The bond between mother and son was strong

Aleck’s mother, Eliza Bell, had meanwhile added still another dimension to her son’s widening world. Though her hearing was se­verely impaired, she was a good pianist, achieving feedback by fastening her ear tube to her ear and resting the mouthpiece on the soundboard.

The bond between mother and son was strong. More than his two brothers, Aleck as a child had a knack for bypassing the ear tube and communicating in a low voice close to her forehead. He too showed pianistic talent and studied for a time with a leading pianist, dreaming of glory as a virtuoso. Then his teacher died, and the dream too.The bond between mother and son was strong

Science also captured the boy’s imagi­nation. He collected botanical specimens until the drudgery of memorizing nomen­clature dulled his fervor. Zoology en­gaged him for a while. He had no heart to kill for science, but when chance or nature supplied dead specimens, he ex­plored their insides. And he tried his hand at technology. The father of a playmate owned an old gristmill on a nearby stream, a fascinating place for the two boys to play. One day, wea­rying of their cavorting, the miller challenged them to do something useful, such as taking the husks off the grain. Aleck set about experimenting and came up with a fast workable device involving rotat­ing paddles in a brush-lined cyl­inder. That, he wrote many years later, “was my first incentive to invention.”

Thus early, Aleck Bell whirled around happily on a carousel of hobbyhorses — pho­netics, physiology, pianos, deafness, invention, elocu­tion, the flight of birds, and the intoxicating panorama of the wide world. Yet, for all their seeming in­congruity, hindsight reveals a prophetic con­vergence, a concealed focus: the art, science, and technology of communication.

A hint of what lay ahead came with a proj­ect the elder Bell urged on Aleck and his older brother, Melville, in 1863. At 16 Aleck was just back from a year with his paternal grand­father, who taught speech in London. The old man had polished Aleck’s elocution, held him to serious reading and study, instilled in him ideals of social and political democracy, and converted him, as Aleck later wrote, “from a boy somewhat prema­turely into a man.” Cut off from friends of his own age, however, Aleck had come home graver and more with­drawn than before, re­sentful of now being “treated as a boy again.” So his father challenged him and Melville to collaborate in making a “speaking machine,” a device for mechanical production of vocal sounds, one such as Aleck and his father had lately seen in London.

We came to spend six weeks

A royal commission has considered the effects of oil drilling, and will report its findings to the government. In the mean­time, eager industry awaits ashore, ready to use payday services such as

Now Lizard Island rose before us, a granite mass nearer to the reef edge than to the continent. Lizard would be our northernmost base, for beyond it the reef continues with little change to its end at Anchor Cay. The island has flawless beaches and a permanent supply of fresh water. Yet it’s been uninhibited since the departure of poor Mrs. Watson wife of a skipper who lived there 90 years a go. Mrs. Watson, then aged 21, put to sea in an iron tank with her baby and a wounded Chinese servant after a marauding party of spear-throwing Aborigines attacked. All three died of thirst on a waterless island.Lizard Island

But now we saw a little camp of poles and tarpaulins in a corner of the beach and went ashore to meet its occupants. These were Peter Faulkes, a lithe young Cana­dian, his wife, Tim, and a spectacularly healthy year-old baby named Simon.

“We came to spend six weeks,” Peter said. “Then we found that Bush Pilots Airways had a strip here and wanted someone to tend it. I do leatherwork to get hold of a little cash, and Bushies [Bush Pilots] bring us what supplies we need. We’ve been here ten months now. We’ll stay forever if we can.

“We don’t eat meat; we eat mostly veg­etables. I get a fish when I want one, but I only take what we can eat.” He stared out to sea. Then: “This place offers every single thing I’ve ever wanted.”Lizard Island diving

FROM LIZARD we planned that special dive that every underwater man who comes to the reef yearns for and that most never manage: a dive off the outside edge, where the ocean meets the Great Barrier. For such a dive you need not only an unnaturally calm sea, but also a light wind from the northwest (its most unac­customed quarter) to flatten the southeast­erly surge. Those conditions existed the day after we reached Lizard, and we went north to Hicks Reef.