September 10th 2012
The sand detective of Magnetic Island
At Magnetic Island’s West Point there was a scattering of fishers along the beach famous for its scenic sunsets. Some were casting lines and others, nets. Nobody was catching much but the man I was assisting was. They weren’t edible, nor did they swim - for we weren’t working the waters but the sandy shore... for treasure!
Im talking about a man who one could call Magnetic Island’s sand detective. He’s Colin Fulford who, at a very youthful 95 years of age, is never happier that when he’s making his swaying sleuthing way along an Island beach in search of whatever the sand might offer to his beeping metal detector.
Colin knows Magnetic pretty well. He’s lived the life of a bachelor here since 1967 when he bought a little shoe box of a house called Woodville on Marine Parade in Arcadia.
Col has a great Cyclone Althea story to tell too. Somehow, in the midst of the blow with the ocean almost at his door Col attempted an exit to safer ground. The plan failed as the howling Cat 4 screamed about him. Reduced to crawling back to his house while the debris flew madly above, Col discovered, once home, that somehow he’d lost his pants. Not a happy state for such a gentleman but it brings a smile with the story’s telling.
There are new apartments where Col’s little house weathered out Althea and more than a few other wild winds but the name, Woodville, remains.
A boy from Victoria’s Otways bush where he was raised in a dairying family, Colin, is presently enjoying the company of his younger brother Roy who’s here for a spell.
And while Col has had it pretty sweet since moving to Magnetic he paid some big dues as a defender of Australia on the infamous and awful Kokoda trail during World War II.
Col has turned many a situation to his advantage making a small fortune back in the 1950s as a rabbiter in Western Australia. With rabbits in plague proportions he was able to trap enough to fund a boat trip to England for the Queen Elizabeth’s coronation and a nice long holiday.
But these days, with life just a tad slower, Col is still the go-to guy in a fix. Like the Melbourne family who were staying in Arcadia a few weeks ago. They’d been sitting on the sand at Alma Bay and, as evening fell, decamped. But on packing up it was realised that two very valuable rings had been lost. Booked to fly back home the following morning they fell into a state of panic until learning that there was a man who might be able to help.
It was nearly dark when Col got the call at his newer abode in Hayles Avenue. While reluctant to go out after sunset, at the pleading of these anguished visitors, he found his detector and returned with them to the beach.
Flicking the switch of his electric wand, Colin began his swaying detection of the most likely spots. It didn’t take long either. Within a few minutes a tell-tale beep sounded and the first ring was discovered. A few moments later it was the second.
Colin had become an instant hero to the hugely-relieved Victorians who revealed that the rings were worth $50,000 - encrusted as they were with pink diamonds. Col was delighted to have helped but refused any reward. He wasn’t however able to stop the happy travellers from simply leaving a tidy pile of cash on his table before departing.
Then there was Trudy Dodson who’d spent an evening with mates at Radical Bay where they watched a meteor shower. “Sometime through the evening my watch fell off and I didn’t realise,” said Trudy, who works at Nelly Bay’s Foodworks supermarket. “I was told that Col could help. I don’t have a car and neither does Colin,” said Trudy. But another friend, Doug Beale, heard the story and promptly drove Colin down to Radical. “They looked over a few spots where they saw people had been,” said Trudy.
“Then the surprise I got when Colin showed up. You should have seen the smile on his face when he told me he had it!”
Trudy’s watch with its “dodgy clasp” - but great sentimental value - was now back on her wrist.
“I think he’s having a ball doing it,” said Trudy, who is soon to have Colin over for a thank you lunch. Trudy was also keen to thank Doug Beale for his generous assistance.
Meanwhile, back at West Point, the beeper sounds and we dig deep and discover a high end camera battery. Just a little too corroded for use but certainly not a good ingredient in this delicate beach environment. There’s lots of beer bottle tops to excite the scanner but the mystery of just what the next little treasure might be gets addictive. And, sure enough, the next beep hits gold! Well, gold coin that is. Yep one Aussie dollar with plenty of patina from years in the salty sand. But Colin is smiling and, with the feel-good factor of having at least helped clean the beach of a few more bits of rubbish, we head back for a moonlit dinner with the man who lends a very helpful hand when there’s lost treasure in the sand.
Story: George Hirst
Photo: Pen Sheridan