Regional History: One-Armed Legend
This is the ballad of a once poor and lonesome Cairns man named George Lawson.
His life was a tale of woe and misfortune.
First and foremost he was a fisherman, making a profit catching Beche-de-mer – otherwise known as sea cucumbers - near Green Island in the late 1880s.
He made a tidy living from this trade, and to capitalise on his market-leading position he took up squatter’s rights on the island.
George resided there in a relatively carefree existence for nearly two decades. He did quite well from his regular hauls from the reef, and amassed enough loot to buy a homestead estate at Buchan’s Point.
But one fateful day out on the water George was forced to abandon the fishing trade in a very unexpected and abrupt fashion.
As was common practise in those days, George often used dynamite to help stun the fish on his expeditions, but on this occasion a stick blew up in his right hand before he could throw it in the water.
The rudimentary hospital treatment in those days meant his right arm was amputated to the elbow. Shortly after, George was booted off Green Island by the authorities.
He had to find another profession, and quickly. But with no other skills, George was condemned to a stint as a scavenger, scouring sunken ships for trinkets and saleable goods.
His greatest discoveries were always bottles of fine spirits and sealed pouches of tobacco, which he managed to hide from the police and customs officers whenever they came knocking. It didn’t take him long to drain the contents of the bottles he found.
As time passed, the waters off the Cairns coast played host to an ever-dwindling supply of sunken ships.
So, when scavenging no longer proved viable, George tried his (singular) hand at farming at his plot of land near Buchans Point Estate, now known as Palm Cove. But it didn’t go so well.
According to a local historian, the crocs ate the pigs he tried to raise and bandicoots - yes, Cairns was once home to a bevy of bandicoots - ate all the vegetables he attempted to grow.
Devastated and demoralised, a slave to the demon drink, by now George was a 64-year-old amputee alone in the world and on the brink of destitution.
He died in 1907, leaving very little behind.
Except one thing: his name.
During his lifetime few people in town ever knew his real name. Being born in Yorkshire, England, everyone called him Yorkey.
Today, his legend lives on with the name of the suburb we call Yorkey’s Knob.