Tempus fugit

“The minutes rushed past, without compassion for my enthusiasm.”
(Nicola Lecca, Ritratto notturno).

How can it be more than a month since we last wrote…?

Time on this little island is different.

Every day is exactly the same. Every morning the alarm rings at 5:30am. We put on almost exactly the same clothes as we did yesterday. We log weather observations. We spend time in the vegetable gardens, bake bread, write up the daily log, maintain, clean, mow, explore. Weekends are irrelevant. Time is measured by the decreasing supplies of toilet paper, chocolate, and whiskey, and the length of our hair.


But every moment is different. The way the light plays on the ocean and sky around us. The winds that caress or tear the seas into turmoil and rip our blossoming potato plants from the soil. The gentle explosion of flowers now covering the island. Our budding tomato plants. Radish seeds flourishing into plump pink tubers. The incessant growth of newly mown grass. Seagull eggs now fluffy chicks almost as large as their parents. Seal pups so recently born now playing catch-me-if-you-can with each other in the rockpools.


When we arrived, the cacophony of newness and bigness and letting go of the treadmill of time blurred the detail. Now we are finding time to see the small. The subtleness, the quiet splendor.

But time teases us. Should we take all the time in the world to relish the moment – because we have the absolute luxury of having it? Or is that wasting time because we are here for such a brief moment?

A myriad of moments has rushed away our minutes, and we find ourselves half way through this adventure much too quickly.

Some of these little moments of the last few weeks…

Biting things

Apart from the weather, Maatsuyker Island is a remarkably benign place. No snakes, crocodiles, tigers, mosquitoes, sand flies, bull ants, politicians or march flies. Nothing more treacherous than bumble bees and leeches.

Bumble bee and bok choi.

Bumble bees are feral species introduced to Tasmania in the 1990s. Highly prized by the agriculture industry for their superior ability to pollinate hot-house tomatoes, bumble bees are also very good at pollinating (and therefore spreading) weed species that our native bees can’t. Bumblebees are now found throughout Tassie, including the remote Southwest World Heritage Area. Convincingly putting the myth to bed that bumblebee flight violates the laws of physics, they have flown the full 10km from the southwest coast to Maatsuyker. And they sting if you happen to accidently lean on one in your garden. Relatively gently.

Leeches, on the other hand, will seek out any opportunity to latch on. They carpet the summit of Maatsuyker in undulating hordes, and they lurk in wet grass and the rock gutters that run alongside the only track on the island. Clearing those rock gutters of mud and debris kicked in there by mutton birds becomes a game of hide and seek between leech and caretaker. Which Ilse recently lost. Three bites on her wrist quickly turned to full-blown blood poisoning. Unnecessarily dramatic. Needless to say we have a new and very deep appreciation for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). The wonderful RFDS doctors calmly guided us by satellite phone through our large RFDS medicine chest, and an array of antibiotics quickly arrested the alarming swelling and red lines of infection that were rapidly tracking up Ilse’s arm.

Shearwater burrow. Growing grass. Very clean gutter. And leeches – just waiting….

Charismatic things

In equal abundance to the leeches, but with much more charisma and charm, are the island’s skinks. Different to the skinks that only live on the tiny Pedra Branca rock 50 km south of Tassie who rely on seabird vomit for their dinner, our skinks are partial to the slugs we feed them from our garden and they emerge with smiles on their faces with any hint of sun.

Skink in the sun. Smiling.

Maatsuyker Island is the only place in the world where New Zealand fur seals, Australian fur seals and elephant seals all hang out together. Two elephant seal boys – a teenager and a juvenile – have been occupying prime haul-out space at Alomes Gulch amongst the fur seal beachmasters. The boys’ noses are still very sweet – not yet the gargantuan proboscis they will be graced with as 3 tonne adults.

Elephant seal teenager. Just a hint of what his nose will become.

Birds across the island are now sitting on eggs or starting to feed demanding babies. Seagull nests hardly seem to be adequate against Maatsuyker’s elements, but fluffball chicks are now harassing their parents in the hundreds.

It feels like only yesterday that they were eggs.

Short tail shearwater (mutton bird) nests provide a little more protection, burrowed deep into the island’s slopes. It makes navigating those slopes on foot very perilous, but more than 800,000 pairs of shearwaters call Maatsuyker home for half the year and Siberia or Alaska for the remainder. Sheryl Hamilton, Jonah, Amelie and Bree from the Friends of Maatsuyker Island recently joined us here on the island for a week to survey shearwater numbers and search for weeds. We had a brilliant time exploring Maatsuyker’s edges with them and gaining an intimate view of shearwater lives. More on this another time.

Sheryl Hamilton surveying shearwater burrows with a camera probe.

Colourful things

Amongst all the green carpeting this little rock of an island, a silent firework display is exploding. Flowers in their multitudes. We are gradually learning their names.

And this goth moth which Ilse will be looking to take style lessons from. Seriously gorgeous.

Goth moth. Gorgeous.

As well as this little insect – any ideas what it is? – which looks especially fetching on our celery plants.

Busy things

Otherwise, a large part of the recent month was preparing for and then helping out a work party of 9 organized by the Tassie Parks and Wildlife Service. After nearly 3 months on our own, it was a little disconcerting to suddenly be surrounded by so many people.

Dave the Daihatsu was run through his paces hauling rubbish, empty fuel tanks, and old fire extinguishers up to the helipad for removal from the island. All the electrical wiring that had been chewed out by resident roof parrots has been replaced, rooftops have been repaired, and a new gas hot water system installed. A frenzy of activity over a week punctuated by sumptuous meals (that we had not cooked ourselves!), more talking than in all of the previous 3 months put together, and learning some more of the island’s stories from people who have known her for many years.

Dave. With Dave.

After a spell of sublime weather that perfectly coincided with the work party visit, the winds are now gusting over 120 km/hour as we write this and rain is screaming up the slopes at a perfect angle to take one’s eyes out, if one was adventurous enough to step outside. The island is again now ours alone.

With our time on Maatsuyker so quickly passing, our enthusiasm for living as many moments more as we can to the fullest is only greater. Our Christmas will be celebrated with seafood we brought with us back in September especially for the occasion, and David is planning a special Christmas pudding sourdough. It will be the same as every other day. Except for all the differences.

Family, friends and colleagues are all in our minds, at this time of year even more than usual. We celebrate the festive season with you all in full spirit, and wish you a heartfelt safe and happy new year.

Ilse and David

Maatsuker Christmas bells.

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