Tuesday, October 24, 2006

I Love a Sunburnt Country...A Land of Drought and Flooding Rains...

In recognition of Dorothea MacKellar's wonderful and wellknown poem.

Our farmers are battling the worst drought on record. My heart goes out to them. They need every bit of support...they deserve it. Let's hope very soon we get the rains that will halt this disastrous drought.

The air up here on the mountain is heavy with the smell of smoke from bushfires that raged on parts of the mountain yesterday. I hope we get the storms the weather bureau predicted we are in store for on Thursday and Friday, if not sooner.

In the glow of the street lights smoke hovers in the stillness of the night and early morning.

Let's hope Cyclone Xavier moves closer to the coast (not bringing damage) and while doing so, pushes rain west to cross over onto our parched land. The threat of raging bushfires is very really and very frightening.

In the early nineties when I was living on Newry Island, no rain, or very, very little, had fallen for almost nine months. My dam was at a disturbingly low level. I had to keep lowering the pump to enable water to be pumped down to the main building and the outside shower/toilet block. There were eight self-contained cabins plus the bar/dining/kitchen area plus a camping site to service. Fortunately, my guests understood the water shortage and bided by my requests to not waste water.

On Christmas Eve, 1990, Cyclone Joy that had been hovering off the coast of Cairns for many days, picked up speed and headed southwards. Early on Christmas morning I made two boat trips to the mainland to pick up guests, some who were coming to spend Christmas Day on the island, with intentions of returning to the mainland in the afternoon. In all, including guests already on the island, I had thirty people to house, feed and entertain.

By eleven Christmas morning it was plainly obvious those day-trippers would become longer term guests. The weather had turned around rapidly...for the worst. The sea had whipped up to a frenzy. A gale-force wind was blowing erratically. The sky, covered by low-hanging steel-grey clouds groaning from their heavy burden, threatened at any moment to explode. I hadn't the time nor the ability to row out to my boat, a 21ft Trojan DeHavilland and hide it up a creek on the neighbouring Outer Newry Island. It would have been an impossible feat. I wouldn't have been able to row my little tinnie back to the 'resort' area. My boat was to remain on its mooring for the duration of the cyclone, bucking like Bronco Billy, almost causing me a nervous breakdown as I watched it lurch and strain on its mooring rope.

Ziggy, an elderly professional fisherman who knew the waters well, made a desperate trip in his 'tinnie' across the waters from Victor Creek, 4kms from Seaforth, to advise me not to take my boat out again until all the mayhem had passed. I assured him I had no intentions of doing so. He had already hidden his fishing boat further up Victor Creek to safety. He stayed long enough to give me his warnings before he turned and raced back to the mainland. As soon as he left, I advised my guests they were my prisoners for as long as the weather remained. All bar one, were understanding. The 'one' is a story in itself that I shall leave for another day, perhaps...suffice to mention...I won the battle with that fellow!

The next three days and nights I didn't sleep. I lived in my bathing suit, remaining continually wet as I was in and out of the main premises all the time, battening down possible missiles etc., etc. I couldn't for a moment let my guard down as I had 30 guests to take care of and at all times I had to be aware for their welfare. I lived on the island alone, which made me solely responsible for all matters and situations. Everything....everything was wet and getting wetter! I had no dry bedding. Sheets that were outside on the clothes lines just got dirtier from the heavy rain splashing the ground below up upon them. The rain poured down non-stop. Guests were 'showering' outside under the downpipes. I gave them bars of soap and left them to it! I had some young backpackers staying...a couple from Canada, two from Japan and a couple from Germany. They thought it was the greatest adventure of their lives! Everyone set up 'home' in the main building as I advised them to stick together in the one area. I didn't want anyone wandering off alone, for obvious reasons. I'd turned the left-overs from Christmas lunch into large pots of goulash and soups, telling them help themselves to the food, to coffee and tea. They occupied themselves conversing, playing cards, reading and generally, accepted the situation. There was nothing else they could do, other than accept it. We were all stranded and there was no way in the world I was taking my boat out again until the weather abated. Finally, I managed to off-load my guests three days after the 'blow' had started. After the first evacuation, I got stranded on the mainland as the weather had closed in while I was depositing the first load at Victor Creek. I had to anchor my boat out and swim ashore, much to the surprise of the guests standing watching from the shore! I reckon I would have beaten Dawn Fraser that day! I remained in Seaforth until the next morning. I arrived with only my bathing suit and me! Fortunately, I was well known at the local little store and by the people who had a holiday house next door to the store. And fortunately again, they were down from their cane farm for the Christmas break, so they put me up for the day and night.

This is a lengthy tale, so I won't tell it all here right now. The rain came down in ever-increasing intensity. The rain lasted for three weeks. It finally stopped the week before the Australia Day weekend, the 26th January, 1991. By that time, every wall in the eight cabins was black with mould! The cabins were fully booked for the long weekend by a company from Mackay for their belated celebration of the end of the year/Christmas party. The septic system on the island was stuffed so together with getting that back on line, scrubbing the walls, washing all the bed linen etc., (by hand), I had a very, very busy few days ahead of me. But, again...that is another story for another day! Hang in there for Episode 2, coming up on your nearest channel!


  1. hanging in here Lee.

  2. Hahahaha...episode 2...well, perhaps I will write about that next week...or perhaps over the weekend! I have to keep you in suspense, Della! ;)