Tuesday 16 February 2021

From on Board: Coral Adventurer's Wild Islands and Walks of South Australia - Flinders Island

#expeditioncruising .

One of the things I love about expedition cruising is the ability to visit remote islands often overlooked by tourism. Flinders Island, a little more than 36 square kilometres and about 30 kilometres from the nearest mainland town, Elliston, is one such example.

Reputably named by Matthew Flinders for his younger brother who was then a junior officer aboard Investigator in 1802, it could perhaps be more correctly named Samuel Flinders Island.

Unlike many of the other uninhabited islands among the 350 in South Australian waters, Flinders Island (not to be confused with much larger Flinders Island in Bass Strait) has had European habitation on and off for around 200 years, beginning with sealers and whalers who were busy all along the coast in the early 19th century, well before the official establishment of South Australia in 1836.

At a time between then and Federation, Flinders Island even had a small fiefdom presided over by one William Bryant, a renegade Irish sealer who established himself on the island, along with his Aboriginal wife and children, to profit from the sale of pelts from the once plentiful wallabies there. A handy carpenter and blacksmith, he also performed ship repairs up until his death in 1844. It is believed his fortune in gold sovereigns amassed during this time remains buried somewhere on the island.

Tobin and Jonas Woolfood are doing very well harvesting the island's abalone (R Eime)

A bit over 100 years ago, the island was used for farming and a small flock of a few hundred Merino sheep still graze on the sandy soil. But today, brothers Tobin and Jonas Woolford have put aside their shears and dive for the prize wild abalone that thrive in the rich waters around the island and all along the western shore of the Eyre Peninsula.

“Our licence quota is to harvest 12 tonnes (whole weight) annually, “Tobin tells me as he demonstrates the technique used to prise open the weighty molluscs. “This one is the Blacklip (Haliotis rubra) variety, but we can also get Greenlip (Haliotis laevigata).”

Blacklip (L) and Greenlip abalone (R Eime)

The boys tell me $60kg is a good price for whole weight (ie with shells). I do some rough mental arithmetic and the answer is 'lots'. The brothers shuck as they harvest and the product is canned or vacuum packed for retail, mostly for export. Their methods produce a fine quality product much in demand in the overseas market.

We go ashore in Coral Expeditions' tender where we are treated to a sampling of the exquisite meat. Jonas gives us a quick demo on how to 'flash sear' the delicate meat to produce the signature flavours and yes, we gleefully tuck in.

After lunch we return for a beach walk to examine the wreck of the SS Kapara, an 850-ton coastal steamer, which ran aground in 1942 while the lighthouse beam was switched off during WWII.

Bryant's Bay with rusting relics of SS Kapara on the point. (R Eime)

Behind our landing beach at Bryant's Bay are the rough remains of William's hut, now little more than a pile of rocks, but still a worthy inclusion on the state's Historic Register.

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