Mrs Watson & the story of Jiigurru, Lizard Island

Every year, starting from late September to February, Aboriginal people spear stingrays, and a small, yellow, black-finned shark. At this particular time, these animals have their livers full of oil. We know this because of the colour of the liver which takes on a pinkish hue. When we cook the liver, the oils all run out, and we mix this with the meat which has been cooked separately. The fish oil is really important for a healthy diet, and helps keep us physically fit. The goanna is another animal from which we extract the oil. Their fat is thought to be particularly good for preventing arthritis, and is best extracted before they hibernate during the wet season.

These animals can be found at Jiigurru (Lizard Island), including manuya, the sand goanna (pictured) whose presence has always been a bit of a mystery. How did it get there? This is the explanation as told to me by my Dad, Tulo Gordon, and Fred Deeral.

The story of Jiigurru, Lizard Island
The shark and the stingray were living in the island's lagoon. They were talking one day and decided that, because the goannas shared the same beneficial oils, they would invite them to come to their island and live with them. This way the goannas could look after the land, whilst they would look after the lagoon. The stingray offered to go and fetch them, and use his broad back to bring them to the island. So off he went to Yuuru (now known as Cape Flattery) where the silica sands are, and there he found manuya, the sand goannas, and invited them to come to the island. He told them to get on his back so he could take them across the sea to the island.

So he took some of the goannas over to Jiigurru, then returned to the mainland to see if there were more. But when he got back to Yuuru he was spotted by the Dingaal hunters who started throwing spears at him. Badly wounded he went to shelter on the south side of Yuuru. You can still see the place where he died, marked by a big boulder lying just off the shore. And from the air you can see an imprint in the lagoon in the shape of a stingray. As for the goanna, they now live on the island as they had no way of leaving once the stingray had died.

The tragic tale of Mrs Watson
With the goanna living on Jiigurru, this made the island a sacred place, and every year, come September, Aboriginal people crossed from the mainland in their canoes to collect the precious oils they needed. One day when they went over there, they found somebody staying on the island. This was a white lady called Mary Watson, who was living there with her son and two Chinese servants. Her husband, a bĂȘche de mer fisherman, had built a stone structure next to a fresh water creek for his household to live in whilst he was away fishing. You can still see the remains of the cottage today.

The conflict that followed was because nobody - not even Aboriginal people - would stay here as it was the home of the goanna. The island was like a pharmacy. You don't live in a pharmacy, you just visit when you need medicines. Jiigurru was like this. Nobody lived there as they didn't want to disturb the goanna, but they visited during a set time every year to collect the medicine. 

One of the Watson's Chinese servants was killed on Jiigurru. Mrs. Watson and the rest of her party managed to escape in an iron tank, only to later die of thirst on the waterless Number 5 island of the Howick group. You can see the monument to her memory in the centre of Cooktown, and a replica of the iron tank is in the James Cook Museum.

This tragic event took place in September 1881, and is usually explained by saying Mrs Watson and her party had unwittingly stumbled upon an Aboriginal ceremonial ground. But it is most likely it was because they were in the home of manuya, the sand goanna.

More stories from in & around Cooktown...
My Family
The Endeavour River story
The story of Barratt's Lagoon
The small town whose history changed the world

Picture credits
 Lizard Island Resort (Lizard Island)
 Mari Carmen Pineda (Sand goanna)
 David Leu, S/V Leu Cat (Mary Watson's cottage)

1 comment:

Red Nomad OZ said...

FAAAAAABULOUS!! I've linked it to my Aussie Islands post blog hop HERE:

Love it!! LOVE IT!!