About the author:
Dave Glasheen is the former chairman of a publicly listed company, who has lived alone on the deserted Restoration Island off the coast of Far North Queensland since 1997. His incredible life has been the subject of several international television documentaries. This is his first book.
Neil Bramwell is an award-winning journalist and successful ghost-writer who has sold more than 250,000 books worldwide, including the UK No. 1 bestseller Foggy, the autobiography of motorbike racer Carl Fogarty. Neil lives with his wife, Martine, and son, Teddy, in Mount Eliza, Victoria.
Words from Dave Glasheen
Times have changed since Robinson Crusoe, the classic tale of survival written by Daniel Defoe, was published exactly 300 years ago.
Defoe’s fictional character was a man who ran away from home to join the navy and found himself washed up on a remote desert island after a shipwreck.
I am often described as a ‘real-life Robinson Crusoe’ and the comparisons are obvious.
My life was a bit of a shipwreck when I first decided to quit the rat race and live on remote Restoration Island, off the coast of Cape York in Far North Queensland.
I had lost around $10 million in the stock market crash of 1987 (a fortune that would be worth around $37 million today), my marriage had collapsed and my health was failing. I had to take drastic action, and then learn to cope with life as a recluse, just as Crusoe had.
Crusoe had no option but to fend for himself: he built a little fortress, glazed pots, baked bread, grew his own food, and stitched clothes from animal skins.
It was a steep learning curve for me too. I have had to protect my house from three cyclones, brew my own beer, catch fish and I used to grow my own food, until the lack of water in the dry season became too much of a problem.
I guess the one big difference is that, after more than two decades, Crusoe discovered a footprint belonging to Man Friday. I would be extremely surprised if I discovered that someone else had been living on Resto for the last 20 years without my knowledge!
Having said that, I did have one shock a few weeks back when the dingo puppy I brought here for company, who disappeared into the bushes as soon as I let him out of the cage and wasn’t seen for months, suddenly reappeared, looking for food. Zeddi is becoming tamer by the week and I’m confident that he will become a great pet.
Another difference from Crusoe is that I’ve never had to make my own clothes. In fact, most of the time there’s no need for clothes here. For one, it’s warm enough pretty much all year round. Secondly, there’s nobody around to hide anything from.
In the early days I used to wear a lap-lap – a loincloth from Papua New Guinea that looks something like a nappy, which folded neatly around my groin to cover any offending bits. Now I just go for a pair of comfortable board shorts whenever I have company.
But anyone who goes ‘off grid’ to live a life of isolation is going to face real challenges. It’s all well and good to look at the picture postcard images of sun, sand and sea and think that it looks like pure bliss. The realities are often very different, as I discovered the hard way.
So here are my top ten tips for surviving on a deserted island in this day and age.
1 Love thy neighbour! Even though the nearest homes might be on the other side of the sea you need to keep in everyone’s good books. You never know when you will need help. The latest cyclone, Trevor, sank my boat and knocked out all my communication for weeks. But my friends from the Aboriginal community of Lockhart River rallied round to come and check that I was okay and had everything I needed.
2 Weather warning. It’s important to respect the elements. For a long time it looked like Trevor would only be a category 2 cyclone but by the time it hit the island it was category 4. I dropped my guard and didn’t protect myself the way I had for previous cyclones and almost paid the dearest price. Patience is important too. It’s easy to lose your temper when things go wrong, but I always try to keep cool.
3 Stay alert. I share Restoration Island with a variety of deadly creatures. So, for example, I only go for a swim when the water is crystal clear, just in case there is a croc lurking under the surface. You soon learn to recognise the poisonous spiders like the Cape York funnel web, too.
4 Water works. It’s vital to stay fully hydrated. I do a lot of hard, manual labour keeping the island clean and tidy and, even in the shade, it’s sometimes easy to forget to take enough water on board. Only last year I fainted and broke my hip and had to be air-lifted to hospital.
5 Clean and tidy. When you live on your own it might be tempting to ignore the upkeep of the island. But rubbish could attract snakes and rodents so it’s important to dispose of waste by the proper methods. You wouldn’t believe the amount of plastic and rubber washed up on my beaches, because other people are not respecting the environment.
6 Hoard, hoard, hoard. Never throw anything away that might one day come in handy. My beach shack is made from logs washed up on the beach and I store my coconuts for the fire in reclaimed wheelie bins.
7 Time and tide. The only time I ever need to look at a clock is to check the tides. If I need to go to the mainland for essential supplies I don’t want to be stranded overnight. Missing the tide by just a few centimetres can mean back-breaking work to drag the boat out, and you never who know when a croc might be watching from the mangroves.
8 Stay sane. Without someone to talk to it must be easy to lose your marbles. That’s why I have two mannequins for constant company. Or have I just contradicted myself?
9 Never stop dreaming. There’s plenty of time to reflect on what’s important in this life and everyone needs a purpose. My dream is to create a healing retreat here that can benefit the local Aboriginal community by generating long-term jobs.
10 Take a moment. This may sound strange, but save a part of the day for relaxation. My favourite time is sundown when I take a cold beer down to the beach and watch the fish jumping and the light fading, preferably with my dog for company and a camp fire roaring. That’s when I realise that I am living on the most magical place on earth.