the industry was organised using a system of guano licences and it attracted
considerable capital investment. The guano at Lady Elliot and Raine Islands was
stripped rapidly; by 1900, guano mining had also taken place on other islands
in the Capricorn-Bunker group, with significant degradation occurring at North
West Island. However, not all of the islands that were mined contained such
quantities of guano, nor experienced such devastation. From 1901, the pattern
of guano mining changed; over several decades, Michaelmas, Oyster and Upolu
Cays were mined and thousands of tons of guano were removed. In contrast, the
more intensive attempt to remove rock phosphate from Holbourne Island proved
too costly to sustain; nevertheless, more than one thousand tons of material were
Some severe geomorphological and ecological transformations accompanied
guano and rock phosphate mining in the Great Barrier Reef. In addition to the
profound modification of the topography and vegetation of Lady Elliot, Raine
and North West Islands, other unintentional changes occurred as a result of
the activities of the miners. For instance, Bedford (1928) reported that the
descendants of domesticated fowls were found on islands that had been worked
for guano, because chickens were kept by the miners as a source of food. Another
ecological impact has been sustained by marine turtles at Raine Island: when
female green turtles come ashore to lay their eggs at that important rookery, they
may encounter hazardous cliffs in the landscape of the cay that were created by
the historical mining and quarrying there. Hopley (1989, pp19-20) argued that,
at those islands where the geomorphological impacts of guano mining have been
severe - especially Raine, Lady Elliot and North West Islands - their recovery
may take hundreds of years, if in fact those impacts are reversible. The account of
guano and rock phosphate mining presented in this chapter therefore illustrates
the variable nature of the early industrial use of the islands and cays of the Great
Barrier Reef, as well as the diverse impacts, rates of recovery and effects of those
activities. Although only a small proportion of the cays and islands in the Great
Barrier Reef were affected by guano and rock phosphate mining, those impacts
have nevertheless been significant at the scale of the islands and cays affected.
1 Mather, 'Statement', SRS5416/1 Box 10 Item 60, NP268, Bunker, QSA, pp1, 5.
2 OHC 44, 4 December 2003.
3 In-letter Ref. 225/2, National Parks Ranger to Secretary, 6 October 1936, SRS5416/1
Box 9 Item. 57, NP224, Bunker - Lady Musgrave Island, QSA, p2.
4 In-letter Ref. 225/2, National Parks Ranger to Secretary, 6 October 1936, SRS5416/1
Box 9 Item. 57, NP224, Bunker - Lady Musgrave Island, QSA, p3.
5 See, for example, the statistics provided in SSQ , 1920, p111.
6 In-letter, Mr F. H. Dean, Kuranda to Mr Atherton, Minister for Mines, Queensland
Department of Mines, Brisbane, 20 November 1931, PRV8340/1 Item 1, QSA.
7 This information was obtained from an undated edition of 1941 of The Bowen
Independent , reprinted in The Bowen Independent , 29 January 1971, p4.