Thursday, December 08, 2011


Nowadays I’m a tortoise or perhaps a snail, even, when it comes to embracing the Christmas spirit! In retrospect, I think the decline in my not becoming overly excited set seed after Christmas 1990.

I was living on Newry Island at the time; alone with my two cats, and various other creatures of nature. For examples, koalas, echidnas, white-tailed bush rats amongst others; plus turtles, dolphins, coral rays and fish of many varieties. Visiting boats, trawlers, yachts and guests naturally were also part of my scenery and life. However, I savoured and loved the times I had the island to myself and my two furry, house-trained mates. I was very protected of my "alone" time...and I guess that hasn't changed over the years.

Newry Island is off the coast from Seaforth. Seaforth is approx 37kms north of Mackay. I managed all and sundry that was necessary in the running of the island's accommodation, bar, dining, boat transfers, generators, etc., etc., et al...and then some!

Life was going along smoothly leading up to Christmas/New Year, except that the island dam level was pretty low. No rain had visited my island paradise for quite some time and rain was needed. Be careful of what you wish for....

My island cabins were all booked out by families eager to enjoy the Christmas/New Year break. Two boatloads of day-visitors had booked wishing to partake in the island’s Christmas celebrations on the special day. It would necessitate my making two boat runs to the mainland early Christmas morning, and two return trips in the afternoon, but that was fine with me. My 21-foot Trojan de Havilland with its 175hp Johnson outboard motor was fueled and ready to do the deeds.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I'd planned my menu and festivities to the "nth" degree. I was readying everything for my guests to ensure a good time was had by all. No stone, including those of plums, peaches, cherries and apricots was left unturned! My pantry was stocked to the point of its groaning from major overload! Decorating the bar and dining area heightened my anticipation. I was like a child awaiting Santa.

High, sombre clouds obscured the sun at the dawning of Christmas Day. The swarthy heavens reflected lethargically upon an unruffled ocean. At that early stage in the morning the ocean was like a mirror. By 8 am I’d already made two trips to the mainland to collect my exuberant day-visitors. The bleak, yet windless morning wasn’t going to destroy our joyous mood! As soon as I'd deposited the day-trippers ashore, I disappeared back into the kitchen to do my final preparation for the planned buffet Christmas lunch. All was well in my island world!

Grudgingly, I thank Robbie Burns for the quote – “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft agley" - translation: The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry! Well, Bob, they go awry for women, too!

Just before noon I discovered an uninvited, unwelcome visitor had raced swiftly towards my island home; keen to cause havoc amongst my merry revellers. All hell was breaking loose outside caused by its abrupt,angry arrival. It was obvious it wanted to vent its spleen. Why this was so, I had no idea! I was perplexed because I'd done nothing to raise its hackles as far as I knew!

Throughout the preceding 10 days, Cyclone Joy had teased the Cairns area, which was way north of Newry Island' around 570kms. Tiring of the Far North, Cyclone Joy did a rapid turnaround! Getting herself into a spin, she gathered speed and headed south to where I was innocently minding my own business.

Obviously she’d gotten wind of the feast I’d prepared, and of the fun my guests and I were having! There is an unintended pun there...

Over-confident, with blustering bad manners and garrulous gusto, Joy landed on my doorstep without an invitation. She turned the outside world into turmoil! Low, metallic-hued, threatening clouds hung heavily in the sky. The ocean had transformed into an angry, swirling, unforgiving monster. Without further ado, the clouds began depositing their load - relentlessly. Torrential rain pounded the island with no signs of ceasing

Inside the bar and dining area I had 30 stranded guests, but food in abundance - fortunately! "Fortunately" because "stranded" became the operative word. No one was going anywhere! I made it very clear that I would not be taking my island boat anywhere until after the mayhem had diminished...completely!

I gathered everyone together and calmly informed them of the situation and for them to prepare themselves for a hectic few days. I laid down rules to ensure that everyone remained safe, and told them to gather just what was necessary from their respective cabins because until the big "blow" was over, everyone was to stick together in the main building that housed the bar, restaurant, kitchen etc. I didn't want anyone wandering about outside alone. The threat of injury etc. was far too high. The cyclone raged outside; inside my guests mingled together, playing cards, darts, reading; they kept themselves entertained and I was left free to keep a keen eye on everything else and the exterior perimeters; making sure that everything was battened down so not to become dangerous missiles. I'd not had time to safely anchor my boat away from the raging seas. All I could do was hope and pray that it remained safe on its mooring. Breathlessly, with fingers crossed, I watched it buck like a wild, unbroken horse, straining at its mooring ropes, but I was helpless to do anything, but hope!

I didn't sleep for three nights. The whole time Cyclone Joy pounded the island I was clad in my bathing suit. It was the most sensible attire because I was in and out of the rain all the time - continually soaked! The pumps feeding water to the cabins and main building weren't doing their job, so I handed my guests cakes of soap; and, much to their delight, they showered under the drainpipes at the outside corner of the building...clad in their bathers, of course!

Also, I had to conserve my diesel usage for the generator because I had no idea when all the madness would be over, or when I'd be able to organise for fuel to be ferried across to my holding tank! I ran the generator for a couple of hours a day only; just long enough to make sure the status quo of the fridges and freezers remained. Candles and flashlights were used at night. My stranded guests understood the seriousness of the situation; and all, but one, settled in and made the most of the predicament; a predicament over which I, or they had no control.

There's always one amongst a crowd who doesn't want to conform, but that's another story; one I will relate another day!

Three days after Christmas I transferred my first boatload of relieved, bedraggled guests to the mainland. Around the same time, a tornado hit Mackay, whipping up the ocean again just as I was about a quarter of the way back to the mainland! Pursuant to the abrupt change in weather conditions, upon depositing my first boatload of folk, I became marooned in Seaforth. I had no other choice!

I was unable to return for my remaining guests until the next day. Eventually, and NOT without drama, I managed to get everyone safely ashore!

Torrential rain continued through to late January. Until the weather abated, there was little I could do other than snuggle up with my two furry rascals and my books! Mould grew on everything, including on me!

This, of course, is the abridged version! One day I will write a book about the experience - I have enough data to fill a novel!

Christmas Aspic: Sprinkle 1-3/4 envelopes gelatine over 1-1/4c tomato juice; on low heat stir until gelatine dissolves; chill until consistency of egg whites; add 1/4c seeded, chopped tomato, 3tbls each finely-chopped seeded cucumber, finely-chopped celery, finely-chopped capsicum, 1/2c chopped cooked prawns; gently combine. Spoon into mould (pre-coat with cooking spray); cover; chill until firm; unmould onto lettuce; top with Avocado Dressing: Process until smooth; ½ avocado, 2tbls sour cream, 2tbls yoghurt, 2tsps lime juice, and 1 small garlic clove; season.

Beetroot-Feta Mould: Place 2 trimmed bunches beetroot in saucepan with 1-litre each dry white wine and water, 65g sugar, cloves, mace, juniper berries and salt; bring to boil slowly; cover, simmer 1hr. Cool beets in liquid; strain; reserve 1-litre liquid. Peel beets and cube; process until smooth half the cubes with 500ml reserved liquid. Soak 30ml gelatine in 170ml reserved liquid until soft; dissolve over boiling water. Combine puréed beetroot with remaining reserved liquid and gelatine. Pour half into a wet loaf tin; set aside until almost set; add 125g cubed feta and cubed beetroot; pour remaining mixture over this; chill 8hrs; serve with vinaigrette.

Rhubarb-Strawberry Mould: Add 3 gelatine envelopes to 1c cold water; dissolve. Boil 2c water, zest of 1 orange and 3/4c sugar; add 1/4c lemon juice and 455g ½-inch rhubarb pieces; simmer 4mins; remove from heat; add gelatine; stir gently; pour into mould/s; add 3c sliced strawberries; cover; chill; unmould


  1. You must tell more! Such an interesting story thus far. Glad to see you here still!

  2. Wow, that sounds like a hair-raising adventure! The island paradise sounds wonderful, but I suppose everything has to have its down side. I've never experienced a cyclone, but sounds like you had everything under control. You really must write a book about this and other of your adventures.:)

  3. Robbie!!!! How great to see you, again! I'm glad that you're still here, as well. I did look in your site the other day..."Robbie's Ruminations"...but saw that you'd not paid heed to it for a while (I didn't look further into your second site...but shall do so)!

    What a lovely surprise to hear from you! :)

  4. There sure were hair-raising moments during that time, Serena, I must be honest, but I had to keep my cool...hide any fears that I was experiencing because I knew I had to remain stoic, as it were, because I was kind of "captain of the ship". If I'd lost it, I would've lost control of everyone and everything! So with a smile on my face, disguising my gritted teeth...onwards, forwards and upwards! ;)

    Good to see you, Serena...thanks for popping by.

  5. Goodness, that was quite the adventure. I really think you should write your adventures, you already have a wonderful writers voice and way with words.


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  7. Thanks, Janice. I'd probably clam up if it did come to that, even though I keep threatening to do so! (Write a book, that is...not "clam up)! ;)

  8. Hey Lee, we had that aspic at Thanksgiving time. My mil brought it.
    the one person in the group who won't conform, brought to mind I'm wondering where my father inlaw was at the time. Was the guys' name George b any chance?
    superb story as always.

  9. Wow, looks delicious. Do you ship? I promise there won't be any cyclones my way.

  10. Hi Cliff...his name was "Bruce"...he was a snivelling, spine-less journo who worked for the Mackay "Bulletin"...a blob of a guy who was terrified of water and hated crowds! I asked him why the hell did he come to an island for Christmas celebrations, then, knowing that there would be a happy crowd in attendance and an island - shock-horror - was surrounded by water - and I had to ferry him across said water so that he could mingle with said happy crowd!!!

    That kind of left him speechless! And the story doesn't end there...that was only the first paragraph of the first page of the first chapter of the book! ;)

  11. Hey, Dave! I do have my boat license but I don't think it covers me for that distance of travel...sorry! ;)

  12. Retro? Where's the grilled grapefruit?

  13. Funny you should say that, Cosmo...I was thinking only the other day how grapefruit was all the rage back in the early Seventies!

  14. "A little rain" must fall and the wind will blow but alas it was Christmas to REMEMBER. I do enjoy tales of your previous adventures. Peace

  15. And fall the rain did (non-stop for three weeks) and the wind howled and roared like a lion - more like a pride of lions!

    Hi there, Lady Di...thanks for calling by. :)