Wilsons Beach beachcomber Ron Hurst has discovered a deep-sea barnacle encrusted dinghy on Whitsunday Island.
Wilsons Beach beachcomber Ron Hurst has discovered a deep-sea barnacle encrusted dinghy on Whitsunday Island. Peter Carruthers

Islands turn up bounty for beach combing treasure hunter

FOR more than 60 years, Wilson Beach local Ron Hurst has been walking the sands of the Whitsundays beach-combing and this week a foray to Whitsunday Island turned up something quite usual.

But unusual finds for the 70-year-old former commercial fisherman are not unheard of.

A radar from a British warship, navigational beacons, a scientific tracker from a dugong, tuna float sensors and a jetski from French Polynesia are just some of the floating marine relics that have shown up on beaches of the Whitsunday Islands.

"If I told you all the things I have found, you wouldn't believe me,” Mr Hurst said.

However it was an encounter with a World War Two-era mine at Hill Inlet when Mr Hurst was 10 years old that kicked off a life-long obsession with the hunting down and cleaning up marine debris from the islands.

Ron Hurst shows the deep-sea barnacles found growing on an upturned dingy.
Ron Hurst shows the deep-sea barnacles found growing on an upturned dingy. Peter Carruthers

"My uncle saw it drifting in Hill Inlet in 1947 but he didn't take any notice of it and it washed up in the mangroves and then we came along in 1964 and saw this big round thing but didn't know what it was,” he said.

"After finding it we went back to the boat, got spanners and unscrewed all the bits off it. Then went back to my father and drew him a picture of what it was... and did he rouse on us.

"Being kids we went back and threw stones at it,” Mr Hurst said.

Since then Mr Hurst has made it his mission to clean up the Whitsundays and describes himself as one of the "true beach cleaners”.

"When I first started throwing rubbish up on the islands, there was over a tonne in the one spot. And people have copied it, because if you have a pile of rubbish, people will add to it,” he said.

"We go to a place and if there is rubbish there, we pick up what we can, but are limited because we are only in a 4.3 metre tinny. We don't have barges and stuff.

"I used to heap it all up and Libby (Edge) would come with (the Eco Barge Clean Seas) barge and pick it all up.”

"There was over a tonne in one spot and it may take two or three yeas before it got picked up,” Mr Hurst said.

Mr Hurst estimates he clears about a tonne of marine debris a year, some of which makes its way to his Wilson Beach home.

A mango tree in the front yard is adorned with all manner of buoys and his sheds are filled to the rafters with rope, outboard engines and floating beacons.

Last week, Mr Hurst found a four-metre tinny that had washed up on a beach at Turtle Bay on Whitsunday Island, encrusted with deep-sea barnacles on the upturned hull.

The dingy found in Turtle Bay on Whitsunday Island by Ron Hurst.
The dingy found in Turtle Bay on Whitsunday Island by Ron Hurst. Peter Carruthers

He suspected the boat had been floating for more than two years and began its journey to the Whitsundays in Sydney.

The most amusing find however was an inflatable sex doll found on Whitsunday Island.

At first Mr Hurst thought it was a dead body.

After bringing the doll on board, his mate asked "what are you going to do with that?”

To which Mr Hurst replied with a big smile "don't worry mate, we have a life jacket for her”.

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