Early days at North Is­land

Geraldton Guardian - - News - Ron C Ber­telsen Source: Ger­ald­ton to the Abrol­hos: 1898-1964 by Ron C Ber­telsen. For more in­for­ma­tion, or to do­nate a his­tor­i­cal photo or slide to the li­brary, con­tact Trudi Cor­nish, Her­itage Ser­vices at the Ger­ald­ton Re­gional Li­brary on 9956 6659 or libr

North Is­land, the most northerly is­land in the Wal­labi Group of is­lands in the Abrol­hos, was used as an an­chor­age for many years by wet lin­ers that fished around the Abrol­hos Is­lands, and when at an­chor the crews would live on­board their boats.

North Is­land once had large sand hills on the east­ern side run­ning the length of the is­land.

The sand hills were cov­ered in lush green shrub­bery which kept them sta­bilised.

A few years be­fore North Is­land was set­tled by cray­fish­er­men, a scrub fire swept across the sand hills, de­stroy­ing most of the veg­e­ta­tion which had served as valu­able land­marks be­fore the days of echo sounders and radar. Un­like the rest of the Abrol­hos Is­lands, pro­fes­sional cray­fish­ing at North Is­land did not be­gin un­til mid-1947.

Eric Gud­mund­sen, who had been cray­fish­ing ex­clu­sively at Big Pi­geon Is­land since about 1940, owned the Betty Mar­garet, a 45ft two-masted ex-pearling lug­ger from Broome which he used as a car­rier boat to trans­port cray­fish from the is­lands to Ger­ald­ton.

By 1947, Mr Gud­mund­sen owned three mo­torised catcher boats at Big Pi­geon.

He skip­pered one him­self and the other two were skip­pered by Ge­orge Barker and Ge­orge Nel­son.

In 1947, 17-year-old Jack Long was em­ployed at Big Pi­geon by Ge­orge Nel­son.

Ge­orge Barker, Mr Nel­son and Jack Long shared Mr Gud­mund­sen’s camp on Big Pi­geon and it was the only camp on the is­land at the time.

But by the mid­dle of the 1947 sea­son, cray­fish were be­com­ing scarce and they de­cided to move to the un­touched shal­lows of North Is­land.

They set up camp at the south­ern end in a camp they built from pack­ing-case tim­ber used to trans­port mo­tor ve­hi­cle parts out to Aus­tralia.

Ak­sel Ber­telsen, a well-known han­d­line fish­er­man, bought the Maori Lass from Jack Baseden and Ray Page in 1947 with the ex­press pur­pose of taking her to North Is­land and try­ing his hand at cray­fish­ing for the first time.

Like many other wet-line fish­er­men who turned to cray­fish­ing, Mr Ber­telsen ini­tially worked a small num­ber of cray­pots made for him by Rince Mi­ragliotta.

Dur­ing the 1949 sea­son, the Wandilla was skip­pered by Arthur Imi­son at North Is­land.

Alan Fox skip­pered the Suda Bay with Vic Davis and 16-year-old Neil McLaugh­lan as crew.

Neil, whose fa­ther was a po­lice­man at Ger­ald­ton, had worked as a deck­hand in 1948 for Mr Fox aboard the tourist and car­rier boat Batavia Road at the South­ern Group.

Pic­ture: Jack Long

Vic Davis, Alan Fox, Neil McLaugh­lan and Ge­orge Barker with a 14ft tiger shark at North Is­land in the early 1950s.

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