This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

1998 Travels August 7

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We took packed lunches and went out for the day, visiting Punsand and Somerset.

It was back to Bamaga, and then up the rough road again. This time, we turned off at Lockerbie and took the track to Punsand Bay.  The track is rough, even worse than the one to Pajinka. One definitely needs a high clearance, sturdy vehicle for that. There are some quite deep sandy patches too.

There is a camping ground at Punsand. We walked around and looked at the campground. It looks very pleasant, with big cleared bays in the bush, that each take several camps, with shade and shelter, and opening onto the beach.

The beach of Punsand Bay is a lovely, long sweeping one, where one can see clear to the Tip, but without the multiplicity of islands that make the outlook from Seisia so superb.

We are tempted to come and stay here. It is clearly much used by tour groups – some of the bays are set aside for these.

We retraced our way back to Lockerbie, then a few kms further on, took the track to the east, and Somerset.

In 1864, the Queensland Government decreed that a settlement should be established beside the busy Torres Strait waters of the northern Cape – partly to show British ownership, partly to assist sailors. There had been a number of deaths of sailors, when shore parties, or those wrecked, had been killed by the very hostile aborigines of the area. John Jardine was appointed the first police magistrate, went there by ship, and with a son, built some of the buildings for the new settlement, on Somerset Hill.

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The beach and setting of Somerset. The homestead was on the hill behind Truck.

At the same time, his son Frank was driving a mob of cattle and horses north from Rockhampton to the new settlement, where he established cattle stations and also got involved in pearling and coastal shipping. He married a Samoan princess, Sana. When the administrative centre for the Cape was moved to Thursday Island, in 1877, Frank Jardine bought Somerset. He lived there till his death in 1919 (from leprosy); his descendents remained there until they were evacuated in WW2. The Somerset homestead burned down in the 1960’s, so today there are only a few remnants of the family’s time there. Frank Jardine was reputed to be very cruel and ruthless  towards the aboriginals of the area – but they had also had a history of fierce attacks on sailors and settlers, and reputed cannibalism.

At Somerset, we looked at the ruins of the former homestead, up on the hill, traces of the landing jetty, and the graves of Frank Jardine and Sana at the back of the beach. Also of their grandson, Herbert “Boy” Vidgen. There is a pair of cannons, too, that perhaps were found by Jardine in a wrecked ship.


This once was the entrance to the Somerset grounds. Jardine’s flagpole with flanking cannons. Graves.

Since this family played such a pivotal role in the history of Cape York, I felt it wrong that no real attempt is being made to preserve this historic site. Indeed. people have built campfires amongst the ruins of the house. We do get the impression that the Injinoo will not preserve anything to do with white history in these parts! But why doesn’t a government step in – or would that upset local sensitivities too much? It is our history, too! Meanwhile, Somerset continues to crumble – and it IS an interesting place.


Graves at the back of the beach at Somerset

Albany Island – a large one – is just across a channel from Somerset. We could see a house and occupied area there, which looks substantial.


Channel between Albany Island and the mainland – seen from Fly Point

We drove down to the beach, to the south, and ate our lunch by the sea. Saw some campers in the distance. Found out later that R was one of these – this was the site of the bush camping.

While we were on the Somerset beach, saw one of the coastal ships come charging in – apparently head on to solid land. We got a bit worried there, because we hadn’t at that stage, been up high enough to see Albany Island and the narrow strait between it and the mainland. By the time we did get up to the point, the rear end of the freighter was receding fast from the other end of the channel. It would not be a nice passage to negotiate in bad weather! In fact, in reduced visibility, these waters would be totally treacherous. It is easy to realize why there were so many shipwrecks in earlier times, around here.

Drove to Fly Point – a rocky headland to the south of Somerset. From there, we could clearly see the channel between Albany Island and Somerset. So that explained the ship’s direction to us.


At Fly Point

After exploring the Somerset area, we headed back towards Lockerbie. Stopped at the Croc Tent to buy icy poles – it was another hot day.

The tent man persuaded us to give a ride back to Seisia to two German female backpackers who were there. They were trying to hitch hike back from the Tip. A tour bus had picked them up – an unusual occurrence – and brought them back to the Croc Tent, for their safety. They did not realize the risks they had taken. The Croc Tent man said that a group of Murris could come along and then they could well have been in trouble! We moved our gear from the back seat so one could sit there and the other had to perch on top of some tarps and shadecloth that we put on the metal floor of the rest of the back seat area. She could – kind of – wear a seatbelt. The girls were grateful – they had already talked to John on the beach at Seisia a couple of times, so we were not total strangers. The Croc Tent man was very happy! But we still paid for the icy poles!

We took the short cut road back to Seisia, from south of Lockerbie, to avoid the corrugations of the Bamaga road. It wound all about and was not fast, but the surface was better.

We drove 111kms today.

The unimog and its family contents was still there. Still noisy and intrusive.

Tea was curried tuna and rice.

As in most prior nights, sat out in front of the tent, watching the sunset, and then the moonlight on the waters of Endeavour Strait.

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The constantly changing outlook from our Seisia camp

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