The small church in Cardwell fills to capacity as the family and friends of Margaret Thorsborne gather to farewell a well loved icon and nature conservationist.
I notice a distinct camaraderie in the air and it feels more like a celebration than a mourning.
I watch a young girl fussing with some hand made paper doves. She tells me that Margaret showed her how to make them and she wants to put them on her casket.
The eulogies begin with Lynn Preece recalling how her Aunt managed to rub shoulders with presidents and rock stars.
“She was a rock star in her own right in the conservation movement,” she said.
Her friends talk of her courage and her love of nature; her fight for the nutmeg pigeon, which she spent her life counting and trying to save and her fight to stop the development on Hinchinbrook Island.
After the service, Ken Parker, a close friend, throws petals on the casket and says, “See ya Margaret. “See ya next time.”
Across the road on the jetty in front of her beloved island, her friends gather in preparation for yet another fight.
The state government has issued expressions of interest (EOI) for the development of eco-tourism along the Thorsborne trail on the island, giving a 30 year exclusive lease to a commercial tourism provider.
Ken tells me that Margaret found out about the commercialisation of the island, just a few days before she passed. “She told me I could put a protest banner on her casket and said, “never give in, never give in, never give in,” he said.
David Haigh a retired JCU senior law lecturer and expert on world heritage site law, speaks to the group at the jetty and says he believes the government is setting a precedent in the commercialisation of national parks starting with Tasmania.
He says that the initiation of the tender has taken place with no consideration of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, 1999, no community consultation, and no consideration of the government’s own Hinchinbrook Management Plan.
This plan states that Hinchinbrook Island National Park will continue to be conserved to protect its endemic and threatened plants and animals, ecosystems, exceptional scenic beauty, and visitors’ experience of remote and wild nature, many of these values having international significance.
Haigh says the proposed tender also contradicts the principles of world heritage sites and is in conflict with why the island is protected.
Also of concern is the statement contained on the tender brochure on the government website which appears to give a certainty factor to the development going ahead stating that the government, “will de-risk projects through environmental and planning approvals, and the development of relationships with and involvement of traditional owner groups”.
Further concerns were voiced at the meeting that various projects have been implemented and then left including the resort on Cape Richards.
In 1978, a 75-year lease was granted over part of the national park at Cape Richards, to allow a small resort to be developed.
Over the ensuing years the resort developer went broke, Cyclone Yasi flattened it and then later a fire gutted the buildings. It stands derelict to this day.
Steven Nowakowski, photographer, publisher and conservationist, and friend of Margaret, says no to the eco tourism being planned for the island saying that the attraction of the Thorsborne trail lies in its ruggedness, not in its ability to provide accommodation or a fine dining experience.
“I’m not opposed to eco-tourism but use the islands that already exist and leave Hinchinbrook Island alone,” he said.
Local MP Nick Dametto backs the proposed tenders and believes it will benefit local tourist operators and the community.
In a recent media release he said, “Worldwide there is growing demand for new, unique and low-impact eco-tourism products.
“Tasmania has led the way in Australia, allowing provisions for the building of facilities in national parks that enhance the tourism product. This has been instrumental in attracting more domestic and international visitors and has turned their economy around.
“I believe we can strike the right balance here between management of national park values and visitor attraction.
“The Thorsborne Trail is already one of the top 10 multi-day hikes in the world and a low-impact, sustainable eco-tourism experience would only enhance this.”
Long term Cardwell resident, Thea Ormonde, whose grandfather bequeathed the land where Margaret and her husband Arthur built their beloved cottage “Galmara”, – an Aboriginal word meaning poet or singer of songs and that was ultimately bequeathed back to the state government says,“The walk is world renowned and on many peoples ‘bucket lists.”
She asks why it needs to be changed and believes that there are many other places for the implementation of this kind of tourist accommodation.
As the sun sets on the life and accomplishments of Margaret Grace Thorsborne others will take up the fight and continue her legacy. RIP Margaret.
Cardwell resident Kathy Sheahan has prepared a petition against the commercialisation of the trail that can be signed here https://tinyurl.com/ycc9sokz and you can also support the campaign by using the hash tag #thorsbornetrailnotforsale on instagram, twitter or facebook accounts.