Drawn home to the island, like a shearwater

THE ties that bind close-knit communities like Port Fairy are lasting ones.

Jeffrey Sproal was born and bred in Port Fairy before moving away as a young man to pursue his career as a teacher.

He spent the next 35 years at schools in Melbourne before the call of Port Fairy brought him home in 2008.

One of Mr Sproal’s fondest memories as a child in Port Fairy was the time spent discovering the wonders of one of the town’s most iconic landmarks, Griffiths Island.

On his return, Mr Sproal decided to take a proactive role in ensuring Griffiths Island remained as one of the town’s jewels.

He was one of the driving forces in establishing the Friends of Griffiths Island group. He signed on as the group’s inaugural president in 2010, a position he retains today.

The community’s love of the island is reflected in the group’s strong membership of 42. Mr Sproal said the importance of the island to Port Fairy can’t be overstated.

“We estimate that annually 300,000 would come and walk around Griffiths Island,” Mr Sproal said.

“The island and the lighthouse are just iconic parts of Port Fairy and the people of Port Fairy have a real sense of ownership of the island.”

Griffiths Island is itself home to popular attractions such as the lighthouse, built in the 1850s, a spectacular structure that has drawn countless camera lenses to capture its image.

The island is also renowned for its colony of short-tailed shearwaters, or mutton birds, that arrive every September to mate and head off again in May.

It is estimated up to 15,000 mutton birds call Griffiths Island home and their welfare is a major focus of the Friends group.

Mr Sproal said the biggest threats to the birds were exhaustion and hunger from their long journey from the Aleutian Islands, near Alaska, and predatory foxes on the island when they arrive.

“Our long-term goals are to protect the birds by ridding the island of foxes, to rid the island of noxious weeds and plants and to make the tracks on the island easy and accessible for the public to use.”

The dedication of the Friends of Griffiths Island to caring for their beloved island means group members meet regularly and give up their time for working bees, to prepare information to lobby for funding and other improvements.

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