Monday, January 21, 2013
AFTERMATH OF CYCLONE AND AUSTRALIA DAY ON NEWRY ISLAND
The start to the new year of 1991 was soggy; the status quo remained for the first three weeks of January. There was no let up from the Christmas gift that kept on giving, Cyclone Joy. The cyclone may have dispersed once it crossed the coast, but the drenching continued bringing joy to the island’s dam. I accepted the conditions philosophically. There was nothing I could do to change the weather. It was an opportunity to catch up with some reading, so I just snuggled in with a few good books and my two best mates, Pushkin and Rimsky…not the Russian poet, nor the Russian composer…but my two cats.
Stubbornly, the monsoon trough hung low and heavy over northern Australia. The monsoon had arrived, displaying no urgent desire to depart. Contentedly, the laden clouds dumped their burdens knowing they had a lot more up their bloated sleeves! The ocean, a reflection of the gunmetal sky, although disturbed by the pounding rain, showed great restraint. It just lumbered and groaned under the weight. High tides helped clear the foreshore of the remaining foam whipped up during the frenzy caused by Cyclone Joy. Pumice stone was still scattered over the grassy verges beneath the palms and She-Oaks. One lone little Brazilian Cherry tree planted on the edge of the beach valiantly dug in its roots, refusing to budge for either a cyclone or a deluge. Weeks later the obstinate little shrub bore fruit, large and juicy, and lots of it, as if in defiance against the destructive weather conditions it had been forced to endure; I grew to love and respect that little tree.
The main building housing the bar, dining area, kitchen, laundry and my upstairs’ accommodation looked like a scene out of a movie; one where the occupants depart for an extended stay elsewhere leaving all the furniture shrouded in covers. Every chair, table, shelf and protuberance of any kind, size, shape and form was draped in sheets, pillowcases and towels in my primitive efforts to dry them. I was fighting a losing battle against mould. Mould had the upper hand and it marched forward taking no prisoners along the way!
Upon checking the cabins (something I did daily to ensure no unexpected, unwelcome problems occurred overnight) I was dismayed to see the once cream interior walls in every cabin had turned black! On top of the growth in the cabins, the septic systems had begun backing up. Concern upon concern grew, but, again, like with the weather, there was nothing I could do about anything until the torrential monsoonal rain ceased.
I kept my eye on the calendar because the Australia Day long weekend, 26th January, was approaching rapidly. Every cabin on the island was booked out for the long weekend. An engineering company in Mackay decided rather than to have a Christmas party for its staff, three days on Newry Island, fishing and just generally partying and relaxing was a far better plan! When I took the booking before Christmas I was thrilled to take a booking for 25, but every time I looked out the windows or viewed my mould-covered cabins and the septic problems, I felt chilled rather than thrilled!
No boats were out on the ocean; I’d not seen anyone since after Christmas. The solitude didn’t concern me. I’ve always enjoyed my own company and space. Loneliness is a word that doesn’t exist in my personal vocabulary. I still had sufficient provisions, so starvation wasn’t on my horizon, either. I knew, however, that once the rain ceased, if it ever did; and if it did before the arrival of my expected Australia Day weekend visitors, I would have to do a trip to the mainland, to Mackay for food and bar supplies. However, if the rain continued, my intention was to ring the engineering company to cancel the booking, and perhaps defer it to another more suitable time. My reason for doing so would have been clear to Blind Freddy, so I knew my decision would be accepted and understood.
Some time during Saturday night of the 19th January the rain ceased. Early Sunday morning, six days before my expected onslaught of guests, I awoke to silence other than the lapping of the ocean upon the shore. An unfamiliar sun eager to show its face impatiently shoved the clouds away. A blue clear sky bordered by a few lingering cotton ball cumulus clouds on the horizon replaced weeks enveloped by bulky, cumbersome nimbus masses that had mercilessly off-loaded their baggage upon the earth and sea below.
After carrying out another inspection of the cabins, I decided to unblock of the septic systems first before tackling the foot-deep mould on the walls of the cabins. Neither of the chores caused me excitement, but they had to be done; time was of the essence. My first guests were expected to arrive late Friday afternoon, with the balance arriving Saturday morning. One positive was my expected visitors were arriving under their own power, in boats owned by various members of the staff. It meant, fortunately, I didn’t have to ferry them back and forth.
Not having suitable plumbing tools at my disposal I rigged up a makeshift “unplugger” for the clearing of the septic pipes and individual holding tanks by wiring an empty soup can or similar to an old broomstick. The morning was rife with colourful language. Billy Connolly and a shipload of sailors would have been very proud of me! I could have taught them a lot! As I undertook the unpleasant job, I marveled at the fact that the plumber who laid the groundwork believed water and waste ran uphill! It certainly was a learning experience for me – I never knew that before I started unblocking chore! I certainly would have taught him a thing or two, too, if he’d crossed my path that morning! My mood was as dark as the now departed clouds had been!
Once that nasty job was finished, I showered long and hard with the help of Dettol and much soap.
The phone rang.
“Hello! My name is Kristin. I’m a backpacker from Germany. I’d love to come across to your island to stay for a couple of days…can you perhaps pick me up this afternoon? Well, actually, there are two of us who’d like to come to the island. The people at the hostel told me that you could meet me at a boat ramp in Seaforth…is that correct?”
Una and Bob operated a backpackers’ hostel in Mackay. They loved Newry and they often sent across to the island young backpackers over to me; ones who they felt suited the island’s ambience. In fact, Bob and Una were regular visitors to the island; they had their own small sailing craft. I got on well with both of them, but Una, at times, could become a little over-bearing – more than a little, particularly after she had a few wines under her tail! There were a few times I had to put her in her place. My doing so never caused friction between us. I think she realised she’d met her match and more, and each time she decided the best reaction for her to do was to pull her head in! Either that or she’d forgotten by the next day! Bob was the meeker and milder of the two, which is so often the case!
I explained to the backpacker, Kristin that, unfortunately, it was impossible for me to accept guests; and I gave her valid, truthful reasons why this was so. I had no cabins available after almost a month of heavy rain etc. Not only that, the sun had just come for the first time in ages that morning and I was valiantly trying to get laundry done and dried. I was running uphill; fighting a seemingly unbeatable battle in a race against time; and I definitely couldn’t see any forest or trees, let alone any clearing between, nor could I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I couldn’t even see the tunnel! I was almost breathless at the thought of the hard work facing me in the few days ahead to enable me to have the resort up and running again for the coming weekend. It was a massive job. It wasn’t so much the hard work…it was the amount! There was no way on earth I could have guests before the coming weekend; and I was still unsure if I’d be ready to take on board those guests who had booked for the long weekend. I wasn’t ready; the island wasn’t ready!
Having convinced the caller, I wished her well and hung up the phone.
Later that afternoon, feeling a bit overwhelmed by everything I had to do, I grabbed an ice-cold can of VB - (Victoria Bitter Lager made by Carlton &United Beverages, for those uninitiated into Aussie terminology and beers – the same company who makes Fosters…an Australia lager very popular overseas, but hard to find in this country nowadays) - and I sat at the table on the patio area outside the bar with my feet up on a chair. Enjoying the cold beer as the sun headed towards the western horizon behind me, I mentally put into place my plan of attack for the next few days.
Lost in my reverie, suddenly out of nowhere two people appeared. Walking along the track in front of the main building; the track that ran parallel to the foreshore two people were walking and chatting…two humans! There was not a boat in sight. I’d not heard any boat motor. Where had they come from? My mouth fell open in surprise. I was speechless for a moment. I could not believe my eyes.
“Hello!” I exclaimed, quickly gathering my wits about me. “You must be Kristin! Are you Kristin?”
“Yes! I’m Kristin!” The young lass beamed at me. “And this is Klaus.”
“Boy! You sure were determined to get here! How did you get here?” I replied as I rose out of my comfortable chair. My peace had been shattered.
“Come here and join me…again, how did you get across to here? I didn’t hear a boat, nor did I see one!”
Joining me at the table, Kristin explained how keen she and Klaus were to come to the island. That was an understatement!
They’d hitched a ride from Mackay to Seaforth…and then, fortunately, for them, they met up with a yachtie and his crew. Convincing the yachtie of their desire to get to Newry Island they hitched a ride on the yacht across to Rabbit Island…and island that lies at the rear of Newry. Once they were dropped off at the other end of my island, they trekked their way across to my side! Now that’s what I call determination!
Kristin was from Frankfurt and Klaus, her young travelling companion, was Swiss, from Bern.
I invited them to join me for a drink. I had no idea what I was going to do with them. I then reiterated what I’d explained earlier on the phone, but as they were now there on the island, what else could I do but put them up?
There was a sole cabin, set out separately on the northern point of the main beach. It was fittingly called “The Point Cabin”. It had suffered fewer problems than the cabins along the other end of the beach; those along the south-eastern end past the main building, generator shed and storage shed; the end Kristin and Klaus had to walk along to get to where I sat, once they’d crossed the island. It didn’t have the mould like the other cabins, probably because it was more open to the elements out there on the point.
I asked if Kristin and Klaus if they minded sharing a cabin; there were six beds in the cabin; two doubles and four singles, making the choice fair and equitable. Kristin and Klaus didn’t mind (actually, they had no other choice!) so before the sun descended completely, I settled them in, and then we returned back to the main area. They weren’t a “couple” in the romantic sense of the word, having only met a couple of weeks earlier in the same backpacker hostel they were staying at in Brisbane. They got on well immediately and decided they’d continue their trip up the Queensland coast together, rather than separately. Because I was in no way ready for guests, and that meant the cabin they’d be sharing wasn’t completely fitted out properly for inhabitants, either, something both Kristin and Klaus didn’t mind and understood, I told them they could stay on the island, rent-free. It didn’t feel right, to me, to charge them for accommodation etc. They argued against it, but I stood firm.
Back at our table looking out to the bay, we sat out under the stars sipping on wine and chatting. I prepared a simple pasta meal, which we enjoyed by star, moon and candlelight. Klaus took control of selecting the music; he was our DJ for the evening. Outside above the doorway to the entrance into the building was a large speaker. A wide and varied selection of music played in the background as we conversed and entertained the fish out in the channel with our music. The three of us got on famously.
When I described the occurrences of the past few weeks since Christmas and the cyclone, and the work I had ahead of me cleaning the mould from the cabins along with everything else that needed to be done before my guests descended upon me within the next few days, both of my intrepid young travelers offered their help.
This time I was the one not allowed to put up an argument.
Around 10 pm Kristin said she was tired. She bade us good night and went off to the cabin and to bed. Klaus opted to stay a while longer. He was settled in for the long haul, it seemed, quite content to sit, sip and chat. I didn’t mind. I was enjoying his company and the clear, cool summer’s evening. He didn’t have a good command of English, but somehow we understood each other. About 15 minutes after Kristin had left us, she came running, screaming, along the path back towards us. I was surprised she hadn’t fallen into the empty pool on the way. The island pool had stood empty for years. I was gradually filling it up with palm fronds, etc., as instructed by the owner.
“There’s an animal! An…animal…in the…cabin…something…in the cabin!” Kristin yelled, trying to catch her breath.
Grabbing the flashlight, I headed to the cabin; Kristin and Klaus followed close, but tentatively, behind me. Upon entering the cabin, there was Pushkin, my ginger cat. He thought he’d pop in to see how the new occupants of the cabin were settling in! Once the panic settled down, Kristin rejoined Klaus and me over the remaining wine. About an hour later they decided to call it a night, and we all went our separate ways to bed…Pushkin, included; but this time he came upstairs with me, instead of scaring young backpackers from overseas half to death!
As always, I was up out of bed bright and early the next morning ready for the busy day ahead. A few minutes later, Kristin and Klaus joined me, refreshed from a good night’s sleep with no further visitations. Over breakfast, I laid out the plans for the day.
The previous morning, when full of excitement about finally seeing the sun after such a lengthy period of gloomy skies, I decided to use the site dumper (as pictured below) to remove a very large log that had washed ashore during Cyclone Joy’s visit. Inconveniently it washed right up to the top edge of the foreshore thereby blocking the main access to and from the beach. Its length, width and obvious weight made it impossible for me to move it physically without the help of machinery. Like a comedy of errors, the dumper started without a hitch in the shed, but as soon as I approached the log, it conked out; and refused to restart! That was that! Not only did I have a massive tree trunk obstructing access and egress, but now I had an immovable dumper as well! Frustrated, I left it there. I had no other choice. I didn’t have another dumper to tow the broken down one away!
Upon pointing out my dumper problem, Klaus’ eyes lit up.
“I’ll fix it!” He offered, excitedly.
“Do you know anything about motors, Klaus? Are you a mechanic?” I asked him. He certainly didn’t look like a mechanic; that is, of course, if someone can “look like a mechanic”. My mental image just didn’t match his physical image standing before me. I was a little hesitant about having a stranger fool around with the island equipment…and he really was a stranger. We’d only met for the first time late afternoon the day before. Also, I was still only the caretaker of the island and what was on it; Willi Litz owned all the equipment etc., I didn’t.
“My father is a mechanic,” Klaus replied, not at all offended by my hesitancy. “He taught me lots.”
Tossing my options in the air, I made a decision.
“Okay, Klaus! The dumper problem is now your problem. You will find a lot of tools in the shed out the back there. I have no idea what you need, but I guess you do. All I ask is that you clean them up when you’re finished with them; and put them back where they were. I’ll leave you to it. Kristin and I are going to start scrubbing the walls in the cabins.”
While Kristin and I put together what we needed to rid the cabins of the mould, Klaus raced back up to their cabin. Upon his return, I realised I’d had no need to instruct him about the care and welfare of the tools! He was Swiss, after all!
My mouth fell open as did my eyes when Klaus reappeared. He was neatly dressed from top to toe in a pressed, spotlessly clean pair of overalls! Clasped in his hand was a tool kit! Just what every young backpacker carries with him!
“Do you always travel prepared, Klaus?” I laughingly asked him. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Glancing at Kristin, I could see she felt similarly. Her eyes were as wide as mine!
With a broad grin, Klaus gave a brief answer. “Yes.”
“Okay…I’ll leave you to it, then! You seem to have things under control. If you need me for anything, Kristin and I will be down at the cabins.” There was little else left for me to say.
“Can you believe that?” I asked Kristin as we made our way to the cabins.
She shook her head in wonderment, and laughingly replied. “No!”
We weren’t laughing at Klaus…it was just such an unbelievable surprise that a young lad travelling the world would travel so prepared. Klaus was only about 22 or so years old, but he was very mature for his age, and it was obvious in the short time I’d known him he was well-versed in many things, including the mechanics of motors!
Without further ado, Kristin and I got stuck into the massive job ahead of us. As we scrubbed and washed walls, Kristin and I talked our heads off. She told me about her life back in Germany. She was attending university in Frankfurt. For a while she’d studied Russian language and literature, but she found it very hard going and gave it away after a year before moving onto other subjects. She had dreams of one day, perhaps, finishing her studies in an Australian university. She was a lovely young woman; again, in her early twenties, just like Klaus.
We laughed, talked and sang at the top of our lungs. There was no one around for us to disturb other than the birds and fish out in the bay; not that we cared if we’d disturbed anyone, anyway. We were having fun, amongst the hard work.
Klaus was busy up the other end doing whatever it was he was doing, and as we’d not heard a word from him, we figured he was lost in his own world of tinkering with the dumper.
Time went by; however, we weren’t keeping track. And then, over and beyond the noise of Kristin and my “singing”, I heard the sound of a motor.
“Listen!” I drew Kristin’s attention away from her barely recognizable rendition of an ABBA song. “Listen! I think he’s got the dumper working!”
I ran to the door of the cabin and looked out. In the distance, Klaus was heading our way, on the dumper!
“Quick! Come on, Kristin! Grab a curtain rod…with the curtain still attached! Grab one for me, too! We’ll give him a guard of honour! Come on! Quick! Quick! You go over on the other side of the track and I’ll stay here; we’ll raise the curtains and salute! Let’s pretend they’re flags! This’ll give him a laugh! Can you believe it? He’s fixed the bloody dumper!”
Both of us were in hysterics; laughing our heads off. As Klaus motored down the straight leading past the cabins he spotted Kristin and me up ahead acting like a pair of idiots! We were saluting and waving our giant “flags”!
He joined in with the fun, and fittingly saluted back at us. He stopped the dumper and leapt from it, looking as proud as Punch.
“Boy! Klaus! You fixed it! You’re a wonder! Thank you! Thank you! Wow!” I gushed.
He beamed at me.
“I’ve cleaned up your tools and put them back in the shed.” He said.
How silly of me it was to have instructed him to do so in the first instance. There was hardly a miniscule spot of dirt, sand or grease on him or his overalls; and I knew the tools would be in a similar condition. How do some people achieve that?
Kristin and I were covered in filth…and we were the ones using soap, water and bleach…and lots of it!
We took the opportunity to have a break as well as a light lunch. I’d whipped together some sandwiches earlier on, so we feasted on those and washed them down with fruit juice and then coffee.
“Do you have a chainsaw, Lee?” Klaus asked between mouthfuls. “If you have one, I could start breaking down that tree trunk. I moved it along towards the old pool, away from the main area there where it had been washed up; it’s out of everyone’s way, now, but it will need to be cut up.”
As I described earlier, Klaus spoke with a heavy accent, but I had no problem understanding him.
“Yes. There is one in the shed where the tools are kept, Klaus. I probably don’t need to say this, but I’ll say it anyway - just be careful when using it, please! I don’t want you losing a limb or two! If that happens, I’ll have to feed you to the fish! It’d take me too long to get you to a hospital in Mackay!” I said straight-faced.
Klaus looked at me with a certain amount of alarm in his eyes until I burst out laughing. He then realised I was joking; about feeding him to the fish, that is!
We finished off our lunch, regrouped and returned to our designated chores.
The next few days were carbon copies, except for the fixing of the dumper, of course.
With Kristin and Klaus’ help, the cabins were rid of any signs of mould. I did loads and loads of washing, mostly all by hand because the island’s cumbersome old washing machine was more of a hindrance than a help. With the assistance of clear, blue skies, a hot summer sun and ocean breezes all the washing dried quickly. By the end of each day, we three were exhausted little Vegemites! We ate our evening meal, and then quickly disappeared into our respective beds tired, but satisfied with our day’s work. Refreshed, the next morning we’d be up and at it all again full of vim and vigour.
Time was running out and the weekend was drawing nearer as were the 25 guests it was bringing with it. I still hadn’t been into Mackay for provisions; and I needed provisions, badly. I’d not been into Mackay for a “shop” since before Christmas!
The tide was right on the Thursday for me to make a quick trip to the mainland. My shopping trips were always organised around the attitude of the tides. It was much easier by far to unload a boatful of provisions that also included cartons of beer and other alcoholic beverages when the tide was high than when it was low. The same applied at the other end, at the boat ramp at Victor Creek when loading the boat. The tide went out a long way on the island making it nigh impossible for me to carry supplies across the mud flats; then over the sand and up to the main building. It took many exhausting trips that way. Keeping my eyes and wits on the movements of the tides was imperative for successful easy operations. And I liked easy!
Klaus and Kristin stayed on the island and continued on with their chores while I took my boat and headed off to Victor Creek, and then I drove to Mackay. I wasted no time in Mackay that day, not that I ever did, anyway. My plan had been carefully chartered and I strictly kept to it. Having my helpers really made the off-loading at the island end so much easier, too. Six hands got the job done far more quickly than two!
By the time Friday afternoon rolled around and the first boat full of guests were due to arrive…we were ready! Whooohooo! We were not only ready…we were showered and ready! Whooohooo ditto!
Klaus and Kristin decided to stay on, but I had to move them out of the Point Cabin, because it, too, was included in the Christmas party booking. They moved into a partly-constructed cabin next to Willi, the owner’s cabin. They were happy to doss down there. I gave them a couple of single mattresses each. It was kind of like camping but with besser block walls and a roof! They were happy in their new quarters. It was all a giant adventure for them.
By mid-morning on the Saturday everyone had arrived; and they arrived in a party mood!
Australia Day, 26th January, had begun and with it indications of lots of fun ahead for the Australia Day long weekend!
As always…more will follow!