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Figure 6.7 Turtle-riding at Masthead Island, 1900s. Source: Negative No. AP3:475, Robert
Etheridge Photographs, Museum Archives, Australian Museum
Turtle-riding in the Capricorn-Bunker and
Whitsunday Groups, 1900s-1960s
The recreational activity of turtle-riding involved the capture and use of
turtles for sport at some of the tourist resorts of the Great Barrier Reef. Turtle-
riding occurred in the Capricorn-Bunker group, which had large green turtle
populations and which contained several tourist resorts; turtle-riding was
particularly associated with the tourist resorts at Masthead, Heron and Lady
Musgrave Islands. In addition to those locations, some turtle-riding took place in
the Whitsunday Islands, including South Molle Island, and at Mon Repos Beach,
Bundaberg. The origins of turtle-riding were attributed to Louis de Rougement,
who first popularised accounts of that activity (Barrett, 1930, p375). However,
turtle-riding was documented at Masthead Island as early as the 1900s, where
the photograph reproduced in Figure 6.7 was taken by the palaeontologist and
Director of the Australian Museum, Robert Etheridge Junior.
In 1926, when members of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales
visited North West Island, Musgrave and Whitley (1926, p336) stated that,
at that island, green turtles were put to another use besides the manufacture
of turtle soup: 'By kneeling on their backs and clinging to the edges of the
carapaces, we were able to ride them down to the beach and into the water'.
Barrett (1930) reported that female turtles were captured at night as they
came ashore to lay their eggs. The animals were overturned to prevent them
from escaping and were left on the beach in that position until the following
morning (Figure 6.8). At Heron Island, Barrett (1930, p360) stated, the 'turtle-
strewn' beach and the spectacle of the animals, after their release, attempting
to reach the sea 'provided the cameraman with an excellent shot'. The turtles
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