversity and the habitat of a unique species of Queensland mollusc. John mobilized the Mission Beach and Innisfail communities into supporting and funding a group of young student biologists from Brisbane to conduct an underwater survey of Ellison Reef, which eventually helped to win the case.

Ellison proved to be the opening skirmish of a twenty-year popular conservationist war led primarily by Judith, John and Len, which aimed to prevent the uncontrolled oil, gas and limestone mining of eighty percent of the Great Barrier Reef. Plans for indiscriminate resource plundering threatened to endanger the ecological beauties, scientific wonders, living communities, and sustainable industries of the largest organic phenomenon on the planet, a uniquely beautiful marine and coastal region larger than Britain and Ireland together.

To be continued …..

Photo of John & Alison Busst at Ninney Rise ; State Library of Victoria

"professor iain mccalman"Professor Iain McCalman
Ambassador of Mission Beach Tourism’s Turning the Tide project. His new book, The Reef – A Passionate History, from Captain Cook to Climate Change, has been published by Penguin in Australia in November and by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux in the USA in May 2014.

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The Reef – A Passionate History

Some three years ago, when researching my new book The Reef – A Passionate History (2013), I first encountered the dazzling tropical wetlands region of islands, rivers, beaches and rainforest that makes up the Cassowary Coast. I learnt, too, that Mission Beach was the cradle of the most important and inspiring story of modern Barrier Reef history — a twenty-year struggle by a handful of big-hearted Australians to bring about the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. They sparked and drove the campaign to bring about the world’s largest multi-use marine reserve, combining both ecological protection and sustainable business. It was declared by joint Federal and Queensland State legislation in 1975 and gained World Heritage listing soon after, as ‘the most impressive marine area in the world’.

"ninney rise" "liz gallie" The person who initiated that long struggle was John Busst, an artist who’d moved to Bingil Bay in 1956 and built Australia’s first ever cyclone-proof house on a rain forested hill not far from Clump Point. He and wife Alison called their Mission Beach house Ninney Rise. With its white and blue trim, bamboo ceilings, wide verandahs and sweeping views of ancient rainforest and shimmering sea, this many-roomed heritage bungalow now symbolizes the role played by this region in creating one of the world’s greatest environmental jewels.

Before this, the Bussts had been in the vanguard of a movement of Post Second World War artists who lived unconstrained lives and painted land and seascapes on Timana, Bedarra and Dunk Islands, the lovely trio of ‘Family Group’ islands that lies off Mission Beach. After staying on Bedarra for nearly twenty years, and introducing their best friends, Liberal Prime Minister Harold Holt and his wife Zara, to the delights of swimming, snorkeling and sailing there, the Bussts had eventually been drawn to the mainland by its greater seclusion and its special beauty. Soon, they also persuaded the Holts to emulate them in building a Mission Beach bungalow, overlooking, beach, sea and forest.

To be continued ……

Photo of Ninney Rise courtesy of Liz Gallie

"professor iain mccalman"Professor Iain McCalmanAmbassador of Mission Beach Tourism’s Turning the Tide project. His new book, The Reef – A Passionate History, from Captain Cook to Climate Change, has been published by Penguin in Australia in November and by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux in the USA in May 2014.

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