Queensland; the tropics of Australia. With greenery as rich as the queens Sunday roast. I found myself in more gorges, more adventures; and in more danger.
30.09.2014 - 07.10.2013 25 °C
It's November 18th, 7am Monday morning; our road trip-mobile was in the garage, so I found myself killing time in Cafe Oscars off Sydney St with pen, paper and a laptop.
There were perks to Monday mornings, caffeine to be exact. The cafe was tranquil; the city of Mackay was slowly but surely waking up around the corner cafe, the yawn of HGV's; and the brushing and cleaning from the street sweepers polished the jaws of the silver city. Men and women in a sea of orange boiler suits began their day with coffee and laughs; two elderly men sit across from me discussing refrigerators and politics, the former no doubt being more important. Sorrow strickens my emotions as a couple struggle to find conversation, and more disappointingly one manages to summon it in a message; Facebook no doubt from somebody on the other side of the planet, as opposed to the person sitting in front of them. Is it just me who enjoys post-modern cynicism's? Or has society lost the ability to talk? Social awkwardness aside, my travel partner was gone; not for good of course. She had left to Melbourne due to lack of work for her here in Mackay. Sod's law that she got offered a job when she had already left, but ces't la vie(life goes on). I was eight-hundred dollars in debt, my neck was in dire straights from the ravenous wildlife and my bones felt as sturdy as matchsticks from the melons. But before I list more problems, let me explain how this came along.
It was 2:30pm on the 7th of October; we had just finished our drive back from Uluru on the 31st, taking a week to explore on our way. But now we were in Mackay, on the East coast. As well as having family on the West coast in Broome; I had family out on the East coast in the city of Mackay, just off the Whitsunday Islands. They had been there for just over 6 years. I thought it would be rude not to pay them a visit.
When we arrived on the east coast I felt like I had driven back to the Yorkshire dales; what looked like oak trees passed by, the pastures green and amber cracked leaves littered the roads. And of course, it was raining; profusely. The wipers on the car were as limp as a pensioners wrist against the cascading rain; we rocked from side to side, winds beating the car at 90mph, it was the first storm of the wet season. Despite the heavy sets of grey clouds; the sun cracked through in perfect golden slits of clarity; as my eyes met the end of these rays I saw for the first time the cane fields, the biggest farming trade on the east coast. This soon became my favorite kind of sunset; the exuberantly extensive green cane fields looked like a thick fiber carpet, spattered with the light of the shimmering sun. It's that kind of sunset where the skies are in contest; the roaring, burning ball always eventually succumbs to the sea of sunless clouds. But that conflict of elements is one of the most beautiful battles mankind will ever see. 'Welcome to Mackay the sign said upon entering; it felt strange to be somewhere you had only seen on the internet so much from the family who'd lived there; these were the 'Tates' to be exact. Vanessa was a little nervous; but with good reason in regards to my family. Just kidding guys.
The warm rain had churned the land up in a pulp of foliage; scattering the contents of nature across the white houses like a ransom note. As we pulled on to Bucasia Esplanade the sea was that dark shade of grey but it would no doubt look stunning in sunlight. My eyes were peeled for my Aunty Pam's Cafe; 'Jivoli'. I had seen it time after time from post's on my family's behalf. And there it was; red and white polka dotted tables lined the gardens of Jivoli, ducks by the dozen patrolled the yard around a pink child's playhouse. Children played as their parents dined on tea and scones; it was UK abroad. Among the crowd came a woman dressed in a black and white polka dot dress, matching the 1920's fashion trend aesthetic of the tables. Lips laced with a ruby red lipstick and a smile as inviting to match it. It was my Aunty Pam, "How'd you know?" I said, intending for it to be a surprise; "I saw it on Facebook you were heading this way!". Technology had once again soiled a portion of my good intentions, I thought; as my Aunt grasped me in a hug matching the strength of a bear. Pam was, and has always been a jolly woman from my memory, a mother of three, Jessica 21; and the twins Alex and Elliot, both 18. I had seen all of them over the past six years from visits to the UK, all besides Alex, and their father Spud; my fathers cousin. Which was in fact the only way we were related, they weren't technically my aunt, uncle and cousins, but by god they were as good as. The parents had sadly split recently, but both had obviously followed their aspirations. Pam had transformed Jivoli from the ground up; from the grease traps to the signage. It was a home away from home, the interior was awe-inspiring with a 1950's housewife theme that to this day is deemed one of the most popular themes by modern day standards( For British folk: Think of Kath Kidston meets Costa Coffee). Signs were printed everywhe[right]re inside; from 'Coffee, the most neccesary of all evils' to the signs in the toilets quoting If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie. It was an adorableness capable of coaxing Winston Churchill into a grin.
Before I could utter the words tea-time we were drinking tea served on a doily with a milk jug as cute to match. Vanessa exchanged pleasantries and I sat by and watched as the relationship between family and the ones close to me unfolded in a surreal harmony of umm's and aahh's which female's vocalize best. I made no hesitation to meet catch up with my long lost cousins; and we headed for the town, just me and them on a lads night out. In the six years I hadn't seen him, Alex had grown into a man twice my size; in width and at least a head taller than me. A full head of brown curls laced around his head, covering his ears; a sturdy jaw with his face and expressions pinched into the center of his tanned face, his eyes hinted mischief with a gentle understanding for friends and family. He was a landscaper by trade and a gym junkie by night along with his brother. Speaking of which, Elliot; I had seen at my leaving party for Australia seven months before, not realizing back then he had also doubled in size. His arms seemed capable of snapping a tree trunk in two between them; long blonde curls of hair turned upward almost appearing to defy gravity, Elliot had a small nose with friendly eyes telling the aspirations for no-doubt soon-to-be-Casanova. Even girls my age back in school pined after the small skinny child which was Elliot. Jessica; the eldest was a very modest girl, much like a skinny blonde version of myself. Defined cheekbones complimented with her ever-glowing smile despite her first hard years of living in Australia.
Mackay; Northern Queensland is in the heart of the Whitsunday Islands. Named by the infamous captain Cooke after the celebrations which took place by their crew every Sunday. The 'Whit' part short for white; as Cooke believed it was the best descriptive for such a heavenly place on earth. Fringed by reefs and the even more astounding 'Great Barrier Reef'. After arriving on the Saturday, my family wasted no time and Pam booked a day trip on a 30 foot boat out to one of the islands a stones throw away from the cafe; Brampton Island.
The plan was to meet at the foot of the marina when the tide was out at 7am with all necessary supplies; picnic, fishing gear; and a crate of South Australia's finest; Victoria Bitter. My ass that's ever been beer. Our captains for the day were Jim and Tony; so I was told. I hadn't gotten the chance to greet them yet as they were late. The minutes flew by and before we could say swash buckle the tide had started drawing in; our huge haul of supplies was imminently close to the waters edge. After 45 minutes of overtime; Jim appeared. Telling myself, Elliot and Alex to run to his house and grab the motorized dinghy. The clock was against us as we pattered across the wet sand; almost back to Jivoli's about 2 kilometers away. We carried the vessel over our heads; the bright white divers dinghy looked like a giant swan with six legs to the confused onlookers. We laughed and ran toward the waiting crowd; narrowly missing a palm tree. We had about 20 meters of land left before we were forced onto the jagged rocks or join the fish in the fringing reef's; we hoped for neither but to get the boat going. I stared at the tiny white vessel, barely big enough to keep four men afloat; never mind ten adults; this would mean a few trips at least; excluding cargo.
Jim; the small man well over his 60's, yanked and pulled at the motor chord with the same ferocity as a man hauling the lover from his cheating wife's bed. With the exterior of a skinny Ronnie Barker. And so began the men's triathlon of efforts in starting the boat motor. We all had a try with no luck, "I'll get mi' other one" said Jim as he huffed, pulled up his tiny white shorts and began trekking through the seemingly deep waters towards his home on the other side. We watched as he stomped through with such a tremendous effort, almost being brushed under by the Queensland current against his tiny white matchstick legs which on the contrary were astonishingly youthful.
A border collie belonging to one of the locals ran around yapping; chasing boats coming out of the harbor which were too far away to even consider chasing. A wealthy man passed us on a private boat at least 5 meter's long with his jumpers tied across his shoulders, Pam began to heckle him over with the helping courage of the Victorian Bitters in her system. She summoned the man forward with such prose that the gesture seemed practiced. It worked. A woman with red hair sat at the vessel's nose; with hers pointing in the air. The man was shortly spoken but agreed to take the co-captain tony to the 30 foot Vessel; 'The Commandeer'.
Despite the small 'tinny' being averagely sized and not as visually alluring as 'The Commandeer' the boat was allegedly the mans pride and joy as with all his possessions. It was shortly after being told this by Pam she also divulged the 30 foot vessel had lurched forward with the tide and heavy winds and struck the side of the mans boat. We never asked the man for help again; he cursed like Popeye as his vessel drifted into the harbor, his wife's nose in the air with red hair fluttering as though she were a beacon warning boats away.
In the meantime Jim had returned with his other vessel; similar to that of the rich man who was unlucky enough to aid us, with a canopy over the top. With the motor whirring he came out of the harbor towards us with tremendous speed; a good fifty-meters away. To make light of the situation I made a joke of how unfortunate it would be if this second boat stopped working; and sure as my luck has it, Jim's boat began making a resentful noise, like a brick in a blender. Before I could even say the punchline; Jim began to straggle up the river with his two wooden oars. The athletic Elliot desperately ran along the shrinking strip of sand toward the boat with a can of fuel. "It's alright, i'll just have to get the other one!" Christ how many did he have? Was Jim's garage a naval base? was his name even Jim?
Eventually we were saved by a chef from Pam's cafe who was out on the water; fishing the day away with her partner. The man pointed out that we hadn't turned the fuel gauge fully to the ON position. We made it just in the nick of time; the Collie yelped at the waters edge; determined to attempt taking a chunk from the vessel, so determined it almost got caught in the boats propeller. We offered the women seats on the chef's boat and tried our luck with the white dingy. It was so small we had to sit on the edges, throwing our share of the supplies at our feet. And so we began chugging towards the boat; just three and a half hours later than expected; Jim turned up shortly after in his third boat.
Tony was a man who never removed his shades, even after months of working at the cafe situated across from his home I never saw his eyes. I would almost believe him to be half man half robot. But alas, this is my grudge with the Australian population; sure the eyes need protecting against the elements. But there comes a time when talking to what seems like a black mirrored vision of yourself behind an emotionless mirror can become quite daunting; the same effect as engaging conversation with a politician, a one way conversation.
Tony was a huge man, from the belt upward; he was a top heavy Aussie with the body formation of a frog, (Think mister toad from wind in the willows but with shades) with all due respect of course. He flipped dials, aligned the compass and activated all navigation systems, the trip to the islands were a-go. The turquoise seas were tossed and turned in a baby blue froth; cascading in it's wake against Jim's boat, slowly towing along behind us. Off shore islands passed by; of all shapes and sizes, one looked like a woman laid on her side; her dark silhouette danced along the horizon with the ripples of the ocean. I was so captivated by the figure that I nearly plunged into the depths with her as a hand grasped my shoulder. It was Pam; showcasing her ruby red smile as we spoke of dreams, ambitions; aspirations and my parents in their younger years. Which always cheered me up after being deprived of them for so long. She told me of how she refurbished the building now standing as 'Jivoli' from the ground up. And I had confirmed it with my own eyes. But she also told me of the hard times; the money troubles, the demanding mind set of a business owner and not to mention the sleep deprivation. The wise words trickled like tears into the ocean; building that fathomless sea of doubt against the small vessel which was the concept of chasing your dreams which I had struggled so much in the past to keep afloat. But this consuming ocean soon dried up in the light of Pam's outcome, the happiness; the satisfaction, the outcome being the improved version of ourselves.
I learned a big life lesson on the back of the 'Commandeer'; without cliches it was simply the notion of following your dreams which was in my case travelling to find myself and the life I was destined to live. I'm not bent on the goal of chasing my dreams, just to live to my potential would suffice.
It was nearing midday; and we had began passing through a valley between two islands; which was clearly getting shallower with the tide. Before we could disembark on the towing boat with our picnic; a figure jumped overhead from the mast and into the water with such grace I half thought it was a dolphin. That 'dolphin' was Vanessa; the fearless Venezuelan had jumped fifty meters away from the shoreline into the apparently deep, and most probably shark infested waters. Sure it's fifty meters so what? But with my untold devastating fear of the sea; it may as well have been the same gap as the grand canyon. There were two things I couldn't face for fear on this planet; door security and the ocean, but door security is a story for another day. Back in Broome I had attempted spearfishing with friends; swimming so close to my friend Toby out of fear that the end of my gun protruded into the heel of his foot. When returning to shore I had been so afraid to put my foot on the sand and stand up that I had swam almost shin-deep over a dozen stingrays beneath me. Avoiding by an inch the cruel sting of their barbs. Almost in jealousy I watched as she swam with such carelessness on her back; her arms rotated over and under like a tranquil windmill, the water dropped from her hands in crystallized perfection against the tropical sun. I shouted enough times for her to comeback and so gave up; putting a towel over sun dried head in shame.
Opposite the beach where we had the picnic was an even larger island; yellow villas lay scattered around the base of it like debris. Tony told us of the abandoned island known as 'Brampton' with it's wrecked resort; all contents still intact, as though all the occupants had up and left in a hurry. I HAD to see it, I urged him to drop me off with my camera for the pictures of a lifetime. Elliot and Alex agreed to join me and we got ready to leave for Brampton whilst the women lazed in the waters of the neighboring beach. This would have been well and all if the captain; Jim hadn't decided to un-anchor both boats at the same time alone whilst we were all eating; Tony grew concerned for his life-long friend and no doubt the priceless vessel they had gone half's to buy. We turned around the see that the small vessel; 'The Tudor Rose' was heading straight towards a smaller island of jagged rocks as Jim wrestled with the anchor of the 'Comandeer' Why hadn't he asked anyone for help?
Elliot bravely took to the waters to help the seemingly senile Jim recover both boats from wreckage. Returning them both to the shores of the beach which we stood. Tony was able to get us a few meters away from Brampton Island shortly after, he warned us of the strong seas; but being in the center of the shrinking valley meant time was of the essence. The steep sandy shoreline and declining tide made for disastrously strong currents, I could barely keep my footing on the deck; it was my last chance to see this desolate disaster which was Brampton Island. I threw myself head first into the water without a moments hesitation; grabbing Elliot's torso at the last second, we both tumbled in the vastness of the ocean; I felt all the emptiness of the blue depths fill my heaving chest, I straddled for grip on something, anything; my hands found nothing but mounds of gold sand, I opened my eyes in desperation, the salt water felt like battery acid on the green of my pupils. A hazy bronze figure hauled me up; it was Elliot. Without hesitation, provocation and just for the hell of it; and thankfully without my camera equipment for obvious reasons, we headed towards the unsoiled remains of the resort; or so we thought.
Then, there was no noise; nothing but the beating my recovering chest. Every room was locked tight and left no option for exploration; I was eager to learn more so I began scaling an outdoor balcony, easing my way over the brass handrail and in through the veranda's glass doors. Everything was still there just as expected, state-of-the-art coffee machines with cups still waiting at the base, droplets dried to mere blackened stains, rooms scattered with a snow blanket of dust and remains of insects, the reek of cigarettes ravaged the rooms. Each room was as generic as the last, so we went on looking around the island.
We came to a sign saying 'Pool Temporarily Out of Use'. In irony sat behind it was a black lagoon of darkness; sprinkled with palm leaves and old coconut shells; a dead possum being the only guest using it. Sun loungers lay scattered and stacked with vines entwined around them; gagged using the green militant cap on my head as a respirator.
It was after that moment I turned around to see a discarded fire extinguisher; red as a European's sun burn yet heavily corroded from the half section down. Now when a man is exposed to such a pointless activity in such rare circumstances; the upkeep of your maturity is in question. But of course under the circumstances it seemed logical as a 'one-off'. Just then I remembered my last day of school years ago; seeing a friend of mine grab an extinguisher, a computer chair; and used the two as an ingenious device to outrun the pursuing school teachers down the slope of the bus park. Where his getaway vehicle; Bus 5, was waiting.
So I pulled the pin, the rusty metal fragment fell to the ground; it was the only sound that echoed across the ruined courtyard we found ourselves in. Brampton's six year period of tranquility meant you could literally hear a pin drop. I pressed down the lever and a thick plume of yellow powder oozed from the spout in a sickening motion, reaching no higher than my shin; having the consistency and color of stomach bile mixed with flour. I grabbed my respirator as I dropped the canister.
There had to be more, I thought, as I trampled through the overgrown grounds; snakes the size of drainpipes pulsed through the foliage like the tired aching veins of the weathered island. I felt a blast of warm air as though the island itself had exhaled its last dying breath across my neck; there stood Elliot, with fire extinguishers akimbo. Then it began; the erratic extinguishing, the eruption of laughs on the otherwise dormant land as we pasted one another in clouds of chalk, it was brilliant. It made me feel like that skinny blonde child again; alas on the grande scale of things nothing much has changed. We sprayed pathways, walkways; rooms, ceilings, cupboards, trees and anything inanimate which counted for a lot. In total we had gone through five of the canisters; more than the average fireman. We called for Alex to join in but heard no shouts or replies from the vessel, wondering where he was.
We promptly returned the extinguishers into their rightful place on the wall; according to their tags they were at least six years beyond use, and to be used by the resort back then would have been deemed illegal. I patted the chalk from my hair and carried on exploring; until we got to the main entertainment complex; or sports grounds. We came to what looked like the set for a horror movie. Jet ski's by the dozen sat on trailers lining from one side of the complex to the other, boxes the size of cars filled with tennis equipment; mountain bikes and other various activities for the holiday goers. An old repair shed still had one of the golf buggies hoisted up on the pneumatic lift; the office riddled with papers and computer chairs. All clocks in the buildings had stopped at the same time; cracks down the center of every one. It really did seem like time had forgotten about this place, as though all the guests and staff had been simultaneously snatched.
I batted several tennis balls with a decaying tennis racket across the resort like Tim Henman. I watched one land on an old shed; a humming noise uttered from inside, machinery maybe? A caretaker? I slowly placed down the racket; turned around, and we began walking slowly back to the shore, Tony's voice cracked and croaked from the shore warning us that he was soon to leave. Upon our exit from the complex I saw a fairly new sign which soon smothered and suffocated my inner child with reality:'Smile, you're on CCTV. My walking pace quickened with my heart rate, I had a gut feeling we weren't alone. After the menacing camaraderie with Elliot I began to revert back to my solemn self. Before leaving we strolled over to yet another pool; black as tar but this time situated right next to the sea, so close that large fish had began mating in the depths. They jumped and struggled, no doubt dissolving in the combination of salt water and chlorine. I looked into the reflection and saw something much worse than the unknown; the hard face of a tattooed man stood over me. He had short black hair, grizzly stubble; barely enough to hide his browned cigarette stained teeth, his squared jaw clenched below another pair of those god damned shades. He said nothing at first, my heart felt to be almost cracking the bars of its prison which was my rib cage.Adrenaline its alibi; turning the contents of my insides to wreckage.
(Credits for this photo to to an unknown source.)
I began to broaden my stance; remembering my defensive training from the forces in the UK. He was stood to my 1'clock; an attack from his left side would mean I could clasp both hands together in the praying gesture and bring both palms down on the right of the mans neck sending him sailing into the pool to our right. These were non- lethal tactics demonstrated and taught to protect any officer from the prone to standing position against any assailants with knives. Tactics which I had the unfortunate luck of practicing with an Ex marine named Gareth.
I measured the mans height and build against my own; he was by no means a big man, no bigger than me and about the same height; plus I had Elliot with the build of a Rugby forward shadowing me. And I was by no means going to be clubbed to unconsciousness with the tennis racket hanging from the caretaker's clasped, tattooed hands. We said nothing for a whole minute; which seemed like an eternity when faced with such a hostile situation. "Iv'e got you on CCTV, messing with the extinguishers. Leave now and I won't press charges" He said; in a thundering condescending tone. I apologized on behalf of both of us for no more reason than to not cause any trouble. He strolled over to the boat, talking to Jim and Tony and warning them not to return in their vessel again.
When we returned to the boat I explained to everyone what had happened and details of what lied on the island. And of how it's occupant was a deranged caretaker. But the day didn't end there, we dived in the fringing reefs and explored the rest of the islands, jumping from the mast into the cooling water. But daylight began to drawback; the ladies had their share of sun for the day and their cherry red skin had paid the price. But it was the end to a beautiful, awe-inspiring day. So I laid back with Vanessa as the winds of the sea caressed our sunburned selves; I was becoming too lucky in this life of mine.
And it turns out that among all this fun; whilst me and Elliot had been cascading through the water and 'Dueling' with fire extinguishers. Alex had gone to the bathroom, and in all the excitement; broken the lock on the toilet door. Locking himself on the deck as the senile Jim pulled away from Brampton Island...
This entry is far too long for one entry so I have divided it into the two; the second being documented shortly. If anybody is still out there reading this; thank-you for taking the time to do so.-R
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