Geoscience Reference
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Of the other islands in the Capricorn-Bunker Group, Lady Musgrave Island
was worked by guano miners during the 1890s, but little is known about the scale
of that operation. However, ridges on the island resulting from the removal of
guano were visible to Steers (1938, p54) during his visit in 1936. Tryon Island
was probably mined for guano from 1898-1900, but Heatwole (1984, p28)
suggested that those operations must have been small, since few indications of
mining remain in the landscape. The National Parks Ranger who visited Hoskyn
Island in 1936 reported that 'only a few tons of low grade guano occurred' and,
probably, neither of the Hoskyn Islands were mined for guano; in contrast to the
higher-grade guano deposits worked at Lady Elliot and North West Islands, the
extraction of material from the Hoskyn Islands was not economically viabl e. 4 By
1900, the most intensive guano mining had ceased, in Hopley's (1989, p20) view,
because the commercial resources had been rapidly exhausted.
However, guano mining continued after that year at Michaelmas, Oyster
and Upolu Cays, near Cairns, in a less intensive manner, but for longer periods
(QNPWS, 1998b). In 1901, Captain Robertson was granted a 21-year lease by
the Queensland Government to mine Oyster Cay, 'on which there is a large
deposit of guano'. One report claimed that, over the period of his lease, Robertson
removed 'over a thousand tons of deposit' from Oyster and Upolu Cays ( The
Cairns Morning Post , 28 May 1901, p2; Loch, 1991, p5). It is unclear whether or
not that guano was used to fertilise sugar cane fields on the adjacent Queensland
coast; however, exports of the product were recorded, for example, to Japa n. 5 The
operation raised some public concerns about the destruction of the cays. One
individual wrote to the Queensland Minister for Mines, asking, 'Could you do
anything to prevent Upola Bank [ sic ] and Oyster Cay on the Barrier Reef being
destroyed by removing the coral and guano from these banks ?' 6 Nevertheless, the
mineral leases for those cays were renewed in 1922 and the removal of guano
continued (Loch, 1991, p5).
By 1918, an alternative source of phosphate to the guano obtained from
the cays of the Great Barrier Reef had been discovered: the rock phosphate
deposits found on Holbourne Island, near Bowe n. 7 During the First World
War, superphosphate for agricultural fertiliser was sold in Queensland at a cost
of £8 per ton; some investors considered that the Holbourne Island material
might form a cheaper source of phosphate. The Holbourne Island Phosphate
Co. Ltd was formed to investigate and work the deposits for the Australian and
New Zealand markets, and agricultural fertilisers were subsequently produced
and sold . 8 The company took over Holbourne Island Guano Licence No. 1,
which was previously held by Messrs A. Junner and W. M. Gall; that lease was
reissued as Mineral Leases Nos. 66 and 67, which was then replaced by Mineral
Lease No. 73. An initial geological survey suggested that around 400,000 tons of
phosphate were found on the island; a settlement was then constructed on the
island, a tramline was laid, the quarried material was carried to the beach using
horses and the phosphate was transported to barges using punts (Saint-Smith,
1919, pp122-4).
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