Grab Your Coffee...Sit Back...Relax And Enjoy the Ride....
To my mind, the months of April and May are amongst the best times to be in the tropical areas of North Queensland. Skies of azure, unblemished by clouds other than perhaps flimsy wisps of almost transparent gossamer. An ocean so calm it looks like a floor constructed of glass. One glorious day as described, I flew by light aircraft, a four-seater, to the mouth of the Hull River, north of Tully. We flew low over the Family Group of Islands, which includes Bedarra and Dunk Islands. The ocean bed, clearly visible below appeared to have only six inches of water covering it, so crystal-clear was the sea.
It was in April, whether by coincidence, luck, fate or a bit of each, a group of guests arrived to the island by sea-plane. They were strangers to each other, except for one couple (who weren't really a 'couple'), Tim and Susie. Equally, of course, they were strangers to me when they first set foot on the island, a situation soon to be rectified.
Gaby, a thirty-something, career-driven lass from Sydney alighted first, looking a little stressed. Tim and Susie settled themselves eagerly into the punt that picked up the guests from the sea-plane. Gingerly, a tall, timid-looking fellow, Dennis, stepped into the punt, with the help my guiding arm. He set himself apart from the rest of us. This was to be his wont for the next couple days and nights we were to discover...until, that is, combined, we broke his resolve!,
After the 'greet-and-meet', something I did with all guests upon their arrival, whether by boat or sea- plane, the new guests were escorted to their respective cabins. All cabins were occupied after the arrival of this interesting-looking group, about 32 guests in total from memory. Remember, only 15 cabins were privately hidden amongst the foliage along the beach-front at that time. Nowadays, the amount has doubled. To recap, the resort at Cape Richards on Hinchinbrook Island covers only 22 acres of the total 245 square miles of the island. The rest of the island is a national park in care of the National Parks and Wildlife Department.
I didn't set eyes upon the new group of 'islanders' until pre-dinner drinks around the bar that first evening. After mingling with the guests at the bar as I always did, I joined my new guests at their table for dinner. Dennis, dressed in a vibrant lime-green shirt, once again set himself apart from everyone else, choosing to sit alone at a table in a corner. This was not to be...I treated all my dinner guests as if they were guests in my own home...the restaurant area was my dining room. I coerced and cajoled at length, finally breaking down his reserve. He joined me at the table with the rest of the new-comers. Well, that was the beginning of a most wonderful, fun-filled, insane, crazy week!
Tim, a journalist with a well-respected financial magazine in this country, the "The Bulletin", was highly intelligent, gentle, quiet and extremely humorous. Susie, who worked in advertising, from memory, was as bright as the shiniest button, a little avant-garde...well, a wee bit more that 'a little', and dressed accordingly. Both were from Melbourne. Gaby, the stressed career girl soon shed her 'city' worries, settling quickly into the island spirit. Gaby was from Sydney. Dennis, also from Melbourne...well....Dennis, shy, seemingly without humour, studious, silent unless urged to utter a word or two, sat amongst this motley crew of degenerates, which included me, not knowing which way to look. Unsuccessfully, he tried to escape our evil clutches each following evening! Dennis, as I discovered later, was using his holiday on the island as a time to consider his future. He had been offered a post at Oxford University.
Sun-filled, warm not hot days and balmy, playful nights followed. Dennis tried his utmost to distance himself from the 'group' but none of us would allow this to happen. After our first night of hilarity, he sat at another table with other guests, trying to remain invisible! How could he? His lime-green shirt let him down every time! Yes...he lived in that shirt! We came to the conclusion it was the only shirt he had brought with him. It was obviously his favourite shirt because wherever he went the shirt was sure to follow! By the fourth night, he realised he couldn't fight us any longer, so he gave in and rejoined our madcap activities. It was the best thing that could have happened to this 40 year-old bachelor! We certainly opened up his vistas! The rest of the group were in their early thirties.
I always mingled with my guests but never to the extent that I did with this particular group. We all 'clicked' for whatever reason. Our personalities, views on life, our senses of humour, our characters all melded. We bonded. We were a bit like the "Famous Five" out of Enid Blyton books, but much more wicked! And once Dennis learned how to relax, he let his guard down more than he ever had done in his past, I'm sure. He went with the 'flow'. He enjoyed himself as he never believed he could have. The lime-green shirt went wherever he went. I'm sure he slept in it! One day while he was out swimming in the ocean, Susie, Gaby and I stole and hid the damn thing, much to his despair!
It was Thursday afternoon around four-fifteen. I was in my office doing some paper work, when the lime-green shirt, and Dennis, appeared at the door.
"Come on!" He said.
"Where?" I replied.
"I'm taking you out in the canoe!" He spluttered excitedly.
"The canoe! I've never been in a canoe in my life! Have you?" I laughed. "I can't...I've got work to do!"
"No...I've never been in a canoe, either...but today is the day! Come on! 'No' is not an answer I will accept!"
"Oh! My God! What am I letting myself into!" I exclaimed as he dragged me bodily from my office.
Down to the little beach beside the jetty we went with much gaiety, me, protesting, laughing all the way.
At that point in my life, I had never before rowed anything, let alone paddled a canoe!
Like Pocahontas and Hiawatha off the two of us went, unstably! Dennis was like a person driven, driven from some inner demon of a hidden, long-forgotten sense of the ridiculous. We talked. We laughed and we giggled like two school children. When he was paddling one way, I paddled the other. Somehow, even with our lack of expertise at paddling we soon were approaching the bend leading towards Macushla Beach, both of us drenched from tears of laughter and from sea water!
"We have to turn around and go back, Dennis! I've got to race home and get changed for the restaurant!" The sun was now on its descent beyond the mountains behind Cardwell on the mainland.
As we struggled on our return trip, Johnno, my barman I wrote about in a previous post, was at the end of the jetty in the distance. He spotted us. I called out to him to come and rescue us. Jumping into the island boat, a yellow Abalone, which my staff had named "Lady of the Island" in my honour, Johnno came to our rescue like a knight of days of old. He towed us back to the jetty, making our return journey much quicker if we had been left to our own devices...thank goodness! It was a fun finale to our equally fun excursion! Our spontaneous adventure was the main topic of conversation over dinner that evening.
Dennis's time on the island came to an end on the Friday. He planned leaving on the island Reef Cat in the afternoon, catching a Greyhound coach at Cardwell, en route further north to spend a couple of days in Cairns. He was the focus of our attention on his final night. Gaby, Susie, Tim and I threatened we would all book into an adjoining room at the hotel in which he would be staying at Cairns. How dare he escape from the 'group'! One could tell by the look on his face he wasn't sure whether to believe us or not! We weren't going to let him get away that easily! He left as planned the following afternoon, amongst much joviality, mingled with a little sadness. Dennis was a changed person to the one who had arrived a few days earlier. His decision had been made during all the crazy fun and games and, also during his quiet walks, lost in his own thoughts, along the beach or through the rainforest to adjacent beaches. He decided to accept the Oxford University posting. To my surprise, when I arrived back at my office after farewelling Dennis, on my desk was a parcel wrapped in paper. Upon opening it, I let out a loud laugh. It was the infamous lime-green shirt! Dennis had bequeathed it to me! When Susie, Tim and Gaby arrived at the bar that evening, I called them into my office. I had a crazy plan!
I knew the hotel Dennis would be staying in, in Cairns. I also knew the time of his arrival. So I gathered my gang around the phone and made a call! As Dennis answered the phone in his hotel room, we all shouted out..."Open your door, Dennis! We're right outside! We couldn't do without you, so we've come up to join you!" There was a moment's silence from his end of the phone. Today, still, I'm not sure if it was from horror at the prospect!
The week drew to a close. Saturday morning raised it's ugly head all too soon. Tim, Susie and Gaby, my new, crazy, kindred spirits were leaving on the 1pm sea-plane back to mainland 'sanity'. They wandered down to the restaurant forlornly. I was in my office feeling similar emotions. It was crazy. We'd only known each other for a week, but we had shared such wonderful moments.
I never invited guests to my home (only twice I did so...the other time was one night I had Derryn Hinch, Jackie and Jackie's son, Dylan to dinner during the week they stayed on Hinchinbrook)....my little house on the island was my sanctuary...my escape and I protected my privacy. However, that morning, it seemed the right thing to do. I invited my 'partners-in-crime' to my home for coffee as there was time before the planes' arrival and their departure. We certainly were a maudlin mob! All the laughter we'd shared the past week had evaporated.
Tears were shed, not only by us girls. I noticed moisture glistening in Tim's eyes, too. Never will I be convinced he had something in his eye! The farewells were sad, but mingled with the sadness were glorious, happy memories of a time well spent.
Susie, as she stepped from the jetty into the punt (normally, I joined the guests in the punt, but this day, purposely, I didn't) that was to take them to the sea-plane, turned her face up towards me and said...."There is something waiting for you when you get back to your house...have a look out on the deck." With those words, she smiled and waved. I waited at the end of the jetty until the sea-plane lifted itself out of the water to commence its flight over the island, south to Townsville. Feeling despondent, I strolled slowly back to my house, thoughts of the past week sifting through my mind. I walked out on my deck as instructed by Susie, and there, hanging on a fine thread from a beam on the ocean side was a crystal. It sparkled brilliantly in the sunshine, reflecting the sun's glittering rays upon the sapphire sea out front. Final tears flowed, then a wistful mellow contentment settled throughout my being. That week, full of unexpected surprises, has remained firmly entrenched in my file of "fond memories". I'm sure the others feel the same way, even though we have since lost contact with each other. I did, however, visit each one of them, during my trips to Sydney and Melbourne after their visit. I had dinner in Melbourne with Dennis the week before he left for England and his tenure at Oxford.
As a finale to this lengthy tale....I was aware that Dennis, when he left Cairns, was boarding another Greyhound Coach south to Townsville airport for his flight back to Melbourne. Forever the clown and prankster, I organised with a friend in Cardwell to purchase some lime-green poster-board. I had her print on the bright cardboard, in very large, black letters "Come Back, Dennis! The Island Misses You!" You guessed it...as the coach, filled with passengers, pulled into Cardwell, Bonnie stepped out in front of the laden bus, waving the banner! It caused quite a stir, together with lots of excitement and laughter. Dennis did enjoy the special treatment...it was his moment in the sun!
A most memorable, cherished vignette...