Tuesday, February 27, 2007
At The Sunset....
Today, 28th February is/was my late brother’s birthday. He just made it in before landing on a Leap Year. Naturally, my thoughts have turned to him today. My brother Graham who, through most of his life, ‘lorded’ over me, me being his ‘little’ sister, caused me both happiness and much heartache. It’s nine years this coming June since his passing. I really can’t believe it has been nine years since his death. Finally, I am able to look back in openness, honesty, and without emotion at our sometimes, oft times, tempestuous relationship. My brother thought in ‘black and white’. He called a ‘spade a spade’ and suffered fools not at all. He was complex, moody, angry, unpredictable, while at the same time he was sensitive, intelligent and caring. He was a paradox. However, I won’t go into all of his complexities. Today, his birthday, I want to share with you some moments he and I shared when working together on Hinchinbrook Island.
After Cyclone Winifred had ripped a path through the area from Mission Beach, Dunk Island and surrounding areas south to Hinchinbrook Island much repair work needed to be carried out, not only on the island, but on the mainland. I knew that the mainland towns, surrounding farms and areas north of Hinchinbrook required more urgent assistance than we, on the island did, as we had received the ‘tail-end’ of the cyclone. Also, I knew because of this fact, we would be last on the list in getting building materials. I understood and accepted the situation. The island had lost its jetty during the ‘big blow’. The only other damages caused were fallen trees and broken tree limbs etc.
Q (the owner whom I mentioned in my previous story “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” Parts 1-3) decided to dispatch a couple of his workmen to help me on the island with the re-building and renovations. At this point in time, the resort was closed, not to be re-opened until 8th March. During the resort’s closure it would a perfect opportunity to carry out, not only the re-building of the jetty, but the construction of the elevated timber deck around the pool and the many other renovations and maintenance jobs that desperately needing doing.
A working plan was put into place of what needed to be done and the materials were ordered to enable the work to be carried out once the necessary timber, roofing etc., arrived. As I mentioned above, I realized I would be on the end of the list of the hardware stores and timber suppliers, but the sooner the materials were ordered, the sooner I would creep up the list.
There was enough work to be done around the resort while waiting for the new material to arrive, so everyone was kept busying doing one thing or the other. I donned my cook/chef’s hat and volunteered myself as chief cook for all us ‘workers’, preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner each day for about 10 of us. I was never sure how many mouths I had to feed as people seemed to be coming and going all over the place. At one stage, I had the Pioneer Group from the Army, a fact I think I mentioned in one of my earlier stories. They had been sent to me to assist in the clearing of the walking tracks of fallen trees, branches etc., and whatever other jobs I could find for them during their few days stay. So, when the Army was in residence the island population grew. Without fail, I always set a spare setting at the dinner table and I always plated an extra meal, never intentionally. It just happened that way, day after day, night after night. This habit of mine became a bit of a joke amongst us island dwellers. We named our invisible guest, “Mr. Walker – The Ghost Who Walks…aka The Phantom”. Much to our surprise and delight, we found a large boulder at the end of Orchid Beach, the main beach of the resort. We reckoned it was the “Skull Cave” as there was a huge, deep indent in the boulder, reminiscent of a cave. One’s imagination does tend to run wild when living on a tropical island!
Over pre-dinner drinks late one afternoon, the two workers who Q had sent me and who I had grown to dislike immensely, announced that the very next day they were going to take the roofs off all of the cabins!
To explain my growing dislike of these two men…they never once thanked me for a meal. They would finish eating, push their plates aside and immediately leave the table without a word. I didn’t expect them, or anyone else for that matter, to get down on their hands and knees in gratitude or servitude, but a simple “Thanks for dinner, breakfast, lunch or whatever” would have been nice, and it’s simple good manners. Everyone else helped with the washing up at night, but they never once offered or pitched in. I learned from the others that they sat up on the verandah of the staff quarters and threw their empty glass beer ‘stubbies’ down over the rocks below, which bordered the waters of Mission Bay. Upon learning this, I promptly put a stop to their thoughtless, ignorant practice. Do I need to explain any further? No…I thought not.
When they announced their grand plan to de-roof the accommodation cabins during the tropical north Queensland “wet season”….the monsoonal trough was still skirting across the top of Queensland bringing regular nocturnal heavy downpours, I saw ‘red’. There was no sign of the new roofing material arriving. I had no idea when it would arrive. It could have been weeks away, for all I knew. These two men had already failed to follow my instructions over the first load of timber that had arrived to the island. After all, you must bear in mind, I am a woman…what would a woman know about such things?
They went against my instructions about the timber and because they did what they believed was right and what I instructed them not to do, the timber ended up on the ocean floor! I was highly amused at that outcome, as you can imagine! So there they both were, informing me of their latest brain-wave.
“Let’s un-roof the cabins, even though we haven’t got the new roofing material,” they brazenly announced. “We’ve got nothing else to do, so we will take off the roofs.”
I exploded. I went ballistic! I could not fathom their reasoning. Calmly, at first, I pointed out to them the foolishness of such an idea. I suggested they do some painting around the resort accommodation and restaurant. There were cans and cans of paint in the island work-shed and there were many areas that needed fresh coats of paint. They suffered from selective hearing and continued with the discussion of their plans to de-roof. One thing I cannot stand is ignorance. Their obvious dislike of having a woman instruct them was palatable. I spoke. They didn’t hear. I sat in front of them. They didn’t see me. It was at such a moment, I exploded. The full force of my wrath burst forth. I’d kept a lid on it for quite some time, as is my way, but when the pressure builds up to a point of no return there is nothing I can do to stop the fury. I fired them on the spot, ordering them to pack up their gear and be off the island first light in the morning. They had their own boat, so this was achievable. I rang the office in Brisbane to organize their final pays. I could have ordered them off the island there and then, but dusk had fallen and I wasn’t going to put myself in the position of being responsible for their drowning at sea, even though I felt like drowning them myself, physically!
Early the following morning, I was woken by the sound of their boat motor starting up. That was the last I heard of them.
Upon reaching my office, I immediately rang Graham, my brother, who lived in Mackay and offered him a couple of months work. At the time, he was employed by one of the sugar mills in the Mackay area as a ‘loco-driver’ and the sugar season was temporarily closed down as it does every year, so he wasn’t working. I knew that I could rely on him to do whatever job was necessary. He was a perfectionist in everything he did. He was very capable and could turn his hands to just about anything. So, in a flash, he was on the next coach to Cardwell on the mainland across from Hinchinbrook Isand. He became an ‘islander’ the following day, quickly falling under Hinchinbrook’s spell.
His arrival to the island happened a couple of weeks before his birthday. My brother hated a fuss being made over him. I knew if I told him I was planning a party for him there would not be chance in Hell that he would come down to the restaurant that evening. I swore everyone to secrecy. My threat was to dispatch anyone who opened his or her big mouth off the island on a ‘log with a teaspoon as a paddle’. That was the punishment if anyone let on to Graham what I had planned.
Life went on as usual on the 28th February. Graham came down to breakfast with the others. Nothing was mentioned. Normal breakfast conversation or non-conversation progressed or didn't progress in some instances with those who were a bit slow in wakening. I gave everyone their work-sheets for the day. I must point out here, those work-sheets were not worth the paper they were scribbled on as nothing ever went to plan on Hinchinbrook Island, ever...and the life expectancy of the work-sheets was something like five minutes, and that’s a slight exaggeration!
Once everyone was out and about doing whatever they were supposed to be doing, I raced to the kitchen to make a boiled fruit cake, a cake I knew Graham loved. I quadrupled the quantities. When it was cooked, I quickly hid it in the pantry to cool. The aroma filled the kitchen and its surrounds, but there was little I could do about that. I disguised its scent with whatever I prepared for lunch that day. Sneakily, I’d ordered from the mainland a couple of days earlier, a two-litre flagon of Bundaberg Rum as a birthday gift. My brother liked his rum chasers with his beer (or is it the other way around?) in winter, but I thought I’d get in early and give him a flagon in February. Well, it was, after all, almost March!
The day progressed into late afternoon. Everyone had showered after their labours of the day and had wandered down to the bar to have a couple of drinks before dinner. Still tight-lipped, the general conversation went on as usual about the day’s events. Nothing was out of the ordinary. Not a word of birthday cheer was directed to Graham, who had joined the throng around the bar. I placed some country music on the stereo, Graham’s favourite music genre. Very subtly the over-all mood kept lifting higher and higher. The crew got louder and louder. The atmosphere filled with laughter and good-will. I purposely delayed dinner. Actually, I had purposely prepared snacks only, rather than a ‘sit-down’ meal. I didn’t want to interfere with the spirit of the evening. It flowed just as I had had in mind for it to do. After a certain time, everyone opened up and wished Graham a “Happy Birthday”. By that time, he was in such a happy mood, it mattered not to him that he was the centre of attention. He enjoyed every moment of the evening and lapped up all the accolades and good wishes. My God! At one stage he was even doing the ‘Can-Can’ with Bronnie! I had never seen him dance, let alone a wild version of the ‘Can-Can’! I had never seen my brother in such a free-spirited mood and I never did again. It was wonderful evening. Graham had a terrific time. Bronnie thought the sun shone out of my brother. She idolized him.
Again, it proved spontaneity is the best. Maybe it wasn’t spontaneous for me, because I’d put a lot of sneaky planning into place. I really had no idea which way the evening would go. It could have turned out to have been a total disaster. Fortunately, because Graham was totally unaware of the evening unfolding around him and that the frivolity was on his behalf, he got sucked into the mood of the evening, unwittingly. By the time he was engulfed by the night’s fun, it was too late…he was trapped and had become one of ‘us’! He really let his hair down that evening…and that’s saying something, because he had a “Number One-blade hair-cut”!
Graham thoroughly enjoyed his "Island Birthday".
Acrylic painting by me
I'm posting here, as well, a copy of a short letter I received from one of my staff members upon his leaving the island and its employ. I found it a few moments ago as I was rifling through some papers. I'd like to share it with you.
This is a letter of thanks to you. During the time I have spent on this Island, you have showed me great kindness and respect. I return this to you.
These last six months I have learnt (sic) a great many things. These I attribute to you and one other person...being yourself and Graham.
May all the things in life abound for you. My heart goes out to you young lady. My time has come to improve myself in the sense, Lee. That it is time to get myself established in Melbourne to do more study into environmental research plus my companion, Lyn who shares with me. (sic) Thank you Lee for sticking with me as it is truely (sic) a nice and pleasant feeling.
May all that you do so be it and succeed and good health and well being be with you always my dear friend. (sic)