and Staying FREE!
The Saga of
Andrew Martin & Middle Percy Island
By Bob Norson
Not long after issue #2 that featured a
"Favourite Hangouts" article on the island, I was talking
To Peter on SV Osprey, who coyly mentioned that; "Whoever
the wanker was that wrote the article on the Percy's doesn't
know anything about Andy and the islands history." Like
he didn't know I was the one who wrote it
Peter, you were right, but I never said I did! What I wrote was
a report on what I observed at the time, with only the briefest
reference to the history of the place. The place I visited was
becoming but a ruin of something many regarded as an institution,
an indelible part of the cruising experience in Queensland and
in fact, the world.
I came too late to experience it with Andy
first hand, which may uniquely qualify me to make a report of
what it's come to be. I am a clean slate. Free to take a variety
of impressions from others of strong personal opinion, and to
refine all of it to something resembling an account of fact.
In researching this piece, I have interviewed sailors, charter
skippers, trawler skippers, light house tenders, old mainland
friends of Andrew Martin, relatives and the current owner. No
one source being authoritative, but all contributing to the whole.
For our purposes, the history of Middle
Percy begins with the White family that obtained the lease in
the twenties of the last century. It was developed as a wool
producing operation with regular shipments to the mainland. It
was the Whites that built the Homestead and sheds nearby. They
maintained a good deal of equipment in the sheds and were as
self sufficient as one would have to be given the isolation of
the place and the period in history. The island operated successfully
for many years and eventually was offered for sale in 1964 when
it was sold to Andrew Martin for the sum of 15,000 pounds, a
very large sum for the time.
Andy appears to have been a remittance
man, though little of his history in the UK prior to his migration
is known, even to friends that became close to him in those early
years. One bit of the mans background in the old country that
he did discuss with his mates was his Olympic endeavours that
apparently resulted in a medal in an event that required a variety
of skills and strengths such as a decathlon. Andy was noted for
extraordinary strength in his younger years, and into middle
years for that matter. As famous as he was for his strength,
his fame was as great for his lack of mechanical ability. The
man was a menace with any machine. He ran things till they broke
and then was reliant on mates or passers by to help get things
working again. The well equipped engineering shop left by the
Whites was of no use to Andy. Even the Homestead itself was better
off before Andy's arrival.
Passing craft had always stopped at the
island. The Whites would welcome boaties that might be asked
to drop a parcel on the mainland for them, and boaties may have
traded for the odd provision. Such was the norm for any of the
settled islands and there were several along the coast then.
Andy would have taken advantage of this to assist him in keeping
the machines going and to trade product from his island. This
was the germ from which sprang the tradition of the passing Yachties
staying to visit and participate. One part idealism mixed with
two parts necessity, a mutually beneficial arrangement. Andy's
focus may have been thus also because the wool business may not
have been paying. It was probable that Andy was spending far
more on the island than it was producing, but the checks would
keep coming from England
As famous as he was for his strength
and lack of mechanical ability, so was he also known for his
sometimes dangerous boldness. Andy never let reality get in the
way of a spontaneous idea. A story I was told was how Andy had
to be rescued in horrific seas from his dinghy. It seems a boat
he owned, a large steel ketch, loosened from its anchor in bad
weather, so he went chasing it. Realising that he wasn't succeeding,
he spied, and made for the Pine islet provisioning boat to ask
them to assist. Nearby Pine islet was at the time a maned light
house that was regularly provisioned and serviced from MacKay
by boat. The crew of the boat was barely able to save Andy in
the conditions and marvelled at the audacity of him even attempting
such a thing in a dinghy.
When I told this story to an old friend
of his, he laughed and granted that that was typical Andy. He
reckoned Andy wouldn't have known how to anchor the boat properly,
so of course the thing would drag. Andy would then pursue the
boat in ANY condition. That wasn't the only time Andy was plucked
from the sea. The Family of Allan Freeman report a time when
Allan tells of Fishing Andy out of the drink. Andy's actions
often seemed less bravery than an inability to recognise an impossible
situation, and his survival at times, a matter of luck.
This trait manifested itself in other ways.
The same old friend was asked to assist in the construction of
an air strip on the island, but the only piece of equipment for
the job was an ancient and underpowered tractor. His friend told
him that the thing "didn't have the power to pull his pants
off", and wisely declined involvement. The scope of the
project was ridiculously beyond available resource.
In his early years on the island, Andy
was very robust. He liked his piss and he liked the girls. His
mates were rowdy lads from the cane farms around MacKay. "If
he had religion then he didn't preach it
.or practice it,"
says an old friend. In later years he began to change. He lost
some of his physical prowess, though still a strong man and he
became more religious. While he was always intolerant of those
he felt weren't up to his standards for activity, his intolerance
may have been broadening as the years advanced. Many are the
reports of Andy taking instant dislikes to some people, while
still being very social with others. When his son visited him
from England there was quite a dispute between the two because
the lad shot a nanny goat when he was meant to shoot only the
billy goats. This "offence" caused the lad to be exiled
from the homestead for many days and created much hard feeling.
The "A frame" started construction
around 1979/80. This was similar to the time of Andy's changing
attitude. With help from a variety of sources, the beach at West
Bay became a welcoming wonderland for visiting boaty's, and an
outlet for the produce of the island. Andy produced honey, excellent
jams, bread, homebrew mead and beer and welcomed visitors to
the homestead for meals at modest cost. In these areas, he excelled.
Andy was at his best when it came to management of the natural
resources of the island and producing food from them. His bread
varied a bit but was good. One person ordered a loaf at a $1:50
a pound and was a little shocked when the bill was for $12!!
As the years went on, more boats were making
their way along the coast at the same time that other island
agricultural leases were being relinquished and often replaced
with resorts that were not always friendly to passing boaties.
The legend then of Middle Percy was firmly established, and for
good reason. It took the strange combination of an eccentric
(Andy hated the term applied to him but
an island paradise and a regular fleet of passing boats to make
it all happen. It could be concluded that the whole thing was
less an act of altruism, than a flawed attempt at commerce
But who cares about that. It's the result that matters. In the
end, in spite of, or because of Andy's unusual nature and his
circumstances, he is remembered with fondness by most. He was
complex and flawed and certainly, remembered.
The Hickling's are another important part
of the islands history and I'll leave their story to them, (see
accompanying article), except to note the obvious unsatisfactory
end to their tenure which helps to introduce the present situation.
In 2001, Andy was persuaded to sell the
lease of the island to Michael Cotter for the sum of $10. Many
people acquainted with Andy believe that he suffered dementia
about the time of the transaction, and in fact there are quiet
mutterings from some that think Andy may have been suffering
from mental troubles for years prior. A cousin of Andy's, Miss
Cathryn Radclyffe of Proserpine, is expected to challenge the
sale of the lease in court. She may be in possession of a will
that Andy had made after the sale that would taint the transaction
..If he wasn't lucid at the time of the sale
he at the time of the will??? I wouldn't want to be the judge
at that trial if it comes to that.
Probably because of the possible legal
conflict, my conversation with Mick Cotter was quite guarded,
shifting constantly between things he wished to say publicly
and things he wished to say in confidence. It all got too hard
so I'll give the bulk of the conversation a miss as it seemed
intended to persuade more than inform anyway.
There were points that Mick clearly wished
to make public and they are relevant. He states that his intent
for the future of Middle Percy Island is that of a museum and
tribute to Andy Martin. The Homestead is to become a museum,
unoccupied and open to the public, displaying memorabilia and
information of the history of the island, and to sell items such
as CD's of music and history that will help finance the island.
He further promises that the island will never become a resort
or the A frame pulled down; "It was given to me to look
after and that's exactly what's going to happen, it will never
It's been two years now since Mr. Cotter
has had the island and little yet substantiates the stated goals.
Though there have been resident caretakers, reports from passing
boats have not been good. Reports that we have received say that
nothing apparent has yet been done to save ailing structures.
Another interesting and perhaps telling bit of information can
be obtained on the web site established for the island. If you
look up www.percyisland.com you will find a few old photos, a
page of products for sale and a page telling how the island is
to be "restored to pristine." As of our investigation
on 19/12/03, there was not one mention of Andrew Martin anywhere
on the web site
The Whites are there, but nothing
We will be watching the situation there
with some interest, and will be eager to hear from those passing
by. Current evidence suggests that the story isn't over, in fact,
it could explode at any time. So
there is no end yet, but
hopefully this gives those that haven't been familiar before,
enough information to judge for themselves, the result of the
. And to Peter of the Osprey
you aren't satisfied with this report
write your own