A stone’s throw from an idyllic ocean and with island views to match, the Palm Island Servo surely has one of the best vistas of any petrol station in the country.
But for customers on the bustling north Queensland island, the prices are anything but pretty.
At $2.92 a litre for unleaded and $3.16 for diesel, a rapid surge in fuel costs is forcing a stop to boating in the Aboriginal community, where fishing is a way of life.
“We’re seafarers; they call us canoe people,” Palm Island fisherman Gresham Ross said.
“We get that fresh seafood, it’s the stuff we need as part of our culture … the turtle or the fish and your crayfish.”
Twenty dollars doesn’t even buy seven litres of unleaded fuel on Palm Island.(ABC News North Queensland: Jade Toomey)
From the tinny to tinned tuna
The father of eight used to hit the water twice a week.
His freezer was full of fish – mainly coral trout, mackerel, and nannygai — caught at secret “bommies” on the Great Barrier Reef.
Mr Ross would share the haul with his family, which now includes five grandchildren.
“[But now] you can’t put fuel in the boats, so you’ve got to get that tinned stuff from the store, tinned tuna,” Mr Ross said.
“We miss it.”
More expensive than the mainland
In nearby Townsville — just a 20-minute flight away — unleaded fuel is more than $1 cheaper at an average of $1.90 a litre, according to the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland (RACQ).
But Mr Ross said the “pretty hectic” cost was beginning to have a ripple effect on other aspects of the island’s lifestyle.
“If you don’t pay for it, you don’t go out, you don’t drive, you don’t go to work, you don’t take your kids to school,” he said.
Many Palm Island residents rely on fishing.(ABC News North Queensland: Jade Toomey)
Todd Pearson says $100 is not giving him much fuel to trawl for fish.(ABC News North Queensland: Jade Toom
Service station co-owner Stephen Nicholson said he had no control over world prices, which had increased because of Russia’s war in Ukraine and Australia’s dollar exchange rate.
“It [the fuel] costs us about $1.60 a litre,” he said.
“And our transport on the barge is around 22 cents a litre.
“Then we have to add the GST on top of that, then there’s the pumping costs, which is another five cents a litre.”
Mr Nicholson insists there is no room to reduce the price.
Stephen Nicholson says there is no room to reduce the price of fuel after transport costs.(ABC News North Queensland: Jade Toomey)
“You can’t absorb the size of the increases that have been coming through; you’ve got to pass them on,” he said.
“We need that to keep the place running.”
How can even more remote islands have cheaper prices?
It is mandatory to sell low-aromatic fuel in Indigenous communities such as Palm Island to deter petrol sniffing.
The federal government funds the extra costs to produce low-aromatic fuel.
The RACQ said the cost of transporting fuel to remote locations like Palm Island would always make prices more expensive than the mainland.
But the Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council doesn’t believe that is the whole story.
“We’re close to Townsville and Ingham, and we shouldn’t have fuel prices in that vicinity … because I can see cheaper prices in other [more] remote locations.”
“It’s quite concerning when you see fuel prices in the Torres Strait cheaper than Palm Island,” Mayor Mislam Sam said.
On Thursday Island, unleaded fuel is more than 40 cents cheaper, despite being much further from the mainland.
Mr Sam is worried just how “crazy” prices will become once the federal government’s fuel excise discount expires in September.
Mislam Sam is worried about just how far prices will rise when the fuel excise discount expires is September.(ABC News North Queensland: Jade Toomey)
“I think some fuel providers here need to have a real hard look at themselves … are [they] doing the community service?” he said.
“Everyone just needs to do the right thing.”
Extracted in full form: The sea is a way of life for Palm Island’s fishers — but the soaring price of fuel is weighing them down – ABC News