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A young koala's beach adventure

August 31st 2011
Christine Assange recalls her Magnetic Island days

Julian aged about 5 with Poss “I’ve been approached by journalists from all over the world who I have turned down,” said, Christine Assange, mother of WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. “But I called you because I love Magnetic Island and I was really heartened by the quality of journalism in Magnetic Times and I’m comfortable enough to trust you with my story,”

They were comments which made your editor blush to be sure but even more because the opportunity to report on Christine Assange’s Magnetic Island story has been a holy grail for this Magnetic Island scribe for many months.

“I was raised in the country. My parents moved to Townsville from the country. I’m a country person who loves the bush. I was a jilleroo at 16. I love animals, theatre, beautiful tropical islands, puppetry and art and used to sell my paintings at a coffee shop in Townsville. I enjoyed the simple life.” said Christine who lived with Julian and, early on, with husband Brett Assange (Julian’s step father), on Magnetic on three separate occasions between 1971 and 1984.

She brought baby Julian to Picnic Bay as a single mum after Cyclone Althea in 1971. Leading a meagre but obviously contented lifestyle, work for this strong young woman included wielding a machette with Brett; slashing blocks of guinea grass - which can reach two metres following a good wet. “It was cheaper to hire us than bring over a machine from town,” said Christine who, like so many Islanders over the years, spent some of her time also working for one of the Island’s iconic businesses: Rent-a-Mokes.

Young Julian used to play with the children of friends, Sue and Ken. Ken was a local fisherman and Sue’s recollections of the times were sketchy but she said of Christine: “She lived a simple life with her little boy. She was quite an intelligent person as I remember.”

Other friends included a Marie and Andy who ran the Recreation Camp in Picnic Bay and a young marine biology student named Denise or Denny whose son, Maury, played with Julian.

Christine recalls a trip with Ken and Sue to White Lady Bay where Clarrie Scrivener, the original lessee of that idyllic haunt, “made a living betting on horse racing but in a place that looked like something out of the Swiss Family Robinson.”

The trip may well have impressed young Julian too, “He loved to read widely including adventure books like Treasure Island, Tarzan and Swiss Family Robinson.” It’s a childhood that Christine says was similar to her own. “I wanted the same for him.” she said.

Getting close to nature is a Magnetic Island specialty and Christine remembers a brolga which escaped from the (now closed) Koala Park in Horseshoe Bay. “It strolled down the main street balefully eyeing off the tourists who hid behind doors and peeped out of windows. I think it knew too well it was a protected species,” she laughs.

She vividly recalls some of Magnetic’s more colourful characters. Vic McCormick, the tall, tanned, silver headed owner of the Rent-a-Moke firm and a, “simple” fellow who “hung soft toys on his clothes line and also worked on the mokes”. He rang work one morning to advise Vic, “I can’t come to work. God has told me, not today!”. Vic duly noted the problem and a little later rang the true believer back to say, “I’ve just had a word with God myself and he said to cancel the last call - you can come in.” The fellow arrived soon after.

It seems that God was a frequent visitor to Magnetic and spotted by Christine in the shape of a local who was, ”often about wearing a Jesus-like white kaftan.”

“Then one morning we were waiting for the ferry when he showed up. Vic McCormick, the wag, was also waiting to board when he said to messianic-looking fellow traveller, ‘I suppose you’ll be walking to town today’”.

Christine rejects the stereotype that she was a “hippy”. “I wore a sarong and I would put Julian on my back to take him on treks around the Island. I didn’t drink alcohol or smoke dope or follow an eastern religion. I wasn’t a hippy but I think people want to label you because you don’t fit in a box.”

The remaining platform of Pat's (now demolished) hut on
Nobby Head overlooking Picnic Bay

Christine’s favourite Island settlement is Picnic Bay and she fondly recalls climbing up onto Nobby Head, where her friend Pat - “An elegant, refined and retired, English gent and former chef lived”. Pat lived in the now-demolished stone hut which stood on the tip of the headland for many decades, “It had a Mediterranean charm. A bedroom out of the elements and a veranda”.

A safari-suited Pat would visit Townsville and return with foods to make a delicious feast. “He’d invite people up for dinner. No one had any money but from his tumble-down stone shack we’d look down over the crystal blue water. We’d sit on the veranda and think we were totally happy and privileged with Pat asking, in his cultured English voice, “Another pate?”

“Who wouldn’t love the Island?” says Christine. “You didn’t have to have a lot of money to live a privileged lifestyle. It was so beautiful. There was a ‘live and let live’ attitude and at night, when the ferries stopped, we felt cut off from the world and its troubles. There was a sense of safety and security”.

“I would often draw while Julian as a baby or young child slept peacefully alongside under the trees or in the shade of the jetty or big boulder by the sparkling blue sea,” she says.

A sketch by Christine of Julian asleep - aged four (Image courtesy of Christine Assange)

Christine’s first house in Picnic Bay, located on Granite Street and now renovated beyond recognition, had “wooden louvres from ceiling to floor and a big mango tree. It was divided into two bedrooms with a kitchen and lounge and a (now enclosed) veranda”.

As for young Julian, Christine corrected some previous reportage which suggested that, on Magnetic Island, Julian had his own horse, built rafts and went down mine shafts and tunnels. “The story of his childhood was a composite of a few locations.”

Christine’s and Julian’s favourite haunts included the swimming enclosure at Picnic - formerly a slatted shark-proof structure where the seasonal stinger net is now located.

The Assanges also lived in the ground level of these flats on the Esplanade at Picnic Bay. The flats have since been extensively renovated

The Picnic Bay jetty was another. According to Christine, Julian fished but preferred to look at nature. He would snorkel around the jetty where he could see the big trevally - which still come in after the bait fish or, “be off exploring the Island with Poss (Possum), his dog, bringing home nature treasures or climbing up through the boulders, swinging from giant fig tree roots or riding his bike.”

Julian also shared the delight many locals and visitors enjoy, “...exploring Nelly Bay at low tide to observe sea creatures.” He was, like others, excited when phosphorescent phytoplankton would rupture in a green-blue flash as waves broke on the beach.

“He was a very curious, inquisitive child with a great sense of adventure and a great love of the wilderness,” said Christine, adding, “He wasn’t scrawny as somebody said but wiry and nimble.”

Julian at Picnic Bay (Image courtesy of Christine Assange)

Like so many Islanders who remember the experience on board the old timber, mono-hulled, Mandalay, “Julian loved the ferry ride to town with Poss up at the bow sniffing the wind as the boat pitched and tossed,”

As has been reported, the Assanges lived for a time in Horseshoe Bay in a very simple bungalow which burnt down, leaving them with almost nothing.

For Island history buffs the only known structure along that stretch of Horseshoe Bay road at the time, which burned down in 1984, was located in what is now the back yard of Karen Hellum who is excited that her block has a link with such history.

There were rifle cartridges in the house (used for shooting snakes) which went off during the blaze. Christine doesn’t know what caused the fire, “We were out having dinner at the time.”

With most of their possessions gone, Christine and Julian urgently needed another place to live, they moved to what was known locally as, “The Noddy House” on Apjohn Street - a tiny 6 x4 metre single roomed abode with a small front veranda. “We slashed our way to the door and around the the house. With traditional push-out shutters, life was, “very close to nature and possums would run across our beds in the night”.

Julian attended Town High (in Townsville) briefly, but Christine felt it was a bit rough. They left the area soon after in 1984. Julian was 13.

With a deep-felt love for Magnetic Island and for the kind of community she experienced here, Christine reflects, “The Island was a place full of characters - a mix of people who needed to get away from the city, to think or be still, to take a break from the ‘joys’ of civilisation.

“Magnetic Island is well named. People keep coming back, again and again. There’s something special about the Island - not a wealthy place but where ordinary people can take a break.

“I think there should be hefty (ferry) discounts for people who live in Townsville and on the Island. I remember when the costs were not prohibitive for people on low incomes. Magnetic Island doesn’t belong to the tourist industry.

“If you could be bothered coming all the way up (from down south) and want to fit in with the locals then great. But accommodation should just be small and simple with a focus on nature and the unique character of the Island: the night calls of the curlew, rock wallabies on the foreshore at dusk, the visits by mother possums and their babies, the circling sea hawks, the echidnas on bush tracks and the koalas in the trees.

“It’s a pity how big money got hold of Nelly Bay.” she adds.

As for Julian’s feelings toward the Island that was once home to him as a boy, Christine said, “I cant say, except that he still loves to travel to remote wilderness areas and finds comfort and solace in nature and great joy in the challenges of physical adventure.”

Julian sits in a tractor tyre with Poss (Image courtesy Christine Assage)

And while Magnetic Times has sought, mostly in vain, to find Islanders with clear recollections of Christine and Julian, in talking with scores of them over the last few months, the sentiment towards the man, described by Professor of Politics at La Trobe University, Robert Manne as, “undoubtedly the most consequential Australian of the present time,” has been strongly supportive. Often locals would venture an opinion without any prompting and, in so many cases, it would be in admiration for somebody who has stood up to the powerful and exposed many dark truths to a sunlight as strong as that found so often on Magnetic Island.

As a post-script to this story Christine expressed concerns that her son’s story in the wider press had been, “sensationalised, thus distorting the facts”. She told Magnetic Times, “If people are seeking to inform themselves of the truth about Wikileaks and Julian’s extradition case, they could view the following websites.”

1. (which includes Christine’s hand
written letter to Kevin Rudd)

2. (Meeting March 2 /2011 Parliament House- legal and diplomatic briefings to MPs re Julian Assange extraditon)


Story: George Hirst

(Magnetic Times has been granted exclusive use of the images above of Julian Assange. Copyright remains the property of Christine Assange)

To add your comment,
or read those of others, see below

Christine Assange recalls her Magnetic Island days
Chris C
August 31st 2011
A fantastic and well deserved scoop, beautifully written.

Well done and congrats George
Wendy Tubman
August 31st 2011
Ditto many times over to Chris's letter. Well done, George. Nice to think that dear old Maggie Times can scoop the world's media - but what else would we expect?!
Alan Renton
August 31st 2011
A terrific woman, an incredibly brave son and a heart-warming story.
August 31st 2011
A fascinating look into Christine's and young Julian's life (and a great look back at the Island, which sounds pretty much the same as when we first arrived).
Peter Morrison-Conway
August 31st 2011
Well done George, what a great read and thanks to Christine for shareing their amazing story, It does bring back the days of having dinner on the point at Nobbys headfor me in the early 90's
judy chapman
August 31st 2011
Thanks George for a great article which I with others have thoroughly enjoyed . I couldn't agree more with Christine about the ferry cost for the local regular commuters or the development of Nelly Bay
August 31st 2011
Thank ou for sharing this scoop with us George,
It is always good to read your well written and very informative stories,
Chris C
September 1st 2011
... and I'll be fascinated to hear when The Bully (or some other part of the Murdochracy) calls to negotiate re-publication rights!!
September 1st 2011
I suppose you could call this Maggieleaks!
September 17th 2011
Go guys..... I remember partying or should I say kind of remember partying in the shack, it was an amazing place in a most amazing spot, and attracted briliant artistic folk.
Who would have thought the man was a maggy kid!!!
September 21st 2011

Nice family photo's, pity he turned out to be such
a pillbox..

September 23rd 2011
Thank you very much for sharing memories, photos and the beautiful painting as well as for correcting distorted stories about Julian Assange. I've found this article thanks to,00.shtml. It is a pity that many people around the world will not be able to find it :-(
simeon scott
September 23rd 2011
thanks for the memories. good luck
Ture Sjolander
October 1st 2011
Ground level at the Esplande in Picnic...same flat i was living proud I'm!!!
The front window with the view to the Jetty and Townsville was great to catch the ferry without a watch.
Wendy Mac
October 15th 2011
I have been very proud of this young Australian and to find he was also a Magnetic Island boy is fantastic. The question is how can we help him.
Lindsay simpson
December 5th 2011
Hi George,
Caught up with this one late...for a journalist. Maggie Leaks indeed. Well done. Enter it in the Walkleys...
Sophie C-J
December 24th 2011
Thanks for this great story, George. We're proud to know this amazing, brave man shares the island's history.
Peter Pirate Dowdall
January 31st 2012
A great read,I wonder if anyone remembers Christine ,how could you miss her in her home made lime green terry towel bikini,her easy going smile, in a then quiet Horseshoe Bay and old Hut with its Wallabies Sad to hear it was not there an important link to early M.I. history .Ah old Maggie may - and does ,bring out fond memories.A good read George,Take Care of Maggie she`s one of a kind.As the Ol Mayor (Gerry Kearns)used to say Look after the island and she will look after you.
jean fletcher
September 20th 2012
I too,am very proud of this incredibly brave Australian.Julian Assange has gone where no on else feared to go.Many people worldwide are so grateful that ordinary people can claim back their voice.jean f.Sydney.N.S.W.
January 6th 2013
Great story. As a child of the Island during that time, it brings back lovely memories. I can't remember Julian (he would have been a few years ahead of me at the M.I primary school at that time), but am not at all surprised that such a brave and thoughtful mind once lived in such an extraordinary place. Best wishes to Julian and his family.
April 14th 2013
I used to go to the island in 1968 when I worked at Townsville Hospital- there was a holiday house there for nurses. Quite a culture shock from central London. I loved it and would love to go again but it's probaby too expensive now. Anybody want a house-sitter?
Katia Leitao
June 17th 2013
I could say the same words as lindsay sympson.
I am Portuguese, but awfully proud of this young man, he brings the sense of humanity in me and in that sense I am proud.

But like Lindsey, I feel taht what really matters is teh answer to the question- how can we help him?

Can I vote for him? Can ( beciome Australian just to do so!? Can I anything at all?

It hurts to not be able to contribute, support , help this young man. It hurts.

His motives, his actions and his manner, inspire total allegiance, and a profound need to participate.

christine is incredibly intelligent too, and has (many of) the values Julian does. She is a very special individual too. Very.
Mark Wedge
July 28th 2013
I was there the night of the fire and can remember standing around with a few of the locals waiting for Lorrie Butcher and Vic Crow from NORQEB (Ergon)to arrive to cut the power so the fire could be extinguished.I thought the house was further down the road,but then again that was 40 years ago.The population of Maggie at that time was around 600 and nealy everyone knew each other.But sadly I can't remember Christine or Julian.

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