Fascinating Low Isles Preservation Society meeting unveils life on the Great Barrier Reef in the 1890s and a revitalised interest in a maritime history precinct for the Douglas Shire

bill dunn port douglas

LOW ISLES Preservation Society held a meeting last week attended by a broad sector of the local community extending from Hopevale to Gordonvale, interested in the latest news, achievements, and future plans for the growing community group.  

Historians, Low Isles caretakers, community and environmental advocates, volunteers, and local media participated in the meeting. A highlight for the evening was a presentation by local commercial fisherman Billy Dunn who brought along an extraordinary tome, The Great Barrier Reef of Australia: Its Products and Potentialities (1893) by William Saville-Kent. The book is filled with vibrant photographs and watercolour illustrations of the coral ecosystem, pre-dating the legendary 1928 coral research expedition to the Low Isles.

Saville-Kent worked in the Natural History Department of the British Museum as a curator of coral, and dreamed of seeing the live animals “in their native seas and wonderful living tints.”

In 1884 he traveled to Australia and spent the next twenty years laying the foundations for fisheries development.

Determined to bring public awareness to the coral reef ecosystem, he subsequently authored the bookthe first to extensively depict a coral reef in photographs. To most of its contemporary readers, The Great Barrier Reef of Australia revealed the captivating beauty and vibrancy of a mysterious unknown world.

With a specially constructed four-stand, Saville-Kent waded into waters at low tide to photograph coral from above as large-format prints. 48 photographs in the book were captured by Saville-Kent and then reproduced by the London Stereoscopic Company.

At the end of the book, there are 16 beautiful colour lithographs created by Mr. Riddle and Mr. Couchman from Saville-Kent’s original watercolour sketches. 

For members and guests at the LIPS meeting, it was a privilege to share and explore this extraordinary resource. 

Look at the coral cover out at Low Isles in the 1890s

Renewed interest in maritime precinct

Bill Dunn attended the meeting as part of a revitalised community campaign to honour Port Douglas’ maritime history.

Guest Peter Wright shared the story behind the miniature replica vessel the ‘Tom Thumb’ and a proposal to use it as a fundraising tool to support student visitation to Low Isles.

Ben Cropp spoke about wanting to bequeath his private maritime collection to a not-for-profit community organisation cause with a strong interest in preserving local heritage.

Noel Weare shared the history of Dixie’s Shed and Bill Dunn spoke about his involvement with an earlier waterfront planning committee.

All parties noted the quest for a maritime museum precinct had been a long-fought cause that has been variously supported and rejected by changing Councils but that there is a rich local maritime heritage that deserves to be preserved and shared.

Peter Wright may be contacted by email for expressions of interest from those wishing to join a working group to further explore options for a maritime museum precinct. Email: peterwright1955@hotmail.com

Community members interested in joining LIPS can learn more and sign up at www.lips.org.au 

Bleached coral in the 1890s…

Credit/ All images sourced via LIPS from The Great Barrier Reef of Australia: Its Products and Potentialities (1893) William Saville-Kent


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