Geoscience Reference
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suggests that the formation of coconut palm plantations on islands accompanied
European colonisation and, prior to 1900, may have been a widespread practice.
The creation of coconut palm plantations on the islands of the Great Barrier
Reef dates to at least 1892, when the QDAS requisitioned the cutter, Lizzie Jardine ,
for that purpose. The Annual Report of the QDAS for that year stated that:
Planting has been carried on continuously. The system adopted is to first plant
the nuts in nurseries, and at the proper time remove them to a permanent
position. […] Some 6700 nuts have been planted out on the islands lying
between Mackay and Sir Charles Hardy Island, to the north of Cooktown,
and from the latest reports the early plantations are making vigorous growth.
(MacLean, 1892, p604)
The same report indicated that, by 1892, 6,747 palms had been planted at 52
island locations, some of which received large numbers of plants: 900 palms were
planted on South Palm Island, and 1,064 plants were introduced at 'M' island,
between Mackay and the Whitsunday Group. Other types of plantation were
also created, including mangoes, guavas and Kauri pine (MacLean, 1892, p604).
By the end of 1894, a total of 8,184 palms had been planted on islands of
the Great Barrier Reef: 6,984 of those were established near Mackay, and the
remaining 1,200 near Bowen (Blakeney, 1895, p1091). In the annual report of
the QDAS for the year 1894-1895, MacLean (1895, p1019) stated:
The accessible islands in the vicinity of Mackay having been planted, […]
the base of operations has now been changed to Bowen to deal with the
islands in that neighbourhood. The plantations already formed are doing
well, no disease or vermin having attacked the young palms. During the
past year fresh plantations have been made on Seaforth Island, at Eimeo, at
Kennedy Sound, on Brampton, Goldsmith, Allonby, and Stone Islands, and
a commencement has been made near Bowen.
During the following year, 72,000 palms were planted on islands; subsequently,
in 1896, 222,696 palms were planted (Blakeney, 1896, p520; 1897, p986).
Figure 13.1 illustrates the numbers of palms planted during 1894-1900, and also
the exports of coconuts from Queensland in the following decade, when the palms
were producing nuts. However, the distribution of plantations was uneven, as the
Registrar-General acknowledged: they were concentrated in the northern part of
the Great Barrier Reef, where the plants grew more readily (Blakeney, 1897, p969).
In northern Queensland, the islands of the Great Barrier Reef provided suitable
habitats for the plantations because of the availability of salt water, seaweed and
marine mud. In his annual report for 1895-1896, in which he announced the
establishment of 1,000 new plantings, MacLean (1896, p448) stated: 'Periodical
dressings of the plants with sea weed and saline mud, or watering with sea water,
has a most beneficial effect upon the plants'. The plantations, therefore, required
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