Sacred Places and Earthly Paradises: The Magic Isle

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magnetic island seaI discovered Magnetic Island in far north Queensland eight years ago. This is my sixth return. On my first visit I fell completely in love with its beauty, and have since been drawn to return again and again. I’ve wept to see it recede into the distance when I leave on the ferry to Townsville. It’s become far more than a holiday destination for me, this magic isle.

From the sea Magnetic Island is dark green with a rim of beaches. Along this narrow strip lie the accoutrements of human habitation. The island is officially a suburb of Townsville and many residents and students commute to the city daily, but beyond the tamed edging lies an impenetrable interior of boulders and bush. A few tracks traverse the hills but most of the island is protected national park and undisturbed. Wilderness spills into the community as yellow-blooming kapok trees, screeching cockatoos, the occasional snake. The villages look up to rocky hills and out to sea.

I was fascinated to read recently about the significance of islands in many cultures as settings for psychological and spiritual transformation. In his thesis on the subject, E J Federenko writes of this preoccupation with the regenerative powers of islands as ‘a constant in human experience’. In Western culture the island is a magical place, and this archetypal pattern is traceable through Western literature since Homer wrote the Odyssey.

The castaway experience resembles the archetypal hero’s journey as explicated by Carl Jung. It’s an archetype of rebirth: the island experience allowing the passage of growth towards a wiser consciousness.

It’s easy to see why this is so. Islands are often isolated and remote. They are neither ocean nor mainland and thus transitional. Being cast upon a small place surrounded by water means a physical journey must be taken there and back, and an inner journey in that isolation requires contemplation of the self.

Federenko explores the castaway experience in terms of six archetypes: wanderer, hermit, artist, magician, king, and hero.

His analysis struck a deep chord with me. One year I visited the island for three months, staying in a small apartment facing a rocky lookout spiked with hoop pines, five minutes from the beach. My express intent was to paint. I worked a market stall selling handmade wares, and had significant visitors for short periods – loved friends, and most notably two cousins from overseas with whom I had never met in one place. These were intense meetings and I felt the need to share my island paradise with those closest and dearest to me.

But the rest of the time I was effectively a hermit in retreat, a contemplative and an artist. I struggled with loneliness and slept poorly, but the sounds and colours, the warmth and fresh air, illuminated my soul. The bright fish, flowers and parrots, the rocks underfoot, the soft sand and washed up coral – these formed the earthly paradise in which I rested.

Magnetic Island has changed me. It’s given me time and space to be. It’s fed my imagination and my dreams. It’s nurtured me with natural beauty and allowed me the small adventures of kayaking with turtles, snorkeling among angelfish, swimming naked in a circular bay. This evening my partner and I walked a mirror-smooth shore at twilight. Soft-eyed wallabies accepted pawpaw offerings from our hands. The moon rose, a silver crescent above the hills.

In the dark, Scorpius winds his tail across the star-scattered heavens. Across the strait, fairylights of civilisation string the coastline. And here, over sea and under sky, lies the magic isle…

With thanks to E J Federenko for his insights – Islands and Transformation: An Archetypal Pattern in Western Literature

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About the author

Merridy Pugh is an editor and writer based in Hobart. She loves books, sun and tropical fish.



2 Comments


  1. Lovely, lovely words, Merridy. Your description of the mystery of islands and of their capacity to transform was my experience on a recent trip to Lord Howe Island. I’ll never be the same.
    Thankyou.

  2. Thank you Claire – and how fascinating about your trip to Lord Howe. I read something again yesterday about enchanted islands, in the Qantas inflight magazine…

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