Saturday, December 01, 2012
CHISTMAS-NEW YEAR 1990-1991...CHAPTER THREE (Conclusion)
There was no respite from the weather throughout Boxing Day and the next. The woeful conditions tested the patience of my guests, but everyone displayed amazing tolerance, great resilience and strong resolve. All were fully aware that complaining wasn’t going to alter Nature’s course and intent. Even Bruce didn’t complain; he communicated with no one else; nor did he with me. He chose to remain in sombre silence. After I’d privately advised the other guests, out of his earshot, to give him a wide berth, they were content to leave him well enough alone. Bruce, my would-be, try-hard mutineer stayed glued in the armchair in front of the televised cricket. It was his chosen little corner of the world, and, along with the others, I, too, didn’t intrude upon his space. His silent wish was our command. We were all happy to oblige and leave him to his own miserable self. Bruce watched the cricket by day, and he slept in the chair at night. He didn’t partake in conversations, card games or other activities. He never offered to help. The only times he stirred was to visit the ablutions’ block; and, perhaps, to make himself a coffee or tea! However, I can’t recall him doing so often; but then, I had more important issues to attend to than watch his every movement. In general, I ignored him. After my chat with him up in the unfinished concrete-block building, he adhered to my advices, and didn’t wander off again.
By the time Boxing Day dawned, my stranded guests felt at home. I didn’t have to wait on them. As instructed, without further prompting, they helped themselves to the food and prepared whatever they wanted, if and whenever they felt like it. The island kitchen became familiar territory to them. They did their own cleaning and washing up after their meals. Meal times were erratic – it was a case of “catch as catch can” or “eat when you’re hungry”. The weight of catering for them was lifted from my shoulders. An ample supply of food ensured I had no concerns about provisions running out.
Everyone seemed content with their card games, conversation, books and darts. The children were well behaved. They kept themselves entertained and amused with their Christmas presents. The novelty of the new toys hadn’t worn off. I’d received word through my two-way radio that flooding was occurring in the surrounding areas of Mackay where a number of my guests lived. Naturally, they were concerned, but they accepted their hands were tied. They adopted a “c’est la vie” approach. In the most, they kept their concerns to themselves, or, at least didn’t share them with me in depth. They were a good-natured group of people…on the whole; all but one! My guests had free access to the phone, so were able to call family, friends and neighbours for updates on what was happening on the mainland at their own properties.
During Boxing Day, my army of helpers lugged spare mattresses, water-filled bottles and a few other necessities up the rise to the rear of the main premises, to the concrete bunker, Bruce’s “hide-out”. I started to feel like I was Snow White with all my eager helpers! It was in the incomplete, but sturdy concrete-block building that I intended to secure the guests if the cyclone threatened to arrive on our doorstep.
A narrow room ran behind the bar in the main building; it acted as a perfect wine cellar; the constant cool temperature rarely varied making the space ideal for that purpose. The room also held back-up liquor stocks and glasses. The rear wall of the area was natural rock; the section had been excavated into the rocky side of the hill that rose up behind the main building. I believed the area would be a safe haven for me to ride out the cyclone; if worst came to worst; not only because it was rock solid, but also because the island telephone was nearby, as was my air-sea radio. Easy access to the outside world, by radio and telephone while being able to remain safely in the centre of things was imperative. Hopefully, the guests would be protected in the concrete bunker; and I’d also be safe in my “cave”. It was my intention to have Pushkin and Rimsky, my two cats, with me. They’d not ventured from my upstairs living quarters; or should I say, out from beneath my bed! The limited space under the bed was their refuge. I’d set up a litter box for them, along with their food bowls, so they had no need to wander far, even if they had the desire to do so, which they didn’t.
The bar remained open throughout the duration of the disturbance. However, alcohol was the furthermost thing from everyone’s mind; and mine more particularly. I didn’t even raise a glass of good cheer on Christmas Day. From the moment I noticed the change in the weather I’d not given alcohol a thought. I had far too much on my plate, and too many people whose safety was my responsibility. Their welfare was of utmost importance as was keeping a clear head! It was on me to keep them safe; and also ensure that no one panicked. Panic can cause so many problems and, if allowed run free, it can spread like a virus. It was important I kept my wits about me every single second; I couldn’t drop the ball. The outside areas needed my constant watchful eye and attention. I’d never been in a similar situation before; so, in truth, I was “colouring-in by numbers”; all the while hoping I was making the correct decisions.
On Christmas Eve before the weather decided go on its rampage, I’d joined my guests for a few drinks in celebration of the Christmas season. Everyone that evening was in a party mood. At that stage, none of us was aware what lay ahead.
The commotion raged outside. Christmas Day came and went shrouded in leaden clouds, pouring rain and gale-force winds; and then "tomorrow" became Boxing Day; and then the next day followed with nary a drop of Christmas spirit passing my lips; and, I might add, very little crossed the lips of my guests, as well. Bar sales were down, but I didn’t charge anyone for a drink when they wanted one, anyway.
I was operating solely on adrenaline with little assistance from caffeine even. I was too occupied elsewhere to prepare coffee for myself; time meant little to me, but yet, on the other hand, it meant a lot. Day or night – it all seemed the same; meal times, for me, at least, didn’t exist. I suppose I ate. I can’t remember. The desire for food or coffee didn’t enter my mind very often, if at all. Other more important matters occupied my mind.
Continually on tenterhooks, I watched in fearful wonder as my boat struggled to break free from its mooring; hour after rugged hour. Witnessing its strenuous, never-ending battle out in the channel was akin to watching a frenetic bronco at a rodeo! Under great pressure and strain, I, too was in a constant battle; one with myself to ensure I kept my inner concerns well-hidden from my guests.
So, the pattern continued, unchanged, for the two days following Christmas Day; Christmas Day that seemed long gone in the distant past; the past was blurred; the present hectic and worrying; the future, an unknown quantity.
The rain showed no indication of ceasing. The wild, angry wind stubbornly refused to abate. Seconds turned into minutes; and the minutes became hours; and my boat kept up its endless tug-of-war with and against its mooring in determined attempts to break free.
As the others slept, I spent sleepless hours wondering when the commotion was going to cease. However, I knew my concerns wouldn’t be over until I’d finally ferried everyone safely back to the mainland; and then, myself, back to the island. As yet, I could see no light on the horizon. I couldn’t even see the horizon!
And all the while my heart pounded as it travelled back and forth from the pit of my stomach to my throat!
Early evening of the third day, an announcement came over my two-way radio that Cyclone Joy had crossed the coast between Newry Island and Airlie Beach to the north; and by doing so, the cyclone had turned into a tropical low; a rain depression. Loud yells of happiness and relief echoed throughout the building. We all jumped up and down; clapping each other on the back, and shaking hands. The mood in the room had shifted and lifted within seconds.
Seeing the happiness of everyone, I decided to make a declaration. Grabbing their attention, I announced loudly and joyfully to all and sundry that a party must begin in celebration. Once I knew we were safe from harm, the time had arrived for everyone to let their hair down. We all deserved a reward! We’d been living tightly-coiled, even if none of us would admit to it (me, in particular); a release was necessary. A second invitation wasn’t required. As one, the crowd surged to the bar.
Well, bar one...to the bar they all went!
After making my announcement, I walked across to the television. Bruce hadn’t stirred. He remained sitting in the armchair, staring at the screen throughout the surrounding joviality.
I called out cheerfully: “I think it’s time this thing went off, and some music goes on in its place! We need music! Let’s dance! It’s time to celebrate! We deserve it!”
Without having to be asked, the two fishermen stepped behind the bar and took over the role of barmen.
I turned of the television set, and switched on the stereo. Bruce rose from his chair. He stepped across to where the entertainment systems were, and he turned off the music, and then flicked the television back on.
“Hmmmm...” I thought. “After all, it is my TV set; and it is my stereo...hmmmm!”
“No, Bruce,” I said to him, politely, with a smile on my face. “You’ve had your go. You’ve sat here watching the cricket for the past couple of days; and no one bothered you; they left you alone, as you wanted. Now it’s time for everyone else to have some fun. Everyone has shown you polite consideration over the past few days; they allowed you your space and privacy - and now it’s your turn to show them some respect in return. It’s time for some music. It's time we all relaxed and had some fun! You can join in if you wish...if not, that's okay...but don't spoil it for everyone else!”
Again, I switched off the television, and turned on the stereo system.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flash. My reflexes automatically flew into action. I leaned quickly to my left, out of the way of a fist whizzing past my right ear! I felt a slight breeze as it passed by. Turning, I saw my unsuccessful, would-be assailant was Bruce! He'd lashed out at me, his hand closed into a fist! There would have been only enough room for a cigarette paper to fit between his fist and the side of my head
In the immediate moment thereafter, it wasn’t Bruce I saw, though. All I could see was black, followed by a stark, glistening white - the colours of my anger; and then nothing! The rage I felt obliterated all else around me! Only a couple of times in my life have I felt such unbridled anger. An intense, almost indescribable anger took over my being; it consumed every single part of me. .
Never in my life had a man struck me; and, one thing of which I’ve always been certain is - if it ever did happen, it would only happen once - it would never happen a second time. By my swift thinking and movement and half a millimeter or less, I wasn’t struck that night.
Bruce missed his target because I’d fortunately caught a glimpse of his movement, and had deftly leaned out of the way of his fist. That he missed didn’t make me any less angry. I was furious. For a second or two I shook in anger; and then, stillness overcame me. I felt as if I was surrounded by a fluorescent white aura. I think it was the depth of fury I was experiencing.
I sensed my guests’ intake of breaths. Everything had happened so quickly, I felt as if I was suddenly in the midst of a vacuum. People describe “out of body” experiences. It probably is the best description of how I was feeling at that moment.
I spun around with the intent of beating the shit out of my would-be attacker, but I stopped myself just as promptly. In the moment, the strength I felt was Herculean. I knew if I struck out, all hell would break loose. There were little children in the room who needed my consideration. I wasn’t worried that I’d be hurt. Of one thing I was certain; it wouldn’t be me who’d be hurt; I had absolutely no doubt about that! My anger had given me a feeling of strength that I'd never felt within myself before; I felt – no – I knew I’d overcome the weak creature before me, if I chose that course.
However, commonsense arrived just as quickly as the aforesaid thought. I pulled back, and then went over to the telephone. I picked up the handpiece to ring the Mackay police; but, as quickly, I replaced the receiver before dialing because I knew ringing the police was useless. What could they do? The ocean was still rough; darkness had fallen. The police were in Mackay. Mackay was over 50kms away, by land and sea. Many thoughts flooded my mind in an instant. The two men who’d joined me in the search for Bruce on Boxing Day morning took me aside, and asked me to let them take him down to the beach to teach him a lesson or two. I didn’t think that was a very good idea, either!
“No!” I told them in no uncertain terms. “That’s not going to prove anything; it won't solve anything. It would only make matters worse. We’ve got kiddies to consider. He didn’t hurt me...he didn’t manage to connect. I saw him coming. So, let’s just get past this...right now! Let’s dance! Let the party begin! We’re not going to have any violence. He’s not worth it! Just ignore the bastard! I’ll deal with him later.”
And, as the saying goes, I began dancing like nobody was watching. I had to – to rid myself of the anger coursing through my body and mind. I had to dispose of it somehow. Dancing was my way of getting rid of the intensity of my wrath.
Turning the volume up high on the stereo system, I let “The Travelling Wilburys”, Bruce Springsteen, Chris Rea, Bob Seger, Dan Seals and a few others take control of the night.
My two holidaying fishermen continued their job as my assistant barmen along with my P. R. girl, Alice. For a couple of hours everyone let their hair down, realising how lucky we’d been. We danced and danced to the music as if, in the saying, "nobody was watching!" We didn't care who noticed our joy at Cyclone Joy's departure!
We'd dodged a bullet...in more ways than one! Successfully and safely, we’d ridden out the storm!
All the while everyone ignored Bruce as if he wasn’t there. He was invisible; he didn’t partake in the fun. He remained seated; sullenly contrite in “his” arm chair.
Of course, once the cyclone had crossed the coast, my guests were eager to leave the island; and I was as eager, if not more so, to ferry them back to the mainland. Those who lived in the Mackay area were impatient to return to their homes and face what was ahead of them there. I asked that they gather their gear together before they went to their respective resting spots in readiness for a very early start the following morning. I was hoping the weather would settle down enough during the night to enable me an early morning escape; more than one, if I had any say about the matter. I knew I’d have to make a few boat trips to get them all off as I was allowed by law to carry only a certain number of people at any one time. I had 11 life jackets on board; so only 11 passengers were allowed at any given time. I had 30 people still within my care and responsibility. Taking risks was not on my agenda; it never was regardless of any given situation. The safety of my passengers was on the top of my list of importance; a step below my own!
Because the ocean is the calmest just before dawn, and only for a brief time thereafter, my intention was to begin ferrying people off the island at first light or just before, even. Taking the guests with young children off the island in my first boat run was my priority. During the "Bye-Bye-Cyclone" celebration, as asked, my stranded visitors began gathering together their belongings; no doubt with feelings of relief; mingled with many other mixed emotions, as well.
My hopes were the weather would remain calm long enough for me to make the necessary number of boat transfers to ferry them all off the island; and then, and only then, could I start to relax, on my own.
The party didn’t continue for long. After a couple of hours everyone was eager to snuggle into their respective mattresses in their designated familiar areas on the floor. Overcome with exhaustion; exhaustion mainly from the release of pent-up stress and emotions accumulated over the past few days. Brave faces had shone throughout the sager, except for Bruce, of course; but once everyone knew an escape hatch had opened, their emotions had been set free to a degree.
I could see the finish line ahead; or, at least, I knew it was out there, somewhere, closer than it had been only hours before. I was eager for the time when once again I had the island to myself. Of course, those feelings had to remain my own, unannounced. I succeeded in retaining the staunch persona that I’d worn through the intervening days and nights. That, in itself, was tiring; but I’d worry about all of that later; after everyone was gone; and I was once again alone with only Pushkin and Rimsky as my sole companions – my furry, four-legged soul mates!
As soon as the excited, yet weary guests were settled down for the night, I headed towards the stairs that led up to my own living quarters. It was then Bruce stirred in his chair.
“Lee!” He mumbled, beckoning me over to him. “Can I talk with you for a moment, please?” He’d finally remember his manners and said “Please”!
“Sure, Bruce,” I replied. “What do you want to talk about?” I knelt down on my haunches beside “his” chair.
“I...I...I owe you an apology...” he stammered.
“Yes, you do!” I answered, firmly, staring him straight in the eye.
He continued; “I don’t know what you intend doing, but you are within your rights to report me. I’ll accept whatever it is you intend doing...I...ummm...”
“Yes, you are absolutely correct, Bruce! I have every right in the world to do something about all of this – what could’ve occurred here tonight – what you tried to do!” I replied, not taking my eyes away from him. He found it difficult to return the favour, though. When not lowered, his eyes darted about everywhere, but rarely landed on mine.
And then, suddenly in a flash, an evil, mischievous thought entered my mind. There are more ways than one to skin a cat, as the saying goes. I wanted this weak creature before me to squirm like no other. There’s nothing like a little revenge; even if some say revenge isn’t sweet – don’t believe it. Sometimes it is very sweet, indeed! I was going to have some fun with my would-be attacker...unknown by him, of course!
I was going to have my bit of fun! I deserved my moment in the sun. Bruce had opened the gate. How could I not go through it? It would have been bad mannered of me not to do so!
“I tell you what, Bruce...” Unsmiling, I started, pausing purposely. I was almost bubbling over with mirth, but I kept my feelings within, well-hidden. Privately, I was having a grand old time; but on the outside I was as serious as a judge. Bruce was about to become the biggest fish I’d ever caught and landed! I threw out a baited line to him; and he latched onto it; hook, line and sinker!
Slowly, I began – “slowly” - because I didn’t want him to miss a word of what I was about to say; and, selfishly, I wanted to enjoy - to savour every second.
“I don’t know what I intend doing about this yet, Bruce...about what you tried to do here tonight...but, I’ll tell you what I won’t do...” I paused, again. The pleasure I was feeling was palpable...to me!
By now I had his undivided attention. With his eyes wide open, his eyes finally met mine, and there they remained glued in fear. The whites of his eyes were so large they, alone, were almost enough to illuminate the room!
“Bruce, you may not be aware of this, but I have an older brother. And, he lives in Mackay. My brother has always been pretty protective of me – no...I’d say he’s always been VERY protective of me - his little sister - throughout of our lives. He’s a pretty fit, strong guy, too. He’s done manual work all his life; and he knows how to take care of himself.”
Again, I deliberately suspended my words before continuing. I wanted them them to sink in. Bruce had blanched. I’d sensed he’d stiffened slightly. Good! He understood my meaning.
“But..what I won’t do, Bruce...what I won’t do is ring my brother and tell him that you tried to punch me! If I did tell him what you tried to do to me here tonight, I guarantee you, here and now, without a skerrick of doubt...I can assure you that when I drop you off at the boat ramp over at Victor Creek, your feet won’t have time to touch the ground! And the reason why your feet won’t have time to touch the ground is my brother will be there to meet the boat…and you! He’ll be at the water’s edge. Do you understand what I’m saying, Bruce?”
He gave a slight, jerking nod of his head, but the rest of him was frozen in the chair. I don’t think he blinked or took a breath while I was describing to him the ins and outs of life; the facts of reality. I was on a roll and having lots of fun; but he wasn’t aware of the game I was playing and thoroughly enjoying. He grew paler by the second. Sweat appeared on his brow. I figured it was a cold sweat! I continued; I had a captive audience of one. I may as well make the most of it, I thought. I might never get the opportunity again! After the tensions and stresses of the past few days, I was having a good time; and relished the moment. It was much more fun than giving him a physical beating! I’m not a fan of violence, anyway.
“The main reason I won’t tell my brother, Bruce; and this is a very important reason, Bruce - I won’t tell my brother because I don’t want him to spend the rest of his life in jail. Are you with me, Bruce – do you understand what I’m saying here?”
Nervously, he nodded he understood.
Good! I had achieved the result I was after.
“So, Bruce...I suggest you be ready first thing in the morning – before dawn - because I’ll take you back to the mainland on my first boat trip...okay? I intend leaving very early. So be ready! Okay?” I stood up.
Still nodding his head, he reminded me of one of those stuffed animals with suction caps people stick on their car windows.
Without further ado, I bade him a “Good night”. I went upstairs to spend the night’s remaining few hours with my cats. They were happy to see me; and me, them. Poor little fellows - we’d not seen much of each other over the previous few days.
Once again, I was unable to sleep other than to catch a light nap here and there. So much was going through my head; my mind was like a kaleidoscope. However, I felt I was at the beginning of the home straight.
Up very early, before first light, I went downstairs prepared for a swift start to the day ahead. At that time of the morning the sea was like a mill pond; as it usually is just before and just after dawn. I grabbed not only my large flashlight, but also one of the fishermen to come with me to row my little red dinghy out to my boat. I knew I’d have to start the bilge pump on the island boat, the 21-foot Trojan De Havilland before attempting to bring it to shore; having assistance would be invaluable, particularly time-wise. I secured the red dinghy to the mooring before climbing on board the Trojan.
The presently calm conditions wouldn’t last for long once the sun began its journey higher above the horizon and across the sky, so t was imperative that I commenced my boat transfers as quickly and as early as possible in order to get at least some of my stranded people off the island. I was hoping all, if fate and or luck looked kindly upon me. I believed I’d instilled the magnitude of the situation in the minds of everyone the previous evening. However, I was in for a rude awakening! Having anchored in shore ready to take on board my first group of passengers, I discovered trying to round up people was akin to trying to round up one hundred aimless sheep without the help of a sheep dog or two!
I had expected to find some waiting on the beach, ready to go; but, frustratingly, not a soul was in sight!
Upon entering the main building I could hear a lot of activity going on out in the kitchen. Everyone was leisurely making breakfast for themselves and their families. They were displaying no urgency whatsoever! All they cared about was having breakfast before departing! I couldn’t believe my eyes!
People meandered around the kitchen as if they had all the time in the world, and all the events of the past few days hadn’t happened! Holiday-mode had swung back in play! I felt like tearing my hair as I tried, once again, to make them understand the gravity of the situation. For the previous three days a cyclone stormed and threatened, stranding them on the island. How could they have forgotten so quickly? Finally there was a break in the weather, and they didn’t understand the urgency! I knew that the conditions would change within a couple of hours; or, perhaps, even sooner. Our window of opportunity was open for only a brief while; it would rapidly close again, and all bets would be off until who knew when!
In the midst of the mayhem of trying to herd them up, Bruce obviously had had a change of personality overnight. He’d had an epiphany! Bruce had turned into “God’s Little Helper”; or, at least, “Lee’s Little Helper”! He followed me around like a bad smell, or like a shadow or both! I couldn’t get rid of him. Everywhere I went, he was there- under my feet. I felt like screaming! He became more of a hindrance than a helper! Rushing around, but getting nowhere, he morphed into “foreman material”; or my self-designated 2-IC! Bruce ordered people around; telling to get on the boat; he gathered up their luggage; tossed it on board; likewise, he ushered the children onto the boat. He couldn’t do enough for me, it seemed; he was bending over backwards in an effort to be nice; and all the while, he was getting under my feet. He was in my way!
I guessed he was trying to make amends for his actions the previous night, with the added hope I wouldn’t change my mind and ring my brother on the mainland!
To top everything off, when push came to shove, and I’d finally managed to herd the first lot of people on board the boat, Bruce declared he wasn’t leaving! He told me he’d wait until another trip; or, perhaps, even, the last boat load! What? There was no way in the world, including the Solar System was I going to entertain that thought! I’d put up with enough from him from Christmas Day onwards. I was sick to death of molly-coddling him. All I wanted was to see the last of Bruce; his back fading off into the far distance!
The time had come, the walrus said…and I didn’t feel like talking to him of many things, or anything for that matter; it was time for him to put on his shoes; hop aboard my “ship” and go! I’d said all I had wanted to say to him, other than the following:
“No! No! Bruce!” I stated firmly. “I want you on the boat...now! I’m taking you off on this first trip. No arguments...jump aboard...now!”
I may not have been taking any prisoners, as the saying goes, but I was definitely taking Bruce off the island with me as part of that first group of passengers! I didn’t care if I had to tie him to the anchor chain and drag him along behind me...one way or the other, he was going off the island...there and then!
Finally, after much ado, everyone who needed to be on board, including Bruce was on board for the first trip across the sea. The remaining guests stood on the shore waving as we motored forth.
Alice was very keen to spend New Year's Eve with Rick, her boyfriend who was back home on his family's cattle property at Kumbia, outside of Kingaroy. She was one member of my first boat load of escapees. Jill decided she would stay on. She asked if I minded if she stayed on the island through until after New Year's Eve. Without reservation I told her that would be great. I liked Jill. She was a very nice person. Similar as with her daughter, Jill and I bonded pretty quickly.
Having passed the southern tip of Outer Newry Island, I was headed towards Mausoleum Island in the distance to the south-east when the swell began to increase in density and intensity. Swollen waves rolled menacingly across the open ocean between the two islands in ominous warning of unfavourable conditions were on their way. At the same time, I noticed the boat’s motor, a 175hp Johnson outboard was missing a beat or two; and, so was my heart, which had taken a leap into my mouth! My stomach was fluctuating between somersaulting and constricting into a tightly-coiled ball. The boat motor felt like half its horses had decided to stay corralled on shore; and the other half were out for a gentle canter! To make matters worse, to the south, towards Mackay the sky was purple, almost black. Gloomy thick, leaden clouds hung low and heavy on the horizon; a sombre threat not to be ignored; and one that heightened my stress and tension levels.
The sluggishness of the boat’s motor worried me greatly; not without cause. It was imperative I kept the boat ahead of the rolling waves; far enough ahead that when they broke, they didn’t break upon the stern, or any part of my boat. If we were caught in such a predicament, we’d be in all sorts of trouble. I feared at any moment the boat would be swamped.
Standing at the helm, my knuckles turned white from gripping the wheel so tightly; they’d become one with the steering wheel. A forced smile on my face remained as if adhered by a tube of “Tarzan’s Grip”. Intent of distracting my passengers’ attention, I began a sing-a-long. Everyone, including the children, innocently and willingly joined in; and then continued in full voice; completely unaware of my original motives. The last thing I wanted, or needed, was panic on board; and particularly with Bruce amongst the group. But, he blissfully sang along with the rest of them. I think he thought he was Mitch Miller! I didn’t care who Bruce thought he was, as long as he and everyone else were ignorant of the base of my concerns; of the reality of what was going on around them. At least, if they could be kept in ignorant bliss, then I could focus on getting my voyagers, and me, safely to the mainland; that was my priority.
Approaching and entering the mouth of Victor Creek, I’d never been so happy to see the creek, and close proximity of solid ground! A giant, massive weight was slowly being lifted off my shoulders. By then, however, the weather had started to close in at a rapid rate of knots. I could feel a distinctive change in the atmosphere.
Off-loading my passengers, I knew there was no hope my returning to the island that day. After the last person disembarked (Bruce, of course); he was still wearing his Boy Scout uniform - insisting on helping the others off the boat. By that stage, I welcomed his eagerness to be of assistance. The sooner my passengers were ashore, the better.
I was too intent upon my own purposes to notice, but I’m sure Bruce’s eyes were darting about to see if my brother was waiting on shore for him!
After he finally set foot on land, I turned the boat about and headed to the middle of Victor Creek where I secured the anchor. Once the boat was secureed, I had no alternative but to dive overboard and start my swim ashore. And, swim I did against the powerful current pushing the water out to sea. The fear I’d be carried to the creek’s mouth and out into the open ocean urged me forward. Being swept out to sea wasn’t a pleasant image! With that desolate thought uppermost in my mind, I swam stronger than all Olympic swimmers combined!
One day, a few weeks prior the event described, I’d spotted a large box jellyfish in the water to the side of the ramp as I was about to jump from my boat; and the vision flashed through my mind. The extremely dangerous jellyfish breed in the warm waters of creeks up along the tropic coast before venturing out into sea; and once out there, preferring warm water, they always keep close into the shoreline. But, I had to put the thought of jellyfish out of my mind, along with all other hazards, including the possibility of my being swept out to sea. My focus had to be on one goal; and my goal was to safely reach the boat ramp. Whatever followed, I’d worry about that then!
Making it safely to shore, I looked up to see my landed guests standing gaping at me like a row of stunned mullets. I’d given them an unexpected shock (and show) when they saw me dive into the water. Cheers rang out when I set foot on land. A couple of the guests came down to escort me up the ramp! I cheered, too; but I cheered silently to myself! Someone offered Bruce a lift into Mackay; and one to me, to Seaforth, four kilometers away. After much hand shaking, back patting and words of thanks, my first boat load drove off into the distance. However, they did give backward glances as they waved from the windows of their vehicles.
Arriving at the local store in Seaforth, bedraggled, wet, but a survivor, Bob, the store owner, greeted me. He stood shaking his head with a cock-eyed grin on his face when I walked into his shop.
“What the hell have you been up to, Lee?” A redundant question, I thought.
“Don’t ask!” I declared, with a chuckle. “What you see is what you’ve got…and what I’ve got on is all I’ve got! I come bearing…nothing! May I have a couple of packets of Marlboro Reds, please, Bob…and put them on my non-existent tab…you know I’m good for it!”
While talking with Bob, I learned the heavy clouds I’d noticed building on the southern horizon were those of a mini-tornado. Around the same time I was nearing the mouth of Victor Creek, it hit the Slade Point, a beach suburb of Mackay, and surrounding areas causing a far bit of disturbance. The news confirmed my belief it would be impossible for me to attempt a trip back to the island. I was stranded in Seaforth; with two packets of cigarettes, a lighter, and the drenched swimsuit in which I stood!
However, there’s always a glimmer of hope somewhere if you look carefully enough; even if the horizon is invisible!
Next door to the Seaforth store was the holiday house owned by Ivan and Doris, friends of Willi Litz. Willi held the lease of the Newry resort, and had done so for a number of years.
Originally, Willi signed a 99-year lease, but within a decade of my time on the island, unfortunately, the lease was made null and void by the government. Certain government factions had been trying for years to strip the lease away from Willi Litz; they were after his blood. Somewhere in the past, when he was gem mining he upset a couple of politicians, Vince Lester, in particular. Willi stood on a few toes; and the owners of those toes wanted their revenge. The battle to retain the lease began before I arrived. While I lived on Newry I made approaches to various people I hoped would lend a sympathetic ear.
One approach I made was to Denver Beanland who was, at the time, leader of the Queensland Liberal Party. Later, he held the position of State Attorney General from February, 1996 to June, 1998. Back in the mid-1970s, when living in Brisbane, I was a member of the Liberal Party. Denver was the President of the particular branch I joined – the North Toowong Branch- and I became his Secretary. He and I had gotten on well. And, after he received my lengthy letter regarding Willi’s problem, Denver personally telephoned me early one evening to discuss the matter. His reaction was positive; and for a while, Willi, and myself, could breathe more freely. However, in 2001 all that changed under Peter Beattie’s Labor Government. The island came under the jurisdiction of Queensland National Parks and Wildlife. Once they gained control of Newry Island, all its buildings were demolished; with only forlorn skeletal remains left.
Ivan and Doris owned and operated a cane farm at Mirani, outside of Mackay. Willi, a German aged in his early fifties was a man with an interesting past and many intriguing stories. He was a very intelligent, knowledgeable, pedantic fellow. I hadn’t known him prior to beginning my Newry Island adventure. And, I’d only spent a brief time with him when I first arrived on the island to take over the management of the resort. We got on well from the first moment we met. I respected his intellect. Willi had a very alert mind; it was obvious he absorbed and retained knowledge easily. He departed within days after my arrival; and our only contact following his departure was by telephone. Once Willi had shown me the tricks and trials of running the island, he left, figuring I knew all I needed to know, and what I didn’t know I’d soon learn! Until I arrived on Newry, I’d never driven a boat; nor did I know how to drive one; but I soon learned. I had no other choice. After all, an island was my home; and an island is surrounded by water. That should give enough clues!
Willi worked in earth-moving somewhere on the Queensland-New South Wales border. As above-mentioned, he also had spent a lot of time gem mining in the Central Highlands around the Sapphire and Anakie areas. Doris, the owner of the holiday house was also German. She and her husband, Ivan met and became friends with Willi out in the gemfields years before. Because I didn’t want to take all my possessions across to the island; it was too cumbersome to do so, Willi asked if they could store my many cartons etc., in the enclosed, weatherproofed lower level of their beach house. Even though Doris, Ivan and I were still strangers to each other at that stage, they generously agreed to Willi’s request. Thereafter, every now and then, when having a break from their farm duties and were staying at their beach house they’d pay a visit to the island. We got to know each other quite well during those visits.
Standing in Bob’s store considering my next move; and without a clue knowing what my next move would be, I saw Doris walk down the back stairs of her house. Calling out her name, I rushed across the spare block between the shop and the house. Breathlessly, I gave her a brief history of what had transpired over the past few days. I asked if it was possible for her and Ivan to put me up overnight because I had no where else to go; and, all I had with me were the clothes I was standing in, my black bathing suit!
“Of course, you can, Lee!” Doris said without hesitation.
I was desperately in need of a change of clothing; I was desperately in need of clothes – dry clothes of any type or description! Luckily, in cartons beneath the house were my worldly possessions. Rifling through a carton or two, I retrieved a couple of tops, jeans and slacks. Once that chore was completed, I found the bathroom, and there I stood swooning under a long, hot shower. It was the first shower I’d had since very early Christmas morning before my world fell apart! The previous days I spent soaking wet from being constantly in and out of the rain; and then from my “death-defying” swim across the creek, but I hadn’t had the pleasure of enjoying hot showers. The normality-restoring hot water flowing over my weary body felt heavenly. All I wanted to do was sit on the floor of the shower recess forever, allowing the water soothe my weary body and my wounded soul.
At the kitchen table waiting for me after I’d finished restoring myself to some stage of normality; were Ivan, Doris, a pot of percolated, quality coffee, and a bottle of German liqueur. From memory, it was Barenjang/Barenjager; but, I can’t be sure. I’d never tried the liqueur before, nor have I since. I do remember it was delicious, whether I remember its name or not. It was the nectar of the Gods; and it was most welcome.
By then it was mid-morning or thereabouts. I really had no idea what time it was. With all that had gone on since Christmas Day, I wasn’t sure what day it was!
Joining Ivan and Doris at the table, I began to tell my tale in detail. Within a couple of minutes of commencing my story, I broke down into tears. Succumbing, I sob and sobbed. Ivan and Doris didn’t interrupt me, both understood I had to release my pent-up emotions; emotions I’d kept imprisoned for far too long. The tension and stress I’d been hiding over the past few days needed release; and release them, I did. Like a tsunami, my unstoppable tears overflowed.
After a little while, I calmed down and I pulled myself together. Once composed, I rang the island to let the remaining guests know that I wouldn’t be returning until the following day; and maybe not even then. My return was dependent upon the weather conditions. Those still on the island understood the situation, and promised me that they “would hold the fort” on my behalf. I wasn’t concerned about them…they couldn’t rob me…there nothing to take, anyway…and if they did, where would they go? They were as trapped on the island as they’d been throughout the Christmas period. They couldn’t flee the island until I returned. And, there were no other boats, other than my own, silly enough to be out in the waters. I was the only idiot who’d dared attempt the high seas! My start to the day and the trip would’ve been without hiccup (other than my sluggish boat motor) if my passengers had heeded my wishes in the first place…to not dilly-dally around and for us to leave at the crack of dawn! But, oh, no…people have to be people! I would have, at least, been able to make one successful trip and have made it back to the island if they’d not fiddled about devouring time as they prepared breakfast!
The three of us chatted across the table for a short while, snacking on crackers, cheese and Christmas cake; sipping steaming black coffee, accompanied by the warming, comforting liqueur. To me, the simple food and drink on offer was a feast fit for a king; it was the best I’d eaten for days. To this day I still savour the taste.
Exhausted, both physically and mentally, it wasn’t long before I excused myself and went to my designated bedroom; a dry room where a very welcoming bed awaited my tired body. My head barely touched the pillow and I was asleep. There I remained, sleeping the sleep of the dead until around 6pm that evening. Upon rousing, I enjoyed a hot meal Doris prepared for me, but soon thereafter dinner, I was back in bed asleep again. Without stirring, I slept through until just before dawn the next morning.
Up early before the birds realised a new day was on its way, once more I was ready for another rescue mission across the waters. From all appearances, the weather had settled. The coast was clear! All I wanted to do was get back to the island to off-load the balance of my stranded guests. Until I had achieved that desire, I couldn’t relax. I declined breakfast, other than a piece of toast, which I took with me. Ivan drove me to the Victor Creek boat ramp. Thanking him for his and Doris’ hospitality, I said I’d be fine and told him to go on his way. He had to drive out to his farm. I didn’t want to inconvenience him any further. Both he and Doris had been more than kind in opening their home and hearts to me.
Ziggy’s large fishing boat was back anchored out in the creek, a short distance from my boat. It hadn’t been there the previous day when I dropped off my guests. Obviously he’d retrieved it from the upper reaches of the creek some time after my momentous arrival at the boat ramp. I could see Ziggy moving around above deck, so I shouted out to him. I needed him to row ashore in his dory to pick me up and take me out to my boat. He failed to hear my calls; and I started to feel concern. It was evident to me that he was headed below deck. I knew once he was down below, there was no chance he would hear my cries for his assistance. There was not another soul around other than Ziggy and me. My chance to grab his attention was slipping out of my control. I took a very deep breath and really let loose with as much power as I could garner. What relief! He heard me!
I gestured to Ziggy; pointing at myself, and then towards my boat anchored out in the middle of the creek. After my escapade the previous morning having to dive off my boat into the swiftly-running, murky waters to swim ashore, repeating my feat in reverse wasn’t an attractive option. If I could find a way not to have to duplicate my “Olympic swimming moment”, I was prepared to grab it with both hands. Ziggy waved back at me, acknowledging he understood the meaning behind my manic actions.
As he helped me on board his dinghy, Ziggy said. “You were lucky I heard you, Lee when I did because within another couple of seconds I would’ve been down in the engine room for God knows how long. And, once down there, I would’ve heard nothing.”
Firstly, we had to bail water from my boat by bucket before we reach the bilge pump. The rain had returned with a vengeance during the previous afternoon and night dumping its load solely into my boat, it appeared. I explained to Ziggy the problems I’d experienced with my motor during the first run off the island, and of my concerns about retrieving the rest of my stranded visitors.
“Ziggy, I’ve a massive favour to ask of you,” I began. “If you can’t do it, I’ll understand. I won’t be upset if you say ‘No’…so please don’t feel obligated. You’ve already done more than enough for me. I really would like to be able to get the rest of the guests off in one trip because I have no idea what this weather is going to do. It’s clear now, but for how long? I don’t have enough life-jackets on board to get them all off on one foul swoop…but, if it is at all possible…and, please…if you can’t do it, I will understand…could you follow me across in your dinghy, and then bring some of the guests back with you. I’ll carry the majority of the load. That way we’d manage to get them all off together – over and done with; and then, once that happens, I can get back to the island and ride this madness out, alone until things settle back down to normal once again.”
Without hesitation or a second thought, Ziggy agreed to help me.
“Of course, I will, Lee…it’s no problem at all…let’s get going straight away…the sooner, the better!”
Ziggy told me how many life-jackets he carried on board. Along with mine, we knew we had enough between us to fulfill our joint mission. Off we went, with me leading the charge. Ziggy followed in his dory/dinghy.
Before I’d left Ivan and Doris’ home I’d rung my remaining guests to inform them of my intentions; and had given an estimation of how long I thought it would be until I returned to the island; asking they’d keep a watch out for sight of my boat. I doubted there would be any other people out and about on the ocean other than me, and, now Ziggy, as well. I also asked that they be down on the beach with their possessions, ready for immediate pick-up once I drew ashore. I impressed upon them that the moment I arrived, time would be of the essence. A quick turn around was necessary.
As I drew closer to the island, I could see everyone lined up at the water’s edge. They looked like a tiding of magpies on a power line!
Not wasting any time, Ziggy and I herded everyone on board our respective vessels and prompted headed back to the mainland to deliver our passengers to the mainland and whatever awaited them there. We left them carrying not only their possessions, but memories of a Christmas never to be forgotten.
As I pulled away from the boat ramp, Ziggy started the motor on his dinghy and said;
“Lee, I’ll follow you back to the island - to make sure you arrive safely. I’m a bit concerned about that motor of yours; so it’s best I trail behind you; just to be sure.”
“Oh! Ziggy! You’re a gem! You’ve done so much already, but thank you; thank you very much…I really would appreciate it if you did! I owe you big time! When all of this insanity is over…the drinks are on me!”
“You’re on!” He answered.
We both laughed; and off we headed towards the mouth of the creek, once again on our intrepid ways across the ocean. I took the lead; and Ziggy followed a few metres behind. I could sense the finish line; so potent I could almost smell it. The end to all the drama was drawing close. However, I couldn’t allow myself to relax until I had my boat securely moored in the channel, and I, once again, was ensconced, alone on the island.
Exiting the mouth of Victor Creek, I turned left to begin the first leg of the return journey. About half way along the waterway, all around me was engulfed in a “whiteout”! The horizon disappeared, leaving me with no reference points at all. I couldn’t see beyond the bow of my boat, and even it was in a haze. Without warning, the elements changed, once again.
The route to and from the island was as familiar to me as the back of my hands, but I wasn’t prepared to take any risks. It mattered not whether I had passengers on board, or only myself; I never took chances out in the water. I was always very careful and extremely alert when in charge of the boat, believing if something went astray, I wouldn’t be able to step out of a boat on to dry, solid ground and walk to safety like I’d be able to do if I was in a car on solid ground. As mentioned previously, every time I drove the island boat, I wore a bathing suit. I had five or six pairs in my wardrobe. The ocean is a cantankerous chameleon. There are times it can be a placid teammate; but just as quickly it can turn into an unforgiving adversary.
Surrounded on all sides by the dense fog, it was highly unsafe for me to continue going forward; it was equally unsafe to retreat. My self-preservation gear kicked in!
The ocean, whipped into a passion-fueled frenzy by the cyclonic conditions throughout the past few days, would be rife with logs and various other foreign floating and submerged objects. It would be an obstacle course to end all obstacle courses. To the left of me I knew rocks were somewhere along the way. Not huge rocks, but rocks big enough to cause damage to the hull of my boat if I struck them. As my vision was impaired, I didn’t know if I’d already passed by the outcrop or not. To my right was a sandbank; but, in the bleak conditions, I had no idea exactly where it was, either, or how much water covered it. My options of travelling either forward to the island, or back to the boat ramp were as murky as the fog that surrounded me. I was in a “no win” situation.
Looking behind and around me, I couldn’t see Ziggy anywhere amongst the impenetrable mass in which I found myself; nor could I hear his boat motor. I pulled my own motor right back; letting it idle, without it shutting off entirely. I lingered as much as possible in the one spot; going around in small circles as and when I could.
To tie up to a channel marker is illegal; but such a little obstacle wasn’t going to scare me off. I’d decided as soon as I saw a marker I’d edge the boat across to it and tie up. And there I’d remain tied to the marker until the conditions cleared; and I didn’t care how long that would take. I had no other choice. If anyone had a beef about it, too bad! I’d face (and fight) those consequences if or when they happened! No other boats were out and about, anyway. Who would know of my unlawful activity? The only two fools out in the crazy weather were Ziggy and me; and I had no idea where he was!
Like a enticing siren of the sea luring me, through a small break in the dense fog, to my right about 100 metres away, I caught a glimpse of a channel marker. Slowly turning my boat towards the marker, I gave a sigh of relief as I began feeling my way towards the channel buoy like a blind person; hoping against hope I didn’t strike any damaging flotsam. At that point, I didn’t care how long I’d have to be attached to the marker. My decision was made; I would not proceed an inch once I’d tied up, not until I could see clearly. The preservation of my own safety and life was uppermost in my mind. I had no intentions of putting myself at risk. I never intentionally have; and I never intentionally will!
Creeping towards the marker, out of the corner of my eye, through the dense gloom, I saw a yellow flash. It was Ziggy, rigged out in his wet-weather gear; his body straining against the wind. My Yellow Knight, once more to my rescue; he drew up beside my boat.
With his hands cupped to his mouth, he yelled out; “I lost you! I thought you’d gone back the boat ramp. I went back looking for you! I was pretty damn worried when I couldn’t find you anywhere! You did the right thing by stilling your motor!”
“Yeah! I figured the best thing for me to do was just to go around in circles until I could see where the hell I was! Then, I noticed the marker…that’s where I’m headed; to tie up to it!” I yelled back at him.
“No! Come on! We’ll make it! I’ll go on ahead you follow me to the island! Don’t lose sight of me!” Ziggy instructed, pulling away as he waved me forward.
“Okay!” I bellowed in reply. I trusted him.
The fog had lifted considerably by the time we passed Mausoleum Island. Without drama, we motored closer to the southern tip of Outer Newry. However, still the oppressive grey clouds loomed heavy and threateningly in the sky; the thunderous grey irreverent ocean groaned and surged in a display of discontent, making its preparations to build up again.
Shortly after I secured my boat to its mooring, Ziggy drew alongside. I directed his attention to my red dinghy that had been hitched to my mooring buoy since the previous morning. My poor little red boat was filled with water; water up to its brim! It was ready to disappear under water. I shook my head and laughed. What else could I do?
I climbed aboard Ziggy’s dinghy. He untied my little red vessel, and in turn secured it to his boat. Slowly we towed the leaden weight ashore. Once inshore, we managed to bail out some of the water before removing the bung to allow the rest to flow freely. We then pulled the tiny tender up high and dry above the foam and pumice stone-covered foreshore. There we fastened it securely to a She-Oak tree. It wasn’t going anywhere until all the madness abated; and neither was I!
Turning to Ziggy, I declared with a wide sweep of my arms; “Until this weather settles down, and all is as calm as mill pond again, this boat; my boat out there on the mooring and me – aren’t going anywhere! From this minute until that happens, I declare myself a “landlubber”! And that’s a promise! I shall not be moved! Come on, Zig! If you’ve got time, let me shout you a drink before you head back. After all this mucking about, I don’t want you to get stranded, but I’m sure you feel like a drink! I know I do!”
The two fishermen were still on the island. However, they informed me two of their mates from Mackay were on their way. Plans were already in place for their friends, upon their arrival, to take them back to the mainland; with intentions of towing their swamped boat while doing so.
Reaching the bar, I prepared drinks for Ziggy and the other two fellows who were glad to see me; and then, I poured myself a triple Bundaberg rum…no ice; no mix; no water; just plain old rum! The drink of pirates…and I surely felt like a pirate! To complete the image, I put a Jimmy Buffett cassette in the player! I think I’d passed the test into becoming a true-blue “Parrot-Head”. Jimmy would’ve been very proud of me!
Slightly shell-shocked, I sat wearily upon a bar stool. I just kept shaking my head in wonderment and disbelief. There seemed little that needed to be said! I wasn’t really sure what emotions I felt; they were a mixed bundle.
“Cheers!” I said, lifting my triple dose of rum to Ziggy and the fisherman.
“Here’s to us! We made it! God! What happened? For a while there, I never thought I’d reach this moment!” I laughed; and the three men laughed along with me.
I walked Ziggy back down to his boat. After giving him a big, meaningful hug while thanking him profusely…words didn’t seem enough…he headed back to Victor Creek. I didn’t see him again until late January.
An hour or so after Ziggy left, the boys’ mates arrived. With little fuss, very soon they were on board with their own boat hitched to the stern of their mates’ craft.
I stood on the foreshore until they’d crossed the channel, and had driven past the southern tip of Outer Newry. Finally, I had the island to myself, thank goodness!
Within a couple of hours, the clouds had had enough of being nice. Tossing aside good manner, they began dumping their load; and what a load it was. The rain continued coming down in a tropical downpour, with hardly a break, for the next three weeks; allowing me time to digest and file away in the pigeon-holes of my mind what had occurred from Christmas Day through to 29th December!
A whole lifetime of events occurred during that period. An “adventure” I would never have imagined happening to me; but it did happen, and I was a major participant in it!
Jill, who had chosen to remain on the island with me until New Year and I had the island to ourselves for those next few days after Boxing Day. She was very good company. We'd clicked from when we first met. It was if we were old friends from long back.
During our days we mostly read. We ate when we felt like eating. There was no standing on ceremony.
Happy Hour arrived every afternoon as if a bell had announced its arrival; it was time to pop a cork or two. We discussed every possible subject under the sun; or should I say, under the heavy grey clouds that persisted in dropping their loads. The more glasses of red we had, the more philosophical we became. We solved every problem known, and even, some unknown. We were the precursors to Dr. Phil!
Finally, Jill returned to the "real" world; with her she took many memories; behind she left many fond memories with me, as well. I was so happy to have met her and to have been able to spend that time with her. To many others, they wouldn't have fitted in as well; nor would they have been so accepting of the sometimes rough, awkward, very wet surroundings! Jill and I, two strangers who had not met until Christmas morning, 1990 had fun as if we'd been girlfriends since our teenage years. I was sad to see her go. Like mother like daughter...both Jill and Alice were a pleasure to meet. I felt fortunate to have gotten to know them.
Earlier in December before Christmas, a Mackay engineering company made a group booking that would occupy the island’s entire cabins for the coming Australia Day weekend. The actual 26 day of January fell on the Saturday in 1991. The company’s staff members planned the weekend to be their belated Christmas celebration. Instead of having their Christmas party in a restaurant or similar function venue, they decided celebrating on the island over the Australia Day long weekend a far better option; one in which all members of their families could participate.
All I hoped for as I listened to the rain falling persistently upon my roof, day after day, night after night, was it would cease before the long weekend. I certainly didn’t want a replay or sequel of my Christmas escapades!
When the rain finally ceased a few days before the long weekend, upon inspection of the cabins, I discovered all the walls and ceilings in every cabin were black with mould! There was not a dry towel (I did have some towels left even after quite a few were cut up and recycled as nappies for the toddlers), sheet, or pillowcase on the island; and most of them were covered in mould, as well! But my problems and future chores didn’t end there; the septic systems of the cabins were blocked! Who ever knew pipes leading away from a toilet ran uphill? I can tell you that in some instances they do! Well, they did on Newry Island! And, by the way, they don’t work properly if installed in that manner! If I’d gotten my hands on the person who had done that plumbing job……..
It was obvious I had a lot of work ahead of me to ready the cabins for my expected long weekend guests, who were due to arrive within less than a week!
But, as I often state: “That is another story, for another day!”
So that's my Christmas tale for this Christmas of 2012.
I did write about these events in an earlier post, a few years ago...but not as in-depth as these three chapters.