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Australia, the world’s great island continent, is home to over 8200 islands that sit within its maritime borders. They vary greatly in geological form from the idyllic tropical atolls of the Pacific North to the spinifex topped outcrops of the Western shores.
They range from globally renowned resort enclaves to pristine natural wildlife havens untouched by human hands. Set amongst the raw power of the Southern Ocean sits a collection of over 300 wild islands off the coast of South Australia. Some of these islands are a secret to even the most intrepid locals.
Flinders Island lies 32 kilometres west of the mainland of the Eyre Peninsula. The island that has escaped the eyes of a wide modern audience has a coloured history and hosts a vast array of wildlife.
The island is flagged as an Important Bird Area as it fosters crucial populations of native seabirds including fairy tern, osprey, sea eagles, cape barren geese and shearwaters. The diversity of the island’s wildlife extends to Australian sea lions alongside sightings of dolphins swimming in the nearby waters.
Matthew Flinders penned the island’s name in honour of his younger brother Samuel Flinders in February of 1802. Upon initial exploration, they noted the wildlife on the island as unique compared to the islands they had previously discovered further north. By the 1820s, a sealing camp and whaling station were operating on the south-east side of the island. During the early 1900s the island was predominantly utilised for farming with sheep, cattle, horses and oats being introduced to the island. As the years passed and the transport costs rose, the farming activity on the island steadily declined. Intriguingly, the island additionally has a diamond mining exploration history that followed the discovery of a range of kimberlite minerals, an indigenous rock known to contain diamonds, on the island.
In the late 1970s the island was acquired by Peter and Pamela Woolford, who began operating a merino sheep station on the island. Settling into their new remote island life, Peter and Pamela Woolford found a passion for nature and a taste for first-rate seafood. It was in 1984 that Peter noticed abalone boats working around the island and in turn acquired a license to harvest abalone himself, kickstarting the business that his sons Tobin and Jonas run today. The Woolford family are creating a sustainable future in relation to farming, wild harvest abalone, tourism, and recreation on the island. In 2020, the brothers penned a significant conservation agreement in collaboration with the South Australian and Commonwealth Governments, which covers 95% of the island’s some 3,400 hectares. Their efforts will help Flinders Island to become a sanctuary for native wildlife and to retain its natural beauty for years to come.
On our visit to the island in February of this year, Tobin and Jonas hosted an intimate beachside cooking and dining experience. The visitors gathered with the Woolford brothers around a table on the seafront, the Woolford brothers proudly sharing their story as everyone mingled, tasting the wild harvested abalone. As detailed by our Guest Lecturers Quentin Chester and Dale Arnott,
“…the brothers gave us each a taste of green lip and black lip sashimi abalone as well as some which was pan-seared on a camping stove. This gave a variety of textures and flavours but most of us agreed that it was the best Abalone we had ever had. Both Jonas and Tobin talked about the history of the Abalone business and the advances they as a company are making in packaging and the preserving of freshness and flavour.”
It is a true privilege to visit remote locations rich in history and personality such as Flinders Island. Made more meaningful by its importance to the conservation and wellbeing of Australia’s unique natural landscape. We look forward to many future visits in the years to come and to welcome you to join in and share the story and the progress of the Woolford family of Flinders Island.