On the 5th of June, 1923, the small steamer Innisfail was passing between Dunk Island and the coast of northern Queensland, when the captain noticed a figure waving from the island beach. Interpreting the signal as a greeting, he merely waved a response. Then, as the vessel proceeded, the figure on the beach collapsed. At once the Innisfail was stopped and a party went to investigate.
It was in this manner that the world learned of the death of E.J. Banfield, self-styled "Beachcomber" of Dunk Island, the most renowned literary man of his kind in Australian history, and, perhaps, the most striking naturalist-recluse of modern times. The signaller on the beach was Mrs. Banfield, who had been alone with her dead husband for three days. So ended a tropic idyll of twenty-five years' duration.
E.J. Banfield became a legendary figure after "The Confessions of a Beachcomber" was published in London in 1908. Banfield and his wife Bertha had done what most people only dream of doing: they had gone to live on an idyllic island within Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
Banfield wrote innumerable articles and found books about their life on Dunk Island. Here is some on-line reading:
My Tropic Isle
The Confessions of a Beachcomber
Another enjoyable book, Last Leaves from Dunk Island, is not available on-line.
All of these writings, together with Banfield's diaries and other unpublished material, have provided Michael Noonan with the basis for his biography. A Different Drummer, which is still in print and available from University of Queensland Press. A gifted storyteller, Noonan presents a fascinating tale of the Beachcomber's life, his long romance with Bertha, and their brave adventure on one of the world's most delightful frontiers.