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the mine-laying and the occasional explosions of mines that drifted onto coral
reefs; one informant believed that an explosion of a Second World War mine,
located by the Australian Navy, occurred at Mackay Reef, and another recalled
the sinking of the Warrnambool in Princess Charlotte Bay while attempting to
retrieve mines after 194 5. 8
One oral history informant described the explosion of a mine at Green Island,
in around 1946, in the following terms:
The remnants of World War Two […] were visible everywhere. Mines, the
big brown balls with all the spikes poking out of them; some were sunk
on the edge of the reefs, some were on top of the reefs, some were washed
offshore on sand cays and even one, in about 1946, drifted up one night on
the south-eastern side of Green Island on a high tide. It hit the rocks and
exploded. […] There was a building there that they called the kiosk: it blew
the front off this . 9
The same informant reported that the mines sometimes escaped from the
chains that held them in place in the shipping lanes; he argued that the mines
'would have damaged the reef […] pretty severely, because they were big bombs'.
However, in addition to mine-laying, the Catalina aircraft also took part in target
practice, during the Second World War, at the reef at Upolu Cay; the informant
reported that, after the bombing of the reef, 'there was shrapnel all around the
Few details of military activities were found in documentary sources; for
example, although Cid Harbour, at Hayman Island, was used as a submarine base
during the Second World War, no descriptions of the impacts of the base were
found. However, some evidence of the effects of bombing practice in the Great
Barrier Reef after the Second World War exists, because some observers visited
the target sites afterwards and reported on the damage inflicted there. In 1952,
the Chief Inspector of Fisheries, E. J. Coulter (1952, p1011) stated that:
A trip to Lady Musgrave Island to collect specimens of fish and coral revealed
that this reef is now practically a marine desert, which, in all possibility, is
attributable to the fact that the area was used as a practice bombing target
during the war.
In addition to the extensive damage at Lady Musgrave reef, further destruction
took place at Fairfax Island, which was also used as a bombing range. For Fairfax
Island, details about the destruction of corals were not found, but the damage to
corals - as at Lady Musgrave Island - was probably severe, as Hopley (1982, p341)
has acknowledged.
Military target practice, involving bombing and shelling, occurred at Fairfax
Island (a double island) during the period 1943-1965, with the island itself used
as a target. Consequently, there were changes in the morphology, vegetation
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