Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Easter On Newry Island

It was love at first sight. My heart pounded. A wide smile spread across my face the first time I set eyes on Newry Island. As the boat slowed and eased its way to the water’s edge, languidly rocking from side to side, I stood transfixed. The sight in front of me took me back to the days of my childhood, to the “seaside”. To me the “seaside” depicts naturalness, no fancy trimmings, tall buildings or “bells and whistles”. The main building was old, somewhat dilapidated, in need of a coat of paint some would say. To me, it was beautiful. A few cream fibro cabins dotted the foreshore to the left of the main building. A stone’s throw away from the central building, its foundations desperately clinging to terra firma was an ancient galvanized iron shed. It housed the two island generators. To the right of the main building stood a stone cabin, which I was to learn, once housed the famous Australian swimmer, Annette Kellerman. Kellerman was the first woman to conquer the English Channel back in the early part of the last century, the first woman to wear a one piece bathing suit in public. The Esther Williams’ movie “The Million-Dollar Baby” was loosely based on the life of Annette Kellerman. (See the URL at the end of this post) Further along on the eastern point, a lone cabin, its paint faded and peeling from the elements, obstinately faced the eastern horizon. She-oaks and palm trees generously shared the foreshore where the verdant grasses verged and merged with the sand. How could I not be “hooked”?

After Christmas and New Year were washed out on Newry Island by Cyclone Joy, I was hoping Easter would bring with it good weather and loads of guests. It did. The weather for the four days put on a welcome display of clear blue skies, light sea breezes, warm days, cool nights, with the ocean, shimmering like diamonds under the golden sun, hardly stirring except for its gentle lapping on the shore.

Guests began arriving on the Thursday before Good Friday. Earlier in the day, I made two trips to the mainland to pick up my visitors. Some arrived by their own boats. A couple of trawlers anchored out in the channel between my island and Outer Newry Island. One of the skipper’s wife and daughter booked into a cabin, while he and his son stayed on board the trawler.

On Good Friday morning, Geoff, the skipper of the prawn trawler asked if I would like some fresh sand crabs.

“Sure! I’d love some, Geoff,” I answered. “How much do you want for them or what do you want for them?”

I never bought seafood when I lived on Newry Island. My transactions with the trawler-men were conducted by barter system. Cases of beer, bottles of bourbon, scotch or rum exchanged for bucketfuls of freshly caught and cooked prawns etc. It was a good deal and one in which I always came out on the “plus” side. I always had more than enough supplies of fresh fish, prawns and crabs on hand, much to the delight of my guests.

“I don’t want anything for them,” Geoff said. “I won’t be going into Mackay until next Tuesday, so they will be no good to anyone by then. They are yours to do with what you want, otherwise I’ll toss them overboard.”

Expecting maybe a bucket-load of sand crabs, to my surprise Geoff arrived ashore with a very large, heavy-duty plastic container full to overflowing with fresh crabs. I rounded up my wide-eyed guests and handed out crabs to them, free of charge. I figured they had cost me nothing, so my guests should enjoy them. I didn’t feel it right to charge for the crabs.

It was a wonderful sight watching the stunned guests, sitting on the beach with containers filled with crabs as they cracked them open, savouring every last morsel of the delectable things. One guy was really in his element. I’d filled up a supermarket plastic shopping bag with sandies for him and, alone, he ventured out to the point where he sat at the very edge on the rocks, looking out to sea with his bag of goodies between his legs. His wife, who didn’t eat seafood, and I watched from afar laughing as he obviously was enjoying his piece of “heaven”.

Newry Island may have been a run-down, “past its use-by date island resort”, but it had many things to offer that the fancier resorts couldn’t or wouldn’t! Because of my regular, abundant supply of seafood, island guests were catered to with large feasts of fresh fish, prawns and crabs at a very low cost. Sometimes, when yachts were anchored in the channel, the “yachties collected oysters from the rocks on Outer Newry Island and brought them across to me. I would lay-out shucked oysters on large trays, sprinkle Worcestershire Sauce and diced bacon over the top, then place the laden tray under the salamander (grill). It was worth every oyster just to see the looks on my guests’ faces when I presented them with the large, metal tray filled with Oysters Kilpatrick. Not only would I present oysters in this manner, but I would cook some on the barbecue in their shells and also serve others natural. It was an “eat as much and as many as you like” attitude/barbecue with cold beer or wine to wash them down.

Just outside from the bar area on the concrete deck looking out to the ocean and surrounding islands was the area where I cooked most evenings when I had guests on the island. A large six burner gas barbecue held pride of position, together with outdoor tables and chairs. The moment I fired up the barbecue my two cats, Pushkin and Rimsky, were right there, salivating, eagerly awaiting the evening’s fare. They knew what was to follow. They weren’t silly. Their diet was mainly seafood, with some fresh meat thrown in for good measure. Pushkin and Rimsky didn’t even have to get their paws dirty as the guests willingly peeled prawns for them. What a life!

During the day, the guests swam in the calm waters of the Coral Sea, relaxed with a book, some fished, others laid under the palm trees fringing the beach contemplating their lives or whatever, or went for walks across the island through the forest. The children played freely and safely on the beach.

A koala decided to join in the weekend festivities by sitting in a low tree all throughout the weekend at the start of the trail across to the other side of the island The guests, particularly the children were delighted by its appearance. I asked everyone to look but not disturb, and this request they adhered to, happy just to look. The koala remained in his spot until the Tuesday, when the winds changed direction to south-easterly. Once the winds arrived, he moved further inland.

Even though I was busy most of the time, running the bar, catering and doing my other daily chores, I relaxed too, as my guests weren’t demanding. Each afternoon, with the children helping, I built a fire on the beach for the evening. After the evening barbecue, the fire was lit, a guitar or two magically appeared and a sing-a-long inevitably started, mingled with lots of conversation and laughter.

The beach in front of the bar and dining area was relatively safe for swimming. When the tide went out, it went out a long, long way leaving mud flats to battle. However, when the tide was in, the water flowed gently over clean sand, caressing the shoreline, making it an ideal swimming spot. Because of the position of the bay and the distance from the warmer waters of the mainland, the island didn’t have a box-jellyfish problem. The stingers are more prevalent in the warmer, coastal and estuary waters. Similar conditions applied at the main beach at Hinchinbrook Island Resort. Pulling into the boat ramp at Victor Creek on the mainland one day, as I jumped out of the boat I spotted a large box-jellyfish languishing in the shallow water at the bank of the creek. I stayed well clear of it.

I hated having to take the De Havilland out when it was low tide, as I would have to plough through the mud to reach it, not being able to row my little boat out to where it was moored. The De Havilland was always moored a couple of feet out from the bank of the deep channel between Newry Island and Outer Newry to make it permanently sea-worthy, particularly if, God forbid, an emergency arose. Naturally, I tried to organize all my boat trips to the mainlnd around the high tides. This was not always possible, of course.

A few day-trippers arrived each day over the Easter weekend, setting up their own picnics along the beach or at the tables under the trees. Fishermen came and went after a couple of cleansing, refreshing cold ales at the bar. The island was alive with happy, trouble-free holidaymakers. That is, until Easter Sunday night when a “tinnie” bearing four, drunken, young fishermen arrived. I’d never set eyes on them before, or after, for that matter.

They staggered noisily up to the bar around 9pm demanding drinks and food. In no uncertain terms, I told them I thought they had had enough to drink by the looks and sounds of them. I wasn’t happy about having to feed them. There was no way I was going to cook them a meal at that hour of the night. By this time, my island guests had eaten at the barbecue and were now up along the beach enjoying the fire.

The rowdy infiltrators demanded something to eat.

“All I have left are meat pies. I will heat some up for you,” I told them, reluctantly. “But, I’m telling you this…if I see the pies again…you guys will be cleaning up the mess, not me!”

I didn’t need a crystal ball to know I would “see” the pies again! Of course, I was right in my assumption! I handed the young fellows the hose and made them clean down the deck where the regurgitated pies covered the concrete. When they finished cleaning up their mess, I asked them to leave.

Upon noticing the fire up the beach, the renegades informed me they were going to join the guests.

“No, you’re not!” I said firmly. “They’re my paying guests enjoying time with their children. They’re entitled to their privacy. You will not go up there. You’ll get into your boat and go back to wherever you came from! You will leave them alone! Now, get going!”

They mumbled as they staggered down the beach towards their boat. I watched from the deck as they maneuvered the she-oaks and palm trees. Hitting the centre of the beach, they veered right in the direction of the fire and my guests.

Letting out a growl, I headed off after the pests, catching up with them just as they were approaching the guests. Steering them about face, I marched them back along the beach. They didn’t notice that I was walking at an angle, forcing them closer and closer to the water’s edge. They were too busy cursing me. Far too busy calling me every name they could muster to notice with each step they were getting into ankle-deep water. My feet were still dry.

“I’ve heard it all before.” Was my non-interested reaction to their abuse . “Say what you wish, but you are not staying here!”

Continuing with their diatribe, one of them blurted out for me to take care of a particular portion of his anatomy that is akin to poultry. As quick as a flash, without thought, I retaliated with a very apt reply, which embarrassed him in front of his mates. Without another word from any of them, like little lambs they stumbled into their boat. Without a backward glance, they headed back out to sea. I had no idea where they came from and I’m sure they had no idea where they were headed! It was not my worry. If they were stupid enough to travel at night in their little “tinnie” in the state they were in, I wasn’t going to be their keeper. Their bravado was restored the further they traveled from the shore. Their infantile abuse re-commenced. Around and around like the idiots they were, they circled one of the trawlers anchored out in the bay, shouting and yahooing. By this time, the men guests joined me. Geoff, who had donated the crabs, agreed with me in that we hoped “Rollo”, a trawler-man who never set foot on the island, but always anchored out in the channel before heading to Mackay, would wake up. “Rollo”, like all trawlers, carried shot-guns on board! How we wished “Rollo” would wake up! I reckon those four fellows shouting abuse would have sobered up pretty damn quickly and high-tailed it out of there before they could call out for their mothers!

I joined my guests around the fire after the unwanted disruption. The women informed me they’d told their husbands to give me a hand. Their husbands all said, “Naah…Lee’ll be okay…she’ll be right! She’ll take care of them!”

“Thanks, guys!” I laughed.

They would have been there for me if I had needed them, but I preferred to handle situations like that myself, where possible when they arose.

From the direction my inebriated, bad-mannered visitors had headed out to sea, I think they are now just motoring into the west coast waters of South America!

By Tuesday, everyone had departed. Once more I was alone on the island except for Pushkin and Rimsky, and of course, the koala! It had been a wonderful Easter, unwelcome visitors notwithstanding. I settled into a peaceful few days until the next boat arrived or my next trip to the mainland to meet new guests. I was grateful for the respite as the south-easterly winds arrived on the Tuesday morning. The winds always made it difficult for me to row my little boat out to my island boat, the 21-foot Trojan De Havilland, which was moored out in the channel. It was a sight to behold, me trying to “marry” my little row boat up to the bigger motor boat with strong south-easterlies blowing!

The link below gives you a bit of the history of Newry Island.


The picture above of the Trojan De Havilland isn't the island boat. Mine was painted brick red and cream. It was a little more battered than the one in the picture, but mostly it went like a dream...mostly. It had a 175hp Johnson outboard motor on board that sometimes liked to cause me grief.


  1. Have a wonderful Easter Lee. My daughter loves the diary she can't wait to write in it every night thanks for the wonderful idea. Hopefully when school resumes next week she will be okay with journal.

  2. That is great news, Shelly. I'm so glad. :) I think this is going to help your daughter a lot.

    You have a great Easter, too, Shelly. Just take things easy, relax and enjoy yourself.

    Thanks for commenting. :)

  3. Another interesting Island story. I gather its part (was it then?) of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and presumably you have to be self sufficient to travel and stay on the Island.

    The link was interesting, especially the picture of the old cottage

    Have you been back since?

    Best wishes

  4. Only once have I been back to Newry since I left living there, Lindsay.

    The "resort" and all other buildings are now torn down and have been carted away. The only cabin left is the one Annette Kellerman stayed in. The whole of the island is now under the total control of National Parks and Wild Life. The area of the resort wasn't in their control when I lived there. An on-going battle over years went on between the lessee of that area and the government...in the end, unfortunately, the government won.

    The resort offered a low-key holiday escape for those living around the Mackay area and from areas further afield. I used to get a lot of overseas back-packers to the resort and they loved it.

  5. Wow! That place sounds kind of wild and wooly. I think you would do well here in Oakland.

  6. No...it wasn't wild and woolly, Corn Dog! lol

    Not when I was there anyway. I didn't allow it to be! lol

  7. Hi Lee ~~ Another great story - with all these places you've lived, I'm
    starting to believe your age IS 250!!
    You make the stories so real and interesting. Guess what I have beside me -- a glass of Sars! You wetted my
    appetite for one. Thanks!! I hope you have a wonderful Easter Lee, and lots of fun and chocolate. Take care, Love

  8. Lee, I've got some people coming to help me on a project in 30 minutes and must prepare. Tonight, I'll grab an iced tea and catch up with you. C.

  9. Anonymous8:37 AM

    My mouth watered as I read this post. No one should be allowed to make a person want sea food as bad as I did and do. shame on you. Smile.

  10. Hahaha...sometimes I feel 250, Merle! ;) I have done a few things...the opportunities presented themselves and I grabbed them with both hands. I was and am a 'free agent' so the decisions were mine to make. I had myself a Double Sars yesterday...along with the Sars, I bought the Sarsaparilla cordial...I talked myself into it, too! ;)

    You come back now, Cliff! :)

    Sorry to have done that to you, Steve! lol You would have been in your glory on Newry Island! :)

  11. Lovely pictures and lovely story. I think I'd like Newry a lot. Another great post, Lee.

  12. Sadly, I will not be sending Easter at Newry Island, although it sounds lovely. I will be recieving my promised birthday present at a spa west of Melbourne though.

    A 1000 apologies for my spasmodic visits; it is probably no consolation at all to know you are not the only one I haven't visited recently!

  13. Lee you are such a good writer, I envy you. Another good yarn. I have to admit that I hate oysters, and my husband does too. We must be the only Australians who do!
    Happy Easter and enjoy the lunch whic h you will so graciously prepare.

  14. G'day Serena...Newry was so laid-back, old, no airs or graces and that's why I fell in love with it. I lived on the island and ran it alone and it was a special time in my life. A challenge but one that I was prepared to take on...it was what it was...an "island-escape" from the hustle and bustle of the mainland, where one could be one's self. I've never regretted my spur-of-the-moment decision to take it on.

    The spa sounds great, Lee. Enjoy yourselves as I'm sure you will. :) Good to finally catch up with you again! ;)

    Jmb...I've always loved oysters ever since I was a child when we used to get them off the rocks at Tin Can Bay. I drool over them! Easter Sunday lunch will be fun. The couple I have invited are regular partakers in my lunches and we always have a good time. :)

  15. Our guest is staying in the bed in my computer room so I had to wait till this A.M. I loved the descriptions of life on the island. Can you come live here in Nebraska and be my neighbor? I think I'd like the occasional visits to the neighbor lady who's the great cook and storyteller. Have a blessed Easter Lee. Thanks for the post!

  16. Hey Lee, I just read your recipes. I'm going to try the radish and cucumber dish as well as the chicken. Look good. But if you make them I'd stop in to have lunch and that would be oh so much easier.
    I have a tendancy to invite a lot of folks for holidays and dinners and then at the last minute the decisions begin.

  17. deslily9:29 AM

    I sure don't know why you aren't writing a book out of all these stories!

  18. Fab pics and a fab story, Lee. I didn't know that about A Kellerman, btw. Your cats sure had a good time and I'm so glad the koala stayed! And the way you dealt with those renegades had me rocking with laughter. I hope the Rollo man did wake up! I hope you have a wonderful Easter this year, too. Love from Sicily.

  19. Hi Cliff, Deslily and Welsh...I'm glad you enjoyed my Easter on Newry Island.

    Not many people are aware that Annette Kellerman had ties with the island, Welsh. It's insteresting, isn't it? I have a photo somewhere taken around that time (she's not in the pic)...it shows a goat on the roof of the main building. There were no goats on the island when I was living there...except for me, perhaps! ;)

  20. Brave woman handling those pesky blokes the way you did. Maybe you've heard about the Chicago barmaid who recently was very badly beaten by a drunken cop(!?) when she refused him service. Though I may envy the setting there, I don't envy your work.

  21. Again you captivate me with your writing and then it makes me want to go find a kitchen for all of our friends to get together and cook a meal. See what you get for describing a wonderful meal like you do. Great work and one day, knowing you will be a famous author, I am going to get an autograph from you. :)

  22. Have a wonderful Easter also.

  23. I wasn't concerned nor worried there, Dave. I wouldn't have been living alone on the island if I was worried about my own welfare. I can handle idiots like this lot were...they're all hot air and no substance. I've dealt with a few idiots in my time. Work on the island was mainly good...I did it at my own pace and had no one other than myself looking over my shoulder. I wasn't always behind the bar...I handled all aspects of running the place.

    Hi there Sandra...you say the nicest things! :) Thank you.

    My Easter wishes got out to both you and to Big Dave...have a great one. :)

  24. Hi Lee, I'm with SteveG - I could TASTE all that seafood as you were dishing it up - and, of course, being a North Queenslander from way back, I can SEE the islands as you describe them, and the clear shallow, warm water, over mudflats and sand - beautiful.

    I see they are finding those nast jellyfishes further and further south - scary...

    Sadly, the drunks these days are often more than that - life is more dangerous - we were lucky, I think, to be 'adventurous' in the days when it was okay (almost) to be so.

  25. Hi Lee, newry Island at Easter sounds jut about right, pity the resort had to go... the price of progress.

  26. Della, I was on Newry Island 1990/1991. I believe it's how you handle drunks...if one wants to be aggressive towards them...they will react with aggression. I also believe a woman can handle these kinds of problems better than a man...just my opinion.

    Hi there Peter...yes...but by demolishing the buildings on Newry wasn't progress, in my mind...there is nothing there now...and I think it is a loss to the local areas that used to use it as a get-away.