The Original and Staying FREE!


 The Saga of Andrew Martin & Middle Percy Island

By Bob Norson

Not long after issue #2 that featured a "Favourite Hangouts" article on the island, I was talking To Peter on SV Osprey, who coyly mentioned that; "Whoever the wanker was that wrote the article on the Percy's doesn't know anything about Andy and the islands history." Like he didn't know I was the one who wrote it………Well Peter, you were right, but I never said I did! What I wrote was a report on what I observed at the time, with only the briefest reference to the history of the place. The place I visited was becoming but a ruin of something many regarded as an institution, an indelible part of the cruising experience in Queensland and in fact, the world.

I came too late to experience it with Andy first hand, which may uniquely qualify me to make a report of what it's come to be. I am a clean slate. Free to take a variety of impressions from others of strong personal opinion, and to refine all of it to something resembling an account of fact. In researching this piece, I have interviewed sailors, charter skippers, trawler skippers, light house tenders, old mainland friends of Andrew Martin, relatives and the current owner. No one source being authoritative, but all contributing to the whole.

For our purposes, the history of Middle Percy begins with the White family that obtained the lease in the twenties of the last century. It was developed as a wool producing operation with regular shipments to the mainland. It was the Whites that built the Homestead and sheds nearby. They maintained a good deal of equipment in the sheds and were as self sufficient as one would have to be given the isolation of the place and the period in history. The island operated successfully for many years and eventually was offered for sale in 1964 when it was sold to Andrew Martin for the sum of 15,000 pounds, a very large sum for the time.

Andy appears to have been a remittance man, though little of his history in the UK prior to his migration is known, even to friends that became close to him in those early years. One bit of the mans background in the old country that he did discuss with his mates was his Olympic endeavours that apparently resulted in a medal in an event that required a variety of skills and strengths such as a decathlon. Andy was noted for extraordinary strength in his younger years, and into middle years for that matter. As famous as he was for his strength, his fame was as great for his lack of mechanical ability. The man was a menace with any machine. He ran things till they broke and then was reliant on mates or passers by to help get things working again. The well equipped engineering shop left by the Whites was of no use to Andy. Even the Homestead itself was better off before Andy's arrival.

Passing craft had always stopped at the island. The Whites would welcome boaties that might be asked to drop a parcel on the mainland for them, and boaties may have traded for the odd provision. Such was the norm for any of the settled islands and there were several along the coast then. Andy would have taken advantage of this to assist him in keeping the machines going and to trade product from his island. This was the germ from which sprang the tradition of the passing Yachties staying to visit and participate. One part idealism mixed with two parts necessity, a mutually beneficial arrangement. Andy's focus may have been thus also because the wool business may not have been paying. It was probable that Andy was spending far more on the island than it was producing, but the checks would keep coming from England…..



 As famous as he was for his strength and lack of mechanical ability, so was he also known for his sometimes dangerous boldness. Andy never let reality get in the way of a spontaneous idea. A story I was told was how Andy had to be rescued in horrific seas from his dinghy. It seems a boat he owned, a large steel ketch, loosened from its anchor in bad weather, so he went chasing it. Realising that he wasn't succeeding, he spied, and made for the Pine islet provisioning boat to ask them to assist. Nearby Pine islet was at the time a maned light house that was regularly provisioned and serviced from MacKay by boat. The crew of the boat was barely able to save Andy in the conditions and marvelled at the audacity of him even attempting such a thing in a dinghy.

When I told this story to an old friend of his, he laughed and granted that that was typical Andy. He reckoned Andy wouldn't have known how to anchor the boat properly, so of course the thing would drag. Andy would then pursue the boat in ANY condition. That wasn't the only time Andy was plucked from the sea. The Family of Allan Freeman report a time when Allan tells of Fishing Andy out of the drink. Andy's actions often seemed less bravery than an inability to recognise an impossible situation, and his survival at times, a matter of luck.

This trait manifested itself in other ways. The same old friend was asked to assist in the construction of an air strip on the island, but the only piece of equipment for the job was an ancient and underpowered tractor. His friend told him that the thing "didn't have the power to pull his pants off", and wisely declined involvement. The scope of the project was ridiculously beyond available resource.

In his early years on the island, Andy was very robust. He liked his piss and he liked the girls. His mates were rowdy lads from the cane farms around MacKay. "If he had religion then he didn't preach it….or practice it," says an old friend. In later years he began to change. He lost some of his physical prowess, though still a strong man and he became more religious. While he was always intolerant of those he felt weren't up to his standards for activity, his intolerance may have been broadening as the years advanced. Many are the reports of Andy taking instant dislikes to some people, while still being very social with others. When his son visited him from England there was quite a dispute between the two because the lad shot a nanny goat when he was meant to shoot only the billy goats. This "offence" caused the lad to be exiled from the homestead for many days and created much hard feeling.


 The "A frame" started construction around 1979/80. This was similar to the time of Andy's changing attitude. With help from a variety of sources, the beach at West Bay became a welcoming wonderland for visiting boaty's, and an outlet for the produce of the island. Andy produced honey, excellent jams, bread, homebrew mead and beer and welcomed visitors to the homestead for meals at modest cost. In these areas, he excelled. Andy was at his best when it came to management of the natural resources of the island and producing food from them. His bread varied a bit but was good. One person ordered a loaf at a $1:50 a pound and was a little shocked when the bill was for $12!!

As the years went on, more boats were making their way along the coast at the same time that other island agricultural leases were being relinquished and often replaced with resorts that were not always friendly to passing boaties. The legend then of Middle Percy was firmly established, and for good reason. It took the strange combination of an eccentric (Andy hated the term applied to him but…..) Englishman, an island paradise and a regular fleet of passing boats to make it all happen. It could be concluded that the whole thing was less an act of altruism, than a flawed attempt at commerce…… But who cares about that. It's the result that matters. In the end, in spite of, or because of Andy's unusual nature and his circumstances, he is remembered with fondness by most. He was complex and flawed and certainly, remembered.

The Hickling's are another important part of the islands history and I'll leave their story to them, (see accompanying article), except to note the obvious unsatisfactory end to their tenure which helps to introduce the present situation.

In 2001, Andy was persuaded to sell the lease of the island to Michael Cotter for the sum of $10. Many people acquainted with Andy believe that he suffered dementia about the time of the transaction, and in fact there are quiet mutterings from some that think Andy may have been suffering from mental troubles for years prior. A cousin of Andy's, Miss Cathryn Radclyffe of Proserpine, is expected to challenge the sale of the lease in court. She may be in possession of a will that Andy had made after the sale that would taint the transaction but…..If he wasn't lucid at the time of the sale….was he at the time of the will??? I wouldn't want to be the judge at that trial if it comes to that.

Probably because of the possible legal conflict, my conversation with Mick Cotter was quite guarded, shifting constantly between things he wished to say publicly and things he wished to say in confidence. It all got too hard so I'll give the bulk of the conversation a miss as it seemed intended to persuade more than inform anyway.


There were points that Mick clearly wished to make public and they are relevant. He states that his intent for the future of Middle Percy Island is that of a museum and tribute to Andy Martin. The Homestead is to become a museum, unoccupied and open to the public, displaying memorabilia and information of the history of the island, and to sell items such as CD's of music and history that will help finance the island. He further promises that the island will never become a resort or the A frame pulled down; "It was given to me to look after and that's exactly what's going to happen, it will never change."

It's been two years now since Mr. Cotter has had the island and little yet substantiates the stated goals. Though there have been resident caretakers, reports from passing boats have not been good. Reports that we have received say that nothing apparent has yet been done to save ailing structures. Another interesting and perhaps telling bit of information can be obtained on the web site established for the island. If you look up you will find a few old photos, a page of products for sale and a page telling how the island is to be "restored to pristine." As of our investigation on 19/12/03, there was not one mention of Andrew Martin anywhere on the web site…… The Whites are there, but nothing on Andy!

We will be watching the situation there with some interest, and will be eager to hear from those passing by. Current evidence suggests that the story isn't over, in fact, it could explode at any time. So… there is no end yet, but hopefully this gives those that haven't been familiar before, enough information to judge for themselves, the result of the coming years……. And to Peter of the Osprey………If you aren't satisfied with this report……write your own damn paper!!