Monday, September 30, 2013


Hilton Hotel, Brisbane


Brisbane's Hilton Hotel from another angle
Jimmy Sharman Boxing Troupe
Cardwell's Jetty

A couple of my island "kids" on board the "Reef Venture" with the skipper, Bob and his brother; and the girls again on the beach

Ramsay Bay, Hinchinbrook Island
Having flown out of Hobart airport without success in my all-consuming search for my elusive roast leg of lamb dinner, finally I was headed northbound once again; but it would be another 8 days or more before I’d reach my island home and my island “kids” again.

Somewhere along the line I’d begun an unconscious habit.  More often than not I referred to my staff as “the kids” or “my kids”.  Overall, I had good staff.  Naturally, like everywhere else, I had a couple of “bad apples”, but they were soon told to move on; and thereafter any upsetting of the “apple-cart” ceased.

It became second nature to me to refer to my staff as “the kids”.  Jokingly, my staff at times even called me “Mum”.  I’ve written a previous post a couple of years ago about Mother’s Day on the island. It was a lot of harmless fun; and as I’ve never had children of my own, it was the first and only Mother’s Day I’ve celebrated.  It was unforgettable.

Our life on the island was completely different to life on the mainland.  We were a small community; a community who cared about each other. At most, excluding guests, our number reached 15, but the majority of the time, there was only12. All of my staff, except my head maintenance man, Ted and Burnie, one of his off-siders, lived in the self-contained staff quarters; some chose to share a room; others lived singularly. Ted and Burnie shared a two-bedroom cabin.  I had my own little abode away well away from the restaurant and my staff. There were moments of discord, of course; and if things got a little out of control, I would call a “round-table meeting”, and very soon all problems would disappear.  We were in our own little world on the island. 

A guest asked me once, straight of face, if, in fact, they were all my children!  She was serious and very curious to know. At the moment of asking there was not a humorous bone in her body or face!  I gently set her on the straight and narrow path. What concerned me most was Ted, my head maintenance man, a trusted and extremely loyal member of my staff was a year or two older than me!  I’ve heard of “starting young”, but that was ridiculous!

Having wrapped up my futile, fruitless search for the Tasmanian Tiger and the Tassie Lamb – please don’t misunderstand me, I had a fun time while also attending to other important Tasmanian pleasures and, of course, business - I filled the hours of Monday, 6th July 1987 travelling between Hobart and Launceston, collecting a parking ticket for my efforts; and then back to Hobart once again; from there, on the same day, I managed to fit in fleeting visits to the tarmacs of Melbourne and Sydney while still encased in the giant silver bird. Finally, my day culminated in Brisbane around 8 pm on Monday night. 

Looking like an uncoordinated pack horse while struggling with my luggage I attracted the attention of an obliging, most pleasant airport employee; probably because he’d never before seen such as sight as I! 

Along with my two suitcases bearing my personal items that included the many purchases I’d made during my times spent in Sydney and Melbourne en route to Hobart, I had a truckload of promotional material, such as posters, banners, brochures and videos. Explaining my reason for taking up his time my new-found friend allowed me to store the majority of my extraneous marketing material in an allocated area behind the baggage carousel; not only that, he assisted me in doing so. Storing the excess baggage, and taking with me only what I needed while in Brisbane was a better option than having to lug all of it into the city with me, and then back out to the airport again when I was ready to depart Brisbane for north Queensland a week later.

As it was, when I approached the waiting cabs out front of the airport terminal I sensed a combined shudder emanating from all the taxi drivers when they spotted me heading towards them with my two suitcases and three or more cartons.  Some even slunk down in their seats in the hope I wouldn’t notice them; but that could have been my imagination at play! 

It had been a long day, but not an unpleasant one. I’d travelled approximately 3000 kilometres (1864 miles) in 13 hours or so.
By the time I arrived in the inner city and found myself standing in front of the Hilton Hotel’s reception desk checking in I was relieved to finally have my feet back firmly on the ground. More precisely, after I’d ridden the lift (elevator) to the heights where my room was situated upon entering my room I immediately discarded my shoes and revelled in the feeling of the plush carpet beneath my bare feet; simultaneously I exhaled a sigh of contentment.  I was back in Queensland.  I was familiar with Brisbane. After all, I had spent 14 years living and working in the city.

My hotel room was on one of the upper floors of the 25 storey hotel; from memory, I was on the 24th floor or thereabouts.

Brisbane’s Hilton Hotel was practically brand new when I took up residence. It had been constructed in 1986, the year before my arrival.  The hotel had a multi-million dollar refurbishment last year, 2012.

My first night in Brisbane after arriving back from Tasmania was spent quietly with a light room service meal and a couple of Scotches on the rocks; finished off with a reasonably early night as a chaser.

On my agenda for the ensuing couple of days was a list of city and inner city travel agencies I intended visiting to spread the good word about Hinchinbrook Island Resort.

At the end of the week from the Friday through to the Sunday, the Brisbane Holiday-Travel Expo was being held; where, once more, I’d be in attendance spruiking like the legendary boxing troupe impresario Jimmy Sharman in front of his boxing tent at Australia’s annual shows; beckoning and coaxing all and sundry to gather around so they could learn about the beauties of the island; and the indisputable reasons why they should seriously think about holidaying at my tropical resort.

Between 11 and 11.30 am on my third day in Brisbane, after being out since early morning doing the rounds fulfilling a hectic schedule that consisted of me doing a lot of talking, I returned to the hotel to restock my briefcase; followed by a light lunch before racing off again to whatever duties awaited me in the afternoon.  I needed something to wet my whistle so I entered what was in those days known as the “Sportsman’s Bar”, I think, from memory.  It was a vast room with a very high ceiling and bare, polished wood flooring.  A rectangular or square bar took pride of place at the room’s centre.  The only other person than me in the bar was the sole barman.  He was busily polishing glasses and setting up the bar in readiness for future patrons to descend upon him. 

I walked across the room in my high heels, but soon I found myself walking on my toes in an effort to cushion the strident sound of my heels clacking across the timber floor boards.  Perching myself upon a bar stool, I ordered a Bloody Mary while exchanging brief pleasantries with the obliging bartender.  Having expertly prepared my drink he placed it before me and immediately went about his chores, leaving me to my own devices and thoughts, which suited me.  Then as now, I enjoy my own space and solitude…my “quiet” moments to put thoughts in order and pigeon-hole others.

However, unintentionally, I unexpectedly broke the silence.  The fresh, crisp piece of celery that garnished my Bloody Mary was too tempting for me to ignore.  Taking a bite, the crunch was so loud it echoed, reverberating throughout the empty bar like a thunderclap! It bounced off the walls, floor and ceiling!  It was so loud it drew the busy bartender’s attention to me!  I burst out laughing and I apologised for disturbing the peace.  He returned my mirth in kind, so I didn’t feel too embarrassed.  The noise the little bit of celery, with my assistance, caused would have woken up a sleeping grandfather!

With each passing day I became more settled into the Hilton.  I felt as if I was one of the “family”.  As I came and went each day, and often, a few times a day, the friendly staff on the reception desk, and elsewhere greeted me pleasantly above and beyond their normal day-to-day expected smiles to the hotel’s guests.  My presence and face were familiar to them. It was a nice feeling.  I enjoyed our greetings; our brief chats and smiles.

I’d already admitted defeat, if only to myself, and I’d given up my search for a roast lamb dinner. 

The Holiday-Travel Show commenced, drawing thousands of interested visitors through its doors.

On the Thursday night before the expo opened I went to dinner with some of my fellow expo participants to a restaurant I used to work in part-time at night years before when Brisbane was my home city.  It seemed like an eternity ago…and it probably was in one aspect because my life had changed drastically since those days…the days when the restaurant was known as “The Pelican Tavern”. It was situated in St. Paul’s Terrace, Fortitude Valley.  I have written about the “Tavern” in previous posts.

Mr. Kyriol Wypow, “The Pelican Tavern’s” builder/owner/chef had passed away a number of years previously; and the night in 1987 when I visited the premises, the tavern was no longer; it had morphed into a Mongolian restaurant.  To me, it was such a vast change in outfit…and ambience.  Even though I had a pleasant evening, I much preferred my time spent at the tavern when it was uniquely, “The Pelican Tavern”.

On the Saturday night, I’d again been invited out to dine. At the closing of the Expo’s doors I raced back to my hotel room to shower and change. I wandered out from the bathroom after applying fresh make-up, not taking much notice of what was around me.  I was putting on a pair of earrings when I glanced towards the window; and remember, I’m about 23 or 24 storeys up high in the Hilton. 

I did double-take! Actually, I think I took a triple and a quadruple take, if not more.  I lost count or lost my concentration to count.  I couldn’t believe my eyes; and I’d not yet even had one drink!  I did, however, begin to question my sanity!

Out on the ledge of the narrow balcony that ran along the outer side of the fixed window of my hotel room was a Siamese cat! As calm as you like, or as it liked, the cat strolled gracefully along the edge; not teetering; not looking down.  I dared not move.  If, in fact, it wasn’t an apparition; a figment of my imagination, I didn’t want to surprise it causing the animal to descend below to the nether regions.  That wasn’t a pretty thought!  I stood frozen to the spot, not game to move; I just stared at the cat! I probably did blink a few times, to try to clear my vision. And then, the cat was gone. He had moved onto the next balcony’s railing; probably causing my neighbour to have a fainting spell, also.  I thought I heard a thump!

I was to meet my dinner partner in the hotel’s foyer.  Having completed my dressing, I caught the lift down to the reception area. 

Recognising the girls behind the reception desk, I walked across to them to tell them about the cat, all the time fearing they were going to think I’d lost my mind; but, what hell, I decided to toss all my inhibitions to the wind, and take my chances!

 “I just saw the strangest thing!  I know you’re going to think I’m crazy.  I think I’m crazy; but I just saw a cat…a cat walked past my window…and I’m up on the 24th (sic) floor!  And, no!  I haven’t been drinking; but I’m about to start!”

They burst out laughing.

One of the girls took control of the situation: “Oh! Was it a Siamese?” 

I’d lost my vocal powers so I just nodded dumbly. 

Displaying no surprise or shock, she informed me; “He does that all the time. Don’t worry – he’s never fallen.”

My mouth fell open. If any flies had been flying around I would have caught them all!

“What do you mean?  This is a normal occurrence?” I spluttered.

“Yes!  He belongs to the hotel manager.  They live on the floor above your room; and he’s their cat. He roams all over the hotel…on the outside from floor to floor - railing to railing!”

“Oh! Okay!” I responded, shaking my head.  “That’s a relief!  I’ve not gone crazy after all, but I’m still going to have a few drinks!”

I joined the girls in their laughter; and I went on my way. 

I had an interesting story to tell over dinner that night!

Finally the day came for me to board a flight out of Brisbane on its way to Townsville, my second last stop-over before returning to Hinchinbrook. The only stop-over after Townsville was an overnighter at Cardwell.  

The island was drawer closer; or I was to it.

The distance between Brisbane and Townsville is 1,3578kms (844 miles); and the distance between Townsville and Cardwell is 165kms or 103 miles. 

My excitement levels were rising to heights as high as my Hilton Hotel room the closer I got to home…and my “kids”…and my guests; and, last, but by no means least, my beloved ginger cat, “Ruska”.  I knew he would have been missing me, like I’d been missing him.  He and I went together like ham and cheese; Abbott & Costello, or Martin & Lewis!

I caught a Greyhound bus to Cardwell, where I stayed overnight at The Lyndoch Motel…the motel I described in a previous post a couple of weeks ago.

Early on the morning shortly before I was to jump on board the “Reef Venture”, the powered catamaran contracted to the island to transport guests and provisions across the waters, I paid a visit to Cardwell’s butcher. 

The local butcher supplied the island’s meat demands. He supplied all the restaurant’s needs, and those of my staff. The butcher greeted me warmly as I bounded through his door, demanding, laughingly, two of the largest, sweetest legs of lamb he had in stock. 

I was going home…and I was going to feed my “kids”…and me…roast lamb for dinner that night…with all the obligatory roasted vegetables, and all the other equally obligatory accompaniments, including, of course, mint sauce – lashing of mint sauce!

As we passed Missionary Bay en route to Cape Richards where the resort and my home awaited the island jetty came into view.   My heart was almost jumping out of my chest as the “Reef Venture” and I drew closer and closer.  I could see members of my staff waiting at the jetty’s end. 

The first thing I said when I leapt of the boat was; ‘“Mother’s” home!  And we’re having roast lamb for dinner!” 

An exuberant cheer burst out and echoed across the water as my “kids” gathered around me.

There’s no place like home; no matter where home is!

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Me and my beloved Socksie - Lambert's Beach

Mum and me across the road from the Lambert's Beach shop; and Graham, my brother, ready to go off to the Slade Point School
Me, a couple of my dolls, Patsy and Diana; and Peter, the Fox Terrier in Gympie when I was about 7 or  8 years old

My earliest recollections of my childhood extend back to an era when, if only briefly, life was uncomplicated and carefree.  The way life is supposed to be for a child. Perhaps because I was so young I was sheltered from life’s turmoils and hardships. For a short couple of years I ran free within the safety net of secure boundaries set by my mother and grandmother.  However, change was looming on the near horizon; ominous dark clouds threatened. 1948 was the year peace and harmony disintegrated and disappeared from my young life; or it was when I first noticed life wasn’t all full of light and happiness.

Our grandmother played an integral role in the lives of my older brother and me; a role that lasted throughout her lifetime.  Sadly, she left this earth in 1976; two years after her daughter, my mother passed away.  Nana was a month shy of her eighty-second birthday; my mother, Elma was only 54 years old at her passing; too young; and it was heartbreaking for our grandmother to lose her daughter, her friend; her ally.

Stoically, Nana stood by her daughter, our mother, through thick and thin. Nana was a steadying influence in our family, but as events unfolded, even she, at times, was unable to intercept the explosive upheavals that came in and out of our lives. 

Destructive, violent episodes that threatened to destroy our family’s fabric were heading relentlessly towards us with the force of a cyclone.  Actually, an evil force had already infiltrated our ranks.

As mentioned in a previous post, my mother and grandmother operated a small mixed-business at Lambert’s Beach, east of Mackay. My stepfather attended to paid outside home maintenance and mechanical jobs for the locals.  At that time the population of Slade Point, Lambert’s Beach and surrounding areas wasn’t big in number.

My older brother and I along with the adults lived in the premises attached to the shop.  The store was the only one of its nature in the area.

Unfortunately, our stepfather became a member of our family when he married our mother after she and our biological father divorced.  That was the way it was. His presence cast a sinister, dark cloud over what should have been halcyon times. 

We children, the innocents, did have fun; we ran and played freely in the outdoors. Our childish adventures were many.

Although I was very young, to me my mother’s husband personified the evil stepfather.   I felt no warmth towards him whatsoever.  I never encouraged, nor sought his attention. I had no desire to reach out to him.  He was an obscene human being; a violent man who harboured a foreboding darkness in his soul.  In reflection, I wasn’t fearful of him; not in those early days, at least. However, everything would soon change; for the worst. 

With the naive candour of a child, I did not like my stepfather; it was that simple.  His very presence made my skin crawl. Therefore, I did my utmost to stay out of his way. When I couldn’t escape his company, I tried my best to make myself invisible. I have made mention of him previously...within this tale I go into more detail about his character.

In 1948, the year depicted in this story, I was three years of age.  I would turn four in November, 1948.

Our little shop, which I have described in previous posts, was popular with the locals;  but it also was very appealing to visitors to the seaside.  Balmy, sun-filled days drew the townsfolk in droves. They flocked through the shop’s doors for cold drinks and snacks. Nana’s domestic chores included the sweeping out of sand carelessly carried into the shop on the feet of well-meaning, oblivious, happy-go-lucky customers.  However, their laughter and buoyant demeanours compensated for her never-ending task; as, no doubt, did the pennies, shillings and pounds in the till at day’s end!

The old wooden and fibro shop that became our home for almost 18 months was situated close to the beach.  The soothing symphony of the ocean gently lapping on the foreshore accompanied our daily activities; at night it became a welcome lullaby. The waters of the Coral Sea invited all from near and far, to visit; and to soak in the ambience of the seaside. 

Laughter and enthusiastic chatter filled the air each day.  Day-trippers in brightly-coloured attire gathered around tables covered by freshly-starched, red and white gingham tablecloths, beneath the pergola at the shop’s front. Their garish clothes they’d never be seen dead wearing when walking the main streets of Mackay, the nearest city, situated only a few miles away.

The seaside then, as now, has a mesmerising effect on humans. It causes them to act and dress differently to how they normally would. Some things never change!

Brilliant magenta and vibrant red blossoms covered the dense, spiky-thorned bougainvillea vines that scrambled decoratively over the roof of the pergola; long-arching branches that could cause harm to the uninitiated, brazenly entwined through weather-beaten lattice barriers. The rampant climbers protected the al fresco refreshment area; shielding the visitors who sat at the tables from the tropical sun’s harsh rays.  Massed in floral defiance, hardy, vividly-coloured Portulaca grew out of the sandy soil fringing the outdoor area.

The aroma of hot pies and of the freshly-prepared sandwiches made from still-warm bread mingled harmoniously with the salty air wafting in from the ocean. 

With my hair tied in pigtails, on tiptoes each day I stood straining my tiny body to see above the table edge while my mother prepared sandwiches for the animated patrons.  Eagerly, I watched as she cut the crusts from the bread; anticipating the crunchy titbits that bore remnants of the varied sandwich fillings.  The mouth-watering morsels were my special treat.  In those days, bread crust was vastly different to that of bread on supermarket shelves nowadays. Back then, the crust was crisp and crunchy; tanned golden and delicious!

In my childish mind I believed I was assisting my mother in her preparations. In reflection, those days could very well have been my introduction to the hospitality industry; an industry I was to spend many years in as an adult; but that was still a long way away in the future; a future about which I couldn’t even begin to dream.

My dreams were those of a small child; a child limited to her immediate future; whose thoughts ventured not far beyond the next day, or hour. I was unaware during those days of innocence, my future loomed darkly; far too anxious to arrive. Dreams, no matter how pure would be crushed and made worthless.

Day after day, I hovered around my mother in the kitchen. Somehow I managed never to get in her way, or under her feet.  She must have had the patience of Job…with me, at least.  Her rich auburn locks consciously betrayed her headstrong, impatient nature; her fiery-coloured hair an undeniable give-away.

I was a quiet, shy child; my imagination,  my constant companion. No other children lived by, so I had no playmates. My timid observations of the comings and going of the seaside visitors occupied much of my time.   
Conducting my surveillance from afar, I was always anxiously alert and fearful that someone would see me or speak to me.  If ever trapped in such an unfortunate predicament I rarely replied, other than to give a slight, barely visible nod of my head, perhaps; and if I had no choice or way of escape, I answered ever so softly before, like a frightened animal, scampering away to the safety of the kitchen; out of sight. 

Sheltered on the lee side of a slight slope at the rear of our yard, in a run-down hut lived a solitary man. To me, he seemed very old; he probably wasn’t.  If I’d been a little older myself, his ram-shackled hut would have fitted my image of Robinson Crusoe’s island abode; but I was yet too young to enjoy reading the adventures of Mr. Crusoe and his Man Friday.

From years spent beneath a scorching sun our neighbour’s skin was tanned like leather; it looked as tough.  Private and reclusive, he lived alone with an air of mystery surrounding him.   I didn’t fear our brown, wiry, long-haired neighbour.  Against character, I felt kindly towards him. 

Tentatively, with my shyness still intact, I visited the mystifying hermit every other day to deliver his bread, milk and other minor essentials.  With my arms wrapped tightly around his meagre supplies as quiet as a mouse, stealthily I crept hastily past the woody bush lemon tree laden with its crop of lumpy, yellow fruit. The fruit’s knobbly skin reminded me of the ugly ogres that roamed in fairytales.

Timorously, I’d approach the back door of the hut.  The hermit always greeted me with a smile and a quiet, gentle word; his mellifluous voice calmed the timid little girl standing shyly before him.  Demurely, my monosyllabic replies were barely audible; my visits, brief.  Wasting no time, I’d hand him his groceries before turning to scurry back home. 

My monastic friend’s name was Mr Meagher. 

Every day; come rain, hail or shine, he swam in the ocean. He would stand face down in the water for minutes at a time. In awe, I’d hold my breath waiting for him to resurface. With his weathered back curled like a comma and his lank wet hair clinging to the nape of his neck, Mr. Meagher’s deeply sun-browned posterior was the only part of his body visible above the water. His strange, yet regular daily stance reminded me of a giant brown turtle.

There were times I overheard cryptic conversations between the adults.  Speaking in muffled, lowered voices as they discussed Mr. Meagher, I understood little of what they said. The enigmatic Mr. Meagher intrigued his inquisitive neighbours; which were few and far between. I derived from the muted conversations that, in some quarters, it was thought he was perhaps an artist or, maybe a writer who sought solitude to hone his craft. Others thought he was a noble man escaping the confining boundaries of his birth. Once I heard mention of a word about which I had absolutely no understanding – “bankrupt”; conjecture also speculated that he was in hiding from the long arm of the law. A simple answer to the myriad questions surrounding mild-mannered Mr. Meagher could’ve been he was simply a seeker of privacy; preferring his own company to that of others.

I had no friends of my own age, but I was never lonely.  With the ocean nearby, many hours I spent in the cooling water. The beach was my playground.  My pastimes were building sand castles; collecting shells and driftwood while sometimes chasing the battalions of soldier crabs and inquisitive seagulls, but never with malice.  Protected by the Great Barrier Reef, the sea was generally calm, other than when whipped up by cyclonic conditions. Having learned to swim at an early age, I wasn’t a worry to my parents. I abided by the limits set; and was content to do so.

My older brother, Graham had little time for me; my being a girl was reason enough.  He’d become impatient with me, storming off in disgust. Graham was three years older than me, and had already begun school.  He had his own group of friends; a select group that excluded girls, particularly younger sisters! 

Alone in my own world I contentedly dwelt; my dolls were my best friends.  They were the only company I needed, I believed. That was until one joyous, memorable day; the day my world turned upside down in the most wonderful way.

The day I received my first pet I was overcome with excitement. It was love at first sight. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.  He was a fluffy, furry ball of life.  A beautiful grey and white young cat became my new favourite friend, surpassing all others.  I was smitten.  He was remarkable; he was gorgeous; he was mine. A huge new universe opened up before me. With his four snowy white paws, to me, he appeared to be wearing socks.  Fittingly, I christened my new love; “Socksie”.  Socksie and I bonded instantly. 

We became inseparable. We were never far apart.  He was my shadow; my confidant. Socksie never minded that I constantly petted and cuddled him. He was my regular tea party guest. I discussed daily events while he sagely watched and listened. Socksie trusted me. He knew I’d never hurt him.  How could I?  I absolutely adored him. Socksie and I had a mutual admiration society going on. Nothing and no one could tear us apart, or so I believed.

However, I couldn’t foresee the future. My world was about to be shattered; and it would never completely recover. The fine cracks would never diminish; they would remain forever as if indelibly engraved.

With Socksie in my life I didn’t care if my brother and his mates ignored me. I didn’t need them; I had Socksie. He was all I needed. Socksie also helped me stay removed from my stepfather, which pleased me. The less time spent in my stepfather's presence the better.  The love I felt for my pet was all-consuming; all engrossing.  I was so proud of him. I felt lucky to have a friend as dear and as loyal as Socksie. 

In reflection, my love for Socksie probably was the reason behind the heinous act that would soon break my heart.

My dolls were neglected.  My devotion was lavished on my cat.  I dressed Socksie in my dolls’ clothes before taking him for walks in their pram. Placidly, he would watch me; listening intently to my soothing words; purring loudly at my touch.  Socksie displayed infinite patience, indulging a little girl her fantasies.

Each night I prepared his bed in my dolls’ cot; plumping up the pillows; turning down the sheets and covers just as my mother did for me.  Crooning a lullaby, I’d tenderly place him in the cot, gently stroking him until he went to sleep.  Once he’d settled, or I believed he had, I’d go to my own bed content in the knowledge that my dear Socksie was safe, securely tucked in for the evening.   Dreams of the adventures we would share the following day filled my slumber. 

Unknown to me as soon as I fell asleep Socksie opened his green, amber-speckled eyes; stretched, and then would leap out of his cosy cot to go adventuring under the cloak of darkness.  In his infinite cat wisdom, he understood the simple desires of his little mistress; always waiting until I was fast asleep. In the mornings upon waking, I would find him snuggled up beside me on my bed. I was none the wiser of his second life.

Great changes were afoot. We were moving to another town far away.  The days turned hectic; hours were spent packing our belongings into the many large wooden tea chests with their riveted metal edges giving them strength to bear their heavy loads. Every corner and piece of floor space was taken up by the tea chests, it seemed. Packing became a full-time occupation.  What little furniture we owned was being moved and stacked to one side ready for a truck to arrive to take it away. The air was electric with excitement. The thrill of adventure was rife.  A long train journey lay ahead.   Distance meant nothing to me.  I had no comprehension of what it meant, but I understood from the frenzied activity around me that the coming days promised mystery and wonderment.  My dolls were nestled together comfortably and securely  in a large carton.  I conducted lengthy discussions with Socksie, keeping him abreast with what was happening; informing him of what I imagined lay ahead for both him and me.  He, too, was in awe of the energy around him.  Like mine, his nerves were also on high alert. A special box that would become his home during the lengthy train trip to Gympie was at hand.

The night for our departure finally arrived.   Late in the evening we bundled into a taxi to be driven to the train station in Mackay. 

Arriving at the busy station, crowds of sleepy-eyed commuters milled about; yawning, stretching; chatting quietly amongst themselves, as they, too, waited for the sound of the steam engine to arrive; keen to embark upon their journey. 

Filled with apprehension I watched my stepfather carelessly drag the box bearing Socksie from the taxi. I despaired at his rough handling. It was obvious he knew nothing about cats; and it was clear he didn’t give a damn.

Sockie’s frightened howls echoed through the bleak, chilly night. Haphazardly holding the cat box under his arm, my stepfather stormed towards the station platform with the rest of us rushing behind trying our best to keep up to his pace.

From his harrowing cries, I knew my pet was terrified. I wanted to go to him; to take him from the clutches of that man.  Frightened by the foreign noises and the strangers around me, I understood Socksie’s fear. I shared his anxiety. His gut-wrenching howls tore at my heart.  The gathering crowd; the strange odours permeating the railway station’s platform caused him panic; they caused me panic. 

In silence, I cried out to my Socksie. I wanted to cuddle him, if only for a short while; to let him know I was there by his side; to protect him.

Came the time to board the train.  Looking down the platform to where my stepfather stood with Socksie, a short distance away from my mother, grandmother, brother and me, to my absolute horror, I saw my stepfather open the box, and shoo Socksie away.  Within a split second, Socksie broke free, naturally.  In fear, he fled.  

Transfixed, frozen to the spot, I stood; my mouth open in shock. I was unable to utter a sound.   Dumbstruck, I stared. In my mind I screamed over and over and over; but no sound broke free.  A torrent of unstoppable tears streamed down my face. 

Nothing was real; I was locked in a horrifying nightmare. I stood paralysed on the station’s platform.  Powerless, I was unable to save my beloved Socksie; my dear friend. 

Finally, finding my voice, I screamed out to Socksie, but, of course, he was gone. I never saw my Socksie again.

What could I do?  I was bewildered; I was shattered; I was terrified. There was nothing anyone could do to help me rescue my Socksie.  In fearful panic, he disappeared into the darkness of night.  Wretched tears continued to stream down my face. Broken-hearted, I stared; glared at my stepfather; not understanding the reason why.  Looking back at me, across his corrupt, immoral face was a contemptuous sneer. 

From that moment on, my stepfather’s heartless action altered my dislike of him into hatred. I hated him for his ruthless cruelty; and hate is a powerful, terrible emotion for one so young. 

His brutality grew more vicious and personal over the ensuing few years. Unfortunately he was to inflict further pain and abuse on our small family unit.

On a chilly night on a platform at a railway station I experienced my first heartbreak...the loss of my first love; my beautiful, loyal Socksie.

I will never forget Socksie. 

I shall never forget, nor shall I forgive the person who stole my adored pet from me. Not long after my stepfather’s heartless act, he stole my innocence in another way. He was proof that evil existed.  It’s abhorrent that innocent helpless children are forced to witness repellent behaviour of adults; and that some become victims of these abusive predators; powerless casualties caused from bad choices made by adults.

His reign of terror had only just begun that night. We endured harrowing years when he was in our lives. He caused our family much sorrow, fear and hurt.

His physical and emotional abuse continued unabated until finally, one glorious day, the sun shone brightly upon us. I saw a smile on the sun’s face that wondrous day.  The local police, at a time when the police still had the power to do so, ran my stepfather out of town with orders he never return. 

Burdensome black clouds of violence, despair and fear that for far too long had pressed heavily upon our lives were lifted; never to return; but the damage had already been done. Undiminished, the hurt has lasted a lifetime; invisible scars remain; memories persist. 

After all these years and the many bridges crossed, my feelings towards the creature who was my stepfather for a short while, that seemed like an eternity at the time, have never changed; they never will.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


My Mother at 18 Years

Harry James & Betty Grable

The other day while twiddling around with knobs I stumbled across the last 30 minutes of the 1954 movie, “The Glenn Miller Story” on ABC-TV. Actually, they weren’t knobs - I was fiddling with my remote control; one of them.  Knobs are almost outdated these days.

I wasn’t fiddling around with nobs, either. They’re few and far between around here, too; most are hidden within the walls of Downton Abbey or the like. I’m not, and never am, in the mood for hobnobbing!

Seeing the irreplaceable, endearing Jimmy Stewart as Glenn Miller, and the engaging June Allyson with her twinkling, smiling eyes playing his adoring wife on the screen before me, I had to stop, watch and listen. 

I grew up to the music of Glenn Miller.  It was through my mother and grandmother that I was introduced to Glenn and his band. I grew to love his music as much as they did. When Mum was in the mood, as she very often was, she’d sit for ages in front of the piano, her nimble fingers tickled the ivories of our Irving upright; they were putty in her hands.  

Our old steel-framed German-made Irving piano had been a wedding present to my grandmother and grandfather; my mother’s parents, on their wedding day.  It was a gift from a spinster aunt of my grandfather, Jack (John) Hay. 

The keys of that sturdy piano held more than one lifetime of stories and melodies. With a depth of tone as smooth as golden syrup I don’t remember it ever needing tuning. 

My mother was a brilliant pianist; at times she played in local dance bands.  I took piano lessons for five years from a Miss Gidley, a local piano teacher. Even though I passed all my exams with flying colours, I never did have my mother's expertise on those black and white keys.  I doubt I could even play Chopsticks these days!

I loved listening to and watching my mother play the piano.  She’d had lessons when she was a child, but she played by ear, as well.  Her talent at the piano was a natural talent; one not learned.  

Nana, Mum’s mother and I knew our limits when sitting on the piano stool. We played similarly.  Nana and I were no where near as good as Mum when it came to piano-playing.

Throughout my childhood and teen years rarely a day went by without piano music echoing through our home.  Situated next to the piano stood a cupboard packed tightly with sheet music; some of which dated from the early 1900s. Those treasured old sheets belonged to my grandmother.

My mother had many favourite songs; and all her favourites featured each time she sat at the piano.

 “Moonlight Serenade” was a favourite, amongst many, many others.

“Elmer’s Tune” was another; probably because, in name, it was pretty close to my mother’s first name, which was “Elma”!

Almost every day we joined Glenn Miller as he and his band members travelled aboard the “Chattanooga Choo Choo” on their way to “Tuxedo Junction”.

Having rung “Pennsylvania 6-5000” to make a date with his lady, he proudly exclaimed; ‘“I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo”’. “At Last” he was going to present her with a “String of Pearls”!

While Glenn was doing his thing, Benny Goodman was “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, “Stomping at the Savoy”. In the meantime, the only thing his band mates could do was “Sing! Sing! Sing!” 

Benny told them, ‘“It’s Wonderful”, but “Don’t Be That Way”. Don’t let the “Stardust” get in your eyes. It’s difficult enough  when the ‘“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes!”’

He then turned to his “Honeysuckle Rose”, and said; ‘“After You’ve Gone”, “Oh! Lady Be Good”, otherwise “I’m Coming to Virginia” via “Avalon”’! 

I lost count how many times the beguine began!  I wish I had a dollar for each time, though!

Artie Shaw often strolled in tune to "The Donkey Serenade" along "Lambeth Walk" in the hope of missing the "Traffic Jam". Regularly at night, he was seen "Dancing in the Dark" while thinking "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody"; especially "Sweet Lorraine".

Finding the "Temptation"  too strong to ignore, Artie told her; '"Any Old Time" - "I Get a Kick Out of You!" and "I Don't Want to Walk Without You"'!

The big band swing era of Miller, Goodman, Artie Shaw, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey and Harry James et al was a time filled with romance, glamour and great music.

Ellington told Basie to “Take the ‘A’ Train” while he went by “Caravan” because, he, Ellington liked to take his time, allowing him time to leisurely watch the “Autumn Leaves” change colour and fall.

Basie didn’t mind because he’d asked his “Lil’ Darlin’”, “Sweet Georgia Brown”, to spend “April in Paris” with him.  He'd planned a cruise “Up a Lazy River”. In his “Corner Pocket” he had a pair of “Shiny Stockings” to give her.

Tommy Dorsey told “Marie”; “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”. "It's Started All Over Again"!  "Easy Does It" or “I’ll Never Smile Again”,  but  I guess “That’s How It Goes"!' 

Harry James told his second wife, Betty Grable;  ‘“It’s Been a Long, Long Time”, and “I Know You’ve Heard That Song Before”; but “You Made Me Love You”; so you have to shoulder some of the blame!” 

I class myself as being very fortunate to have grown up listening to the music of the maestros from a time long gone; an era never to be repeated, but hopefully never forgotten. 

I didn’t get to see Glenn Miller play in person, of course; but I did see The Glenn Miller Orchestra under the direction of Buddy De Franco perform at Brisbane’s Festival Hall on a Saturday afternoon in the early Seventies.

My friends and I were running a few minutes late, something I abhor; being punctual is one of my many quirks; but my legitimate excuse for that day is I was in the hands of others regarding travelling arrangements to the venue. 

The orchestra had just begun to play as we entered the main auditorium.  Tears immediately sprung to my eyes as the strains of “Moonlight Serenade” greeted us.  I will never forget that moment.

And then in 1973, on one hot, humid February night in the very same building, I was fortunate to be in the presence of Benny Goodman. Sitting on a stool on the stage, dressed in a tuxedo Goodman did what he did best, as cool as a cucumber. 

I kept waiting for Gene Krupa to appear, but of course, Krupa wasn’t travelling with Goodman at the time. 

Krupa died in October of 1973.  From when I was a small child I adored Krupa.  I adored drums…and Krupa was the master drummer. I had a glossy photograph of Gene Krupa on my bedroom wall throughout my childhood.  I’ve never lost my adulation for Krupa.

Peter Appelyard was the drummer playing in the Benny Goodman Orchestra that February night I sat in awe, listening and watching; sometimes in disbelief.  Appelyard was brilliant; but I was sure I sensed the spirit of Krupa on the stage that night!

Interval came and went.

The second half of the evening’s entertainment began with none other, of course, than….”Sing! Sing! Sing!” 

Needless to say…I was a quivering, misty-eyed mess with a smile as wide as the Great Australian Bight across my face as soon as I heard the first beat. 

It was a performance to savour.  Being in the audience; being in the presence of Goodman was so very special. 

Even though it was before my time, that night I felt I’d been transported back to the famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert.  It was a magical experience.  There are not enough words to fully, completely describe the night….magical is probably the best I can come up with, for now.

I hope the music never dies.  I hope this generation and future generations are introduced to the brilliance of the musicians of that uniquely wonderful era. My other hope is that they learn to love the music; and appreciate its excellence.

As Red Nichols played; and Ella Fitzgerald often sang; “The Music Goes Round and Round”….

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Mary Street Gympie  Circa 1956
Gympie-Widgee Memorial Gates

I am not and never have been a disciple of fast food; other than toast, of course.  Toast is a fast food. It doesn’t take long to prepare. It’s the deciding what to put on toast that takes time; particularly when I can’t find the Vegemite jar. I’m very quick on the draw with a can opener at high noon.

Baked beans are fast food; taking no time at all to heat up when time is of the essence; or when I’m in “I-can’t-be-bothered” mood, which happens often. Baked beans are just as tasty served cold, making them a very quick snack or meal, depending on which way you look at it; or eat it.

Nowadays baked beans, as well as many other canned foods, are an even faster fast food with ring-tops pulling the strings.

However, baked beans are not always fast food; they can be slow food.  Sometimes it’s not simply a case of grabbing a can from the pantry. If making baked beans from scratch, they take a while; then they’re a very slow food; slow can be good!  Depending on the situation, and/or how hungry I am, I can be a fast eater of food, whether it’s fast or sluggish food.

I love a good feed of fish and chips.  I don’t class fish in crisp, golden batter, surrounded by crisp and golden potato chips as being “fast food”. Writing about fish and chips has awoken my taste buds!  I’ll have to make a quick dash into the kitchen. Our locally-owned/operated purveyors of fish and chips or burgers beat the synthetic-tasting fast foods of some broadly-advertised fast food franchises.

I’ve wonderful childhood memories of visiting Nick’s Café, alongside the Memorial Gates in Mary Street, the main street of Gympie, for a piece of battered fish and sixpence worth of chips wrapped in newspaper. Every town back in those days of the distant, but not-so-dim past had a Nick’s Café, didn’t they? 

The fun had in the search to find an elusive chip or two, along with the very crispy ones and the crunchy remnants of the batter in the folds of the paper was the thrill of the feast! Battered potato scallops cooked to perfection were often added to the order. The crisp batter snapped, crackled and popped as we bit into them; more than matching the much-lauded sounds of a bowl of breakfast Rice Bubbles.

Food pumped out by the huge conglomerates doesn’t compare with; compete with, or even come close to the taste and quality offered by individually-owned/operated take-away outlets.

Oh! Dear! I’m telling porkies when I declare I’m not an eater of fast foods.

The truth is I devour lots of fast foods - every day!  The older I get the faster my meal preparation becomes. Salads containing a broad variety of healthy, fresh ingredients that need no cooking are my daily preferences. If my main meal isn’t a mixed salad with canned salmon/tuna, often accompanied by boiled eggs, it will be a salad joined by a delicious, quickly-grilled salmon fillet.

There are times, of course, when a thick juicy steak or a piece of chicken magically lands on my plate beside the salad. When the urge nudges, succulent lamb chops are known to appear and, other times, a thick pork loin chop.  There’s nothing lethargic about the above; they’re fast foods. Of course they don’t all land on my plate at the same time!

Soup may be a slow cooker; but it becomes a fast finisher if it’s decanted into individual serves to be frozen for future ingestion. Soup is a rapid starter; but it can also be a slow starter if starting from scratch! 

Whoever invented grilled cheese sandwiches deserves a medal. The toasted cheese sanga is a godsend. 

Whilst I’m chugging along on this train of thought, I won’t overlook stir-fries; fast food at its best.

I’m rapidly running out of time and space so I’ll end this discourse and make a quick exit; but before I dash, one more thing - the best fast food of all is fresh fruit; raw nuts are also fleet-footed food.  There you have it…fast foods to beat a fast!

Boston Baked Beans: Soak 425g white navy beans in cold water overnight. Start cooking early next day; the longer the cooking, the better. Preheat oven, 150C. Drain and rinse beans; put in large casserole dish; cover with water; add 1/2 onion studded with 3 cloves, 1/2c brown sugar, packed, 3tbs molasses, 3tsp Worcestershire, 1/2c tomato sauce, 2tbs dry mustard mixed with a little water, 3tbs tomato paste, 4tbs red wine vinegar, 700g fresh pork belly, rind removed, cut into bite-sized cubes, black pepper and salt. Cover; bake about 4-6 hours until beans are tender, dark and rich in colour. Check while cooking; add a little water if necessary; taste and add more sugar, sauces, molasses etc. if needed. Remove lid for the last 30mins to reduce some of the liquid, if necessary. 

Salade a la Vigneronne (who said I couldn’t speak French?): Remove rind from 8 lean bacon rashers; cut bacon into 2cm-wide strips; cook strips over medium-heat; adding a little walnut oil, if needed, until lightly browned; add 3 chopped garlic cloves and 1c walnut halves; stir until just browned; remove from pan. Add 1/2c verjuice to pan; deglaze. Reduce heat; whisk in 1/2c walnut oil; stir until warmed; add 2c halved, seedless green (or red) grapes; warm through. Combine bacon with 200g baby spinach leaves in salad bowl; spoon over the warm grapes and dressing; serve immediately with crusty bread.  

Salmon with Mustard Sauce: Sauce can be made day ahead; whisk together 1/4c Dijon mustard, 2tbs wholegrain mustard, 3tbs honey and 2tbs prepared horseradish, drained; season. Bring to room temp; just before using, add 2tbs finely-chopped mint leaves. Heat grill to high; brush salmon fillets with oil; season; cook accordingly; place watercress/rocket and thinly-sliced red onion ring salad on plate; top with salmon; moisten fillets with sauce.

Sunday, September 08, 2013


Dining Area - Lyndoch Hotel Cardwell

Lyndoch Motel, Cardwell...restored after Cyclone Yasi


Lyndoch Motel after Cyclone Yasi's visit in February, 2011

What once was known as the "Sunrise Motel-Caravan Park & Villas"
Marine Hotel, Victoria Street, Cardwell...circa 2000

Marine Hotel, post Yasi!

The harrowing destruction of Cardwell by Cyclone Yasi on 3rd February, 2011 defies description.  The devastating trauma and loss the small beachfront town and its people suffered at the hands of the cruel, callous cyclone was heartrending, to say the least, . 

I’ve fond memories of Cardwell. Cardwell was my mainland port of call when I managed Cape Richards Resort on Hinchinbrook Island.

Where possible I supported the town’s businesses; in return, they became vigorous advocates of the resort; and I guess, in some ways of me.  The resort benefited from many tourists directed its way by Cardwell's townfolk.

Upon my taking on the management of the resort in early 1986 I was an enigma to many on the mainland. Not only was I a newcomer to the region, but I was a female; as well as being the first female manager of the resort; and, on top of that, I was manager of the resort without the help of a male counterpart. It wasn’t a regular occurrence up in those reaches back in the mid-Eighties; maybe the status quo/attitude still remains in certain areas; I don’t know.  However, I wasn’t fazed by the curiosity and interest my appearance caused, along with, perhaps, the gossip that briefly set mainland tongues wagging.  I had a job to do; staff to lead and an island resort to run. I was too focused on those to be concerned about what strangers thought of me.

The business folk in Cardwell and nearby towns like Tully to the north, and Ingham to the south soon understood I wasn’t the freak they’d perhaps erroneously prejudged me to be; but then, some could say that they were correct in their initial assumptions.  I won’t go into this any further – I can see the possibility of opening myself up to lengthy discussions on the subject of my eccentricity; and I may come out the worse for it in the end!   So I’ll leave that alone…for now...other than to admit...I quite like being eccentric...actually, I love it!

After returning from my sales-marketing adventures there were times I had to stay overnight in Cardwell before returning to the island the next morning by boat.  On other occasions, when appropriate, I’d return to the island by sea plane, landing in the waters out from the resort. 

However, whenever I had to stay in Cardwell, I chose to stay at the Lyndoch Motel; the home of the best savoury mince in the North! My desire for savoury mince on toast became a little bit like that elusive roast lamb I’d been in search of in Tasmania.   

As I drew closer to Cardwell, I’d start salivating at the thought of the Lyndoch’s savoury mince.  Without fail, I always feasted upon it for breakfast when staying at the motel! So familiar the Lynoch folk were with my wants and desire, my placing a breakfast order became unnecessary!   

It wasn’t a flashy, fancy establishment; no five or four stars; probably not even three and a half, but it had a special ambience about it; and the owners were wonderful, friendly, obliging people.

The Lyndoch Motel hosted the annual Mud Crab Festival back then.

The fabled crab races conducted on the motel grounds drew expectant, feverish punters from far and wide. One year as part of the weekend festivities Billy J. Smith and Fiona MacDonald (television-radio identities of the time) held an “It’s a Knock-Out” competition on a vacant block of land adjacent to the motel. 

I formed a motley gang of impulsive, boisterous warriors aka my island staff to compete against the visiting team of softies from Dunk Island! 

Rearing to go, my over-zealous gladiators were in no mood to take prisoners; and none they took!  Some of the methods to which my crew resorted may not have been in the rule book, but, in between cheering them on like a rabid shrew, I turned a blind eye; and looked out to sea with the other.

The incentive for my band of warriors was the persuasive lure of the Lyndoch Motel Bar.  That was a weekend and a half, I can assure you without going into further details here!

As with the rest of Cardwell, Yasi showed no mercy on the Lyndoch. The motel succumbed to its relentless unforgiving angry winds and pelting rain. The Lyndoch became a shattered shell of memories. 

It pleases me to learn that the motel has been restored.

For a period of time in 1996/7, I managed a motel a few metres north along the highway on the opposite side to the Lyncoch. The motel I managed faced the Bruce highway.  It was part of a six-acre property on the ocean-side of the main thoroughfare that runs the length of Queensland..

The property consisted of the motel I managed; and in between it and the ocean side were caravan sites; on-site caravans; small villas and a beachfront motel and restaurant.  Back then, it was known as “The Sunrise Motel-Caravan Park”…Marine Parade, Cardwell.  It, too, suffered major damage at the frenetic will of Yasi.

The Bruce Highway is also the town’s main street. As the highway passes through the town it becomes known as “Victoria Street”.  It separates Cardwell from the beachfront and from the ocean.

Entering Cardwell from the southern end a roadside pie van tempted passing traffic. It was mandatory to break your trip for one or more of its luscious pies…coming and going! Offering the best pies up and down the coast, daily the van set up camp beneath the same shady tree on the waterfront. I was often guilty of succumbing! It was difficult to be weak-willed when it came to those delicious pies.

And what better place was there to have a cold, cold beer than to sit at the bar of the Cardwell’s one and only pub, the Marine Hotel, while looking out across the waters to the majestic Hinchinbrook Island?

A basic no-nonsense pub with a million-dollar view! You can’t beat that, but Yasi did! Yasi tore the pub to shreds.  It wasn't a case of "A Pub with No Beer", per the lyrics of Slim Dusty's old song; it was a "Town with No Pub and No Beer"!

From the mid-Eighties to the late Nineties I spent 13 years living in North Queensland; from Clifton Beach in the north to Mackay in the south; with quite a few other locales in between. 

It was distressing to see what the northern folk had to deal with after Cyclone Yasi’s unwelcome, uninvited visit.  However, they’re a resilient mob up that way. They’re a good mob, too. It would be at your own risk to discount them.  The northerners are a good-humoured lot; and they made out of tough stuff!

Queenslanders everywhere, in small towns, and in areas most of us have never heard of, were hurt badly by Cyclone Yasi. But they licked their wounds; and are gradually making progress again. 

It’s been a long, hard slog; and it’s not over yet; but never takes more than a cyclone to dampen their spirits!

Savoury Mince: Brown 750g mince; add 1 large chopped onion; fry gently; drain off any fat. Add 1 can diced tomatoes, 2tbls tomato paste, 3 chopped carrots, 2 diced celery stalks, 2 crushed garlic cloves, 2c beef stock (or 1pkt mushroom soup, 2 beef cubes and 2c water), 30ml Worcestershire sauce, a splash or two of tomato sauce and 2tsp mixed herbs. Simmer 45-50mins. Add 1c frozen peas and 2tsp gravy mix; simmer 6mins.

Greek Lamb Pie: Preheat oven 205C. Grease 8-1/2inch spring-form pan. Fry 500g minced lamb and 1 chopped onion in dry non-stick pan 5mins; add crushed garlic clove, 1 can drained tomatoes, 2tbls chopped mint, 1tsp nutmeg; season. Bring to boil; simmer; stir occasionally until almost all liquid evaporated. Wash 375g spinach; cook leaves in only the water clinging to them for 2 mins; drain well; add to meat; add 125g crumbled Feta. Brush sheets of 1 pkt phyllo with oil; overlap in layers in prepared pan; leave pastry hanging over sides; add meat; wrap pastry over top; scrunch any remaining pastry into balls; place on top; sprinkle with sesame seeds; bake 25-30mins.

Cheesy Pie: Preheat oven 190C. Combine 500g minced beef, 2/3c evaporated milk, 1/4c dry breadcrumbs, crushed garlic evenly in pan; spread 1/3c tomato sauce, 1c sliced mushrooms, 1c shredded cheddar, 2tbls parmesan and 1/4tsp oregano over mixture; bake 25mins