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I love Phillip Island, but when I return home I always notice how very green my own garden is. Phillip Island is dry. I'm sure that when the Bunurong people lived there it was well-forested and green, but in the 1840s it was designated as one great pastoral lease. I suppose that the leaseholders quickly set about clearing the land, an activity that was encouraged and sometimes insisted upon by governments even into the middle of last century.
A friend was told that the clearing was done with fire. We haven't been able to find out whether this is true or not, but it wouldn't be too surprising.
Undamaged, the island would've been rich in food. “Mutton birds”—short-tailed shearwaters—are still common there, although they are now protected. When I was a child they were a favourite food item in northern Tasmania—although I found them revolting and would accept a beating rather than eat them. They smell strongly of dead fish, are incredibly oily, and were heavily salted. Hunting them wouldn't have been difficult. The chicks are left in burrows during the day while the adults go to sea for fish. On their return they feed the chicks generously, and the chicks become round and fat. Hunters had only to put their hand into a burrow and pull out the undefended baby.
As is well known, fairy penguins also breed on Phillip Island and care for their young in the same way.
The original inhabitants called the island Woolamai, meaning "snapper island", so it goes without saying that the surrounding waters must've had a superabundance of large fish. What became of those original owners is unclear.
Seals live there too; once they were exploited for oil and fur, but the small colonies in existence today live fairly secure lives. “Fairly” because, although they're protected from hunting, they always run the risk of being entangled in discarded fishing line, plastic shopping bags and other rubbish.
As you drive around the island you often see old chicory kilns. Chicory was a substitute for coffee during the war years, so there was a thriving industry. As demand petered out, farms gradually stopped production, but the buildings have remained.
During winter the coasts are windswept. With lots of warm clothes you can go to the edge of cliffs and see spectacular seas, particularly where there are big rocks in the water.
A couple of observations: one holiday house had an Australian flag flying. Bit discomforting; not Australia day or anything. Not to worry. The people in the house next door had hoisted a Jolly Roger. Much more in concord with the spirit of the holiday island.
Public loos are hard to find. I suppose it's because most people either stay in a holiday house or guesthouse or go to the dedicated tourist places or the main towns. Independent day trippers who just want to go to a quiet beach have a bit of a search. Couldn't find one at Surf Beach. There was one above Ventnor Beach--and interestingly decorated, too.
Last, a personal note. During winter and spring I'd been taking St John's wort. It says on the leaflet that it can make one more subject to sunburn. No kidding! Hadn't used it since summer began, but still think it must be the reason that I did get a bit burned and, two days later, developed a really, really bad itch on my back where the burn was. Felt as though I was lying on an ant nest! No more St John's wort for me.
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