|Ruska on deck (before I had the flooring replaced); and on "our" bed in "our" Hinchinbrook house!|
|Ted, my head maintenance guy in the staff room at the resort on Hinchinbrook Island|
|View of my little house on the island and view from deck through trees to ocean below|
The sun was setting in the west. Still readying themselves in their respective cabins, no guests had yet arrived to the restaurant/bar area, but I knew they’d soon be gathering at the bar for a couple of pre-dinner cocktails while they shared stories of their day, and perhaps of their lives away from the island.
I knew I had a small window of opportunity so I grabbed it in order to compose myself for the evening ahead. Standing at the far end of the deck with my hands resting on the timber railings, I stared out to sea. Brief moments of peace and quiet drifted over and through me. Below the sound of the ocean gently lapping the sand on Orchid Beach soothed my soul and settled my mind.
Rudely, my solitude, my moments of brief meditation were shattered. Penny aka “Touché Turtle” was at my side.
“Lee,” she said; her eyes alive with inquisitive interest. “I want you to know, if you need someone to talk to, I’m here.”
Turning my head, I looked directly into her curious (snoopy) eyes, and replied:
“Penny…I don’t know you - you don’t know me. We only met a couple of weeks ago. You know nothing about me or my life. Why do you think I need to talk with you? My suggestion to you is…go back and finish off the setting of the tables in the restaurant. The guests will be arriving at the bar shortly.”
Her mouth fell open, and then flapped shut again as she gulped in some of the late afternoon sea air. Not having a suitable response to my statement that had taken her by surprise, Ms Turtle moved faster than any turtle I’d ever seen, back to her job at hand, setting the dinner tables! I’d not hired her to be my therapist or psychologist!
The following morning when all my staff was gathered together in the staff room having their breakfast before the guests arrived down to the restaurant, I decided I would nip everything in the bud, right there and then. Get it over and done with. I had a captive audience as I stood in the doorway of the sole door in the staff room. They had no escape; they had no choice but to listen.
“Sorry to interrupt, I won't keep you long, but I have have something to say. As you are all aware, I’m sure, yesterday Randall and I separated. There is no need for you to discuss this between each other; don’t waste valuable time speculating and gossiping. What has happened is Randall’s and my business only. It has nothing to do with anyone else. Randall won’t be coming back, but I am staying. I have a job to do, and if you want to come along with me in doing the job….please do. If not, the “Reef Venture” will be leaving for the mainland as usual this afternoon at 4 pm. The choice is yours…”
At that stage in my oration, I paused briefly. Without being overly dramatic, I glanced upwards and made a slight gesture in the same direction with my hand…
”That’s where I intend taking this resort…if you want to join me on the ride...you’re welcome to do so. It’ll be a fun ride. If not, as I said, the boat leaves at 4 pm…end of discussion.”
And that is pretty much verbatim – word for word….my memory is vividly clear regarding that moment in time. I remember it well, as if it were yesterday.
A hush settled over the room when I'd commenced talking. Eating utensils stopped, poised halfway between plates and mouths. No one other than me spoke. All eyes were upon me. I then turned and walked away into my office to do the daily worksheets, check the expected arrivals later in the morning and day by boat and seaplane. Life goes on….
No one departed on the “Reef Venture” that afternoon. No one asked me questions about my personal life.
We had a resort to run; there was fun to be had; people to meet; and a job to be done to ensure they had fun!
Ms Turtle never again approached me with her offer of counsel.
Ruska’s job was to keep watch on our abode. He took his duties seriously and fulfilled his role admirably. He rarely ventured far from home. After all, our little home had most of the comforts of home.
Ruska shared my king-size bed with me. (It, perhaps, was more like the other way around...I shared his king-size bed with him). He dedicated the daylight hours to keeping the bed warm.
The interior spiral staircase led to the downstairs room. Two and half walls of the lower room were louvered, almost floor to ceiling. Sea grass matting covered the floor. two very large, comfortable cushions I’d had specially made were sofa substitutes. They were also in lieu of, and better than, bean bags.
The room was very seldom used for any other purpose than to walk across to reach the staircase leading to the upper level. Upstairs consisted of the bathroom, a kitchenette (no stove…all my meals were catered for at the restaurant; but there was a fridge), and an open-planned area that led to where Ruska and I slept, with full length and width, sliding glass doors out onto a covered deck. Off from the lower room, below the bathroom and kitchenette was an unsealed, dirt-floored section. Ruska had his own private ablutions’ block.
The flooring on the deck I eventually replaced after one day my foot went through the deck's floor. The brainwaves who'd originally built the deck used some kind of chipboard that works very well in wet, tropical areas, or wet areas of any description! Please note my sarcasm! I had the flooring replaced with hardwood!
Every afternoon as soon as I’d bidden farewell to the “Reef Venture”, it’s crew and any departing guests, I’d sprint home to shower and change for the evening’s performance in the restaurant.
While enjoying my cuddles Ruska dutifully listened to my stories about the day’s events. Satisfied with the contents of his dinner bowl, he’d once again take up residence on our bed; perhaps it really was “his” bed, because he spent more time there than I did! Before returning to the main building, I’d shut up the house…closing the un-screened windows and doors. The few windows that were screened remained open, depending on the weather, of course.
Ruska was always snuggled up on “our” bed near the pillows when I arrived back home much later in the night. Without fail he’d verbally greet me. He was always happy to see me, and vice versa. When I finally crawled into bed, Ruska, 99.9% of the time, laid full length beside me with his head resting near or on my shoulder; and more often than not, one of his front legs would be extended around my neck. He was an extremely loving cat.
Life and work on the island got underway…full steam ahead. I’ve many stories to tell, and I will share them with you as time goes by, but this story really is about Ruska. He’s the star.
1986 flew by. Many interesting people visited the resort. Friendships were formed, some of which remain today. Proof that they enjoyed their stay on the island; they, too, have cherished memories of their time at the resort.
One Sunday in 1987 four guests arrived on the island. They were representatives of Ansett Australia/Ansett Airlines (ANA) who’d come to the resort to do a “famil” – a familiarisation for future bookings; future customers/guests. On other occasions, I'd receive visits from tourism operators who also conducted their own "famils", gleaning information for their future customers, and then, hopefully, mine.
The now defunct airline company had been founded in 1935 by the then Reg Ansett (later to become Sir Reginald). The resort had a deal with Ansett Airlines. They handled all the flight bookings made by those who intended holidaying on the island.
I’d had a very busy week and come the Sunday I was exhausted, and to be honest, had had my fill of people. I needed a few hours away from being the “hostess with the mostest”. I needed to discard my “Aunty Mame” guise, if only for a short while.
My staff worked two weeks on, and four days off. They chose their work pattern. It suited them. I’d left it up to the staff to choose their work roster, and that is what they’d come up with…I went along with it. If they were happy, then so was I. However, I never took time off for myself. I never had a “day off”, or a “weekend off”, but that, too, was of my own choosing. It worked well for me.
However, that particular Sunday, I was very tired. And on that particular day, I’d not been able to escape the restaurant/office etc., after the boat had departed as was my practice to do, as described above…to shoot back home for a shower and change of clothing etc, and to spend a brief time with my ginger, furry best mate.
The Grumman Mallard, the sea plane, had arrived at its normal time, somewhere between noon and 1 pm, off-loading guests, but it made a second trip later in the afternoon depositing the Ansett people at the resort, or, to be more precise, on the waters off from the resort. Because of their late arrival I’d had no time to go to my house to change.
I sat conversing with the new arrivals for some time out on the deck surrounding the pool. For them it was a business trip, combined with pleasure. After a while, a couple of my staff then guided to their cabins. I was still in my office doing paperwork when the Ansett crew arrived back at the restaurant.
Around 7.25 pm, I made my excuses…and made-up excuses they were. I told them I was burdened down with paper work that just had to be done by the next morning; that I couldn’t dine with them that evening, but I would like them to be my dinner guests the following evening.
They were staying for a couple of days and nights. By the time Monday night arrived they would’ve experienced a night and a day on the island, having done a boat trip on the "Reef Venture" to somewhere or other. We’d have more to discuss after their explorations, anyway. They were happy to “do their own thing”. And I had faith in my staff that they’d take good care of our Ansett visitors.
Wearily I climbed the spiral staircase in my little house, and I immediately discarded the clothes I’d been wearing.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw something move. At first I thought it was Ruska, but he’d been sitting on the floor beside the top of the stairs with a somewhat strange expression on his face when I'd arrived.
To my horror…and I do mean “horror”... when I turned towards my bed where I’d noticed the movement I discovered an 18 to 19-feet long python! I feel there is no need to describe the thickness of the beast…the length of it should tell the story…clearly!
I felt frozen to the spot, but somehow I managed within about one movement to scoop Ruska up into my arms. I locked him in the bathroom, out of the way. The python, obviously, had Ruska in his sights.
By then, I was a shaking mess, and yet I felt frozen at the same time, if that is at all possible! I couldn’t find the clothes I’d just moments before discarded; but finally I did find the knee-length T-shirt I'd been wearing and I threw it back on me.
The horrible creature was slithering across my bed, up around the wooden bed-head. Knowing Ruska was safely locked away in the bathroom, I fled down the stairs and raced across to the cabin in which Ted, my head maintenance guy lived, screaming out to him, “Ted! Ted! Snake! Snake!”
Ted’s cabin was about about 300 yards away, give or take - something like that. I think I covered the distance in about two strides.
Ted was (and still is) a “man’s man”. He was very capable at what he did. I had complete faith in him.
Hearing my anguished cries, he rushed out and met me before I’d quite reached his cabin. Without further ado, we were both back upstairs in my house.
The monster python was still on my bed.
Ted thought it was a great joke. I saw no humor in the situation. I hate snakes…and particularly those that are 18 feet or more long, and are in my space, uninvited!
My fear was that it would get under the bed, making it nigh impossible to remove
As he was trying to capture the bloody thing, Ted kept saying – “Get your camera! Where’s your camera!”
My reply was, without apology:- “Forget the fucking camera! The fucking camera is over in my fucking office! Just get the fucking snake out of here!”
I wasn't mucking about - I was deadly serious!
As Ted continued with his pointless instructions, still thinking the whole episode was humorous, I continued repeating my response! Was the man stupid, and deaf, as well?
I don’t know what good I thought I was going to do, but I grabbed the broom from the kitchen. A broom was no weapon against a monster like that…and I’m referring to the python! However there I was broom in hand…a shaking mess, still barking orders at Ted and telling him to forget about taking photos of the bloody thing!
Finally, Ted had the python by its tail. Dragging it out through the sliding glass door to my deck he hauled it off the deck, throwing it out to the bushes and rocks below.
I was a nervous wreck. Ted still thought the whole episode was funny. I didn’t then, and I still do not see the humour.
So much for my quiet, early night of restful sleep!
Because I’d not gone home at my usual time in the afternoon, the doors of my house had remained open from when I’d left in the morning!
Ruska and I certainly did snuggle up close together that night. I doubt either of us got much sleep.
A couple of months or so later I had to go across to the mainland, to Cardwell for the night to attend a meeting. I left at 4 pm on the “Reef Venture”, and arrived back to the resort the following morning at 9 am, by the same method. I went straight to my house, which I’d locked up securely before leaving the previous afternoon.
Ruska was nowhere to be found. I called and called him. I looked everywhere. The house was only small. Where the hell could he be? And then, I noticed one of the louvers in the downstairs’ room was open. I know I’d closed them. Had Ruska cleverly opened one that had been left slightly ajar?
I searched and searched…high and low. He was gone. I was heartbroken…more than heartbroken. I spent a short time with Ruska before I'd left the previous afternoon, telling him I'd see him the following morning. I cuddled him and he snuggled back into me. It was the last time I saw my beloved Ruska.
Both Johnno, my barman and Gavin, my general “dog’s body and fill-in barman when Johnno was on his time off, searched high, low and wide for days, looking for Ruska. They knew how much Ruska meant to me.
Gavin was the son of friends of mine, my ex-boss from my years living and working in Brisbane. I’d know Gavin since he was born; and as a little kid he’d known Ruska! Randall and I had gotten Ruska when he was just six-week old kitten from neighbours of Gavin’s parents. They lived in Kenmore, Brisbane. Gavin most certainly knew what I was going through. I was inconsolable.
I hid what I was feeling from the guests…life had to go on as normal at the resort…in front of the public. But hell was breaking loose within me.
(As I write this, my stomach, again, is in turmoil…and my heart still breaks each time I recall what happened to my darling Ruska).
I still blame myself for Ruska's fate.
When we had the chance, we should've somehow bagged the python the night I discovered it in my house. The next day we should have taken it across to the mainland, perhaps to Bredl's Reptile Park in Cardwell. We should've taken it by boat around to another part of the island, miles away. Pythons are territorial...they need to be removed to an area miles and miles away, otherwise they will return. We should have....
If I'd had my way, I would have smashed its head in!!!!!
I know the python took Ruska...I wish I had done something before that sad day came. I wish I'd been able to save Ruska.
And people wonder why I hate…why I abhor snakes!