Our Island Home
By Jon Hickling, SY "Ruby
As we sailed away to the north aboard
our 65ft ex Pearling Lugger the "Ruby Charlotte", I
turned around for the last glimpse of the tropical island that
had been our home for the past 12 years. I couldn't help feeling
I might be turned into a pillar of salt for sneaking this last
The Hickling family...
Justine, Liz, Jon and Jacob
Middle Percy Island had a new owner.
The love, time and effort we, as a family, had put into the island
had come to an abrupt end. We left so much behind us, the house
we had built out of island stone and bush timber. Animals we
had hand reared. Fruit trees we had nurtured and planted, machinery
and tools plus the only home our two young boys had ever known.
The blood, sweat, tears memories and dreams. The islands new
leaseholder said he was going to carry on what we had been doing.
This meant carrying on the island tradition of not only hospitality
but also the maintenance of the whole infrastructure.
In March 2001 when we left Percy Island,
that infrastructure included supplying organically grown lunches
to the hundreds of yachtsmen/women who stopped off each year
to experience the Percy magic. We were supplying home grown produce
in the A-frame building at West Bay for sale. We had honey, mango
chutney, beeswax candles, marmalades, jams, soaps, tanned goatskin
rugs, goatskins for bagpipes, and for drum skins, fresh eggs,
fresh squeezed lime juice, and other handicrafts also organic
bread was baked to order, and in our spare time we self published
an 180 page island history book full of photos, articles and
We looked after chooks, peacocks, turkeys, ducks, guinea fowl,
milking goats, ponies and cattle. Plus we maintained 3 houses,
5 sheds, lots of farm machinery, miles of fences, gates, a boat
jetty and careening piles and kept the roads and walking tracks
serviceable for ourselves and the island visitors. On top of
all this we were doing five weather observations per day for
The Bureau of Meteorology at Brisbane. And the newest project
we had embarked on was the restoration of the "Islander",
a 30-foot timber boat built at Percy in 1938. Not to mention
we had to maintain our own 65-foot ex Pearling Lugger, "Ruby
When we first arrived at Middle Percy in 1989, the place was
extremely run down. Andy Martin the leaseholder then 62 years
old, had reached his zenith and the sun was well and truly setting
on his island empire. He had an extremely bad back was very lame
and badly needed a hip replacement.
For our first year and a half on the island, we lived in a tree
house built at West Bay beach. Six days a week for this first
year and a half we walked the 1 ½ miles up the steep short
track to the homestead that was 700 feet above sea level near
the center of the island. For the next seven years Andy instructed
us and taught us from his personal experience how to care for
and treat the island that was his home for 33years. Liz and I
learnt how to run the island as self sufficiently as possible.
We planted acres of ground around the homestead
with every type of tropical fruit tree and had a veggie garden
that would make Peter Cundall say, "Blooming marvelous!"
Andy encouraged us to be self-reliant, if something broke we
had to fix it, or learn to adapt without it.
I used to sail our boat the 70 nautical miles to Mackay on the
mainland (usually single-handed) every three months. In town
we sold island produce and procured items we could not make or
grow. Day to day life was always a challenge. There were goats
to milk, chooks to feed, beehives to harvest, water to pump,
wood to chop, veggies to grow, kids to teach, boats and farm
machinery to maintain, and that's not even half of it.
Andy Martin who had been the leaseholder of Middle Percy since
1964 left in mid 1996. He returned to England where he had family
and friends. When Andy left Middle Percy we had been living on
the island with him for seven years. When he left he said that
he was leaving the ownership and care of Percy Island to us.
The Hickling's vessel,
the "Ruby Charlotte" at the piles in the lagoon
We continued living on and running
the island for the next 5 years. We paid the rates and the lease
payments and even sent money to England to help Andy. He wrote
to us saying he would put our names on the lease as joint leaseholders,
and he promised to do so, we thought his word was good enough.
We out of hundreds of people who had tried to live on the island
were the only ones who had stayed continuously, proved our love
and loyalty for the island and done the time. Unfortunately,
Andy who suffered from mental as well as physical health problems
never fulfilled his promise to us.
In December 2000, while on a visit to the mainland we went up
to Cairns to try and salvage the derelict hulk of the 30 foot
boat built on Middle Percy in 1938 called the "Islander".
The White family built the boat out of pit-sawn island timber
(they held the lease of Percy for 43 years prior to Andy). The
"Islander" had spent the last 8 years on the hard stand
at the Cairns Cruising Yacht Squadron in the graveyard section.
Over $7000 dollars was owed in unpaid dues. The Squadron wanted
rid of this pile of wood, so luckily we came to the rescue.
We bought the hull for $500 (money we had raised by selling booklets
had made of this famous boat's history). The Squadron agreed
to wipe the debt off the boat if we guaranteed we were to do
something with it. Five weeks later, and after lots of hard work,
14 planks were replaced, all the ribs and the floor timbers renewed,
the entire hull re-caulked and re-fastened.
The vessel "Islander"
was hand built by the White family that Andy bought the island
from. They cut the planks from native trees in a saw pit and
assembled the boat up the hill by the homestead. When completed
they diss-assembled the whole thing and hand carried it down
the hill to re-assemble near the water..... Very tough and self
It was during this re-build that
a man called Mick arrived on the scene. This man had spent 3
months as a 13-year-old youth with Andy on Percy. He became involved
with us after seeing an article in the Cairns Post about the
restoration of "Islander". Mick offered to help. He
donated a small amount of timber and found us some free accommodation.
The 75ft Herreshoff yacht "Circi" owned by Frank Cooper,
a jovial and capable man who we had employed to help us with
the work on "Islander", towed the newly rejuvenated
hull from Cairns back to Percy Island. Mick asked if he could
come as crew so Frank agreed to have him on "Circi"
as his crew. Jacob our eldest son (then 13), was aboard "Islander"
Back at Percy with the "Islander" moored safely back
in the tidal lagoon, Mick & Frank were shown all facets of
island hospitality. Mick left with goatskins, honey and mango
chutney as presents. He re-paid us by taking Andy's address (which
we naively gave him), and on returning to Cairns he flew to England
and convinced Andy that he was going to lose the lease of the
island because it was not being looked after.
"Meanwhile, back at the ranch",
we discovered these goings on purely by accident. A brief phone
call to Mick's house in Cairns to see how the sail back had been,
and his wife told us that Mick was flying Andy from England back
to Australia. This started alarm bells ringing..
Mick drew up an agreement for the transfer of the lease and for
the grand sum of "ten" Australian dollars. The lease
was signed over from Andy to Mick.
We called up Mick's house a few days later to talk to Andy and
find out what was going on. Andy in a very frail voice told us
he was sorry, and that he would compensate us for our time, effort
and money we had spent on the Island (something he never did).
He said he had been promised a large sum of money which was to
follow after the transfer was complete (we don't
believe he got it), and was persuaded into believing that a radical
change of residents would some how help the Island, which had
been running it smoothest in years.
It was after hearing this that we decided to leave our island
home out of "protest", because of the way the so-called
sale and transfer of the lease had been carried out.
Now 2 ½ years later, Mick lives on the mainland, and the
island is in a shambles. There have been occasional caretakers.
The homestead is often deserted. The "Islander" still
lies in the lagoon.
In late 2002 Andy flew to Percy by helicopter to see for himself
what was going on with his former island home. He spent 5 days
on the island and on his return to the mainland, he claimed it
was now uninhabitable.
On May 3rd 2003 Andrew Charles Martin died aged 76. He died a
sad and disgruntled old man. We believe Andy was mentally unstable
and not in his right mind when he transferred the lease for this
ridiculous sum. He was convinced that the island lease was to
be taken off him by the Department of Natural Resources, something
that simply was not true.
Andy's cousin Cath, his carer for the last 20 months of his life,
who spent lots of time with us on Percy, and has a deep love
and connection with the island, is continuing with the battle
to get the lease back and has asked us to go back as equal partners
with her if and when she gets the lease back.
While living on Middle Percy Liz and I wrote a 180-page history
book on the Percy Islands, and it is available on C.D. ROM. It
contains hundreds of photograph's, articles, stories, anchorages
and maps. It is available for $30 and can be ordered from Jon
and Liz Hickling, c/o email@example.com.
The Hicklings and Cathryn Radcliff contend that there was an
agreement with the transfer of the lease to Mick Cotter, that
stated that if the Island wasn't improved, the lease was to pass
back to Andy for the same $10.00 of the original transaction.
Further, they alledge that Andy was pursuing the return just
before he died, and intended to leave the Island lease to Cathryn
if he succeeded.
Though we had requested documented evidence
of these issues from Cathryn, and had been promised them in December,
2003, they had not appeared by press time, January 2004.
Facts are, the current residential lease
was taken in 1998 for a ten year period. In the unlikely event
the D.N.R. does not allow renewal of the lease in 2008, the terms
of the current agreement require the removal of all structures
and "rehabilitation of the area."
Editors up-date: The documentation
mentioned above was later produced by Cathryn, including a copy
of a valid will that did state the issues claimed.