Sunday, January 12, 2014


Yakutsk, Sakha Republic

Gregory-Cannon Valley Road
Cannonvale just before entering Airlie Beach
Balcony at Whitsunday Resort
Whitsunday Sailing Club Airlie Beach

We stayed somewhere up there on the hill in the background
Coral Sea Resort where Costello worked

Abell Point, Airlie Beach
Whitsunday Resort as it was known in the Nineties
Airlie Beach Main Street
 A few years ago I posted this story about a fine young man I had the good fortune to meet back in August, 1993.  As so often it is in life, the young man, the subject of my story and I lost contact not long after his return to his home in Yakutsk, Eastern Siberia; but I've never forgotten him. Often, throughout the intervening years I thought fondly about the brief time he and I shared.  

Many times I've gone in search through the internet with the hope I'd find him. My myriad searches were in vain; the results negative. Frustrated, but determined never to give up, a couple of weeks ago while re-reading the letters I'd received from him written in early 1994 after my then young friend's return to his home country, I donned my Sherlock Holmes guise once again; placed my deerstalker cap securely on my head; polished my magnifying glass and hunted about for my pipe, but I couldn't find it. However, I wouldn't let a small detail like that stand in my way; nothing was going to deter me.  I wasn't going to allow one minor hiccup to hinder my latest search.

Lo and behold!  This time I hit the jackpot!  I stumbled across a site - "Yakutia Today".  It's a website dedicated to the Sakha Republic (Yakutia), Eastern Siberia...the biggest Russian region. The region where Andrei was raised.

"In for a penny, in for a pound"  - or " In for a kopeck in for a rouble", I thought. 

Hastily, I penned an email giving a concise explanation about my quarry, the subject of my query and sent it off to a gentleman at "Yakutia Today".  

Within a couple of days the wheels of progress had been set in motion.  And then, on Saturday morning, 11th January, 2014 I awoke to an email from Andrei.  I read it with a wide smile across my face and with tears streaming down my face.  I could hardly believe my eyes.  How happy I am to have found him....after all these years...20 years!  He is now married to a beautiful young lady; and they live in Moscow.  I hope from now on we remain in contact.

The wonders of the Internet.....

So below I am re-posting my story about Andrei....grab yourself a mug of coffee....settle in and enjoy.....

I've written quite a few tales about my life on the islands; but I have lived a life of adventures on the mainland, too, just in case you were wondering! (Not so much these days, though…now the quiet life is my umbrella…one of my own choosing).

For something completely different, here is a little story about one of my escapades on the's one of many; and one of the best!

I left Newry Island to return to a more “normal” existence in Glenden where I secured a position as chef/cook with Morris Corporation, a national and international catering company.

Morris Catering won the contract for Expo 88. Throughout the years Morris Corporation has worked closely with the UN, securing contracts in Cambodia, Somalia, East Timor, Iraq and elsewhere. Actually, David Morris, who originally established the company, and Tyson, one of his sons both were murdered in Somalia; Tyson in an ambush in 1993; and David in 1995.
Morris held the catering rights at the single-mens' canteen/mess in Glenden to service a Newlands coal mine in the coal-rich Bowen Basin in north Queensland.  

Glenden was designed and built by MIM (Mount Isa Mines. Xstrata took over MIM’s Newlands operations in 2003) for its workers. The mine is located 30kms from the town.  Construction of Glenden commenced in 1982; and by the time I arrived in mid-1991, it was barely 11 years old. At that time, the town’s population was around 1800.  It was a modern little town with all the necessities for easy living; a pool; tennis and squash courts and other sporting facilities; town club; supermarket, bank etc.

MIM requested Morris Corp. to build a first-class motel consisting of 20 en suited rooms, also with an on-site top class restaurant; all to accommodate visiting mining clientele...i.e. financiers, bankers, company hierarchy, top union officials (who were no friends of mine), company representatives etc; and Morris did as they were bidden to do.

Lorikeets Restaurant, part of the Glenden Country Motor Inn, was a modern, expensively-fitted out restaurant with a menu befitting its stream-lined appearance. As the restaurant’s chef, I also catered for overseas coal buyers who visited the area from all points on the globe with spending on their minds.

I have a few stories from this time that I will relate at a later date. The story in this present tome is about when I transferred within the company from Glenden to Collinsville, another coal-mining town nearby to become chef/manager of the single-men’s mess and quarters; also under contract to Morris.  Collinsville is the second oldest coal mining town in Queensland; the oldest being Ipswich. Collinsville is 273kms north-west of Mackay; 85kms inland from Bowen on the coast.

I was the first female chef/manager of the Collinsville Single Men’s Quarters and Mess, the first in the whole company, actually. It was a very interesting time for me, to say the least, and probably as interesting for the men for whom I catered! I took no nonsense from them; and they soon learned this fact; word travels fast!

Because of the company's involvement with the UN, after 'Glastnost' - introduced in the late 1980s by the then Russian President, Mikhail Gorbachev - an elite group of young people was selected from across Russia to visit the free Western World to learn about capitalism and the ways of business etc., Australia was one country amongst their designated destinations, and so too, was the Morris Corporation.  Some of the chosen were sent to the US, and others to the UK. From memory, only 100 (it may have been less) were selected out of the thousands and thousands who had been nominated from the wide, varied expanse of Russia.

A young man named Andrei Anisimov, aged 24 or thereabouts, was one these select young people.  Andrei was one of the four young folk who were sent to Australia.  To be a member of that elite group meant he was special; and very special he was.

Andrei lived in Yakutsk, the capital city of the Sakha Republic, Siberia, Russia. He lived with his mother in a small two bedroom apartment. She taught English at the local university; and because of his mother’s occupation, Andrei spoke perfect English.  Being a sub-arctic climate, Yakutsk’s temperatures ranges from 19.5C in July to minus 38.6C in January.  The coldest temperatures ever recorded outside of Antarctica occur in the Yana River, north-east of Yakutsk.  The lowest temperature recorded in Yakutsk was -64.4C; and the highest, +38.4C. 

At the time of this story of my telling, the average wage per month in Yakutsk (and, no doubt, in other areas) was $20.00.  Andrei was hoping to get a position with the Gold Bank of Yakutsk on his return to his home country.  His older brother worked for the bank and his monthly wage was $100.00.  That was considered to be a very good income.  Before Andrei’s brother married he also lived in the two bedroom unit with their mother.  It was only by marrying that Andrei's brother, Vladimir was allowed a unit of his own; that was the law of the land.

I give this detailed information to help the reader understand Andrei and of starkness of his life in Eastern Siberia.

Upon his arrival in Queensland (his first port of call in his introduction to Australia), Andrei was allocated to the head office of Morris Catering then situated at Yatala.  Not knowing what to do with him head office decided to ship him out; off their hands; out of sight; out of mind. He wasn’t their responsibility was their ill-informed belief.  One could read "ignorant" for "ill-informed", if that description is preferred.

Carol, the personal secretary of the managing director, Robert McVicker (who was overseas at the time) in her thoughtlessness put the young man, a stranger to our country; who had only arrived to our shores a couple of days earlier onto the provisions’ truck that was about to depart on its weekly odyssey north - destined to off-load part of its cargo in Glenden for the miners’ canteen, the motel and restaurant; and, thence, after an overnight stay in Glenden, travel further north to me at the Collinsville Mess to deposit my ordered provisions and other requirements.

When Andrei arrived in Glenden Charles and Karen, the motel managers were away on a short break. Colin, the Area Manager for Morris Catering who was based in Glenden was keeping an eye on the motel during their absence.  Colin didn’t live on the premises at the motel while Karen and Charles were away; so he wasn’t there all the time. A young fill-in receptionist handled the necessary duties when present. Taking a break wasn’t something the managers did often, but, unfortunately, the timing of their being away from the motel and Andrei’s visit collided, unfavourably. Karen and Charles were not to blame.  They weren’t informed by head office of Andrei’s pending arrival.  Not one person at head office thought to check ahead to organise the young man’s visit; to make him feel welcome and to ensure he had a pleasant experience...his first in a new country. 

Andrei spent part of the day and the night alone in Glenden; in a motel room. Nobody bothered about him or thought to take him under their wings. Nobody had bothered about him in Yatala; and now he'd been loaded onto the truck like a piece of meat...out of sight; out of mind! His ill-treatment had become a bad habit!  It was a dreadful situation, in my opinion.   

I only found out about the badly-handled situation from Andrei when he arrived on my doorstep in Collinsville. He didn’t complain. He told it as it was.  If he felt slighted he kept his feelings hidden. 

When I heard his story I was very angry and embarrassed that the company’s employees could act so ignorantly and thoughtlessly!  As it was, as an afterthought, head office had only informed me late in the afternoon before the morning of Andrei's pending arrival in Collinsville. Those in head office should have been sent to a seminar on the art of dealing with people; they certainly had a lot to learn!

My brother, Graham had been staying with me for a few days. At the time, he lived and worked in Mackay. When I arrived home from work in the evening I told him about the young Russian; his expected visit and my tentatively made plans to occupy and entertain him during his stay.   

Collinsville’s permanent population lies around 2,600; excluding "fly-in-fly-out" workers; it’s not a bustling metropolis. It's a small town that services the coal mine; and it's surrounded by cattle properties.

Graham planned to return home to Mackay mid-morning the next day after I’d left for work; my work day usually started around 5.30-6 am and finished around 9 pm.  It was unusual for Graham to leave during the daylight hours. His normal practice was to drive at night, preferring night driving. I can’t remember the reason for his change in attitude at that particular time.  He may have been calling into Midge Point on his way back home to Mackay, as one of his sons lived there at the time.

Early Wednesday morning arrived; and so did the truck bearing all my supplies, and my young charge.  The truck pulled into the loading-unloading area at the rear entrance of the mess building. I was there, as usual, to greet the driver and to assist him unload.

From the passenger side of the cabin, Andrei gingerly stepped down. I glimpsed a slight amount the confusion and shyness in his eyes. He'd just come across from Glenden, through the back roads (read “bush track” to Collinsville); having left before dawn. It would have been quite an introduction to the Australian countryside for a young fellow from a distant country; a country so different to the one he found himself in

The unsealed road between the two towns was (and probably still is) just a narrow, winding dirt track. Most of the vast expanse of land is taken up by beef cattle properties; uninterrupted areas of land with few signs of human life upon it. It was obvious to me that everything the young Russian would have experienced so far in his short time in Australia was totally remote, strange and foreign to what he was used to in Yakutsk. 

I’d deduced from the information I’d received by telephone from both Brisbane and Glenden, he’d not been made to feel at home or at ease by anyone, anywhere; so, it was understandable, to me, that he’d be feeling a little ill-at-ease.  Having spent the past few days being mostly ignored; and then jumping down from the truck’s cabin into further un-chartered territory, it would be confusing to the most intrepid traveller!

As Andrei’s feet hit the ground, I smiled and immediately extended my hand in a warm greeting. His face lit up and his black eyes flashed as he grabbed my hand in return.

I beamed at him and said:

"G’day, Andrei! Welcome to Collinsville…I’m Lee! You have two options, can stay in one of the 'dongas'; they’re the demountables…the single men’s accommodation huts. They consist of a single bed; an empty bar fridge; bathroom and little else....or, you can come and stay at my house with me. I have three bedrooms, so you’ll have your own room; a full-sized, stocked fridge and freezer; an excellent stereo system, plus a load of music of all descriptions to choose from; a well-stocked pantry and bar; and, a television and VCR, to top everything off. I have two cats and a cocker spaniel. They’ve never been known to attack Eastern Siberians!  I've a barbecue area out the back; and there’s lots of room for you to stretch your legs. They are your two choices – free run of my home or a boring old donga!  You have a minute to make up your mind!"

His face opened up with a broad smile. He chose the second option in about a second!  He wasn’t silly!

Andrei transferred his suitcase from the truck into the company’s little four-wheel drive Suzuki that was my means of transport during my tenure with Morris Catering; and then he helped Kev, the truck driver and me unload my goods from the truck into the storeroom.   

Margaret, my breakfast cook was busily buzzing around the kitchen preparing breakfast for the miners; filling up the eight-bay bain-marie with delicious hot fare while placing bowls of freshly-prepared fruit salad etc., in the refrigerated salad bar. Some had just finished their midnight to dawn shift; and others were just starting their day. Kev, Andrei and I found a table in the dining room where we hungrily tucked into a hot breakfast; including fresh fruit salad.  Kev and Andrei were particularly famished after their early start to the morning.  I doubt Andrei had had much to eat the previous evening. He’d probably not had a decent meal since setting foot on Australian soil, for that matter.

Once we’d finished our breakfast, we said our goodbyes to Kev, and I then drove Andrei to my home so he could deposit his luggage and check out what was to be his new home for the next few days.  Graham was in the process of loading his car in readiness for his own departure to Mackay. 

The three of us chatted for a while; and then another farewell was extended; to Graham this time.  Andrei and I then headed back to the Mess.  I really didn’t know what to do with him, but I wasn’t going to ignore his presence. He’d been ignored enough already by others. He joined me in my office where we chatted while I attended to some paper work.  Once I finished those chores he followed me to the kitchen. Wanting to be helpful, he asked for a job.  So I handed him a couple of pumpkins to peel and chop; but then I had second thoughts. 

My vivid imagination went into over-drive. I could see him slicing off a finger or more; a shiver went down my spine.  Deciding I didn’t want to send him back home to his mother minus a digit or two, I took the large knife off him and suggested that perhaps washing dishes and pots was a better option.  He didn’t raise an eyebrow, nor an argument.  I doubt he’d seen a pumpkin before that morning; or if he had, he’d never previously handled one as big as the gourds I placed on the bench in front of him.  It felt awkward having Andrei at work with me. He wasn’t familiar with a commercial kitchen; and commercial kitchens can be dangerous environments for the uninitiated; particularly when it gets busy.

Once I felt he was safely involved in the washing up with little chance of harming himself, I returned to the privacy of my office to ring Loretta, my kitchen-hand, to ask her to start her shift a little earlier than usual.  I then rang another of my kitchen staff to come into work to assist Loretta during her shift.  Both were happy to oblige (they’d be paid for their extra time).

My normal daily routine was spent attending to my office duties in the mornings up until around 1 pm; from then on, I moved into the kitchen where I spent the afternoons preparing the evening meals for the miners. I worked through until after dining hours, finishing up around 8.30 to 9 pm each night.   Loretta was my kitchen hand; my off-sider; she was my right hand; not just my kitchen hand.   She and I worked together very well. We had lots of fun working together, too…that’s half the battle.  Loretta knew only one speed…full throttle!

She’d been an employee of Morris Catering long before I arrived on the scene. Loretta helped me get acclimatized right from the word “go”. 

The morning I arrived in Collinsville for the first time, I’d only been in my house for about an hour when there was a tap on the front door.  Upon opening the door I espied a stranger standing on the landing at the top of the stairs. Greeting me was a wiry, short in stature woman with dancing eyes; spread across her tanned face was a wide, bright smile. I was sure her teeth reflected the sparkling sun, not unlike the teeth of Tony Curtis’s character in “The Great Race”!  I’d never before in my life received such a cheery, welcoming greeting as the one Loretta gave me that morning; nor have I received a similar one since.  She was bouncing with energy and excitement.  Her exuberance was contagious.   

On her way to work (I soon learned she was one member of my staff of five), Loretta decided to pop across the street before heading off to work to introduce herself; welcome me to the town; and to extend an invitation to follow her to the mess hall to check out the building and set-up, and, also, to have lunch; or the alternative, she’d bring some lunch to me when on her way to the mine to drop off the miners’ cribs. I agreed to the first option presented to me.  Making sure Pushkin and Rimsky, my two cats, and Missy, the cocker spaniel were settled in safe and secure, I went with Loretta to the mess hall.  I had to pick up the company vehicle, anyway. 

Loretta had no hidden agenda; she wasn’t trying to get in “the good books” of her new boss. It was just the way she was.  What a breath of fresh air she was.

To top it off, as we got to know each other as each day went by, we discovered we had a mutual love of country music.  Loretta’s husband worked away on a fruit and vegetable farm at Gumlu, north of Bowen. “Crowie” returned home infrequently. She lived alone the majority of the time with her two large dogs and her egg-laying chickens as company; chickens that assisted her productive vegetable and herb garden; the trimmings of which, along with scraps from the mess, benefited the chickens; a never-ending cycle.  Loretta had one of the best rose gardens I’ve ever seen. Joining all of the above in her backyard were giant mango trees, along with lemon, grapefruit and orange trees.  I had five mango trees of my own in my yard…magnificent specimens of Bowen Mangoes!  All my Christmases had come at once when I moved into 25 Pelican Street, Collinsville.

With Loretta living across the street from me and the two of us working well together, we soon became firm friends. She was a trustworthy, loyal workmate and friend.  She was/is one of the most genuine people I’ve met. Loretta is one in a million; a true ray of sunshine.

We spent many of our off-hours listening to music at one or the other of our homes while she sipped on her home brew; and me on red wine or scotch; or other times, rum; depending on my mood at any given time, surrounded by our ever-loyal, if not sometimes bemused, menagerie of pets.

Between the two of us we had a massive library of music. Loretta was a tiny little thing; her head barely reached as high as my armpit; but she was as strong as a mallee bull.  With “Crowie”, her husband, absent most of the time, she did everything around the home and yard. Rarely did she sit still, not during daylight hours, anyway!  She serviced their cars; she even jacked up the rear of their old house and laid new floor boards in the back area; and she painted the interior…all by herself!   She was a wonder! She weighed little more than a plucked sparrow when wet, but I'd back her in a fight any day! 

I'm fortunate in that I've met and gotten to know some wonderful people along my life's path.

I do digress…back to Andrei…

Once Loretta arrived, Andrei and I headed home. Settling him in and showing him where everything was that he needed to know about, I grabbed some ice, a bottle of Bundaberg Rum and a bottle of Coca Cola. I handed Andrei my portable cassette player and a box full of tapes to carry.  Rather than have my upstairs stereo system blasting the neighbours out of their homes, the portable player was a suitable substitution for outdoor entertaining.  Joined by Missy and the cats, we went downstairs to my backyard where, upon my moving into the house, I’d erected a shade-cloth over the barbecue area that consisted of outdoor table, chairs and barbecue - making the area a gazebo of types – Collinsville-type! I put together a platter of tasty tidbits to graze upon; and there, around the table we sat for hours and hours; talking, laughing, enjoying the music; and learning a lot about each other’s country and our respective                lives therein. 

It was Andrei who introduced me to the music of the late Gary Moore, the Northern Ireland born blues/rock/progressive rock guitarist - ex-Thin Lizzy band member as part of his resumé.

Andrei loved music. He told me he played the drums in a little band he and a couple of his friends formed back home. I learned much about his life in Yakutsk; about his family and the lifestyle. As I mentioned previously, his mother taught English at the university and he had studied English at school and while at university. His command of the English language, therefore, was excellent. We’d gotten on immediately; from the moment he first stepped off the truck earlier that morning. Andrei had a wonderful sense of humour. We talked well into the night, extending into the wee small hours. 

The last vision I had of him before he went to bed was his chin resting on my kitchen counter, tears of laughter rolling down his face, while he told me he had fallen in love with Bundaberg Rum!  I’d given him his first introduction to good old “Bundy”!  I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not!

When I rose early next morning to go into work, Andrei was still sleeping soundly in his bed. I left a note for him on the kitchen bench to ring me when he was ready to come into the Mess and that I would come back home to pick him up. This he did around 10.30am. I took him for a tour around Collinsville, which took all of about five minutes; maybe six; and then I drove out to the coal mine. I'd organised for one of the foremen at the mine to give us a guided tour. Andrei was interested in all that he saw. 

On the way back from the mine, I stopped off at Collinsville’s small supermarket. Andrei's eyes grew larger and larger. He had never seen so many products on the shelves of a supermarket. And, as I said, Collinsville's supermarket was a very small supermarket compared to those in the larger regional cities and major cities. Collinsville is not a large town. 

Everything was new and wonderful to Andrei. His enthusiasm was contagious. It all began to look new to me, too, as I saw the world around me through his eyes.  The variety of products and the quantity of products on the supermarket shelves amazed and intrigued him. He’d never experienced anything like it before.

I gave him a couple of small, safe jobs to do when we arrived back at the mess, but mainly I just continued talking with him while I worked in the office. 

I looked at him sitting across from my desk and said; "How about I take you to the coast for the weekend. There's nothing for you to do here in Collinsville.  I'd like to show you more of the area...would you like to do that?"

I didn’t tell him, but I had planned to go to Rose Bay, one of the wonderful beaches of Bowen that weekend.  I’d already booked my regular little cabin, “Laguna” that sat right on the beachfront before I learned Andrei was coming to Collinsville.  I didn’t tell him because I didn’t want him thinking he’d upset my plans; and he wasn't.  "Laguna" would always be there, but Andrei wouldn't always be
spending time with me in an area that deserved to be discovered by him.  The choice I had to make was an easy one.

I felt that just spending the weekend at the cabin wouldn't be suitable for him as all I did when I went to the cabin was to laze on the deck savouring the magnificent view of Gloucester Island sitting like a gem on the turquoise-coloured waters of the Coral Sea. I wanted to show Andrei more of the Australian countryside. He may never get a chance to explore Australia, or parts thereof ever again, I believed.  

I telephone a friend of mine in Airlie Beach to see if she could find us accommodation in Airlie for the weekend. Susie worked in the front office of the Coral Sea Resort at the time. I knew if anyone could find accommodation for me, she was the one. Airlie Beach is approximately 160kms south-east of Collinsville; a little over two hours' drive away.

My timing was well off the mark! It was the weekend of the Whitsunday Yacht Race. Everyone, along with his or her dog and boat would be in town. Actually, they were already in town because the coming weekend was the culmination of the week-long event and celebrations. 

“Costello”, as Susie was called by all her friends gasped at my request; but she promised she’d do her best to find accommodation for us; and she’d ring me back as soon as possible.  A couple of hours later, she called, informing me that there was not a room to be found; other than one single room that consisted of a queen bed and one day-bed/sofa.

I turned to the young man sitting across from me, and said, "What do you think about sharing one room with an old, decrepit woman? There is a sofa, so I’ll take it - you can have the bed."

Andrei was receptive to anything I threw at him. Once again, his eyes lit up.  He readily agreed to my proposition.. Without hesitation, I asked Costello to book the room; the one and only room left in the Whitsunday Resort; and in all of Airlie Beach and Cannonvale, for that matter; and probably, Proserpine, as well!

I still had to fit in the long hours for the rest of the day and evening.; work didn’t go away.  Andrei filled his time helping out around the mess, the storeroom etc., but I purposely kept him away from my housekeepers who cleaned the dongas. 

 One, Trish Tudehope was the wife of the union rep out at the mine. Trish’s co-worker and best buddy, Jenny, followed her around like a stray puppy, and she hung on her every word.  Both women were in their mid-forties. I particularly didn’t like Trish or her politics and her union attitudes and affiliations. Her left-wing leanings were opposed to my beliefs.  She knew where she stood with me. I didn’t keep my feelings a secret; but as her boss, I treated her fairly.  Personally, I didn’t like her.  I didn’t want her anywhere near Andrei and corrupting him with her left-wing attitudes.  And don’t misunderstand me, she would venture into territory that she had no right to venture into with the young man.   

When I briefly introduced her to Andrei on his first day, immediately she started waffling on about a trip the union representatives, including her husband, had taken to Moscow a few years earlier. She was out of line in my opinion. I quickly steered the conversation away into another direct; steering Andrei away from her at the same time. 

Later on in the evening when he and I were chatting; and after we had become more relaxed in each others' company while listening to music and sipping on our rums, he brought the subject up – of how he was taken aback by Trish’s comments.  He thought it quite strange and quite rude; I agreed with him, wholeheartedly.  She had shown her true colours; I didn't allow her a second chance!

The evening  was spent quietly watching movies, talking; and no further bottles of Bundaberg rum were depleted.

We laughed our way through Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn’s “Housesitter”. The song, “Tura Lura, Lura” sung by Steve Martin while standing on the staircase of the housewarming party for his new home tickled our fancy.  And it became our “road song” as we travelled to Airlie Beach.  We sang the song as badly and as out of tune as Steve Martin had…unfortunately; but our hearts were in it; and we couldn't have cared less!

Saturday morning we both rose bright and early. We threw our bags into the back of the sprightly little white and blue Suzuki, and then jumped on board. Loretta promised to keep an eye on my pets during my absence. 

I could tell Andrei was feeling excited about the unknown adventure that lay ahead. His excitement radiated from his every pore.  His emotions were contagious; his joy was my joy.  

On the Sunday my plan was to drive Andrei on to Mackay for him to catch a flight back to Brisbane where he would spend a couple of days before heading off to Melbourne where he would spend time prior to returning home to Yakutsk; but in the meantime, Airlie Beach was waiting Andrei’s debut and one of my many encores!

With a selection of music playing in the car’s cassette player, like two wandering troubadours we headed off along the road from Collinsville to Bowen, 85kms away on the coast. Most of the countryside on the Collinsville-Bowen Road is dotted with rural beef cattle properties. Closer to Bowen we drove through the alluvial plain of the Don River, crossing the river’s bridge and onwards into the town of Bowen.

After a cruise along Bowen’s wide main street with its deep, deep gutters, we backtracked a short distance north of the business centre of town to the turn-off leading to Bowen’s magnificent beaches.  Bowen, situated on a peninsula, is surrounded by ocean on three sides; and on those three sides are many beautiful, not over-populated, over-developed bays. I took Andrei on a scenic tour of the beaches. He had never seen anything like the area before, nor had he ever seen before the type of homes we drove past. The size of the homes stunned him; even those you or I would consider small. It mattered not to him whether they were older homes or new.  Everything was new to Andrei; and through him, everything seemed new again to me, too.

He spent most of our drive-around with his mouth and eyes wide open.  Every now and then, I distinguished his soft gasps of wonderment and surprise. Andrei was enthralled; he took everything in with the enthusiasm of a child. It was impossible not to join him in his excitement. His happiness was infectious. 

Returning to Bowen, we then headed south out of town past the salt pans. We ambled along the highway leading us towards Airlie Beach. There was no hurry.  My wish was for Andrei to be able to absorb all that was around him; for him to experience and see everything of the countryside we were driving through.

Turning off the Bruce Highway onto the Gregory-Cannon Valley Road we passed through the lush region world heritage rainforest where the cane farms are hugged protectively by surrounding mountain ranges. 

The entrance into Airlie Beach through the northern access via Cannonvale is postcard-picturesque perfect.

Cannonvale loomed ahead, so too did the lush tree-covered headland that falls directly into the rich aquamarine-coloured sea below. 

As I drove around a bend Andrei spontaneously inhaled and then let out a loud gasp at the sight of the beauty before him. Anchored upon the crystal water were myriad boats of all sizes, styles and colours. The scene surrounding us was like something out of a tourism brochure or a Hollywood movie. It seemed to me the day had been tailor-made just for Andrei. 

Not a cloud blotted the clear blue sky above. The gentle breeze hardly caused a ripple on the surface of the water, nor did it stir the leaves on the trees densely fringing the road.

Entering Airlie Beach, I said to Andrei; “We’ll book into our room immediately to drop off our luggage; and then we’ll head into town, if that’s okay with you. Once I’ve parked the car, that’s where it will stay until it’s time for us to leave tomorrow. There will be no chance of finding a parking spot in town. And we won't be back to our room until much later tonight!”   

He acquiesced enthusiastically.
Whitsunday Resort, at that time back in 1993 was built on the crown of a steep hill. I'm not sure if the resort remains to this day; it may have been refurbished, or even replaced since then. Actually, I think it has been refurbished and added to, and is now known as "Summit Apartments" pictured above.

 I found a suitable, safe, off-road parking spot. We booked in and made haste to our room. We wasted no time after attending to the necessities.

 I nodded at Andrei – “You ready?”

“Yep! Let’s go!” He excitedly replied.

We were both in accord; and on a mission.

Bidding farewell to our room, knowing we wouldn’t see it again until we knew not when. We headed out, ready for whatever lay ahead!

Costello (Sue) and I had agreed to meet up with each other at the Whitsunday Sailing Club. She and her boyfriend, Jimmy Hayes, were amongst the organizers of the yacht race. Jimmy Hayes had, at one time, been commodore of the Whitsunday Sailing Club. I knew she would be very busy and I had no intentions of taking up much of her time.

(Jimmy was known to all and sundry as, “Jimmy Hayes” – I have no idea how or when that came about.  I met them both when I was living on Newry Island…and another story; and a good one - for another time)

As we approached Airlie’s main street a parade in celebration of the culmination of the Airlie Beach Race Week was underway. It had just begun shortly before our arrival. Colorfully decorated floats, clowns, jugglers and all forms of entertainment danced and pranced along the street. Crowds of people milled about everywhere. Five or six deep, or more, they lined the footpath. All was vibrant motion.

Even if I’d planned well in advance, I couldn’t have chosen a better weekend to show Andrei a snippet of our Aussie lifestyle than that weekend. It was as if it was meant to be.

The small coastal township was alive with happy folk; all were in a celebratory mood. The air was bursting with adrenaline. Andrei couldn’t wipe the smile from his face; and neither could I from my own.

We strolled leisurely through the street. My guest was in awe of everything around him. He had never seen or participated in anything like it before. We arrived at the Sailing Club and found a vacant table outside on the deck over-looking the water. The Club is situated on the point with the ocean on both side. The view was outstanding with an atmosphere to match.

We’d not been seated long when Costello arrived, bubbling as much as the champagne she’d been enjoying since mid-morning! She invited us to a party at her apartment, but after conferring with Andrei, I declined on behalf of us both. I figured it would be far more interesting for him to partake in the afternoon and evening’s events at the Sailing Club, than being cooped up in an apartment amongst strangers. Fair enough that he was going to be amongst strangers at the Club, but a band was due to commence playing.  My belief was he would enjoy the euphoric pandemonium of the club much better.  I knew I would!

The afternoon aimlessly drifted by in sweet delight. Night fell. We ordered dinner and settled in for an evening of entertainment and fun.

The band was excellent. Andrei’s feet and hands tapped rhythmically with the music.  He tossed me a quizzical look; I understood his unspoken question.  Soon he and I were up on the floor rocking the night away. In between music breaks some of the band members joined our table, much to Andrei’s pleasure. He discovered he had a lot in common with the guys because of his own small band back home in Yakutsk; and because of his love of drumming. The conversation and laughter across our table flowed easily and freely.

The time came for the last bracket. The band continued playing rocking good music; and we continued kicking up our heels.

With my mind occupied with the music and the ambience of the night, to my shocked surprise, I realised my partner had disappeared from view. I looked down; Andrei had fallen to the floor! There he my feet!

His surprise descent, I discovered, was purposely performed!  I burst out laughing. He had perfectly and effortlessly, without warning, performed the splits...down and up again as quick as a flash! The crowd cheered and clapped, even the band members applauded his effort.  It was a fitting finale to our time spent at the Whitsunday Sailing Club.

We said our farewells to the band members, thanking them before we headed off to join the merry group of revellers out in the streets.

Walking past the Airlie Beach Hotel, we popped in for one last drink, just for fun. Why had been that kind of day and night. The air was filled with happiness and excitement. The hotel was closing and the call was out for last drinks.

Turning into Airlie’s main street after our brief pub visit, we came upon a park wherein a large crowd was gathering. Forever curious, we stopped to see what all the fuss was about.

A band was setting up to play on the long, covered, flat tray of a huge truck.  One side of the tray was opened up to the attending public.  Not ready to call the evening quits, we settled ourselves down on the grass in front of the makeshift stage.

By that time it was shortly after midnight. Airlie Beach celebrations were still in full swing. I can’t remember the name of the band.  They were from Mackay I overheard someone in the audience say. They played brilliantly; and to our surprised joy, they covered Pink Floyd’s music; which is not an easy feat to achieve; and achieve it they did, expertly. 

In no time at all, the crowd numbers increased even more. The band performed for an hour or so; they were memorable.

After our sojourn in the park Andrei and I strolled back up the hill to our accommodation.

Both of us were still processing the day and night’s events. Sleep was the last thing from our minds.  We sat out on the balcony, looking at the stars and picking out images in the cloud formations above. Over steaming cups of coffee, we rehashed everything we’d done, seen and enjoyed.

It was difficult to bring the day to an end, but I knew we had to rise early in the morning to continue our trip on to Mackay and the airport. 

Sadly, Andrei’s visit was drawing to an end. 

A friendly argument ensured as to who was going to have the bed and who was going to sleep on the sofa. I won the battle! I insisted Andrei have the bed. He’d never in his life before slept in a queen-size bed, let alone in a resort, I believed; however, I didn’t divulge my belief to him.  I wanted him to enjoy everything; for him to have the best memories possible of his time spent with Collinsville and Airlie Beach...and all areas in between.  I was enjoying myself. I was having one of the best times in my life.

I reminded Andrei what I had said way back at the beginning in my office when I made the booking; that I would hear no argument from him regarding the sleeping arrangements. 

He was my guest. I wanted him to soak up - to absorb the whole ambience of his stay in North Queensland. I told him I preferred the sofa because I could look at the stars as I fell to sleep.

He perched himself up in bed like the lord of the manor. 

Looking at me, he said:

“Lee…I thank you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. This has been the most wonderful day of my life. To spend the time with you these past couple of days will be something I will never forget. I don’t want this day to end.”

I understood...I felt similar.

Humbled, I thanked him.  I agreed that we’d had a wonderful time; that I had enjoyed it as much as he had - but we must get some sleep!

Like a mischievous child, he said, “Okay…but I’m going to have one more cigarette…just one more!”

How could I deny him? I laughed.  It had been a special time for me, as well
Not many hours later, we were on the road again continuing our adventure as we travelled along the highway south to Mackay, where we arrived a little after 8am. We decided to have breakfast at “Hungry Jacks” before driving to the airport. It was as if we were both trying to halt the inevitable; but time doesn't allow us mere mortals to stop it, unfortunately.

Another debate arose. Andrei insisted on paying for our breakfasts. I tried to put forth a valid argument, but he wouldn’t let me win the debate. He wanted to do it, so I gave in and let him.

Sitting across the table from me, he looked directly into my eyes; and with undeniable sincerity, he said:

 “As long as I live I will always remember the special, unique time I spent with a woman called “Lee”.  I thank you, Lee - so very much!”

Of course, being who I am, tears flooded my eyes. And for once, I was lost for words.

We arrived at Mackay Airport. Few words had been exchanged since leaving "Hungry Jacks". We were both lost in our own thoughts.

While waiting as Andrei checked in his luggage, I turned around and came face to face with Graham, my brother. He had decided to come out to the airport to bid Andrei farewell. Graham had told me on the telephone he might do so, but I said nothing about his tentative plan to Andrei, in case it didn’t come into fruition. 

When Andrei returned to where I was standing, the look of surprised happiness on his face at seeing Graham standing there alongside me is one I will never forget. Andrei was overcome that someone who had only met him for brief minutes in time would do something like that - for him.   

It was another wonderful moment I will never forget.

By the time Andrei was called for his flight the three of us had tears in our eyes. 

Andrei shook Graham’s hand; and then he turned to me. He gave me the biggest bear hug I’ve ever had in my life. 

Eventually, I pushed him away gently, saying:

 “Go! Go! Go before I turn into a blubbering mess!”

 It was a bit too late for that – I was already a blubbering mess!

With tear-filled eyes, Graham and I watched as Andrei walked towards the ‘Exit” door.

At the door, Andrei spun around, blocking the path of all those coming behind him. He swung his arms out wide, and then down the length of his torso; he bent down, sweeping his body into a low bow as a grand salute to me. He then turned and walked across the tarmac to where his plane waited.

And there in front of me was another moment in time frozen in my memory. I shall not forget the vision of Andrei’s farewell gesture.  His gesture said more than a thousand words could say.

Leaving the airport terminal, Graham instructed me to follow his car. I obeyed, not quite understanding what I was obeying, but I was soon to find out.  We pulled alongside a grassy verge at the rear of the Mackay airport runway. There we alighted from our vehicles to watch as Andrei’s plane lifted and turned on its way south to Brisbane.  We waved, hoping he could see us.

It was a beautiful thing my brother did that day. It had meant so much to Andrei. And it meant so much to me.

After saying our ‘Good-Byes’, Graham went home; and I turned my car north towards back Collinsville; and "Normalville".

Andrei rang me from Brisbane a couple of times before he left for Melbourne. He stayed in Melbourne for a few weeks, during which time he, again, telephoned me. Andrei laughingly told me he wasn’t like the rest of the group who had come to Australia. They, he said, saved the money they received during their visit; but not Andrei; Andrei bought himself a spanking-new stereo system! 

He left Melbourne after his time in Australia, to head back to Yakutsk, via Moscow.  It was a long way around…Yakutsk is in the same time zone as we are!

He and I corresponded for a while upon his return home. He had gained employment at the Gold Bank in Yakutsk, earning $300.00 a month, which was classed as extremely good money as the average wage at that time in a similar position (it was equivalent to around $100US a month). His older brother Vladimir also worked in the Gold Bank and, at one stage, was based in Melbourne.

During my next visit to Airlie Beach, I found a t-shirt in one of the menswear stores. It was a “Bundaberg Rum” t-shirt. It had a plastic-sealed pocket on the front filled with Bundaberg Rum!  How could I resist it? I bought the t-shirt and sent it to Andrei in memory of a great time shared.

He rang me from Yakutsk upon its receipt to thank me. I asked him had he drunk the rum and he told me he would wait until winter! It only gets around 40 degrees below there in Yakutsk. I think he would need a shipload of rum to help keep warm!

During our wander down the main street of Airlie Beach that memorable sunny Saturday afternoon, we bought raffle tickets; first prize being a wheelbarrow full of Bundaberg Rum. We didn’t win it, but we did discuss how we could make money from our win.  We’d export Bundaberg Rum into Russia. We never did anything about our grandiose ideas, of course. I wonder if anyone has!

And, sadly, we’ve lost contact these days, even though I’ve tried to find him through computer searches.  Maybe one day a search will be fruitful.

I often think of Andrei, wondering how his life has turned out.  I hope he’s having a happy life.

 Those few days in his company will always remain very special to me.

I feel honoured to have met and gotten to know such a fine young man 


  1. And a blubbering mess here.
    This is lovely Lee. Both the original story and to find him again after all these years is just BRILLIANT. As I said, a blubbering mess is typing these words.

  2. I was like that, EC, when I received the email from Andrei on Saturday was such a wonderful moment...a wonderful surprise. And, he, at the other end was equally as surprised and happy as I was. He couldn't believe that I'd found him.

    It was a moment to cherish, I can tell you. :)

    We won't lose contact again now...after this.

    I am so glad I persisted in searching for him and never gave up. I'm over the moon, actually. :)

  3. That is so WONDERFUL that you have found him again! Sometimes people come into your life that you can't forget and this was one of those times for you, sounds like.

  4. Nice story, makes me want to get on a plane to Airlie Beach! Good job on your sleuthing skills!

  5. Hey Lynn...yes, there are those who come into our lives most unexpectedly who are special. I've never forgotten Andrei and those few days he was my guest.

    It was great...and he was special; and I was fortunate.

  6. Hi Dexter....Airlie Beach is a lovely's the gateway to all the Whitsunday islands. You'd love it.

  7. What a lovely story! And how marvellous that you found him again. Just shows that persevering pays off, Sherlock! :)

  8. Yes, my dear Watson, perseverance certainly does pay off! ;)

  9. That is so neat! Makes me happy we have the internet, no?

    I can only imagine living in a place like that. I mean, the weather we have here would be a respite.

    What a neat story, Lee.

  10. I'm glad you enjoyed it, RK...I enjoyed retelling it...and particularly the telling of Andrei and my re-connection.

    Yes...the Internet is marvellous. :)

  11. I'm sure I posted on this yesterday. Dementia is a funny thing.....

    The difference between his background and the Aussie seaside must have been outstanding for the lad. Glad he done well for himself when he returned.

  12. I'm sure I read your comment yesterday...yes, dementia is a funny thing!

    Andrei's emotions; his awe at everything he was experiencing and seeing were palpable, Adullamite. I felt wonderful to be a part of it; to be witnessing what he was experiencing. I felt so much joy from it.

  13. I am thrilled for you being able to finally find your friend. It was so good of you to treat him so well back then, and I hope you-all keep in fairly constant contact these days. Hey, since Putin seems determined to bring back a lot of the old Soviet system, Andrei might be wanting to move his family down-under in the near future.

  14. G'day Jerry...I wouldn't be surprised re your Putin comment. Andrei loved his stay here albeit only a couple or so months...but he witnessed a whole new world and way of living...a freedom to be.

    We will remain in contact now...he is as thrilled as I am. I was so happy to have found him after all that time...and the many unsuccessful searches I'd done before this last fruitful one. :)

    Thanks for dropping, Jerry.

  15. What a wonderful story and I'm so glad you found him again! Well done for being so determined, Lee. xx

  16. When you meet someone who you feel is special, hate to lose that contact. I've always remembered the brief time spent with a fine young man and over years wondered how his life was panning out for him. I doubt I would have ever given up trying to find his whereabouts. :)

  17. Lee, I read this last week and calling back to leave a comment. I can imagine your search and excitement at finding Andrei. When I got the Internet and then Facebook, I would periodically search for an old school friend whom I hadn't seen for 30 years. We finally connected and I learned after 30 years it is best to hold on to fond memories. I found that 30 years of drugs and booze had really changed the person I thought I knew. I am so glad your tale has a happy ending.
    P.S. missed you so much I decided to start blogging again over here -->

  18. Firstly, Carol...I was thinking about you earlier and wishing you'd not stopped blogging. I'm so glad you're back in the fold! :)

    Yep! I'm so pleased I finally located Andrei...and I'm even more pleased to learn his life has been going well for him. I received a lengthy email from him last night...and I'm just about to read it all again...learning all about the intervening 20 years. It's so great.

  19. Lee, thank you so much xx

  20. You're more than welcome, Carol. :)

  21. What a fabulous story, Lee, and written so descriptively! I could see, feel and hear everything you did. I'm so glad you've caught up with Andrei again.

  22. Thanks, Robyn...I'm so glad we've found each other again, too. And he feels the same. Andrei is very thrilled. We have been corresponding at regular intervals every since.

    He was a wonderful young man when I had to good fortune to get to know him; and from what I can see nowadays since we've reconnected...nothing has changed...other than years. :)