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Borders blur at Australia's northern tip

  • 17 October 2019


It's a short, brisk climb from the car park at the top of Cape York Peninsula to the most northerly point on the Australian mainland. But the journey to this fabled landmark is drawn-out and laborious: thousands of kilometres by car along largely unpaved road to the Jardine River; transfer by ferry to the other side; and another stretch by car along bitumen and then dirt before Australia's continental landmass finally runs out.

Separated from it by a swirling channel are York and Eborac islands, the first of many hundreds of islands which are scattered throughout the Torres Strait, resting offshore from their official motherland, Australia.

The journey to this sharply planed peninsula is a long held dream for many Australians; this is a place that holds a mythological place in the nation's consciousness, that epitomises for many the country's pioneering spirit and collective sense of adventure.

It's also the final outpost, symbolically at least, demarcating Australia from its closest neighbour, Papua New Guinea. The islands beyond it are a link to the cultures and geologies that lie to the north, giant stepping stones that guide Australia's Torres Straight Islanders home. But for white Australians, they're the barrier marking the country's fiercely-held border.

I've taken a sly shortcut to get here myself, flying from Cairns to the community of Bamaga and driving the rest of the way with a local resident. From the beach we skirt the mangroves and climb a small rise before the iconic marker comes into view: 'You are standing at the northernmost point of the Australian continent,' it says. Milling about the sign is a group of five or six people; in peak holiday season, says my guide, this jagged promontory overflows with pilgrims.

It's unspeakably beautiful here. From the hillock rising above The Tip I take a 360 degree scan and see whitecaps frothing on a cobalt sea to the east, milky turquoise waters filling a languid bay to the west, stunted shrubbery sprouting from the red rock. Just beyond The Tip, York and Eborac islands appear to guard the entrance to Australia; at the car park, signposts warn those entering the mainland at this point to refrain from bringing with them fruit and other items that will threaten Australia's biosecurity.

The only other people here are two elderly men from down south, fishing knee-deep in spite of the warnings of crocodiles, and a catamaran anchored like an advertisement for paradise