Sunset at Booby Island

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Sea captains have known about Booby Island for the past four centuries—and some found out about it the hard way. Located 50 kilometers (31 miles) west-northwest of Cape York in Queensland, Australia, the northernmost point of continental Australia, this rocky, barren outpost is home to one of the country’s most remote lighthouses. Constructed in 1890 and now unmanned, it sits atop the island’s highest point and marks the beginning of a difficult navigation channel—infamous for its shifting tides—at the western entrance of the Torres Strait. Before the 18-meter (59-foot) tower’s warning beacon was lit, so many ships had ended up wrecked on Booby Island’s rocky shores that it was provisioned with food, rum and other supplies to tide over the sailors who survived. Two of its best-known visitors were Captain James Cook, who named the island in 1770 after the numerous booby birds here, and Captain William Bligh, who arrived in 1789 in an open boat following the notorious mutiny aboard his ship, the Bounty, in Tahiti. A cave on the island served as a 19th-century “post office,” where sailors would leave the names of the ships that had visited, and a mail system was created in which passing vessels would drop off letters for others heading in the opposite direction.
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