December 11th 2010
Julian Assange’s Magnetic Island connection
This week the world’s media has been drawn, as if magnetically, to what the New Yorker recently described as, “a tiny pile of rock that Captain Cook believed had magnetic properties that distorted his compass readings”. And why? Because the man whose organisation, Wikileaks - presently rocking the rulers of the world, by showing us what they really say when they don’t think we can hear - Mr Julian Assange, spent some years as a kid growing up here on Magnetic Island.
Subsequently, Magnetic Times has been taking some unusual calls. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Japanese media, the Sydney Morning Herald, Channel Nine and The Australian newspaper among others have all been feverishly seeking just any scrap of information from across our tiny pile of rock which might cast some light on who this astonishing fellow Assange is, and, what type of place could produce such a son.
While specifics of the Assanges’ Island times are scarce, the huge curiosity has provided great opportunity to sing some appropriate praises of a community from a beautiful, Great Barrier Reef, World Heritage island which may have helped form the attitudes of perhaps the most effective secrets-buster the world has ever known.
In August we published an account from Julian Assange’s mother, who had visited the Magnetic Island History and Craft Centre where she penned a delightful sketch of Magnetic Island life in the 1970s when she arrived with baby Julian and returned to later in 1976 (click here).
But Islanders we’ve spoken to who were here in those days are hard pressed to recall the Assanges at all. One woman, who was also raising kids when Julian was a five year old and here with his mum, told Magnetic Times she saw the face on TV and could remember the little boy. But nothing more. Another said she recalled a woman she thinks was Julian’s mum, who called herself “Crystal” and had a little boy she called “Jules”. “They were pretty out there...pretty cosmic” she said but could recall little else.
Nobody could clearly remember the house in Horseshoe Bay being burned to the ground, as claimed in the New Yorker, but in the process of learning about those times, when Joh Bjelke Petersen ruled Queensland as a crony ridden, authoritarian fiefdom and, when the old-time, steak and three veg Islanders thought the best thing about Magnetic was how the local cop would stand at the end of the jetty and turn around anybody he considered undesirable coming off the ferry, a different kind of people were appearing on Magnetic.
It may not be surprising that, on her return, Julian’s mother took up residence in Horseshoe Bay. An old Island saying went: On Magnetic Island the drunks lived in Picnic Bay, the bourgeoisie lived in Nelly, the old fogies in Arcadia and the hippies in Horseshoe.
Some, like artist Denis Dean who lived in a cave at the end of Horseshoe Bay beach for a while and later built a dome at White Lady Bay, described himself proudly as a hippy in those days. For the small Island population, the counter culture had arrived. From most accounts however it was a very carefree time, a happy time to be young and alive in paradise.
This cultural shift might also start to explain the origins of what became the strong and articulate, Island-based opposition formed against the development of Florence Bay in the 1980s; then later the Nelly Bay Harbour development in the 1980s and 1990s and has continued to this day against further inappropriate coastal development plans for Radical Bay.
With a Greens' vote sitting near 20% - way higher than any other part of the Townsville area - Magnetic Island maintains an identity a little offshore from the north Queensland mainstream.
In talking to many Islanders it’s increasingly clear that the local boy has growing support. Many Islanders think the Americans are trying to kill Julian and see the sexual assault charges he has been arrested over as,“political”.
The increasingly hostile sentiments towards those in power are voiced the loudest by one Islander who claims to be, “a very good acquaintance” of Julian Assange. He has glowing admiration for Assange and the work of Wikileaks. He is Island-based marriage celebrant, David “Crusty” Herron who, while short on specifics of Assanges’ times on Magnetic, was in no doubt of Assanges’ commitment to positive change.
“I last saw Julian probably about ten years ago” said Crusty adding, “He has been back about five times over the years that I can recall.”
Crusty, who would “usually run into him (Assange) on the beach” went on to say, “He was always a bit of a hippy - always trying to make a change. When he got onto something he believed in - a bit of a challenge, he was the type who’d say, ‘I can do that’ and he’d set out to do it!”
“He had a desire to do what the ALP was doing in the early days - to deal with equity. It took him a long time to learn the skills and he proceeded to do it very quietly.”
“Right or wrong his goal is something each and everyone talks about but is scared to do. That’s why I like the man. What he and his ilk do.
“I think Julian just saw government as a farce.” he said adding, “(he had an) absolutely strong concern for ordinary people.
“We could be forgiven to think we are powerless. Governments believe they don’t need to be honest. We don’t scare them at all but Julian has set an example.”
“I think he saw an increasing indifference on the part of those supposed to be looking after us.”
“I don’t think Julian wants to make a big thing out of himself. Until recently it was just Wikileaks. Julian isn’t Wikileaks, just the frontman,” said Crusty.
As for the Magnetic influence on Assange, the attraction, according to Crusty, seems the same as for the many thousands who continue to visit the Island, “It’s guess work but he’d probably say he has a special place in his heart for Magnetic Island. He loved the water, the whole thing. We are products of our environment and Magnetic Island is an integral part of that. I think he came back for something he needed not (just) wanted.”
Story & photo: George Hirst
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