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A Year in Review

What an interesting year 2016 has been!



The Wet season started off with a bang around Christmas time 2015 - wild, North-westerly winds hit the wharf for quite a few days, resulting in some repairs to anchors and lines. Thankfully the rafts and the wharf managed to stay in one piece and the weather eventually passed us by.




January found us sweating out the doldrums as the Wet season seemed to stall!




Even though it was very, very hot and still, the river was absolutely beautiful.












It was very hard to complain when day after day was just picture perfect!











Even the sunbirds were happy.













Of course, the rain turned up eventually - much to our relief!











The well filled and we were able to pump water up into our tanks, ready for the Dry season.












In between all the showers, we held our first ever Open Day! Wonderful friends from Cape York converged in their boats to help us X-ray some shell, open up some mabes, find keshis, and buy some gorgeous pearls. We all had a terrific day!








The weather in our part of the world very much drives how we live and experience nature. The prolonged build-up to the Wet season had our coral reefs struggling and there was much media attention on coral bleaching events.









We also witnessed this phenomena in our river, but are happy to report that the bleached sections are re-growing quickly and regaining their colour, and the annual coral spawning has taken place to revitalise the reefs in our area.









We are not sure if the weather had anything to do with our dragonfruit FINALLY flowering and fruiting, but it certainly was spectacular! Dragonfruit only flowers for one night, so we were lucky to catch it.








The fruit was an amazing colour and a very interesting taste experience.















And while all this is going on, the crocs just keep an eye on us all! We were able to creep up on this fellow in the boat while he was pretending not to see us.









This year has been the year of outboard motors dying. First our Yamaha 60 on our 6m Hooker packed it in, then a couple of months later our old, faithful Tohatsu 50 on our work boat retired itself. Rusty is now rapt to have a Yamaha 100 4-stroke on the back of the Hooker.











And our little tinny seems happy with its fancy new Yamaha 30.











The most exciting thing to happen this year was a visit from family. Rusty's nephew Clint, his wife Bec and their children Bowen and Lucy came for their third visit, and we had an absolute ball! There was much fishing, a big walk over to the front beach and lots of yarns and games.










Of course, Grotty Boy was lapping up all the attention!











To make it even more exciting, a trawler managed to run aground on our side beach while the family were visiting. After lots of phone conversations, radio contact, engines revving in the middle of the night, broken motors, police boat call-out and pulling, they did manage to get free and continue on their way.






September was harvest-time. We didn't expect a huge harvest this year as two years previously, when the shell were seeded, we were unable to source enough pearl shell and the weather was very unfavourable. We were very fortunate, however, to have the help of a wonderful, young Japanese man, Masaya, who was invaluable in assisting with the lifting of baskets and shell.








And of course we were able to spend valuable catch-up time with our amazing technician, Shoichi Mizuno who flew up from Cairns for the harvest. We appreciate his expertise and his friendship so much!













Next year we look forward to a bigger and better harvest - our 2015 seeding is happily growing pearls out on our lines in the waters of Escape River.









Which brings us to an interesting consideration. This year we made the huge decision to put our pearl farm on the market. Rusty is no longer able to dive for pearl shell due to health issues, and we both are keen to move south to be closer to family. We will be sad to leave Turtlehead Island, but are excited about the prospect of engaging in some small-scale cattle farming in New South Wales. So we may not actually be here for our 2017 harvest! We will have to wait and see. In the meantime, we will continue to farm pearls and enjoy life on the river.








Busy year so far!

Yes, it has been an incredibly busy year on Turtlehead Island so far!


In January we came home from a shopping trip in Bamaga to discover our wharf had taken a pounding and was looking a little worse for wear! We did manage to get all the shopping up to the island, but it looked a bit unsafe for a while. Time for a rebuild.



Rusty decided that if he had to do a major repair on the wharf, he would do a complete renovation of the shed at the end of the wharf to make it a more sheltered area for seeding and harvest. First step was fixing the foundations - pulling up the floorboards, replacing broken timbers and moving some of the drums.





Next step was putting up the framework for the new shed. We were able to use the timbers that we had saved from pulling down the old beach-house last year. Good to recycle up here where it's difficult to get resources!







Once the frame was up and the half-walls in place, it started looking more like a proper shed and it was time to look at getting a roof on.









It took a month of hard work to get it this far, but we figured it was worth it!









A little bit more refining, moving the slipway around, putting in shelves, putting the rocking chair in and it was really coming together.











All finished at last!











Once the shed was finished, we were keen to try it out with some mabe (blister) pearl seeding.










Seeding was a breeze in the right environment. The shell were happy and co-operated well!











We seeded Pinctada Maxima shell, then had a go at the lovely Pteria Penguin shell.










We have been very encouraged by some of the Penguin shell harvest that we have brought in this year.







The Penguin shells have gorgeous colour, and seeding them has been a bit experimental for the past few years.











Rusty thinks he finally has it worked out, and we are beginning to see that gorgeous colour reflected in our lovely mabes.













And of course, when we find a Penguin keshi - that's an extra bonus!








We don't have TV on Turtlehead Island - the Scrabble board gets a good workout - but we recently heard of a 4 wheel drive/fishing show called All 4 Adventure. They contacted us about doing some filming on the farm. After a few false starts, Jason, Simon and their two camera-men turned up to capture the beauty of our paradise.






We had a fun-filled day with the guys, fishing, harvesting some pearl shell, cooking shell meat and generally filming the farm. It should be screening sometime in October on Channel 10. Keep an eye out for us!






Winter-time is harvest-time for pearl shell, as the cooler water causes the gonad to retract and this produces tighter nacre on the pearl, creating a better lustre. When July rolled around this year, Rusty's back decided to pack it in. Our technician, Shoichi Mizuno, is a very busy man, so when he rang on a Sunday to say he could arrive on Tuesday to harvest, we couldn't say no! Bronwyn did start quietly panicking as we had hundreds of shell to bring in off the lines, clean and relocate to the raft for seeding, and Rusty was hardly able to get up off the bed. We are so very thankful for good friends who came to the rescue!



Monday morning saw the arrival of Bully and Cheryl Sander's (Cape York Ice and Tackle) boat, loaded with willing workers! They were Coen Sanders, Reon Sanders, George Sailor, TK Ransfield (the four most awesome teenagers on the Cape), Chris Chater (trusty skipper and full-on worker) and all-round good guy and stabilising influence Gary Taylor. All six guys worked so hard and with such enthusiasm to help us get the shell in and cleaned. We are so very grateful!






While all this frantic activity was happening on Turtlehead, our amazing friend Travis Heaps organised time off work, drove from Emerald to Cairns, and hopped on the same plane as our technician. He helped us with all the heavy lifting and bending involved in seeding time, and stayed for a week to make sure everything was done. We are so thankful for Travis's generosity and help.










We couldn't have done our harvest and seeding without the help of the Cape gang, and Trav! And of course, our wonderful technician, Shoichi Mizuno.










The seasons keep turning here in the Far North, and our garden continues to flourish.











Bronwyn puts in much effort and time to keep it looking tidy and producing good things for us to eat.









There are plenty of bugs who like to eat our garden too, but that's all part of life.












In fact, the bugs just make our garden more beautiful!










And of course, our resident green tree frogs are always just enjoying the moment.

























Pearl shell for Christmas!

What an amazing year 2014 turned out to be! Here's a quick run-down of the second half of the year.




After 6 months of waiting, Rusty's gun license came through and he has been quite busy ridding our part of the island of feral pigs. The problem had grown to the point where one pig was coming right into near our buildings at night to dig up roots and crabs.







It took three nights of stake-out, but Rusty finally nailed him - much to the relief of our dogs who we had to keep locked up for their own protection!








The pigs were not the only animals in danger - our frog-eating green tree snake put on a great performance on the roof just outside our bedroom window.








It was amazing to watch a small snake swallow a fair-sized frog over only 10 minutes. Rusty was able to shoot some great photos.





Of course a major event in the life of a pearl farm is harvest time! Our amazing technician and good friend Shoichi Mizuno made his annual trek up from Cairns for the harvest and we enjoyed watching him extract some beautiful, unique pearls from shell that were seeded two years ago.



We also harvested some Penguin Shell mabes, and found some gorgeous keshii pearls in one of them - our first ever in this kind of shell! This is what pearl farming is all about - the pearls.







In September we were very privileged to have Rusty's nephew Clint, his wife Bec and their children Bowen and Lucy visit us. Bec looked totally glam doing the washing-up in one of our strands!






It was wonderful spending time with family on our island paradise and hearing the sound of kids enjoying themselves. They also brought along Clint's old hunting dog, Codi, who had a lovely time lounging around and sniffing lots of new smells. The kids had a ball fossicking on the beach, playing with starfish and soldier crabs, and catching fish off the wharf.


In November this year we had a very important visit from Lisa Stevenson - a researcher from Canberra who had been appointed by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority to investigate the viability of changing the size of the pearl shell that we are allowed to collect from the wild. Two Fisheries officials from Thursday Island, Shane and Andrew also came to stay. Lisa has done an enormous amount of research, trawling through countless pages of studies and meetings, and we learned a great deal about pearl shell from her work. Did you know that all pearl shell start off male, but then change to female when they reach 100mm in size? But then they can also change back to male if they get stressed? But the only way to figure out if they are male or female is to cut them open and look at the colour of their gonad - ouch!



The reason this study is taking place is that this year we purchased our own Pearl Shell collection license which enables us to take our boat into the Torres Strait to harvest wild shell from the ocean floor. We have had to take this step as the amount of shell that has been supplied to us through local divers has been insufficient for a viable pearl farm to continue operation. Rusty worked hard to rebuild an old hookah that was here at the farm and install it into our boat so that a diver could work under the water on the hookah while Rusty steered the boat and supervised the airflow. Bryan Payne, an experienced diver from Cairns, came up late in the year to dive for us under our license. Bryan and Rusty were also accompanied by our good friend Ray Moore from Thursday Island - a wise old man of the sea. We learned a lot about the type of sea floor that hosts pearl shell during this time, and now have a good idea of where to look in future dives.






Since the diving expedition, we have made two trips up to Badu in the Torres Strait to collect pearl shell from islander divers, supervised by local legend Richard Bowie.









It has been a great relief to us to have beautiful, fresh, healthy pearl shell arriving on the farm and settling in for seeding early next year. The Torres Strait is a spectacularly gorgeous area to live and work in - and our early morning trips into this region are breathtakingly beautiful. It really is a pristine, tropical paradise.












The pearl shell are caught by local divers Wanai and Dennis, and with the help of Tataku, Wanai's son, then loaded into the live well of our Hooker boat for transport back to Turtlehead.









We are so excited that these guys from Badu have been able to supply us with such good quality shell, and are very encouraged about the future of our farm.











In early December we were humbled to have a visit from a wonderful group of people on board the Spanish Mackeral trawler Wild Card. Bruce and Juanita Davey have fished and lived on board for over 20 years, raising all three of their children on the boat in the Gulf of Carpentaria. They were given a sustainability award for their fishing practices and records, and then were threatened by a lock out of their fishing grounds by the proposed introduction of Australia's Marine Park boundaries, which resulted in much stress for not only the Wild Card crew but other fishing industries around Australia. A documentary titled Drawing the Line (www.drawingthelinemovie.com) was produced to outline the issues surrounding the introduction of the Marine Park boundaries, which features Wild Card and other fishing families. Thankfully the Marine Park proposal was nullified with the change in government, which has given these families back their livelihood and their legacy of caring for and respecting the seas in which they live and work. Juanita is an amazing lady who is passionate about her family and her fishing. She still loves catching mackeral and this year landed over 4,200 mackeral single-handedly, and filleted them too! Tom, their chief deckie did the same - he can fillet a big mackeral in just 15 seconds. We were very privileged to go on board for dinner and had a great time chatting around the table, checking out Bruce's garden in the wheel house and marvelling at Tiger's spotless engine room. Amazing people - amazing boat!


It has been incredibly hot and dry here in Queensland this year, and we have been carefully watching huge bushfires over on the mainland. Thankfully the Wet season is starting and we have had a couple of good showers to refill the tanks and refresh the garden. Lots of smoke, however, makes wonderful sunsets!





And so we come to Christmas. We will be enjoying a quiet day on the island, eating ham with home-made mango chutney and salad, making Christmas phone calls to family back down south. Then we are looking forward to a very busy 2015, taking care of all our new pearl shell babies. We wish all our friends and customers a very Merry Christmas and a safe, joyful New Year. We look forward to catching up with those of you who float past us and those who drop in from above in 2015.












2014 begins!


Such a long time since our last blog! Life here on the farm carries on. We live and work in a gorgeous place, enjoying the rhythm of life on the river -









even though it can be dangerous - especially if you are a turtle.










The Wet season has come and gone for us here in north Queensland, and our vegie garden is recovering from the onslaught. We had a wonderful crop of eggplant,




 

and are currently enjoying capsicum as the other vegies begin to poke their heads up into the sunshine.








We are also currently experiencing a baby-boom of the green tree frog variety! They are popping up in the most unlikely places - on the clothesline, under the edge of the freezer seal, on the whipper-snipper, in the tomatoes....they are very, very cute.









The south-east winds have returned to our area, which means that it is time for the trawlers to return to the east coast. This makes it easier for us to pick up our fuel from the mother-ship that services the trawlers out on the reef. When it is calm enough, Rusty can take our 6m Hooker boat out and mix it with the big boys.






It can be a little intimidating to be fueling up amongst the trawlers, but Rusty reckons the trip out and back (2 hours each way) is an awesome journey.









Of course, our shell are busy in the water, working on growing pearls, so we are also busy cleaning the shell and making sure they are comfortable. It can be hot work out on the water, so Rusty has added a sun-roof to our work-tinny - to keep the sun off us, not to allow the sun in!






April was an exciting month for us, with two visitors to the farm. Travis Heaps came to us as a Wwoofer, using his annual holidays from the mines to help us out with a myriad of tasks. Travis visited us previously on an epic fishing trip around the Cape in his boat with his little dog, Poppy. This time he stayed for a month and was invaluable in helping Rusty finish off tasks that had been lingering for a while - re-roofing, tidying up construction areas, straightening the wharf, reinforcing the wharf head, etc.




Travis also found time to explore the island and fish - he is a happy man when he has a fish on the line - and even happier when he has landed it!







During his time here Travis taught himself how to work in leather and before he left, he presented us with a beautiful leather-bound notebook. It will become a scrapbook of the farm, and Travis's photo will be on the front page. Many, many thanks Travis for your help and contribution to the history of our pearl farm.







Our other visitor during April was Bronwyn's nephew, Sean Engel. It was wonderful to have Sean visit with us and show him how a pearl farm operates. Sean was also able to help out, and with Travis, Sean and Rusty working together we were able to fell the coconut tree that was beginning to lean towards the generator shed. These trees are lovely, but when they come down they land with an earth-shaking thump.







Sean also had time for some fishing and was quite pleased with his diamond trevally and queenfish - caught and released.







While Travis and Sean were here we harvested some mabe shell that we had seeded during 2013, and were quite pleased with the results. We have some mabe pearls that will make lovely chokers and pendants, and also found a number of keshii (natural) pearls.





Sean flew into Horn Island when coming to visit us, and we had a memorable trip up to Thursday Island to meet him. While zooming along in the boat at about 20 knots, the tiller handle of the outboard came off in Rusty's hand! A bit of quick thinking and Rusty managed to turn off the motor, then set about rigging up a handle of an old broomstick that we had on-board. It got us out of trouble, but of course was only temporary. We had to get the motor fixed, so Rusty decided there was nothing for it but to take the boat around the Cape and down to Weipa so the good guys at Weipa Auto and Marine could work on it. They were able to loosen up the motor (which had resulted in the bolt breaking), and make the tiller more usable. Many thanks to Sam and the guys for the quick turnaround so Rusty could start back home the next day. It was a long voyage - 8 hours to Weipa and 10 hours to come home.





Bronwyn's birthday pops up every May, so we celebrated on the wharf at sunset, as we do! Cheese, dips, salami, olives, sun-dried tomato and a glass of wine - what more could we ask for? Life is good - cheers!

















Merry Christmas!!




Another year gone! We hope that all of our friends and family have a very special Christmas, celebrating the season in style and with great joy. Here at Turtlehead, Rusty, Bronwyn, CB and Grotty will be having a quiet day, feasting and resting. Enjoy!




We have just said goodbye to our latest Wwoofer (Willing Worker on Organic Farms). Jacopo Rangoni comes from Florence in Italy, and stayed with us for 7 weeks. We thoroughly enjoyed Jacopo's company and his help with a number of projects.





Jacopo took a real shine to breaking up concrete and relocating it to the top of our wharf to strengthen the retaining wall. He then topped off the concrete with our lovely bauxite rocks. The top of the wharf now looks awesome! The north-west wind will be hitting soon, but the wharf is strong and well-prepared.




Rusty and Jacopo also spent some time improving the safety of the wharf by adding railings on the side where the boats are tied. This serves two purposes :- to further strengthen the wharf and to act as a visual barrier to our crocs. It also looks mighty good!



A project that has been in Rusty's mind for quite a while is to pull down what we call the 'Beach House'. This is a lovely cottage that was built  a few years ago over on our south-west boundary, facing the side beach. While it is a lovely spot, it is too far away from the generator, the phone, the water pump - basically from the rest of the farm. It is also a problem to access when the tide is high as there are some strategically placed mangroves that you should not be near at night time. So the Beach House has not been used for a few years, and had to come down.



Jacopo and Rusty spent quite a few weeks dismantling the building and transporting the materials back to the farm. We now have lots of excellent timber, roofing iron and windows for other maintenance jobs and projects.






One of those maintenance projects was to rebuild the north side of the generator shed. Rusty had discovered white ants in the wall a while ago and pulled out the affected parts. He has now put in a window from the Beach House, replaced the beams, put new sheet of iron on the roof and will be rebuilding the wall. He is rapt that this will be ready when the north-west wind hits and is looking forward to watching it from his new pearl shell room.




Presently, Rusty has had to carve his lovely mabe shell pendants, sitting on his rocking chair at the top pf the stairs in the breeze. This has been fine, but he is keen to set up an exhaust fan and do the cutting, carving and finishing of the shell all in one room, designed for the purpose.







He has still been busy making shell pendants, and also our lovely pearl jewellery.







Up here in the tropics, we really only experience two season - the Wet and the Dry. The Wet season has just started, with a few nice, heavy falls. We believe it is the best time of the year as everything turns green, the tanks fill up and the river comes alive.






Our garden definitely loves the rain - as long as it it not too heavy!


                         




Our garden-in-a-boat is really powering up!





We have been amazed at the quality and quantity of the produce, and enjoying the fruit of Bron's labour. The boat took a fair bit of preparation, apart from actually getting it up near the kitchen. There are layers of compost, soil, seaweed and the wonderful black stuff that washes up from the mangroves.







Most of the plants in the boat were actually self-sown from the compost, especially the tomatoes, eggplants and capsicum!






Of course, with the rain come the bugs. Our lime tree and passionfruit vines were doing it very tough with red meat ants attacking the young leaves. A lovely lady called Meg came ashore from a yacht and suggested we get the green ants onto them.




Green ants like to nest in trees and are also wonderful pollinators, so Rusty transferred some nests into our long-suffering plants. The other thing about green ants is their extreme aggression when protecting their nests. Those little critters pack a punch - just ask Rusty!







During November we also had a visit from two officers of the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection. This department is responsible for crocodile management, and we had contacted them regarding our 3m croc (nicknamed 'Pugly') that had been hanging around the wharf. Tony and Mike came up for two nights to assess our situation and gave us invaluable advice about managing our resident crocs. They talked to us about establishing an exclusion zone for the crocs around the wharf, and reinforcing it by 'hazing' the crocs. They showed us how to do this by zooming around in the boat at night time with a big spotlight and rubber bullets for the crocs' tails. This doesn't hurt the crocs, but gives them a clear message to move somewhere quieter and safer in the river. So far, it appears to have been very effective with croc sightings way down over the past few weeks. We really appreciate the willingness of the department to visit us and work with us in managing our toothy neighbours!




That's all our news for 2013. We trust 2014 will be even more exciting and fun-filled - for us and for all of our friends and visitors. We look forward to seeing some of you next year as you drop in or sail by!










Revamping the Tinnie!




This month we welcomed our new Wwoofer (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), Kevin le Port. Kevin is from a small village on the coast of Brittany, in France, and comes from a family who farm oysters in the traditional manner. Needless to say, he is extremely competent in a boat and has been a real help to us in revamping our tired old tinnie, and in cleaning shell, mowing the grass, building a rock wall, and on it goes!





Our tinnie is a 5m Cairns Custom Craft that is about 19 years old. It has been at the farm much longer than we have and has been "well-used". It is an invaluable asset to us as we use it to go out to the longlines to clean shell and to push around our anchor-lifting apparatus. It is an old work-horse, but has definitely seen better days and has the dents to prove it!





Because our river is home to a number of large, salt-water crocodiles, sharks and other nasties, we have been concerned about the safety of our tinnie for quite a while now, and when we heard about Kapten Boat Collars, and saw one of the collars in action, we decided our tinnie needed some TLC and made the investment.The boat collar is a large piece of foam that wraps around the boat to ensure buoyancy and to stabilize the boat in swell. It is attached using plates and bolts, and comes with full instructions and support from the suppliers. The website www.kaptenboatcollar.com demonstrates a tinnie with a boat collar surfing waves! We won't be surfing, but having the extra security when the swell is big on the river, or when we are attached to the longlines is priceless for us.



The first step in revamping our tinnie was a bit of panel beating. The poor old tinnie had taken a battering from being tied up to the wharf during countless storms and high winds, and was full of dents. Rusty gave it a good beating with a rubber mallet and a block of wood. Job done!






When the huge cardboard boxes containing the collar arrived, a lot of measuring, drilling and securing plates had to take place. We had to find a table long enough to fit the collar on.






Next step - bolting it all onto the tinnie. This involved lots of drill work and lining up holes and plates. Working in between the tides was a bit of a challenge - watching out for crocs when we were trying to finish something as the tide rose.







Finally it was ready for a test drive, and we were really happy with how secure and stable the boat felt in the water. The boat collar is worth every dollar we spent and every minute it took to get it on the boat. No free dinners for our crocs anymore!







With the tinnie feeling like new in the water, Rusty's attention was diverted to the functioning of the boat as a work platform. To clean the longlines, we have a roller on the front of the boat which the longline is lifted onto and then looped along the side of the boat and secured at the back.





We can then clean the line, pull up the baskets and pull the boat along the line. The roller we had been using was very heavy, and the line often fell off the back, causing much angst. Time for a refit.








Rusty pulled to pieces a couple of heavy buoys we found on the front beach which had stainless steel frames which he was able to make into two new rollers - one for the front and one for the back. He also used a piece of roof guttering to make a trough to run along the side of the boat under the line to catch the weed and sponge that is scraped off.






The boat is also loaded up with a cleaning table for the shell and various bits and pieces. So having a roller system that works well is a great relief and makes cleaning on the lines much easier and safer.







Next to come under Rusty's critical eye was the necessity to bring our little camp stove along on cleaning trips. There is a borer sponge that attacks pearl shell called "red ass". It creates what looks like a red cancer in the shell. To combat red ass we melt a wax mixture and paint it onto the surface of the shell.




We have always had to take shell back to the wharf to do this, but Rusty built a little box on the front of the boat to house the stove and protect it from the wind. It works really well and has cut down the stress on the shell and the extra trips to bring shell back out to the line.











So now we had a really functional, safe boat ready to roll.














Test time - and she works beautifully. Time to go fishing!











And the fishing is fine.























Seeding Time Again!


The dry season has supposedly started here in North Queensland, but we have had plenty of showers lately. This did not, however, prevent us from seeding and harvesting in May. Our wonderful pearling technician, Shoichi Mizuno, flew up from Cairns to seed virgin shell and harvest a small number of shell that were reseeded two years ago.



It was only a small harvest, but there were some beautiful, big baroque, and lovely circle pearls that made their entrance into the world!




Rusty has been very busy creating unique pieces of jewellery combining carved pearl shell, pearls and also carved penguin shell. Some of his creations are quite stunning, and he is still learning about the properties of the shell and the potential of his carving tools. We have been very encouraged by the amazing colours we are finding in the penguin shell, which Rusty has been able to capture in the jewellery.





Bronwyn was thrilled by her custom-made penguin shell birthday present!




Our Wwoofer, Simone, has returned to his life in Italy, but before he left, Rusty and Bronwyn were able to get away from the island for their once-every-two-year break - an overnight stay at Loyalty Beach camping ground in Seisia.




It was wonderful to sit in the outdoor restaurant, read a magazine and enjoy a drink as the sun went down. Many thanks to the owner, Patsy Lennox, for developing such a relaxing, natural atmosphere for us pearl farmers to enjoy when we go to town!




Rusty has been making the most of our new boat, The Silver Pearl, and we are very happy about the savings we are making when Rusty takes the boat out into the reef to pick up fuel from the trawler fleet mother-ship. He is still amazed at the difference the raised bow and extra metre makes - and very thankful to John Margetts of Hooker Boats in Cairns. Check out their website at www.hookerboats.com


Rusty recently came back from the reef with 600 litres of fuel on board in quite a large swell, and had a nasty scare when he came down the front of a wave and plowed into the back of the wave in front of it. The boat instantly filled with water, the motor missed but kept going, and Rusty was surrounded by floating fuel drums! The amazing thing is that the bow came back up, the boat emptied itself within 2 minutes, we lost nothing and he came home safe. In our old boat, the outcome would have been much more serious than a salt-water dousing!



Yachts and catamarans are making their way north in their annual migration, and we are having fun meeting old friends and new. It was great to touch base with Brad and Lil Jones from Thursday Island who called through on their way home in Iris - the cat that Brad built. Rusty reckoned it is the most relaxed he has ever seen them!








So life continues - the dogs are happy chasing pigs, the garden is blooming and fruiting and the pearls are growing.












And of course the sunsets!
























The Silver Pearl


The BIG news at Turtlehead Island this month is that Silver Pearl has arrived at last! Hooker Boats in Cairns (www.hookerboats.com.au) have custom-made a 6m fibreglass boat for us, with built-in live wells which will enable us to travel up into the Torres Straits to collect live pearl shell and transport them back to the island safely. The boat is extremely stable in big swell and is beautifully finished. Many thanks to John at Hooker Boats who kept us updated with
its progress while it was being built through photos and phone calls. When the boat arrived it was a lovely, pure white. Rusty is keen to keep the boat in pristine condition, but Escape River is so healthy that lots of organisms like to grow on the bottom of boats, and we cannot use anti-foul as it would affect the pearl shell. So Rusty and Simone got busy designing a 'bed' for Silver Pearl. After many modifications and redesigns, the bed was built and we are now able to winch the boat out of the water onto a floating pontoon to clean it and maintain the motor. Rusty and Simone are justifiably proud of their handiwork!





Having such a stable boat means that Rusty is now able to travel out into the Coral Sea to buy fuel from the mother-ship of the fishing fleet in our area, which is a huge saving. He has already been enjoying his adventures in the Silver Pearl.






Apart from helping Rusty build the bed for Silver Pearl, Simone, our Italian Wwoofer, has been cleaning shell, digging holes for plants, mowing grass and lifting anchors among other things. It has been wonderful to have an extra pair of hands to help with these tasks, pa
rticularly with working on the anchors. These huge anchors secure our longlines in the water, and many of them have been underwater for years. They need to be lifted, cleaned, checked for weaknesses, the shackles replaced, then repositioned in the river. Simone seems to be enjoying the experience of working on a pearl farm and we are definitely enjoying the experience of hosting him. Our dogs absolutely love Simone!


Last year we seeded our first batch of Pteria Penguin shell which we had collected from our pearl shell baskets. Bronwyn had grown the shell for about 12 months previously to a size suitable for mabe seeding. Penguin shell take 6 years to grow a proper pearl, so are not really viable in that sense, but only take a year to produce mabe (or blister) pearls. The colours inside our Penguin shells are gorgeous and we were looking forward to seeing how our mabes turned out.


This month we harvest
ed some of our Penguin shell and were very encouraged by the results. Rusty has been busy carving the shell into beautiful jewellery and experimenting with different shapes. He has made some pieces with the mabe pearls as the focal point, and has also combined some of our keshii pearls from Pinctada Maxima (pearl shell) with the carved Penguin shell to stunning effect. Stay tuned as Rusty learns more about the properties of the shell and what he can do with it.





We are waiting for the annual migration of yachts into the northern waters on their way through to Asia and beyond. As yet, the late Wet season and the North-west winds seem to holding the yachts further south, bu
t we are expecting visitors soon. In the meantime, our garden is growing well and we have had some other kinds of visitors who were very much welcome.








And of course, the sunsets just keep on coming!




























New Year


We have had an interesting start to the New Year here on Turtlehead Island! Queensland has been experiencing some wild weather, and although we were not directly in Cyclone Oswald's path, we did have high north-west winds and heavy rain for about ten days. Usually our north-west winds last for 30 minutes, so ten days was a bit of a marathon. We are very pleased to say that all of Rusty's work on stabilising the wharf paid off and we escaped with minimal damage.






Rusty has completed his epic voyage up into the Torres Strait to pick up live pearl shell in our 5m dinghy. He set off late on a Thursday afternoon towing our half-submerged shell cage, and arrived early Friday morning. Wanai and Dennis had the shell ready to load, then it was a quick turn around.....and a VERY slow trip back, arriving home on Saturday morning.







The trip was very slow because the shell must be kept submerged in water to keep them alive, but this gave Rusty plenty of time to enjoy the amazing scenery of the Torres Strait. After 36 hours in the boat, he was extremely glad to get the shell home and go to bed!








As a result of the epic voyage, Rusty has realised the need for a bigger boat, with a built-in live well, in which he can pick up shell from the outer islands. Having a tank to hold the shell on the boat will mean he can get the shell home more quickly, and he will not be out on the sea overnight. Hooker Boats in Cairns (www.hookerboats.com) are in the process of custom building our new boat, which will be ready very soon. Rusty is looking forward to his next voyage!






We are extremely fortunate to be hosting Simone Mariuzzo from Italy for the next three months. Simone is a Wwoofer (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), and is working for us to obtain an extension of his working visa. He is a fantastic guy and is enjoying the experience of working on a pearl farm. His balancing skills as a gymnast have come in handy when walking on the rafts, and he absolutely loves animals, which our dogs are very happy about! Simone comes from near Venice, and calls our 5m dinghy a 'gondola', which makes our farm a much more romantic place.










Late last year we purchased a flexible shaft power tool, which is like a drill that hangs from the roof for carving and polishing pearl shell. Rusty has been making some gorgeous pieces, working with the natural shape of the shell and attaching pearls to complement the shell. He is excited about experimenting further as he learns more about the potential of the tool and the characteristics of the shell. These one-off pieces of jewellery are available for purchase at Cape York Ice and Tackle near Bamaga, and also directly from the farm.










So all is well at Turtlehead Island! The barramundi season has opened and the boys celebrated by catching an absolute beauty!









The box jellyfish season is also open, so we are being very careful about things in the water. Our crocs are also back after a break during the north-west wind. We have explained to Simone that there are many things that can kill you in Queensland, but it is still beautiful.












Our sunsets confirm it!





Building Things!

Forgive me readers - it has been four months since my last blog! Not because nothing has been happening, but because there have been lots of projects in the works. So this blog will be a long one.

We have been busy building. One of the major concerns for a while has been our roofs. The farm is located on a salt-water estuary, so rust has eaten into the iron roofs, particularly on two of the buildings. A builder who is working on the Cape was kind enough to hire out some scaffolding, so Rusty braved the heights in the south-east winds and replaced the roof over the house. We are no longer woken by the roof banging and won't have to get up in the middle of the night to dodge drips. The generator shed was another problem, and it is comforting to know that all our electrical equipment is now safe when the Wet finally arrives.


Rusty has also been making a boat-cage for live shell. Hopefully, very soon, he will be undertaking a journey up into the Torres Strait to pick up live shell from local divers. Live Pinctada Maxima shell are quite 'precious' and need to be kept in the water as much as possible, so an old tinny that has been laying around the farm has been called back into service as a cage. Rusty enjoyed bashing it full of holes so that he can tow it half-submerged with the live shell in baskets inside the boat. We also purchased a terrific GPS/Sounder so Rusty doesn't get lost or grounded on his epic voyage.



A previous blog showed the development of our 'Apparatus' for lifting the heavy anchors that hold our pearl shell longlines Unfortunately our Apparatus decided to float away to New Guinea one day while we were shopping in Bamaga, and has not been heard from since! Which brings us to 'Apparatus II' - the new and improved version. Thanks to our friend Wayne, Rusty had the design and construction method clarified, and was able to improve on it by making it wider, stronger and more stable. It works a treat and has already helped us with another project.



This particular project has been in Rusty's mind since he experienced his first north-west storm at the farm - a system to suppress waves. When the north-west wind and swell hits our wharf, it is too dangerous to even walk on, let alone try to secure anything on it! Think Mexican Wave! So the next wave-suppression experiment is in progress, which involves car tyres, ropes, floats and anchors. The first row was made on the beach and  is in now place, and we are waiting for the first north-west storm, with trepidation. Richard and Fay called through earlier this year in their boat, and Richard patiently taught Rusty how to splice rope, so all the ropes on this project are strong, neat and secure.


During the past month we also had the pleasure of a group of surveyors marking the boundaries of our lease and surveying the points of the airstrip on the island. We were amazed at the amount of work and the distance these talented men covered over two stinking hot days! It was the first time in the farm's history that it has been properly surveyed and it is fascinating to enter the coordinates on Google Earth to check out our boundaries. Our small dog, Grotty-boy, enjoyed sharing his quad bike with the guys, but sat in the lap of one of the men when he dared to take Grotty's favourite spot on the bike!



Apart from all the practical projects that have been going on around the farm, we still continue to clean shell and make jewellery from gorgeous pearls. Rusty had the great pleasure of putting a strand of pearls together for a customer recently and is currently working on some new, simple designs.



We would like to wish all of our customers and friends a very merry and safe Christmas. We have enjoyed meeting many new friends this year from the boating community and look forward to catching up with the return visitors in 2013. Have a wonderful time with family and friends over the New Year break!






Maintenance Time

Life goes on here on Turtlehead Island, and this is a time of maintenance and repairs.





Rusty has been very busy finishing the verandah on the front of the generator shed. The north-west winds will arrive soon, so it was very important to get the shed weather-proof. Good to finally get the painting finished too! Can you see Rusty's cool boat propeller hanging feature?








We have a wonderful old water pump which we use to get water from our bore into storage tanks for washing and watering the garden. It has needed some TLC for a while now. A year ago, Garth and Sarah built a little shed to shelter it from the rain, and this month Rusty pulled it to pieces (a few times) and replaced the leather buckets and seals. It is now running like it's brand new - we actually estimate it to be about 50 years old! Rusty reckons it's his favourite piece of equipment on the farm.





On the topic of water, our drinking water comes from a rainwater tank near the kitchen. We recently had a nasty surprise when the water started tasting and smelling a little off, and Rusty found a rotting green tree frog inside. The garden had a lovely drink of rainwater, and we started on a fresh tank.









On shell - we currently have an application in that allows us to sell the pearl shell meat after we harvest our mabe pearls. Mabe pearls are the pearls the shell makes when we glue shapes onto the inside of the pearl. We seeded some mabe a year ago, and have been doing some test harvests. We have found some gorgeous mabe and blister pearls, and also some pearls that have been hiding in there for 3 years, and of course some keshii (natural) pearls.





Pearl shell meat is considered a great delicacy and is similar to scallops. The meat is actually the muscle that holds the shell closed. We are excited to be able to sell the meat in the near future as it is much sought-after up here by the local people.





















The Emergence of the Apparatus

A couple of months ago, Rusty was describing to our friend, Jay, his idea for pulling and dropping anchors on the farm. The anchors which are used to secure the longlines and rafts are huge stingray anchors, and are nearly impossible to lift and move with only a small boat. Rusty has been working on his idea for a floating platform that utilises an endless chain winch which can be pushed into position by our boat. He wasn't sure what this 'thing' actually was, and Jay suggested it was an 'apparatus'. Hence the birth of 'The Apparatus'!

Enter Wayne and Lynne, who had come up to the Cape for a holiday, and volunteered to help out at the farm for a week. Wayne, being a builder by trade, was able to help Rusty transfer his ideas for The Apparatus into reality. The following photos tell the story.








The first cut.























The top section.
































Ready for launching.






















She floats!



















Action stations.






























Anchors ahoy!

























A huge thankyou to Wayne and Lynne for taking time out on their holiday to help Rusty's dream of The Apparatus become reality.

This month also marked Rusty and Bronwyn's second wedding anniversary. We celebrated in style at the end of the wharf with champagne and nibblies as we watched the sun go down.






THEY'RE BACK....

They're back - the south-east winds that is! The south-easters have returned and so have the boats heading north for the winter. Who can blame them when it's lovely and warm up here?

 

Rusty and Bronwyn have been enjoyng lots of company in the last month. Firstly, Bronwyn's sister Melissa and her husband Tony visited for a week. It was wonderful to have their company and their help in getting the raft finished and up the river. It now has a lovely croc-deterrent barrier and is sitting pretty tied up to lines out in the channel. So far it is proving to be very stable and durable.

Melissa and Tony also brought a telescope up with them - it is amazing to see the craters of the moon so clearly, and we are waiting for the right conditions to check out the stars.

Our garden also benefited from Melissa and Tony's visit and the ginger and turmeric are just beginning to sprout. Bring on the curries!

When Melissa and Tony headed back south, four fishermen and their fishing guide, Jay Arnold, arrived to enjoy the bounty of our nutrient-rich river system. 


Immediately after the fishermen left, our pearling technician, Shoichi Mizuno flew in from Cairns to seed some pearl shell for us. Mizuno's good humour and professionalism make him a wonderful person to work with, and we look forward to seeing the results of his work in two years' time when our pearls are harvested.



Mizuno headed south just as some wonderful friends, Ross and Roslyn Squire, arrived in the river on their power-cat, R&R. Rusty and Bronwyn met Ross and Ros almost two years ago on R&R's trip south, and this time they are headed north to the Kimberlies in Western Australia, accompanied by five other boats who are keen to experience that amazing part of Australia. Travelling with R&R during this leg of the voyage are Richard and Fay in their boat, Graymac III.

Ross and Ros also added to the garden, bringing lime trees, chilli and eggplant seedlings from Cairns. The curries are looking good! After a few days of wining and dining, Ross and Ros, Richard and Fay, set off north to continue their adventure. Ross and Ros are two of the most warm and generous people that Rusty and Bronwyn have met on the river, and we are hoping we will see them again in the not-too-distant future. Check out their website if you are keen on cruising the Kimberlies. www.coastalcruising.com.au


So life at the farm settles back in to as close to normal as it can get. The cruising season has started, so we expect more visitors from all over the world coming through our little patch of paradise. The shell are getting ready for their period of turning in preparation for going out onto the raft, the vegies are growing, the birds are nesting and the crocs are just doing what crocs do - waiting for a feed.






The Great Raft Project


Longlines vs rafts - the debate about which is better for growing pearls continues. Historic photos of Turtlehead Island pearl farm show that both methods have been used here in Escape River. When Rusty purchased the farm in 2009 there were many longlines already in the water, and also lots of broken lines bobbing around. One of the disadvantages of longlines is that incoming boats find it difficult to see them when the light is not good. Another disadvantage is the danger involved when trying to hook up to the lines when the tide is strong or the wind is creating swell in the river. Hence our foray back to rafts!

Rusty recently had a wonderful time ordering logs and drums to make our first ever raft from scratch with brand new materials. Then came the problem of how to get 36 x 6m copper logs and 24 plastic drums out to the island in our small boat. A very generous and gracious friend who owns a barge in Seisia to the rescue - many, many thanks to Warren who not only helped to load and unload the logs and drums and bring them out to the island, but also took us on a night time adventure down the coast for a few hours on his boat. Priceless!





And the great raft project began. For the next week, Rusty and Bronwyn lugged logs, rolled drums, drilled holes, tightened bolts and tied ropes to make the first of two new rafts. The resulting structure is incredibly stable and strong - perfect for hanging baskets from and working on when cleaning shell. But what about the crocs? The next stage is to make a barrier that stretches all the way around the outside edge of the raft. That should discourage any crocs from making flying leaps! The raft should be ready to take up the river to its final resting place very soon, where it will be anchored and loaded up with seeded shell.







Rusty and Bronwyn are now looking forward to the arrival of Bronwyn's sister and brother-in-law, Melissa and Tony. They think they are coming to the island for a holiday, but the materials for the second raft are waiting.....

 

A little bit solar

It has been a long time since our last blog, and so much has happened! Bronwyn's father passed away in February and she left the farm for the first time in 18 months. While helping to clear out her dad's house was a daunting task, the trip south to Wollongong enabled us to purchase some necessary equipment for the farm. Bronwyn's brother, Scott, was also able to help us source some solar panels to run the equipment. We would love to go completely solar out here on Turtlehead Island as there is usually plenty of sunshine, but the initial cost outlay is huge.

In the Dry season we have many yachts and other boats sheltering and resting in our river after their long trip up the east coast of the Cape. Often it is their first time visiting our river and they are unsure of the layout of our lines and also unsure of the location of rock bars and the shallow parts of the river. Twice last year and already once this year yachts have run aground or hit rock bars. Fortunately the tide has helped them get off, but it is not a pleasant experience. We have also had yachts enter the river at night and hit our lines, which can result in great stress and expense. All this made us realise that we need a VHF marine radio with which to communicate with boats as they enter the river. This means we can welcome them to Escape River, suggest a safe anchorage and invite them in for a cuppa after their long trek north. We have purchased a radio which links up to a car battery, which is in turn linked up to a small solar panel on the roof of our kitchen where the VHF antenna is also located. It has been fascinating already to listen to the marine traffic going past our island, and also to a relayed Mayday call from the Torres Strait. We are just waiting for the first yacht to arrive!

 

Our trusty (and rusty) old petrol powered pump that we used to wash down the boat and the wharf after cleaning the pearl shell finally gave up in January. We were able to purchase a new deck wash pump which also connects to a car battery, linked in to a solar panel on the roof of our shelter at the end of the wharf. It is wonderful to be able to pull up in the boat and have running water ready to clean the boat and equipment without having to fuel up and pull start the old pump. It may sound like a simple thing, but it is vital in terms of shell hygiene.

 

 

 

Apart from travelling down south, catching up with family and friends and buying equipment, Bronwyn has been working on a penguin shell project. Penguin shell are uniquely shaped shell that can also grow pearls, but they take much longer than the Pinctada Maxima shell we generally use. We find juvenile penguin shell attached to our baskets, and Bronwyn has collected a fair number of them to grow and monitor to a good size. Our plan is to use mabe seeding on the shell where we glue shapes directly onto the shell which are then covered in nacre over a period of time. The colours in the penguin shell nacre are absolutely gorgeous and will make stunning jewellery. Stay tuned.....

Facing the big world

 

It has been over a month now since our virgin shell were seeded. During that time they have been hanging in plastic baskets from the raft at the end of our wharf, and lovingly turned over every day, then every second day, then every third day. They are now ready to fly the nest and face the big world out on the lines in the river.

 

We have been X-raying the shell to see which ones have vomitted out the nucleus and putting them aside for another try. The ones that have retained the nucleus are cleaned, put into panel baskets and will be heading upstream as soon as the wind dies down. It's very exciting to put a shell through the machine and see that tiny grey spot that indicates there is a pearl growing inside.

 

The next step is transferring all the successful shell into clean panel baskets and transporting them to our lines where they will live and grow for the 2-3 years. This means lots of labour-intensive work for the next few weeks!

 

During the turning cycle we had an up-close-and-personal experience with our 3.5m crocodile. Rusty had been turning the shell on the raft while Bronwyn had been on croc-watch, and we had just turned to head back up the wharf when the croc surfaced right beside us! He came from underneath the wharf, put his head out, looked at us, sank back down and swam off. All of this was down in complete silence, which made it even spookier. Our wharf is less than a metre off the surface of the water, so we got a really good look at him. Was he under the wharf watching while Rusty was leaning over the raft turning the baskets? We have been extra diligent ever since!

We have been spending quite a bit of time at the end of our wharf - turning shell, cleaning shell, watching for crocs - and amazingly a sun bird couple have built their nest right in the middle of our work area and are rearing two chicks in there. Sunbirds are small olive green and yellow birds with long beaks to gather nectar from flowers. They have beautiful, trilling voices and fly happily around the farm singing, so we were rapt that they felt comfortable enough to build a nest where we can watch them - it's just above our head level, hanging from a rope with a little doorway and verandah. We can just see the little beaks poking out of the opening, waiting for mum. It will be very exciting when these little fellows are ready to leave the nest and face the big world.

The new year has already been busy for us, and we are looking forward to the rest of 2012 as our pearls continue to grow and the life of the river unfolds around us.

 

The wait is over!

The rain has arrived and so has the shell! We have been having some lovely downpours of rain which have cleaned the air and filled our tanks. The storms are not so much fun, however, when you are in a boat trying to get home in one piece!

 

Our shell collector, Tommy, supplied us with some lovely, wild, virgin shell a couple of weeks ago. Rusty raced into the Cape to pick them up, then raced home to get them back into the water. We spent a couple of days sorting our shell into gold-lip and silver-lip. This seeding we wanted to experiment by seeding gold-lip shell with gold-lip saibo, and silver-lip shell with silver-lip saibo. The shell we use is Pinctada Maxima, and it comes in both gold-lip and silver-lip - the difference just comes down to genetics, like blondes and brunettes. When virgin shell are first seeded, the technician cuts a piece of mantle tissue from another shell (called a saibo) and uses it as a graft to make the pearl sack where the nuclei is placed. The mantle tissue acts as a host to begin the coating process that forms the pearl. We want to see if putting gold with gold and silver with silver will increase the chances of producing specifically gold or silver pearls, and if it has an influence on the intensity of the colour.

Our technician and friend, Shoichi Mizuno, came up and seeded for us just as the rains were beginning! Thankfully we were able to get the seeding down in between storms. Mizuno is a true professional and continued working through difficult circumstances - his powers of concentration are amazing considering the seeding operation is so precise and delicate. The shell are now all happily hanging in their baskets, waiting for their first turning which begins 10 days after seeding. They are then turned over regularly to give the nuclei the best chance of settling into the shell.

Christmas is upon us although here on the island we are fairly immune from the hype and commercialism that accompanies this time of year. We have decorated our poinciana tree, and are planning to have a lovely ham and salad lunch with freshly cooked bread, followed by Christmas cake, mince pies and custard. We trust that you enjoy the Christmas season and have a wonderful time with friends and family, and a truly happy and healthy New Year.

 

 

Waiting, waiting....

Sometimes life involves waiting! At the moment we are in a time of waiting here at the farm. We are waiting for the Wet to arrive. North Queensland really only has two seasons - the Wet and the Dry. We are at the end of the Dry and have had a few downpours of rain, but are waiting for the real Wet to arrive. Our faithful water bore has done really well this year keeping us supplied, but it is needing a top up. Likewise our rainwater tanks have always given us lovely clean drinking water, but they also need replenishing, and our tree fern is just waiting to break out its fronds. When the rains come, they really come! Last year they came in with a howling north-west wind we weren't expecting, which gave the wharf a severe hammering. It was scary to walk on! This year we are prepared and Rusty has done a lot of work stabilising the wharf and the ramp head with Garth and Sarah. It looks good too!

We are also waiting on a delivery of fresh, wild shell for seeding early next year. The shell is being collected at the present time, but high winds and rough seas have held up the process. We have everything in place ready - new baskets, new rope droppers - just waiting...

This week the Quarantine and Border Protection guys dropped in via helicopter. They were looking at the feral pig population on our island and hoping to take samples to check for encephalitis. The pigs swim over to the island from the mainland which is quite close in extreme low tides. They obviously become a problem - digging holes, eating turtle eggs and generally upsetting the natural balance of the pristine environment on the island. Pigs with encephalitis can also pass this on to other animals and humans. Unfortunately, our pigs were all laying low during Quarantine's visit, but they will be back next year, hopefully to do a substantial cull.

Meanwhile, we are still waiting.... Rusty is keeping himself busy by cleaning out his generator shed. This is a major task and he is finding things in there that have been hiding for years. He was thrilled to find a set of mower blades that will fit his new mower and fittings for our gas oven. He has also been busy doing much-needed repairs with his new inverter welder. It's Rusty's birthday today, so he is waiting for his birthday cake at morning smoko!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Pearl for the Queen!

 

We have had a very exciting week! Last Monday, the Premier of Queensland, Anna Bligh's office contacted us to purchase one of our pearls to give to the Queen on her recent visit to Brisbane! What a privilege to supply a pearl for the people of Queensland to present to Queen Elizabeth. Rusty chose a beautiful gem quality, silver cream drop pearl from our harvest in August. Who knows...it could end up in the Crown Jewels.

 

Apart from all the excitement of choosing a pearl for the Queen, Rusty has been very busy making jewellery in preparation for Christmas. He turned out some lovely chokers that would be perfect for everyday, casual wear...an awesome gift for teenagers. The black cord really shows off the colour and shape of the pearls. You can check them out on our Chokers page of the website. He has also been sorting through our Keshii pearls to pair up earrings. Keshii are the natural pearls that the shells make all by themselves and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They make very unique pieces of jewellery as no two are exactly the same. These earrings are also on the website in the earrings page.

 

This week we met two very inspirational ladies. Julie and Margaret are in their senior years, but are spending their time sailing a stately two-masted yacht around Australia. Both are experienced sailors and Julie has been living on board and sailing the Tiare II for 20 years. What a great way to stay fit and vital into the mature years...safe sailing and good health to them both!

 

 

Currently we are waiting on a delivery of fresh, wild shell. Rusty has been preparing baskets and lines ready for an influx of shell, and we have just finished cleaning and repositioning the shell that was reseeded in August, and moving the mabe shell that Rusty prepared in September. The south-east wind has been very strong over the past week, and we are looking forward to a break so that we can get back to work on the water. The warmer weather has been great for the garden and we have been searching for creative ways to eat more mangoes!

 

This week we had a beautiful visitor who accidently flew into our shed and took a few hours to find his way out. Rusty has been longing to see a Rose-crowned Fruit-dove, and was able to get some great photos of him during his stay in the rafters. Thankfully he is now flying about in the trees again!

 

 

 

 

ALWAYS BUSY AT THE FARM!

 

There is always something going on at Turtlehead Island on the pearl farm! We have had a busy few weeks, and we are looking forward to another busy few weeks.

We have really appreciated Garth and Sarah's help over the past six weeks, and were sad to say goodbye to them this week as they continue on with their great adventure. Garth and Sarah have done so much during their stay here at the farm - building a hut over the water pump, rebuilding the ramp and retaining wall around the wharf, extending the raft, fixing the brakes on the quad bike, fixing the plumbing in the kitchen, taking care of the vegie garden, building a wave suppression system, fixing the Tohatsu outboard, building a compost pile, and more! Apart from all the amazing technical input provided by Garth's practical expertise, we have greatly enjoyed Garth and Sarah's company, fishing, shark-whispering, cooking, card games and stories. Garth and Sarah are wonderful young Australians who demonstrate a terrific work ethic and positive attitude to life - we have been privileged to have them here at the farm.

 

The final task for Garth and Sarah was helping Rusty remove a tall coconut tree which was located right next to our gravity-feed tank stand. It will be great not to have to worry about killer coconuts every time we turn the gravity-feed on or off. Putting your hand over your head is not really very reassuring or effective!

 

 

We also appreciated Garth and Sarah's help with seeding mabe pearls. Rusty took on the role of seeding the older shell with half-nuclei so that in a year we can harvest beautiful mother-of-pearl shell which can be fashioned into stunning jewellery or simply enjoyed as decoration. This was the first time Rusty had ventured into mabe seeding and he enjoyed the challenge of placing the nuclei in exactly the right position within the shell.

 

 

Within the next couple of weeks we will be taking delivery of new, wild shell which we will be seeding later in the year. This means lots of preparation! We have extended the raft using Rusty's design which includes utilising our many black plastic buoys, and we are making racks and cleaning baskets ready for the shell delivery. In between all this it is time to clean and turn over the shell which were reseeded after our harvest in August - all systems 'go' at Turtlehead!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the wind blows in!

It's the season of the south-east wind here on Turtlehead Island, and beach-combing has been interesting the last few weeks! We always have plenty of flotsam and jetsam washing up on our side and front beaches, and the variety and volume increase when the wind picks up.

A couple of weeks ago Rusty received a phone call about a trawler called the Lisa Lee. She was being towed from Townsville around to Weipa to do some work, but managed to break free and beach herself up the coast from our island. The owners weren't able to get a tug up to rescue her for a few days, so they asked Rusty to take an anchor out and secure her so she wouldn't wash further up on the beach or get washed back out to sea. She also needed to be turned around to face back out to the open sea so they could pull her off the sand. Rusty and Garth were on the job and managed to get it all sorted. The Lisa Lee was refloated and carried on with her voyage successfully. The really sweet thing about this story was that the Lisa Lee was actually owned by the farm until several years ago when she was sold off - she just wanted to come home!

Just after the adventure with the Lisa Lee, a huge piece of the bow of a boat washed up on our side beach! It was a bit worrying, so we contacted the Water Police on Thursday Island, but there were no reports of a ship breaking up. Rusty's love of luxury boat magazines then came into play - he actually recognised the   ship the bow had come from and found it in a magazine! We managed to contact the captain of the ship who confirmed they had lost part of the ship, but they were still OK and heading into port for repairs. Another case closed.

Just last week, however, we came across the most exciting discovery. Sarah and Bronwyn were collecting driftwood off the front beach for the hot water donkeys when they found a letter in a bottle! So many bottles wash up on our front beach, and there is always that little thought that says "One day - there'll be a message." Just the day before the find, Sarah had commented to Garth how awesome it would be to find a letter in a bottle! The letter was written by a Presbyterian pastor called Kaltalio Simeon and thrown into the water from a boat in between the islands of Vanuatu in November 2007. It was a beautiful, simple message of the gospel and contained contact details through the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu. We have sent emails trying to contact Ps Simeon, but have received no response yet. It is amazing that a letter can survive four years in the ocean and come all the way from Vanuatu in such good condition! And it was certainly exciting to find a letter in a bottle.

Life at the farm continues throughout all the excitement of whatever the wind blows in. Rusty has been busily making beautiful jewellery with our freshly harvested pearls - expect to see them soon on the website. Garth has been in fisherman's heaven keeping the kitchen supplied with plenty of fish, in between all sorts of projects. Garth and Sarah have already been such an enormous help here on the farm. They have built a shelter over our antique water pump that supplies us with water from the bore, as well as performing maintenance on the quad, the outboard motor and the various pumps around the farm. Garth has also fixed the plumbing in the kitchen and has a wind generator under construction with   the fan   from an old engine and the alternator from the old ute. Stay tuned on that one!

Sarah has been making the next section of the raft for new shell which is to be delivered within the next month, and looking after the vegetable garden. Rusty and Garth have completed a refurbishment on the ramp from our wharf. We now have what looks suspiciously like a drawbridge at the entrance to the farm. The dogs have also been given lots of attention - some of which they are not too keen about!

Harvest time!

 

We have just completed our first major harvest as the new owners of Turtlehead Island pearl farm! It has been an exciting and rewarding time - the result of two years of work.

 

 

Mr Shoichi Mizuno, our expert technician and absolute gentleman, stayed at the farm to harvest the pearls he seeded two years ago, and to reseed for the next two years. Mr Mizuno is an extremely talented and patient man, as demonstrated in his attention to detail and the wonderful result of the harvest. It takes many years to master the art of placing the pearl nuclei in exactly the right place to create a round, beautiful pearl.

 

We are very pleased with the percentage of round pearls in the harvest, and the good proportion of pink-tinged pearls that were harvested from the Escape River section of the farm. Rusty had experimented with the strategic positioning of a group of shell to test the viability of producing pink pearls, and the results are very encouraging.

 

Harvest is a busy time in the life of a pearl farm! The shell have to be brought in and cleaned in preparation, the operating room has to be set up with table, tank, baskets, lights and lots of running water, and then it's all systems go. The shell are encouraged to open by placing them in a tank and running water around them, then wedging them open. They are then carried to the operating table where Mr Mizuno clamps them and uses dentist-like tools to locate and remove any pearls. He then decides if the shell is viable for reseeding, and either places a nuclei into the pearl sac, or sets the shell aside. Any virgin shell being seeded for the first time must undergo very delicate surgery involving incisions and grafts. The shell must all then be placed back into baskets in the water and monitored for the next few weeks before being put back out onto the lines.

 

Pearls that have been harvested are firstly rinsed in salt water, then fresh water. They are then placed into a cotton bag with table salt and kneaded for about 20 minutes to remove any coating and bring out the natural lustre. The pearls are then sorted into the different shapes - round, drop, circle, baroque, keshii. After this, they are graded from gem quality down to low grade. It is a long but fascinating process, and it is easy to see why people through the ages have been obsessed by these small treasures.

 

More farm news - Garth and Sarah have arrived to help out for the next month or so. Garth and Sarah are Wwoofers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) and come from the Blue Mountains and Melbourne, via Sydney. We are looking forward to getting to know them and they are excited to be sharing our island paradise for a while, and learning all about pearl farming. The dogs have already adopted Garth and Sarah as their own!

 

 

Lots to update!

It has been a long time between posts! Our internet connection has been down for 2 weeks, which has highlighted how much we rely on our computer, and how far away we are from the nearest Telstra shop - 1200km. Nevertheless, we are back on line and have lots of updates about life at the farm.

 

A new member of the farm community has arrived - a Honda quad-bike. It arrived by dinghy and only took three men to wrestle it up onto the wharf. It has been great to be able to move things around the farm easily, take trips over to the front beach to collect oysters, drag the airstrip and pick up visitors, and needless to say the dogs (and Rusty) are loving it! What is it about dogs and things with wheels?                       

 

 

  Our wonderful visitors, Hazel and Lindsay, left us this week to continue on with their adventures. We have so much appreciated their help and company. Lindsay and Rusty between them came up with two working hot water donkeys made from old beer kegs. It's terrific to have hot water showers again. Besides cleaning out our three huge sheds, (which is a major feat in itself) and setting up the tank for gravity-feed water, Hazel and Lindsay renovated the blue hut, fixing the windows and screens, adding a covered verandah, painting it, and planting a vegie garden at the side. Hazel and Lindsay are a couple in a million - there are so many things on our farm that received their special touch, and they will be missed.

We have had a few visitors in the past couple of weeks. Heinz Ross, a reporter for the Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council Newsletter, came out for the weekend to research an article on pearl farming. He arrived with the quad! We also had an inspection on our marker buoys for the renewal of our water leases. It's amazing to see our lights blinking at night at the furthermost reaches of our farm.

The really exciting news is that within the next month we are looking forward to our very first pearl harvest! There is lots of preparation involved, intense activity during the harvest and reseeding, followed by a period of babysitting the newly seeded shell. This is what pearl farming is really all about. Can't wait!

Winter Weather

Winter has hit the tropics! It has been quite chilly in the mornings here at Turtlehead - at least 22 degrees - and gray and rainy throughout the days with a very strong south-east wind. This means that we haven't been able to get out on the river to do much shell work - our babies don't like fresh water. It does mean, however, that we are getting lots of land work done. We did want to introduce our very own Star Wars-style crab who was found on the shell baskets before the weather closed in. Wierd!

 

The big news is that we now have gravity-fed running water 24/7. Rusty and Lindsay devised a way to get a water tank up onto a big tank-stand, then pump water up from our bore-water tank, which can then feed all of our taps even when the generator is off. This is a huge luxury for us! Those of you on tank water will understand.

 

 

 

The gardens are really enjoying the cooler weather and light rain. The coconut trees are loaded with green coconuts and still flowering with more, one mango tree thinks it is spring and has flowered and seeded tiny fruit, the frangipanni tree still has flowers, the vegies are coming along well and the passionfruit are going crazy.

 

 

Rusty's mind has been working overtime lately on plans and schemes to use the resources that are lying around the farm. Lindsay has been a great inspiration too, and together they have devised the prototype of a hot water donkey made from an old stainless steel beer keg. The fittings are being welded on this week and then it will be time to test it! Rusty has also come up with a scheme to use the numerous black buoys as floatation for rafts from which to hang newly-seeded shell. One part of the raft has been happily floating off our beach this week while the next part is being put together. We aren't sure what the crocs think of this new resident on their beach.

 

Plenty of yachts are still sheltering in our river overnight and it is beautiful to see them leaving under sail in the mornings. Hopefully they are staying safe out in the rough seas after they leave us.

 

 

 

Up the river at last!

The big news this week is that we have finally moved our floating shed up the river! After waiting for just the right tide, just the right wind conditions and just the right help, Rusty managed to tow the shed in one boat, while Lindsay pushed it with the other boat, and two and half hours later it was tied to a line and floating happily up Escape River. This shed is now our new Operations Room, where seeding can take place on the spot instead of ferrying shell back and forth from the lines. We also plan on camping up there from time to time - as long as the crocs don't use it for their camping platform!

 

Lindsay and Hazel have settled in really well and have been doing amazing work cleaning out and organising our sheds. The sheds haven't been so tidy since they were built! The amount of junk that has been sitting in there for years is phenomenal. But there have been some treasures discovered too. Thanks Lindsay and Hazel - you guys are awesome!

 

We visited our front beach this week to check out how the Wet season has altered things around there. The beach has been eaten away in some sections and built up in other sections. Hazel and Bronwyn found some lovely shells, and also (sadly) another dead turtle. This time the head, or skull, was still intact, but we could see lots of teeth marks on the shell and two big puncture wounds in its skull. It seems our 4m croc has developed a tasted for turtle. I guess it is just the way nature operates, but it's sad to see a big, beautiful turtle dead, and not much actually eaten.

 

Speaking of crocs - we have two juveniles who have set up home on our beach next to the wharf. They could be the two who were there last year and have returned. One is just over 2m long and the other is about 2.5m long. The longer one popped up and checked us out when we were sitting on the end of the wharf for sunset. He sat about 10m away and just watched us for quite a few minutes - until CB (our big dog) spotted him and barked. Our little dog, Grotty, managed to fall off the wharf today when we were returning in the boat (he was excited). Rusty grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and dragged him out before the tide or croc got him. He was very sheepish, but very grateful!

 

 

We have had lots of visitors in yachts recently, with six anchoring in our river one night, and five another night. It looked like a new suburb out there with all the lights! Last night was quiet with only three. Mostly they only stay one night and move on, but two French couples came ashore this week for lunch. It was terrific to meet Pierre and Ellen - sailing retirees - and Roman and Mary - a sailmaker and diver. We greatly enjoyed their company, French bread, camembert cheese and red wine! Safe sailing guys.

 

 

 

 

New Motor!

This has been an exciting week at Turtlehead Island! Lindsay and Hazel from Farm Sitters arrived on Friday to help out with maintenance and minding the pearl farm when Rusty and Bronwyn go into town shopping. We are really looking forward to getting to know them better over the coming months, and Rusty is thrilled that Lindsay is mechanically-minded and can help him out with jobs that need doing around the farm - there are plenty of them! (He has already fixed the rusted up BBQ.)

 

On Saturday, Rusty made two trips into the Jacky-Jacky boat ramp to pick up some very special visitors that came bearing our new Yamaha 60 Enduro boat motor. Sam, the owner of Weipa Auto and Marine, his parents Peter and Lee, and Wade, boat mechanic extraordinaire fitted the motor to our Hooker boat which will now be used for town runs - food and fuel. They also towed a new boat trailer up from Weipa for us, so we can pull the boat out of the water to go shopping instead of leaving it to the mercies of the tide at the boat ramp. Rusty has never owned a brand new motor (car or boat) in his life. Needless to say, he is very excited! It was wonderful to have Sam, Wade, Peter and Lee stay with us overnight to enjoy drinks at sunset on the wharf and a BBQ dinner - thanks to Lindsay's amazing BBQ-fixing skills. Bronwyn really enjoyed a girls' chat and walk along the beach with Hazel and Lee, while the boys all sat around on milk crates drinking beer and dissecting the dismantled old boat motor. It was voted useless. Rusty's day was fully made when Sam noticed and pointed out his hand-made bollards on the wharf. His life is now complete (except for a tractor). We really appreciate the fact that the Weipa guys were willing to come all the way to Cape York, then out to Turtlehead so that we can have our new motor. Thank you.

 

Following on from our amazing turtle-eating croc yarn of last week, Bronwyn has been taking regular walks waiting for the turtle shell to wash up on the beach. It was found this week - by the dogs. It had washed up and been caught in a mangrove tree and our little dog, Grotty, was rapt. We first realised he had found it by the smell - not pleasant. It still has a flipper attached and quite a bit of flesh inside, so it has been dragged further up the beach away from the high tide mark to dry out a bit more. It is a beautiful, big shell (quite sad, but that's nature) and once it is dry we plan to polish it and have it on display. Yes - there are some teeth marks, but it's not badly damaged. (Sorry the photo is a bit gross). Stay tuned for the next and final adventure of Mr Turtle. Must go and wash the dogs!

 

Living it Live!

Life on Turtlehead Island is never boring! Apart from growing beautiful pearls, we have many visitors, some expected, other's not - and every day there are life and death struggles going on just under the surface of the water on our doorstep.

Last week, we received a phone call from the Thursday Island Water Police that they had picked up a distress call from a boat just off our beach! When we raced down there, we could see a lovely yacht listing right over, caught in the rocks just off the south east end. The only way the Police could communicate with them was through a radio in Cairns, and through our information. Bronwyn manned the phone while Rusty watched from the beach through the binoculars. It was very windy and grey, and the water was quite rough. Eventually Rusty went out in the dinghy to get a closer look and check they were OK. It seemed they were caught between two rock ridges and were getting pounded by waves. It would have been too risky to try to tow them with the dinghy. Eventually the tide came in enough that they were able to manouvere off the rocks and proceed up the river. Relief! They had come all the way from London to get stranded on Turtlehead! We had to get their particulars for the police to report to their consulate in Canberra that they were OK.

Just yesterday, we went for a walk on the same beach and saw something quite big up near the end. We also took time to watch two gorgeous sea eagles circling the beach. When we got closer to the 'something' we discovered to our amazement it was our 4m crocodile, eating a 1m sea turtle! We got quite close (not too close) but there was no way he was leaving his dinner. He hissed at us and showed his teeth, but kept eating. Most of the soft part of the turtle was already gone - he must have been there a while. Our big dog had been barking on and off all afternoon, so he must have smelt or heard something. Crocs have to eat out of the water, so it was right up on the sand. He rubs his lower jaw over the turtle to select the bit he wants, then clamps it with his jaws, and rolls over and over to break it off, then tilts his head up and swallows. Gross, but fascinating to watch. The power in his jaws is awesome, but scary! We watched for about 30 minutes. Bronwyn raced back to get the camera (about 500m each way) but he was camera-shy and retreated to the water when she came back - so sorry, no photos. It was definitely a National Geographic moment! To make up for the lack of photos, I've posted one of a tree snake that peeped through our window while Rusty was on the computer. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Interesting Visitors

The annual migration north of the boat species has begun! So far we have had mackerel boats, nomads heading to Asia, yachties, and now kayakers.

 

After we got over the initial shock of seeing two small kayaks where we usually see one large croc, we met adventurers Justin and Lain, and Lain's parents Paul and Colleen who are accompanying them with their yacht for this leg of their trek by water.

 

Justin and Lain have a history of adventure, and are currently kayaking from Cairns, through the Torres Strait, then up into Asia. They are extremely well-equipped, fit (of course) and aware of the challenges including the presence of crocs. It did take a while for them to convince Rusty of this!

It was lovely to meet people who appreciate the beauty and scope of our region, and we enjoyed having them stay for the night. We wish them luck and safety in their great adventure.

If you would like to know more about Justin and Lain, take a look at their blog on www.archipaddlo.blogspot.com

May Long Weekend

Well the floating shed is getting nearer to completion! It now has a full staggered roof for airflow, walls all the way around except for the doorway, and an almost complete floor. Just the final touches, then up the river she goes! Many thanks to our Wwoofer, Heather, for helping us get the raft started.

The Dry season seems to have arrived at last, so new vegie planting is underway in the garden. This week the tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, pumpkin and rockmelon seeds went in. Next week the herb, pawpaw and spaghetti plant seeds will have their turn. Meanwhile, the passionfruits are just about dropping off the vines, the eggplant from last June is having its second wind, and the ginger and sweet potato continue to spread. Life far from town makes gardening not just a hobby, but a valuable resource. Of course, we can't eat the Golden Penda, but the Sunbirds can!

 

Easter weekend

Wow - busy weekend at the farm! Sometimes we can go for weeks and not see anybody else out here in Escape River except the birds and the crocs. This weekend was a wonderful social break for Rusty and Bronwyn.

First we had some good friends from Bamaga come out to stay for the weekend, Norm and Sharn -   then we had a lovely couple from a mackerel trawler stop by in the river, Toby and Liz -   then we had visitors from Bamaga, Brisbane and Melbourne for the day on Saturday - David, John, Beverley and Lyn. There were lots of cups of tea, Norm's awesome pumpkin fruit cake, and Toby's huge box of mackerel fillets. It's a great privilege to live here in the river and meet the most interesting people passing by, and have other folk dropping in from all over Queensland and the rest of Australia.

FARM BLOG

Welcome to the Escape River pearl farm blog! We thought it would be a great idea to create a blog to let people know what is happening in the life of our pearl farm. We hope you enjoy following our journey!

Currently we are busy building a raft, which is more like a shed, to be moored up Escape River. The idea is to have a base closer to the lines where we can clean shell and maybe even seed the pearls without having to stress the shell by transporting them to and from the farm to be worked on. The raft will be roofed and walled half way up for protection from the sun and from the crocs. Maybe we will even be able to camp up there to take care of our pearl babies!

The Wet season is drawing to a close very slowly, so Rusty has been kept active cutting the grass, which strangely enough keeps growing back. The camp is looking very lush and green with the trees that were planted last year really taking off during the Wet. The vegie garden is on hold, however, since the vegies just can't seem to cope with bucketloads of rain being dumped on them too often.

Speaking of rain - our bore well has been overflowing this week. That means plenty of water for the Dry season.

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