I find a strange island sometimes where ghosts of ancient glories linger, where the winds and the flowers are sweet and the people are still gentle and smiling, where man is conscious of his grandeur and is content to live simply in harmony with the forces around and within him. Yet if we found this island we would destroy it in a month.
Ray Crooke 19491
‘Kingfisher’, Thursday Island marks the beginning of Ray Crooke’s longstanding interest in painting the people and landscapes of Far North Queensland and the Pacific. The work was painted after Crooke’s 1949 visit to the Torres Strait where he stayed for several months on Thursday Island (Waiben) working as a cook, labourer and trochus-shell diver.
Crooke first visited the Torres Strait and Thursday Island in 1943 as a soldier with the Australian Army. The artist enlisted in 1940 and during the war travelled extensively throughout Far North Queensland and the Pacific. For his first stay on Thursday Island soldiers were billeted in the abandoned Federal Hotel that was built around 1903. This building is identifiable in ‘Kingfisher’, Thursday Island by its arched veranda and red roof.
An abandoned lugger sailing vessel dominates the image: a connection between land and sea, humans and the environment, past and present. From the 1860s the region was a centre for the risky activities of pearl and trochus-shell fishing, however the industry fell into decline after the Second World War.2 Lugger sailing vessels, such as the one depicted in this painting, were used by fishermen to explore the tropical waters of the Darnley Deeps.
1 Ray Crooke, journal entry, quoted in Ray Crooke & Peter Denham, Island journal, Brisbane: Bede Publishing, 2000, p. 28.
2 Regina Ganter, Mixed relations: Asian-Aboriginal contact in North Australia, Perth: University of Western Australia Press, 2006, pp. 62–66.