Oh Lord, Howe I could live here

The Chronicle - - Escape - CE­LESTE MITCHELL More at es­cape.com.au.

GOWER Wil­son calls out to his dairy queens by name, each cow du­ti­fully milling in for her turn. He po­si­tions the bucket un­der her ud­der and slowly and me­thod­i­cally pinches and pulls – the fresh milk hit­ting the bucket in rhyth­mi­cal tones.

Ev­ery day, lo­cals place a $2 coin and an empty glass milk bot­tle on Gower’s fence for him to re­fill and re­turn.

“I’ve been milk­ing cows since I was five years old,” he tells me, the small crin­kles around his eyes be­ly­ing his 78 years.

Gower grew up on Lord Howe’s rolling green hills, one of the three or four landown­ing fam­i­lies. Asked about change, he says, “I’ve seen it change with TVs and tele­phones and elec­tric­ity be­fore that. But I was pretty young then.”

Elec­tric­ity aside, Lord Howe Is­land has man­aged to stay in a bliss­ful time warp – free of mo­bile phone ser­vice, seat­belt laws and shoes at the pri­mary school. It might have some­thing to do with the fact it was pretty much the last is­land on Earth to be dis­cov­ered.

Some­how, this na­ture nir­vana re­mained hid­den in the vast ex­panse of the Pa­cific Ocean un­til 1788 when it was spot­ted by Lieu­tenant Henry Lidg­bird Ball, sail­ing First Fleet ship Sup­ply from Syd­ney to Nor­folk Is­land. No sign of ear­lier hu­man con­tact has been found.

I’d read much about the is­land – the place Sir David At­ten­bor­ough de­clared was “so ex­tra­or­di­nary it is al­most un­be­liev­able” – but af­ter flying for two hours from Bris­bane over the deep blue, the iri­des­cent coral-strewn la­goon beamed up at me as we landed at the foot of pri­mor­dial peaks Mt Gower and Mt Lidg­bird and I was ren­dered speech­less.

That’s Lord Howe. You don’t get room keys when you check in be­cause no one locks their doors. Keys dan­gle from the ig­ni­tion of parked cars. And if your bike isn’t where you left it, rest as­sured, it will show up.

With a res­i­dent pop­u­la­tion of 350 and a max­i­mum of 400 vis­i­tors at one time, Lord Howe is like a float­ing coun­try town.

Lord Howe’s hu­man story has been a slow evo­lu­tion but its en­vi­ron­ment re­acts and changes within a life­time.

Be­fore the run­way was built in the late 1970s, flying boats used to de­liver vis­i­tors to Lord Howe Is­land, tak­ing off from Rose Bay in Syd­ney. Glam­orous though they were with over­sized seats and three­course meals served on fine china, they weren’t very kind to the la­goon.

In the rel­a­tively short time since, coral and sea­grass have re­grown and the tur­tle pop­u­la­tion is in­creas­ing ev­ery year. I lose count of the num­ber of green and hawks­bill tur­tles we glide over in our glass-bot­tom boat be­fore play­ing hide and seek with surge wrasse and striped cat­fish snorkelling a ship­wreck.

This pro­tected pocket of the planet of­fers up such an in­tense hit of na­ture, “It’s like liv­ing in a David At­ten­bor­ough doc­u­men­tary,” says Ian Hut­ton, nat­u­ral­ist and cu­ra­tor of the ex­cel­lent Lord Howe Is­land Mu­seum.

Ian came to the is­land for what he thought would be two years for work and never left.

The plant ecol­o­gist has since started Friends of Lord Howe Is­land – lead­ing more than 83 weed­ing eco-tours.

He’s also writ­ten more than 20 books, leads weekly reef walks and de­liv­ers five lec­tures on the is­land ev­ery week. He’s a liv­ing en­cy­clo­pe­dia of Lord Howe.

On my fi­nal morn­ing, my host, Sharon, lets me know my flight is on sched­ule af­ter weather caused can­cel­la­tions on pre­vi­ous days and I feel a rush of dis­ap­point­ment.

Like Lord Howe’s en­demic en­dan­gered wood­hens, my feet could well be­come rooted here.

Photo: iStock/Don Fuchs/Des­ti­na­tion NSW

POCKET OF PAR­ADISE: Ad­ven­ture awaits in ev­ery di­rec­tion on Lord Howe Is­land.

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