Tuesday, March 20, 2007

My Adventures In The Gulf Country...Chapter One.

In a previous post I mentioned that I’d spent a short time in Normanton, way out in the Gulf Country of far north-western Queensland, so I thought I would elaborate a little on that time in my life.

When I ended my halcyon times on Hinchinbrook Island, I headed further north on the mainland to reside and work in Cairns. For a short period I worked at the Ramada Reef Resort, Palm Cove as Functions/Conventions/Conference Co-ordinator and as unofficial assistant to the Food and Beverage Manager. Due to circumstances within my control, I left the madness of Ramada and became employed as receptionist/secretary/property manager in a real estate office at Smithfield, a northern suburb of Cairns in tropical north Queensland. I decided I needed a break from the hospitality industry. Hence, I reverted back to a ‘normal’ nine-to-five work existence for a while. “A while” lasted about two and a half years before I ran away and became a pirate on Newry Island!

The company’s head office was situated in the Cairns CBD. Our branch office in the suburb of Smithfield, which is located inland below the mountains of the Great Dividing Range leading up to Kuranda in the hinterland beyond, serviced the Northern Beaches of Cairns and the inland suburbs of Carvonica, Lake Placid, Kamerunga, Stratford and Freshwater that run along the edge of the Barron River flood plain. The suburbs of Brinsmead and Whitfield were sometimes included in our territory. These outer suburbs of Cairns lie between Smithfield and the city and are situated to the west of the Captain Cook Highway. Smithfield serves as the main centre for the Northern Beach areas. The Northern Beach area extends from Machans Beach to the south, north to Holloways Beach, Yorkeys Knob, Trinity Park, Trinity Beach, Kewarra Beach, Clifton Beach, Palm Cove, Buchans Point and Ellis Beach. The area stretches more than 30kms. Further north still is Port Douglas, Mossman and the awesome Mossman Gorge.

During my three years in the Cairns area, I lived at Yorkeys Knob and then Clifton Beach. I never lived in Cairns proper, much preferring the beach suburbs.

My boss, the owner of the real estate agencies owned a hotel in Herberton in the Atherton Tablelands and also the Central Hotel in Normanton out in the Gulf Country.

The managers of the Central Hotel were going on holidays and because of my hospitality industry experience I was asked to be their ‘fill-in’ whilst they were away. I felt it too good of an opportunity and challenge to give up. I jumped at the chance. A lass from the city office was to be my replacement while I was out treading the dust in the Gulf Savannah region.

Early one Monday morning with suitcase packed, having bade a sad farewell to Pushkin and Rimsky, my two cats who were left at home being cat-sat, I boarded a light aircraft departing from Cairns Airport to later land at the airstrip at Normanton, 710kms away.

The Gulf Savannah region extends from the Great Dividing Range in the east to the Northern Territory border in the west. It is a safari country of golden savannah grasslands rich with Australian wildlife. (That doesn’t include me!)

Normanton was established on the Norman River by William Landsborough, a Scottish explorer who arrived in Australia as a young man. Landsborough had been commissioned to head the search for Burke and Wills, starting of in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The town of Landsborough, inland from Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast is named after him, but that’s another story! I’ll remain in the north for now, rather than confuse you!

Normanton became the port for the Croydon Gold Rush back in the 1880’-1890s. Intrepid early explorers, Burke and Wills’ most northerly camp was around 30kms south-west of Normanton. The distance of Normanton from Brisbane, Queensland’s state capital is 2,500 kilometres north.

Established on the Norman River by William Landsborough, Normanton was the port for the Croydon Rush and is a terminus of the Victorian architecture preserved in the Normanton Railway Station. The rail line was opened in 1891 to join Normanton to the rich, busy Croydon goldfields, 152kms away. To this day, the line remains unlinked to the main Queensland Rail network. This is very remote, inaccessible countryside with much diversity from wetlands and grasslands to the arid, harsh Savannah country.

So there I was, my feet planted firmly on the Normanton airstrip. It was 10am and the temperature was a searing 50 degrees Celsius! Where had the humidity of the coast disappeared to? The intense, burning white heat was dry, drawing every ounce of moisture from me.

Dressed in a cotton skirt, cotton t-shirt and sandals, I silently commended my good sense in choosing suitable clothing. A dark-coloured Toyota Land Cruiser screamed to a dusty halt. Out stepped a young woman of around my age dressed all in black. Black stockings covered her legs. Black patent-leather high-heeled shoes clad her manicured feet. (I imagine they were well-manicured, pedicured or whatever as she had flaming red, porcelain finger nails). The skirt of her black dress was fringed with broderie anglaise and had a ‘handerchief/scarf’ hemline. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

She threw my suitcase in the back of the vehicle. I jumped on board. The “Black Dahlia” reversed the Land Cruiser causing another dust storm and we were on our way into Normanton. I had been the only passenger to alight at Normanton “airport”. Casting side-ways glances at my driver with her hennaed coiffure, her red talons gripping the steering wheel viciously, I could remain silent no longer. Did she, in her absence, expect me to dress that way!

“I hope you don’t expect me to dress up,” I stated, looking at her. “I will be wearing cool, casual clothes during the day and will change into equally cool and relaxing clothes in the evenings.” Best to go in boots and all first up, I decided to myself! Already I could sense the next three weeks were certainly going to be interesting...and different.

To be continued...(click on maps to enlarge)


  1. Beautiful Pictures!

  2. It's a stunningly beautiful part of Australia, far north Queensland, Robbie.

  3. Great pics Lee. I have an uneasy feeling here. I hope this story doesn't have a dead body in it....not that you make me nervous or anything like that.

  4. Hahaha...and the suspense and tension rises, Cliff! ;)

  5. Hi Lee,

    I'm in suspence!

    Beautiful pictures by the way.


  6. gorgeous photo's!.

    So.. you believe in "always leaving them wanting more" eh?! lol You do have the knack of "cliffhangers"! hahaha

  7. Nice story and pictures. I agree about dressing up. I go casual as much as I can. Mostly knits and khakis.

  8. Anonymous10:42 AM

    Looking foward to hearing more about the “Black Dahlia”.

  9. Anonymous10:42 AM

    Looking foward to hearing more about the “Black Dahlia”.

  10. Sorry, Deslily...writing it in one post would be too long...and I don't wish to bore folk! So hang in there, kiddo! ;)

    Hi Gary...50 degrees Celsius equals 122 degrees Fahrenheit...casual, cool dress was necessary and sensible to my way of thinking in those temperatures not dressing up like Sybil from "Fawlty Towers" :)

    Hi there, Steve...just hang in there...more to come!

  11. Great cliffhanger, huge suspense level, and the pictures are achingly beautiful. I could SO live there.

  12. I'm working on Chapter 3 as I write this comment, Serena...hopefully, I won't keep you hanging on too long! ;)

  13. Fab pics as always and I'm learning so much history I never knew about reading your blog, Lee! 50C and that woman was dressed like that?!! Blimey! I liked your "jump in and be frank" approach! So I'm saving part 2 as a treat for me tomorrow... Thanks for your wonderful writing, dear friend.

  14. I know, Welsh...I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw in that outfit...it was bloody ridiculous in that heat. She was the typical "Sybil" from "Fawlty Towers" as I mentioned previously. She set herself apart from the locals and in a town like Normanton that's definitely not the thing to do, in my mind.

    Thanks for your comment. As always, I appreciate them. :)

  15. You have some great pictures Lee ... an excellent start to the story!

  16. It took me way to long for me to get over here to read your story and it was great and I am moving on to read the next chapter.