Flotsam and Jetsam, the lot of us.

The detritus the winds and currents deposit on this island fills me with both wonder and consternation. The endless pieces of plastic that we now ingest in the food chain, bottle tops, plastic water bottles, shopping bags, tooth brushes, throngs, take away food containers is now what makes up the flotsam and jetsam of our era.


Over its ‘settled’ history to coin a Tony Abottism, TI has seen that detritus fall layer upon layer into the sand, as many of the beaches were slipways servicing the hundreds of pearling luggers the proliferated in the late 19th Century, right up until the 1970’s.


A pearling lugger on the a Thursday Island slip in 1958, quite possibly on my backyard beach.

A pearling lugger on the a Thursday Island slip in 1958, quite possibly on my backyard beach.


Shards of Japanese rice bowls are still occasionally revealed by the shifting sands, from the many Japanese pearlers that inhabited the Island, many of whom now lie in the cemetery.


Today all that remains of the slipways are calcified twists of rusty rail tracks, cogs and skeletons of old motors  and the middens of broken beer bottles. So much shards of glass is shattered through the beaches, it is often referred as ‘TI Coral.’


But today’s flotsam swirls into the five oceanic gyres as perpetual islands of suspended plastic particles or scattered across every beach on the planet, serving as a reminder of our pandemic of consumer insanity.


But ultimately we are all flotsam and jetsam, star dust scattered by the cosmic winds, temporarily manifested into a group of atoms bouncing around making up the ‘here and now’ we all get so lost in. Mass extinctions, climate change, meteorites smashing into us and annihilating everything, all just grains of sand – dust particles the lot of us.

TI, AKA The Rock, an allegory for the planet, is always making apparent the transience of everything. What the seaspray doesn’t corrode or the isolation and remoteness drive insane, everything comes, and goes here – buildings, dreams and people.

One of these transience friends, a fellow itinerant worker, lovingly but wearily described life on TI as ‘living in a caravan park.’

A dream within a dream, a manifestation appeared in an abandoned field recently, smoke and mirrors – the Carnies came to town. Gilmore’s Travelling Tropical Amusements to be more precise, an intergenerational family the endlessly traipse the country towns of outback Australia. An apparition of wonder for my two year old, complete with ectoplasmic fairy floss, forbidden fruits of dagwood dogs, jumping castles, dodge’em cars and shooting galleries, all under the incandescent gloss of coloured lights.



Matt Gilmore proprietor of this season’s show said it was a hard life, “Holus Bolus, I’ve lost everything I own on the road, three times, caravans, boats, trucks, just smashed to pieces before my eyes. But I love coming to a new town and giving the kiddies this entertainment – but I could never stay somewhere for more than two weeks, I’d go crazy.” And with a puff of diesel smoke they were gone.


Again illuminating the allegory of life on the rock, which is a metaphor of the transience of existence on the whole.

So now when I go to the beach that is my backyard, I try to resist my bleeding heart liberal, urbane sensibilities and take in my time here as a complete whole, the good, the bad, the corrosion, the erosion and the detritus of my mind as it washes up against the flotsam and jetsam of the world at my backdoor.

Out of this detritus I have built a little Zen garden, all found objects donated by the tides. I rake the sand, subjugate the weeds and absorb the particles into an expression of fleeting existence here and now.


I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?