Monday, July 09, 2018

ANOTHER ISLAND TALE....

The resort pool...me and a staff member...and me again
Cape Richards, Hinchinbrook Island, looking down upon Orchid Beach
Aerial view of Orchid Beach and Cape Richards to the right


Below is a happy tale of uplifting moments during my life on Hinchinbrook Island.  Forgive me (or not) if I’ve told this story before.

Air Whitsundays’ Grumman Mallard flew guests to the island, departing from Townsville airport and landing in the waters off to the left of the island jetty.

More often than not, the guests alighted from the door at the rear of the aircraft, wide-eyed.  Always there to greet them was a couple of my staff members and me.

One or two of us protected the resort’s motored punt from the Mallard’s fuselage, as we assisted the new arrivals (and their luggage) from the seaplane onto the punt. Depending on the seas on any given day, the chore could, at times, be quite an effort.

The Grumman Mallard was an amphibian aircraft – meaning it could take off and land on both land and water - a flying boat with wheels. It was a cumbersome old aircraft, but so very beautiful, with an interesting history attached. 

The Grumman Mallard was first produced in 1946.  Only 59 were built. It was rumoured this particular aircraft was once owned by the Aga Khan. 

As mentioned in previous posts, I loved flying in the old girl.

***The punt, in reality, belonged to AIMS.... The Australian Institute of Marine Science... Australia’s tropical marine research agency. The headquarters are based at Cape Ferguson, about 50km from Townsville.  It’s an international landmark in tropical marine science, adjacent to the centre of the Great Barrier Reef, and surrounded by a 207 hectare national park and marine reserve.  Because we allowed AIMS to moor their punt at the resort’s jetty, AIMS allowed us use of the punt....quid pro quo...

Upon landing on the ocean, water leaked...dripped...through the top of the plane into the cabin. This, of course, caused a certain amount of consternation to the passengers.   
It was of no concern.  It was never going to sink.

One story we often told the guests after they’d settled in to the island way of life, while they enjoyed a drink around the bar, was about an elderly lady who boarded the Grumman Mallard at Townsville airport, only to land on the waters off Hinchinbrook. No one had thought to explain to her this would happen. On the verge of a heart attack or nervous break-down, or both, she downed a bottle of Scotch before being taken to her cabin!

One sunny day, a new group of eager, albeit stressed, guests arrived.

Among them was a reserved, shy, bearded young man of around 36 years of age.

Standing apart, he placed himself at the outer rim of the guests circling the bar the first evening, preferring to watch, listen and appreciate, but not partake in the merriment.

On the second evening of his stay, prior to dinner, I joined him at the end of the bar, subtly and gently coaxing him to converse. His speech was slightly impaired. Quietly, he and I, uninterrupted by others, spoke at length.

After a while, he relaxed.  Richard was his name. 

Richard told me about the past eighteen months of his life.

He had suffered a stroke.

The stroke was the reason he grew his beard.  He used it as a disguise to cover the disfigurement to one side of his face.

Richard was a lawyer, visiting the resort on Hinchinbrook Island, from Sydney, New South Wales.

He described to me the shock he’d felt from having suffered a stroke at such a young age.   
Richard told me he found the hardest part to cope with after his stroke was looking in the mirror and not recognizing the person staring back at him.  He had to learn how to speak and eat again.

For some time after the stroke it was necessary for him to use a straw to drink, and to eat.  His food had to be pureed, turning his meals into soup, because he couldn’t chew food.

His holiday to the island was his form of therapy to get his life back on track.

His reticence in joining the other guests was from his lack of confidence in himself and his appearance.

I assured Richard there was little wrong with his speech - that he was easily understood. It was only when he drew attention to it did others really notice any impairment. 

I also assured him, what he called his ‘disfigurement’, was hardly discernible; and that anyone who was worth their salt wouldn’t care, anyway.  If anyone did care, then they were not worthy of the generosity of his company and time.   One side of his face...around the corner of his mouth drooped a little.  His beard hid that part of his face.

That night I was to dine with some of the guests.  I insisted Richard join us. I told him I would make it worth his while, by coercing and tempting him with a bottle or two of Henschke’s “Hill of Grace”.   It worked!

Those of you who know your Australian red wines will know that “Hill of Grace” is almost on par to Penfolds Grange Hermitage.  In those days on the island I always kept a case of “Hill of Grace” ‘out the back’ for special guests and moments. I believed this was one of those moments.  Richard was a special guest.  He was a special fellow.

Things happened spontaneously at the resort.   Spontaneous is always best, in my opinion.

On the Sunday night of Richard’s holiday, everyone was in a very happy, partying mood. A celebration broke out amongst the guests and the staff.

I raced over to my little house at the base of Cape Richards, to collect more cassettes to add to those in the restaurant's stock.

Everyone was laughing, talking and dancing together.

Again, Richard hovered around the outskirts of the group.  Taking a couple of my staff aside, I asked them to go to the laundry room taking the guests with them.  Their orders for the evening were to have the guests dress in togas created from the seldom used, older, floral bed sheets.

Without hesitation, or further prompting, with bubbling hilarity, the guests followed my staff’s lead.

Soon, they all reappeared.  In no time at all a ‘toga party’ was under way.

I grabbed a spare sheet, threw it at Richard, who had no other choice than to wrap it around his body, over the clothes he was wearing.

Ignoring his protests, I clutched his arm and dragged him over to the rest of the dancing party. His protests were quickly drowned out by the singing, dancing, laughing group of people.

Before too long, he forgot his reserve, his shyness and any affliction he ‘thought’ he had.

The other guests took him under their wings. Tossing his inhibitions aside, he ended up high-kicking higher than the rest of them!

Someone led the merry group out onto the deck surrounding the swimming pool.   Of course, soon thereafter everyone was in the pool.

It was a wonderful, happy, unexpected harmless evening, one that re-affirmed the greatness of people; the generosity of their spirit.  It was an evening that restored the joy of life to one young man.

The day arrived for Richard’s departure. He had spent seven days and nights on the island. His looming departure was an emotional time. My staff, other guests and I were sad to see him leave, but happy knowing we had made a difference.

Bidding him farewell at the end of the jetty as he boarded the punt, tears filled my eyes, and flooded, unashamedly, down my cheeks.

Richard asked if he could take a photograph of me.

I replied, “Sure…as long as I can take one of you!”

Simultaneously, we took one of each other - taking one of each other! 

The photograph remains among my cherished Hinchinbrook Island memorabilia.

About two weeks after Richard’s return to Sydney and the “real world”, I received a letter from him. 

In it he expressed how he felt renewed and rejuvenated in a way that no amount of professional therapy could have made him feel.  He wrote he was now ready to face life with confidence. Richard thanked my staff and me on for helping him. Without us, he said, he would still be battling the demons that had been hounding him since the stroke.

Tears again fell freely as I read his letter, but I felt proud, not only for what he felt we had done, but at having the opportunity of knowing Richard.  His presence had had a positive affect on us, too.   

Meeting him and having spent the time with him was one of my life’s bonuses.

I often wonder how his life progressed after his holiday on the island.  I wish him well, wherever he may be.  I hope whatever path he chose to trod, it led him to happiness, love and peace.

***  I have no idea why this section insists on being a larger font...I've tried a million times (slight exaggeration) to make it consistent with the rest of the text...but to no avail....)

28 comments:

  1. Strokes are another of the illnesses which hit where it suits. I am glad you were able to help Richard.

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    1. Yes, EC...they don't discriminate.

      It was a two-way street...Richard help all of us who were present during his stay at the resort.

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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  2. That is sad to suffer a stroke at that age but how good were you to be part of his mental recovery. If a stroke is really severe, young people can end up in a nursing home, which is hardly ideal. The island sounds like it was a favourite period in your life.

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    1. Hi Andrew....Richard needed moral support...and he received it from everyone around him at the resort. He left renewed...and it was wonderful to have been able to witness that.

      I never expected to hear from him...his letter was inspirational...in every way.

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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  3. The amphibian aircraft sounds interesting. Orchid Beach looks wonderful.
    The story about Richard is a very positive one with a happy end for both him and you.

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    1. Hi DUTA...the old Grumman Mallard was a great old plane. I always felt honoured to fly in her...and flying low over the magnificent Hinchinbrook Island was something I always enjoyed.

      Positive stories are good...there should be more of them. :)

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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  4. This is very much a feel-good story and I'm glad Richard was able to enjoy his therapy holiday.

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    1. Me, too, River. As each day passed, the change in Richard's demeanour became obvious. It was great to have been able to witness it.

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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  5. Thanks for your visit to my blog and I am so happpy to have returned the visit and find this heart-warming story! I shall return.

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    1. Hi Tabor, You're welcome. And thanks for your visit, too, and comment. :)

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  6. I love a good story, there is a man at the flea market that was very young and he had a stroke and the left side of his body is barely functions, sad, the other day we drove by the lake and saw a seaplane land, we were quite surprised. never been on one

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    1. Hello, Linda.....That is sad about that young fellow you describe.

      Seaplanes are great to fly in, Linda. We used to have the little Beavers come to the island as well...and I loved going up in them, too.

      Thanks for coming...keep your chin up...you're in my thoughts. :)

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  7. It is a shame that your contact with Richard ended with that letter.

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    1. Oh, life goes on, Arleen...

      Hopefully, Richard had a successful career and life after his return to Sydney...He was a guest at the resort...one that made and left an impression. Even though he arrived lacking confidence in himself...he found something within himself that her previously probably didn't know existed; something which I am sure lifted him and carried him through. An inner strength that helped him conquer further hurdles that came his way.

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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  8. What a wonderful story. It brought tears to my eyes.

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    1. Hey Sandra...it was something quite wonderful...a special moment in life.

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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  9. Loved the shots of the aircraft!
    Good story!

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    1. Thanks, Weekend-Windup. :)

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  10. That was a very heart-warming story of considerable personal significance (not because I've had a stroke but because friends have).

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    1. G'day,Graham...the reality was very heart-warming for me, too.

      That week when Richard was a guest at the resort was a special time, and one I've never forgotten even though it occurred 32 years ago now. (Boy! Time certainly does fly...I must be having a lot of fun that I'm not aware of!) :)

      Witnessing the change unfolding...sensing Richard regaining some of his confidence...regaining himself again...was similar to watching a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis.

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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  11. What a wonderful, beautiful story, Lee. How wonderful of your staff and yourself to have made such a difference in Richard's life. I am sure he will never forget it in his lifetime and will have passed on goodness and graciousness to others in his life. I love your memories of your island.

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    1. Hi Peace Thyme...my staff were great. We lived and worked in a beautiful area, and to be able to share it with others we were fortunate, and hopefully, never lost sight of that.

      Richard's visit gave us all so much....

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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  12. Hope you and the critters are enjoying your weekend to the max.

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    1. We are having a chilly one, Sandra...with long, long nights...but snuggled up keeping warm..together. Wimbledon has been holding my attention...

      I hope you have a great weekend, too...thank you. :)

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  13. Hi it always interests me to read of other stroke victims and their injuries. It makes me realise how bad mine is. It’s bad.

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    1. Hey there, Terry...You certainly have been dealt a bad hand, and it is impossible for another to imagine what you have to go through...suffer...every moment of every day.

      But you are an intelligent man...a very intelligent man with a strong spirit and will.

      Thanks for coming by. Take good care. :)

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  14. Christ Almighty! Reading this has brought tears to my eyes too. You were and are such a kind woman Lee - but not in a soppy "there there" kind of way. Your approach is realistic and active. You want to make a difference and I feel you really did make a difference to Richard. You re-ignited his life and helped him to live again. Thank you for sharing this story.

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    1. G'day, Yorkie. The resort...the island...had such a fun, relaxed atmosphere....it was contagious, and it was a healthy atmosphere from which no one escaped. And, very soon after their arrival, the guests caught the bug. :)

      Thanks for coming by. :)

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