|Cane Locos in sugar cane farms around Mackay|
|Racecourse Sugar Mill, Walkerston, via Mackay|
|The old, now demolished Commercial Hotel in Mackay, built in 1884; demolished 1978|
|Dame Nellie Melba's Old Home (restored) at Marian, Via Mackay|
|A Typical Irish Bar and Grill, Upper East Side, New York|
|Upper East Side, New York City|
|Cape Richards (at right)...the far north-eastern tip of Hinchinbrook Island|
|The Grumman Mallard...came into production in 1946...the one operated by Air Whitsunday was one of the originals.|
During our brief overnight stop in Mackay we also paid a visit to my brother Graham. Graham had lived in Mackay since he'd left Gympie around 1964 for the northern spheres.
Originally, he and a mate from their days when both were lifesavers with the Noosa Heads Surf Lifesaving Club headed north to work the cane fields. Working amongst the sugar cane fields was a dream Graham had held since he was a kid. Mal, his mate didn’t stick it out for very long. Mal returned to Brisbane, but Graham remained in Mackay until 1997.
Eventually, after a season or two cutting sugar cane on the many farms around Walkerston, Marian and Farleigh, areas surrounding Mackay, he became a cane loco driver, along with other duties.
His heart played a major role in his desire to remain in Mackay, too…he fell in love with and married a Mackay girl. A few years later they divorced, but before that time, they had three children – two boys and a girl.
Jokingly, Graham always said he was going to marry a publican’s daughter…and he was as good as his word! So, I guess he was only half-joking!
The parents of the young lady who became his wife owned the old Commercial Hotel in Mackay. The pub, which was originally built in1884, was demolished in 1978. Nowadays a Toyota Dealership and service centre is situated on the land where the old pub once stood.
While on this path - you know how much I like taking detours; how much I love trivia and how I enjoy sharing my bits and pieces of, in some instances, probably incidental, insignificant trivia with you…please bear with me for a moment while I take a side-track; another brief stop-over before taking you along with me on my journey north to Cardwell.
Internationally acclaimed Australian soprano of the early 20th Century, Dame Nellie Melba who was born in Melbourne (she adopted the stage name of “Melba” in honour of that city) spent the first year of her married life living at Marian, in the Pioneer Valley, 24kms west of Mackay. The Pioneer River runs through the city of Mackay.
The house in which Melba lived was restored and now stands proudly on the road between Mackay and Eungella, a small township nestled on the edge of the Clarke Range. Eungella National Park is a popular tourist destination (shy platypus inhabit the streams up there on the range). Many of the passing tourists on their way to and from Eungella call into Melba’s old house…it’s free to the public.
Back on the road again....
Once we hit the highway upon leaving Mackay the only stop I recall we made between Mackay and Cardwell, a road trip of approximately 552 kms/343 miles was when we pulled off the highway at Bluewater, 30 kms north of Townsville. I slipped the collar and leash over Ruska’s head before taking him on a stroll around a well-maintained parkland area at Blue Water, a few kilometres north of Townsville for him to pay a visit to his first tropical ablutions block. He calmly went about his business. Ruska was marvellous cat; he took everything in his stride with no complaints.
In Chapter Nine, the previous chapter in this saga, I had a lapse of memory.
When Randall flew north to Hinchinbrook Island (weeks before Cyclone Winifred unleashed her fury) I went with him. Quentin who'd signed the Contract of Sale and was waiting for due settlement of the contract, which would make him the new owner/lessee joined us. Together we three flew to Townsville airport where we disembarked. We then boarded the Grumman Mallard, the de Havilland amphibian seaplane. The magnificent old sea-faring machine whisked us away north to the waters off from the island's resort.
Rumour had it the Grumman Mallard was originally owned by the Aga Khan, but you know that everything about Rumour isn't necessarily true; but it makes for a interesting tale...and it could very well have been true...I don't know. However, I admit I was known to spread the rumour! Why not? The resort guests loved the story!
Randall remained on the island, returning south to Sunshine Beach/Noosa when Cyclone Winifred began bearing down on the region.
On the other hand, for my first ever visit to the island I stayed only the one day and night; just a few short hours to have a look around at what was going to be my new home and life before heading back to the coast and my shop. Quentin flew to Brisbane at the same time and on the same flight. Randall held the helm in the north; and I held the reins at Sunshine Beach and Noosa Heads. My trip north had been so brief Ruska barely had time to realise I’d been absent. My friend Irene once again stepped in to take care of my shop for me during by short time away.
As each kilometre of bitument road (Aussie spelling) passed beneath the Cortina’s tyres as we drove north, the closer we came to our destination…and Ruska remained comfortably snuggled either in my lap or at my feet; at times, blissfully softly snoring. He wasn't one for sight-seeing; only for brief periods did he look out the car windows.
We pulled into Cardwell early afternoon. Waiting for us at the foreshore to the right of the Cardwell Jetty was a fellow with a boat. He introduced himself to Randall and me as “David”. David was employed by Hunt’s Marine in Tully, not only as a boat salesman but as a boat mechanic, too. His boat knowledge was vast, I learned later. Hunt's Marine was to become my "go-to" business for all things to do with boats.
Tully, by road, is approximately 44 kms north of Cardwell. Cardwell is approximately halfway between Townsville and Cairns, give or take. David had driven south from Tully to meet us, towing the motor boat behind him. He was our transport across to Cape Richards, by sea only 22kms away; but to me, that afternoon, it felt like 220kms.
Randall and I travelled lightly; we only had a couple of suitcases with us bearing clothes and other personal necessities. It didn’t take long to unpack the car and load our luggage onto the boat. Ruska travelled lightly, too. He didn’t even have a backpack with him. However, I had packed a cat box to enable Ruska to be safely and securely transferred from the mainland by power boat to the island.
Some of our possessions were still in transit being transported north by a removal company. As I mentioned previously, everything else we felt wasn’t necessary or was too cumbersome to take to the island was stored in a shed at my sister-in-law’s (Randall’s sister) property on Tamborine Mountain.
Once placed in his cat box Ruska curled up quietly, not making a murmur. I was the one feeling quite apprehensive about the boat trip across waters I'd never sailed upon before. Sure I'd landed on them via seaplane...but, for me the boat journey was a whole different matter.
I waited by the boat chatting with David until Randall returned from taking our car across and down the highway a little, to be deposited with Bonnie at the small travel agency and resort booking office on the other side of the highway from the Cardwell Jetty.
Bonnie and her husband Bob generously offered to house the car in one of their garages at the rear of their office. Bonnie ran the day-to-day operations of the travel agency/booking office. The office handled bookings for the resort on behalf of future guests arriving to the area by road, not seaplane. Bonnie's husband Bob, the owner-skipper of the “Reef Venture”, the powered catamaran contracted by the resort to transport “The Reef Venture” transferred the island's guests who had arrived at Cardwell. He also carted provisions etc., to the island, and whatever else was needed for the successful day-to-day operation of the resort.
Without further ado, I found myself powering across unknown waters towards an unknown future.
Not only have I always believed I have a firm grip on reality, but that day I also had a firm grip on the side of the boat!
Having left behind a sense of security from my feet being firmly on the ground of the mainland to be skimming across an unfamiliar sea I instantly felt very insecure. The knuckles on my left hand turned white from holding on so tightly. I was as stiff as a board. One arm was securely glued to Ruska’s cat box and the other to the boat. My heart pounded in my chest. I'm sure I’d forgotten to breathe. Randall and David, engrossed in conversation at the boat’s helm with David at the wheel, were both totally oblivious to my nervous breakdown at the stern.
Suddenly I found myself engulfed by a new feeling of panic. My heart, which had already been pounding, simultaneously seemed to pound and stop, if that is possible.
I called out to Randall…“Randall! Randall! I think Ruska has died! Quick! Come here!” I was distraught. Tears began to stream down my face.
Immediately upon hearing my outcry Randall rushed to my side. He, seeing my distress became very concerned.
He sat down beside me. I’d let go of the side of the boat and was holding on tightly to the cat box with Ruska inside it.
I was dismayed when Randall let out a loud laugh. It wasn’t like him to be so cold-hearted.
“Honey!” Randall exclaimed with a wide smile across his face. “Ruska’s not dead! He’s sleeping!”
The bloody cat! He's sleeping and I'm having a heart attack, along with a nervous breakdown!
I said Ruska was a good traveller…but come on now…this was ridiculous!!
Apparently, as soon as we’d left the shore Ruska curled up comfortably in his safe haven and drifted off into a deep sleep with not a care in the world. He wasn’t concerned in the least that he was in a power boat roaring across the deep, dark ocean waters for the first time in his life! I was the only coward in the county – put to shame by a ginger cat!
Once we crossed Missionary Bay and had pulled into the ramp that led down to where the jetty had once reached out into the sea, a feeling of elation engulfed me. The drama (and humour) of the boat trip was soon forgotten. An odd feeling that I'd arrived "home" came over me. Hinchinbrook Island welcomed me with open arms; and a wide smile opened up across my face. From that first moment I knew it was where I was supposed to be.
The original jetty that had stood for many years had been demolished by Cyclone Winifred’s wanton, indiscriminate fury. It no longer existed.
The previous manager of the resort was still on the island. The intention was he would remain with Randall and me for a couple of weeks to show us the ropes as we settled in. He put me off-side from the moment I stepped off the boat onto the island. He didn’t come down to the waterfront to greet us upon our arrival. And when we finally did meet, he was very off-hand.
David, who'd skippered us across the sea helped unload our luggage and also helped carry it up to the main building housing the dining/restaurant/kitchen. I had Ruska in my care. David then said his goodbyes before returning to Cardwell where he hitched the boat to his vehicle, and then drove to Tully by road towing the boat behind.
We set ourselves up in one of the guest cabins where I made sure Ruska was settled in with no escape routes. I didn’t want him roaming out and about in his unfamiliar, strange new surroundings. On Ruska’s past behaviour I really had nothing to be concerned by leaving him alone in the cabin; but I didn’t want him wandering about at will outside unchaperoned. Having conducted a brief reconnaissance of the cabin, and after having a snack and a drink, Ruska found a comfortable spot on the bed. Purring his furry ginger head off, he promptly went to sleep!
Ruska the Wonder Cat!
Randall and I then left him, knowing he'd be fine. We walked along the track leading down to the main building into a new world; a new life.
In previous year the resort closed for the month of February to enable maintenance work to be done and for staff members go on holidays; no guests bookings were accepted.
February, 1986, in particular, regardless of the island policy wasn’t conducive to hosting guests because of the lashing received from Winnie late January-early February. Before any guests could be welcomed a new jetty had to be erected; the old one was at the bottom of the ocean turning into a new reef. Elsewhere further repairs needed urgent attention. Also vegetation that had been damaged by the cyclone required clearing away; much work awaited and required our urgent attention.
We’d decided the construction of a large brand new timber deck to surround the in-ground pool with solid, set-in timber tables to complement it was imperative. The situation of the original surrounds of the pool were not, in anyway, inviting to those wanting to go swimming, let alone wanting to just lounge poolside. A new deck was amongst our top priorities. We wanted it completed before we reopened the resort to the public. We'd set the date for re-opening - 8th March, 1986; about a month away. Time was of the essence.
The manager we were replacing had also been one of the original five shareholders of the resort. All were a group of mates, based in Townsville, who’d formed a consortium.
When Randall and I arrived on the scene his wife and two young children had already returned to the mainland, to the home they owned in Townsville, where they waited for him to join them once everything was in order on the island.
He, the previous manager, was more than a bit of a smart-arse, and as I said earlier, I’d not taken to him from the outset, but I kept my feelings to myself (and Randall during our private moments together). There was no need to rock the boat. He was only going to stay a couple of weeks or so, and then he’d be out of our hair. He was similar to one of those people I referenced in my previous post…a know-all. But, every time we asked him a question about the running of the resort, etc; normal questions necessary to learn everything pertinent to the running of the resort he skirted around the issues, never giving a straight answer. Suddenly his knowledge deserted him. It was easier to ignore his petty behaviour. We gave up asking him any questions.
Randall and I weren’t stupid. We’d operated our own businesses; together we’d managed a restaurant in Noosa, amongst holding other positions in our working lives up until that point. We had faith in their abilities.
At the completion of his couple or so years working for the New Zealand Mission to the United Nations, followed by his brief stint with the British, and an even briefer stint working on the fringes with the Cambodian Embassy within the auspices of the UN - he left the latter because he was disgusted at their callous, light-hearted reactions to the images that came through of the atrocities perpetrated by Pol Pot – Randall made a 180° turn and became bar manager of O’Brien’s Bar-Grill in New York’s Upper East Side. The bar was then situated on 83rd Street and York Avenue. Randall remained in that job for a few years before he returned to Australia. During the summer months, he managed their sister bar and grill on Long Island. Currently there are other Irish pubs/grills in New York bearing the name “O’Brien’s”, but the “O’Brien’s Bar and Grill” Randall was employed by back in the early to mid-Seventies no longer exists.
There was much for us to do before the resort reopened, ready to accept guests, so we let the ex-manager go his maudlin way, while we went about ours, our way.
In only a matter of days, less than a week after we set foot on the island, the ex-manager did, literally, go on his way.
Without notice, fanfare or farewell, he up-rooted and left long before the pre-arranged and agreed-to date for his departure. Randall and I shed no tears over his unheralded, premature absconding. He’d been taking up space; we were better off without him. After he left we discovered many files/documents were missing. We didn’t pursue him or the missing files. We had more important issues to address.
We didn’t mourn his departure. Actually, if my memory serves me correctly, I think we celebrated it over a few drinks that evening!
With him out of our hair, we moved from the guest accommodation into the small managers’ house at the base of Cape Richards itself with views of the ocean and beach on both sides. Again, Ruska didn’t kick up a stink. I think he’d known the cabin was only a temporary measure.
Randall and I were free to get stuck into what needed to be done, our way, without any hindrance from someone who didn’t want to be there any longer and who had been acting like a petulant child.
Before leaving Noosa we’d spoken with a few tradies we knew well. Amongst them one was a neighbour of ours. He introduced us to one of his mates. Both with talents we needed in the plumbing, electrical and construction areas. Ron, another we asked had built our deck on the Elanda Street house. We knew his work was impeccable. Ron had a very good name in the Noosa area; he was a perfectionist at what he did.
We asked if they’d be interested in a working/paid “holiday” on the island. Three of those we put forth our offer to jumped at the chance for an island adventure. Without hesitation they agreed to pick up their tools and join us on the island the moment we said the word.
We said the “word”, and almost before we could say “Bob, the Builder”, the three Noosa fellows landed at the resort ready and eager to get to work. We had faith in their abilities.
The staff that had been on the island before our arrival and before the resort closed down because of Cyclone Winifred and the necessary renovations etc., were no longer on the island. Some had taken the opportunity to take holidays with the intention of returning at the end of their vacation; others took the opportunity to leave the island permanently.
Along with Randall, me and the three men from the Noosa area, Quentin, the new owner/lessee of the resort and its surrounds sent us two of his men to assist in the physical construction work etc., that needed to be done. As well as those two, he sent us his head man on the construction side of his civil engineering company.
John aka “Slip” brought along with him his wife, Judy and their three year old daughter, Kaycee. So, then we were nine; 10 including young Kaycee. Kaycee was a great little kid, who within a day, if not less, had us all wrapped around her little finger.
Of course, the number really was 11, counting Ruska into the mix. However, Ruska was content to remain, out of sight, comfortably ensconced in the house overlooking the ocean. Why wouldn’t he? Ruska was fed morning and night and had no washing up to do. It was all done for him. He had a comfortable bed to sleep on; he spent most of his daylight hours sleeping, undisturbed by pesky humans and, when awake, he had a deck to wander out on to soak up the sun and drink in the views. His job was to guard the house....with one eye open...some of the time...
On the subject of food, I became the cook. I prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner for the "crew". In between times, I took care of the office/clerical duties and everything else pertained therein and applicable thereto. Also, somehow I volunteered to be on laundry detail, as well!
And then the Pioneer Unit of the Australian Army arrived on our shores - by helicopter – they couldn’t land on the jetty because we still didn’t have a jetty.
Thunder clouds were forming on the horizon – they, too, were headed our way.