Most people have heard of Australia’s Out Back, it’s a bit like Americas Wild West, the final frontier, rough and untamed. The people who explore and live in these remote areas are a tough breed. I chose the title for this book as the ‘Out Front’ as opposed to the ‘Out Back’ as a play on words but also a truism. The Tropical East Coast of Australia is dotted with hundreds of isolated islands this is our ‘Out Front’. A beautiful yet hostile environment.
Every 3 months I would sail our 20 metre, gaff rigged, timber ketch from our island home (Middle Percy Island) to Mackay on the central Queensland coast; a distance of 70 nautical miles. The journey usually took between 10 to 12 hours one way. Once there, I would pick up 12 weeks’ worth of mail and shop for supplies; the things we couldn’t grow, make or produce for ourselves on the island. The return trip to Middle Percy was nearly always against the prevalent south east Trade Winds and could take up to 18 hours or more, sometimes even a few days if the weather was foul and forced us to take shelter behind another island en-route.
Our boat, the ‘Ruby Charlotte’, is an old Torres Strait Island pearling lugger. Built as an Island cargo/work boat and once used for harvesting pearl shell. During our time on the island these three monthly trips to mainland Australia, the boat was laden with a very different cargo. We carried milking goats, ducks, drums of fuel, tons of wheat, rice, quad bikes and a mini tractor. We even carried a long wheel base Land Rover strapped to the back deck.
We made enough money to buy our stores by maintaining a cottage industry, making and selling handicrafts and garden produce to the many passing yachtsmen and women, who were sailing along Australia’s east coast. In later years we added to our meagre income by becoming observers for the Queensland Bureau of Meteorology who paid us to report local weather conditions 5 times a day.
My wife (Liz) and I and young son Jacob arrived at Middle Percy in 1989, our second son Justin was born in March 1991. For the first seven years we served an ‘apprenticeship’ with the island’s lease holder whom some people called the ‘old hermit’. Andrew Martin was a larger than life character who’d lived on the island, mainly by himself, for 25 years. Andy taught Liz and I the necessary skills to live and subsist off a remote ‘desert island’.
By 1996 an ageing Andy felt the need to return to the place of his birth-England. He left us in charge of the 5000 acre island, promising to add our names to the lease as a good will gesture. He said that we, above anyone else had more than proved ourselves by investing our time, effort and money and because we had tolerated him for 7 years! At this juncture Andy had been living on the island for 32 years.
For a further 5 years Liz and I ran the isolated self-sufficient farm until suddenly in 2001, Andy, who was still in England unexpectedly sold the lease to a virtual stranger for ten Australian dollars! We had met this so called ‘new' owner and knew we would have to leave our island home (of 12 years) rather than stay under his tenure.
Walking away was one of the hardest decisions we ever had to make, we packed our sailing cargo boat with all we could take and sailed off in search of new islands and new adventures..........This is our story.....