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Introducing Yule Island

For such an inconsequential speck on the map, Yule Island certainly has a lot of history. Recent fortunes have waned and locals give the impression that they’re just waiting for someone, anyone, to come in and kick-start the economy. It has happened before.

In 1885 Catholic missionaries, who were some of the first European visitors to reach the Papuan coast, held PNG’s first mass here on 4 July. Today the location, Centennial Hill, boasts a small memorial decorated with mosaics and a painted bronze (yes – someone painted over the bronze) statue. They also brought with them 14 Filipino lay mission­aries (the first Philippine visitors to PNG) to teach catechism and generally help evangelise the country. Besides Catholicism, the Filipinos also help account for the Hispanic surnames that you may encounter.

It’s worth poking around the cemetery amid the recently restored headstones for the grave of M Bourgade, one of France’s top WWI air aces, who died here of Malaria while working as a mission worker.

Later, the island became a government headquarters and base for explorations. Today the district local government headquarters is on the mainland at Bereina and the island has been in serious economic decline since. An airstrip that is more bush than strip and derelict buildings are the only reminders that at one stage Siria village once boasted a fisheries industry, wharfs, a bank and guesthouse.

In 1972 local 17-year-old schoolgirl Susan Karike (now Mrs Huhume) surprised everyone and won the nationwide competition to design the national flag.

The most recent addition to the landscape is the remains of a whale that washed up here in 2006. Many of the vertebrae can be seen around the village being used as stools and the skull still juts out from the sand. By all accounts things got a bit whiffy around town while the carcass rotted.

There are several palm-fringed beaches around the island but the pick of the bunch is Paradise Beach, a hot half-day walk to the island’s far tip. Arrange for a local guide or charter a dinghy.