Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Below is the continuation of my story - this follows on from Chapter One - I did warn you this was going to be a lengthy tale...and I'm still not finished...there is more to come after this....
Departing the Cairns region, Cyclone Joy was determined to cause havoc in my home territory, having given little forewarning of her intentions. The relocation of my boat to the upper reaches of the creek was an impossible feat for me to achieve under the conditions in which I found myself. There was no way I could safely row my little dinghy out to my motor boat to enable me to do what should be done, and what would have been done if I’d had sufficient warning. Even if I had been able to make it out to my boat, I would have found it impossible to row back from the creek over on Outer Newry; back across the churlish channel, and then across the turgid waters to the island’s main beach. Such attempts would have been rife with danger; I’ve always suffered a huge desire for self-preservation. There was absolutely nothing I could do about the predicament. It was far too late! I had no choice; my boat had to remain on its mooring for the duration of the cyclone; and my fingers had to remain permanently crossed. I had no idea how for how long in either case!
My happy guests seemed oblivious to the outside turmoil. Chattering animatedly amongst each other, they’d begun to mill around the bar and dining area in eager anticipation of their Christmas lunch; pangs of hunger niggled. The mixed aromas of pork, ham, turkey, chicken, beef and seafood, amongst other tempting fare wafting from the kitchen heightened their expectations.
Immediately upon seeing the drastic weather changes, I’d gotten onto my air-sea radio to find out the finer details of what was going on.
As my guests were altogether in the same area, I took the opportunity to inform the merrymakers that Cyclone Joy was on the move, and she was heading rapidly in a southerly direction. It was clear for all to see from the weather’s rapid change in behaviour over the previous couple of hours that the calm conditions of earlier in the morning were no longer. What had once been a mirrored mill pond was now an angry, ugly cauldron of metallic waves battling for supremacy.
Calmly, I drew the day-trippers’ attention to the direness of the situation. Without embellishment, I told them I feared their day trip had been extended into longer than one day; and perhaps even more if the weather conditions didn’t improve. I pointed out the impossibility of my taking them back to the mainland. They took the news on the chin and were philosophical about it. Everyone appeared to understand what was going on outside was far beyond my control. Nature had the upper hand; and was the sole conductor of what was going on in the outer extremities, at least.
As I was discussing the situation at hand, I was stunned to see a figure clad in rugged yellow wet weather gear striding up the beach. Battling the strong wind that forced his PVC raincoat flush against his body, his hooded head was lowered in an effort to protect his face against the stinging sand being whipped up by the unapologetic gale.
Rain had begun to fall, albeit lightly at that stage. However, it was obvious the churning, dense masses of gun-metal clouds were impatient to be rid of their burden; a downpour was imminent.
The image of the man striding up the beach battling the elements reminded of Philip Rhayader, the protagonist in Paul Gallico’s stirring short novella, “The Snow Goose”.
As he drew closer, I recognised the figure to be Ziggy, a retired professional fisherman, who, many years earlier when he was still a young man, had emigrated from Sweden. Ziggy was a regular visitor to the island. He and his wife, who I never met, lived on a property between Seaforth and the Bruce Highway. I liked Ziggy. I always welcomed his visits. He’d prop himself up at the bar, order a cold beer, and then, he’d settle in for a chat. The old sea-farer would only have a couple of cold beers, or perhaps a nip of rum depending on the weather or temperature. It was the conversation he preferred more than the drink. At a guess, Ziggy would have been in his mid to late Sixties at that stage. With his weathered face and calloused hands from his years spent at sea, it was a little difficult to pin-point his exact age. Ziggy was as strong as a Mallee bull; and as gentle as a lamb.
Often, during his visits, he’d crank-start the larger of my two diesel generators for me, believing it to be a very dangerous job for a woman. It was a dangerous activity; for either a male or a female if care wasn’t taken. If the handle got stuck during the cranking, it would release itself, and then fly through the air at a dangerous pace. If someone’s head was the target; and usually that head would belong to the one trying to start the gennie; that head wouldn’t remain attached to the neck for long if it was struck!
Ziggy was a gentleman of the old school; and to satisfy a gentleman’s wishes, I gratefully accepted his offers to start the generator when he visited. Of course, Ziggy wasn’t present every day so the perilous operation was mine to handle all other times, anyway. I alternated between the two generators, sometime opting for the button-start smaller generator of the two. Using the smaller of the two was also kinder on fuel. Which generator I operated depended on my diesel supply, my mood, and on how strong I felt on the day! I didn’t run the generator non-stop. I narrowed down the hours of usage by trial and error; limiting usage to just enough hours to maintain the temperature in the freezer and refrigerators. The times I had no guests on the island, I shut the generator down not long after nightfall, if not, at times, beforehand. I’d read by torch and candlelight. However, as I was always up at the crack of dawn, if not before, early nights were welcome. I never wasted diesel by running the generators to watch television when I was alone on the island at night; to me that was unnecessary wastage, not just of diesel, but of money, as well. Transporting fuel from the mainland to the holding tank on the island was a quite a massive operation for me to organize; it took quite lot of planning, coercing and bartering to set into place; so the less I used, the better it was on the whole.
A couple of keen young fellows from over Seaforth way were willingly to operate the old wooden barge as it slowly lumbered along under its load of drums full of diesel, not only for the adventure, but for the carton of beer and bottle of bourbon or rum offered as incentive. The trip across to the mainland had to be carefully orchestrated. The departure had to be when it was high tide on the island; and preferably just as it was on the turn of going out. At the mainland end, the tide had to be again on the turn of being on the rise once more, so when the loaded barged arrived back at the island, the tide was once again high; to enable the barge to be pulled up close to the foreshore; making it easier to pump the fuel from the drums up to the holding tank
In the middle of the growing mayhem, my friend, Ziggy, a man of generous spirit strode up the beach, having selfishly tackled the ever-increasing turmoil created by tropical Cyclone Joy as she made her journey towards my little corner of the world. Ziggy had made a determined trip in his tinnie across the wild waters from Victor Creek to get my promise not to take my boat out again until after all the craziness had passed. There are not many people who would do such a thing. He was a good friend.
I assured him I had no intentions of going anywhere; that my feet and that of my guests were firmly planted on the island’s sand. I was very appreciative of his warnings; and that he’d risked his own safety in making the trip to the island. Ziggy had been fishing the area for many years. He knew the local waters like the back of his hands. Before tackling the churlish sea, he’d anchored his larger fishing boat further up the mangrove-protected reaches of Victor Creek in an endeavour to safely ride out the storm; well away from the cyclone’s fury.
Ziggy’s visit was brief. There was no time to waste with frivolous chit-chat. Once he was satisfied that I wouldn’t take any chances, he hastened away to spend the duration of the destructive weather system securely ensconced in his larger fishing boat, out of Joy and harm’s way. After thanking him for his concern, and faithfully promising I’d take all precautions, I bade Ziggy safe passage and farewell.
Turning to my intrigued guests, I advised them that they were now my prisoners for as long as the wild, unpredictable weather remained. I laid out clearly to them the situation as it stood, leaving no misunderstandings. Most had overheard what Ziggy told me, and even if they felt disturbed about the predicament in which they found themselves, they understood there was nothing that could be done about it, other than to follow my instructions to the letter. The day-trippers were the ones mostly affected. All, but one, understood it was impossible for me to get anyone off the island; that trying to do so would put not only their lives, but my own, in jeopardy. The weather was closing in at a dangerously rapid rate. The ocean was being whipped up into a tempestuous mood. And all of my guests, bar one, accepted wholeheartedly they had no other choice but to remain in the island. There is always “one” who chooses to go against the flow!
And, on that Christmas Day on Newry Island, that “one” decided to morph into Fletcher Christian; making me his enemy, Captain Bligh!
Until that moment, I’d hardly noticed this guest. He was a nondescript person who had blended into the crowd; someone with no noticeable features or outstanding personality; not one who would cause a second glance. I did recognise him as one of the day-trippers I’d ferried to the island earlier in the morning.
The disgruntled day-tripper took it upon himself to start a mutiny. Like a politician trying to garner support and numbers from his peers, he did his upmost to turn the others against me. One by one he took each aside, in front of me, whispering “sweet horribles” about me in their ears. He demanded I take him off the island immediately; and he urged the rest of the guests to demand similar of me.
Unflinching, nor taking a backward step, I firmly stood my ground. I looked directly in his eyes as I stated, loud enough for his ears and those of the others milling around us.
“No one is going anywhere. I make the rules on this island. You heard what Ziggy said. I respect that man’s knowledge and advice. He’s been fishing these waters for many, many years; he put his own life at risk to come here this morning. Even Blind Freddy could see that any attempt to take a boat out now, in this weather, would be fatal! I make the guarantee, here and now, that Ziggy’s boat will be the last boat we will see until this upheaval has passed; and I have no idea when that will be. A cyclone is on its way; and it’s moving very quickly. Who knows what lies ahead? I sure as Hell don’t.”
Still staring at him, I continued. “And just so you’re fully aware - firstly, I have no intentions of killing myself; that’s first on my list! Secondly, I have no intentions of killing you, or the rest of my guests! Is that clear, or do you want me to repeat it all again?”
At this point, he tried to interject, but I would have no part of it. I shut him down the moment he opened his mouth.
Without batting an eyelid and not shifting my feet, I leaned my body a little closer to him.
I offered him an out: “If you want to go back to the mainland, you can. I won’t stop you. There’s the ocean. All you have to do is walk down to the water’s edge; jump in and start swimming; but don’t expect me to save you when you get into trouble! Do you have anything further to add?”
Like a mongrel dog with its tail between its legs, off he slunk. My other guests who had remained around me as if in a circle of confidence smiled as one, saying I had their full support. A possible mutiny had been successfully nullified. I never had a doubt that it wouldn’t be!
I, alone, was solely responsible for all people, matters and situations on the island; and I needed everyone to be on the same page as I was.
Desirous of keeping my guests together safely in the one area, I advised them to gather their possession from their respective cabins; and then, to congregate and set up camp in the main building. At my suggestion, the male members brought down mattresses from the cabins to lie on the painted concrete floor of the dining area. A couple of the day-trippers even spilled into one of the upstairs rooms that were part of my private, personal quarters; but my privacy was way down on the list of importance at that point. I didn’t want anyone to be in their cabins, away from the main building and other people. It was too dangerous a scenario. Everyone happily complied. Without further ado, they moved their belongings, including their children, out of the cabins into the main dining room. Marking their territory, they willingly bunkered down for the duration; however long that was going to be.
The rain started pelting down as only it can in the tropics; and, more particularly, when a tropical cyclone is nearby. A merciless, vicious wind howled; its cries akin to a hundred wailing banshees.
Water was everywhere; inside and out. Everything was wet and getting wetter by the minute. There was nothing I could do to rectify the situation. On the bar and on the floor behind the bar were buckets and large cooking pots strategically placed to catch the multitude of unstoppable leaks. The dining area, now the guest accommodation, was similarly decorated with whatever containers I could lay my hands on! I strung a clothes line across the only dry area of the bar to enable guests to hang some of their personals in a vain effort to get them dried.
Fortunately, we could see a humorous side in the shemozzle!
Even though water was everywhere, none was flowing from the island’s dam to the buildings. As strange as it was, in the middle of torrential rain, I had no water; none for showers; toilets or drinking! Not a drop was coming from the taps. Because the dam had been so low up until Christmas Day, the pump was still high and dry; well, not dry…but high, at least!
Around 9 pm Christmas night, I asked one of the fishermen to accompany me up to the dam in an attempt to solve the problem. Each armed with a flashlight, we slowly made our way through the darkness, battling wind, rain and unruly tree branches, hoping to God we didn’t get struck by any identified, or unidentified flying objects. I wore what was to become my uniform for the next three days, a black, one-piece bathing suit. I knew I’d be continually wet from going back and forth in the rain checking the outside perimeters; I could see no point to my wearing anything other than a swimsuit.
In the darkness, being lashed by the belting rain and uncontrollable wind, my off-sider and I discovered it was impossible under the conditions for us to fix the problem with the water pump. We tried to syphon water, but to no avail. Giving up, despondently we trekked back to the main building. Admitting defeat, we decided the better idea was to attend to the pump at the crack of dawn, when, at least we’d have natural light to work by. There was nothing we could do until then.
Returning to the main building, I informed everyone of the problem, and asked if they needed to use the amenities, it was best that they added to the natural flow of water outside when Nature called upon them; or if they found their circumstances to be more dire, to try their utmost to wait until after dawn’s early light and the water problem had been fixed! Failing that, perhaps grab the shovel and do what had to be done, if that be the case! Everyone took my instructions good-naturedly. There was no other choice; it was not a time for genteel niceties!
As hoped, the pump problem was corrected at dawn’s first light. However, some of the guests decided it was much more fun to shower outside under the downpipe at one corner of the building with the ocean as a backdrop. I gave them bars of soap and left them to it! All modesty disappeared and was replaced with feelings of brazen good-humour. No one went totally au naturale – not that I noticed, anyway; and I wouldn’t have cared if they had.
It was mid-summer; showering out in the heavy rain became an enjoyable pastime, and one the younger folk, the overseas back-packers, in particular, continued doing through the deluge. Their high-spirited acceptance of the situation was a good thing because their pleasure lifted some of the weight off my shoulders; shoulders that were already sagging beneath the burden; although, I did my best to hide my feelings from the guests. None noticed my inner tensions, which I kept well hidden within me. I had to be staunchly in control, or at least give the impression of being so!
Amongst the day-trippers were backpackers from Canada, Japan and Germany. Young people a long way away from their families and loved ones. It turned into the greatest adventure of their lives! I’d be brave enough to lay a bet of a million dollars that to this day they still talk about the Christmas they spent on an Australian island!
I didn’t sleep Christmas night other than to snatch a couple of restless minutes here and there. My senses were on high alert. At 2 am, the two young fishermen and I were outside in the middle of it all, checking around the cabins, the generator shed and other areas ensure everything was securely battened down; or, at least, battened down as much as possible. It was a difficult task to successfully achieve completely. I just had to keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best. The pelting rain, like piercing needles, stung my body while I struggled to fight against the powerful force of the wind. I was taking one step forward, and three back, it seemed.
Meanwhile, my boat was out on its mooring bucking like a bronco. All I could do was watch on, hoping against hope that the rope, anchor and mooring held. Seeing the boat lurch and strain on its mooring is not a sight I’d wish to revisit. There were times I thought it had broken free because the boat appeared to be heading for the open waters, way beyond its mooring, but as quickly it would return closer to the buoy. I began to wonder how my nerves were going to last the distance, unhindered; but I knew I had to push all negative thoughts from my mind. A mental breakdown could wait until after Cyclone Joy had petered out!
Surrounded by sleeping bodies, I sat, alone, in a fretful, sleepless vigil throughout the rest of the early morn.
Moments before dawn, one of the things I had feared would happen, happened. The boat belonging to the two fishermen that they'd anchored in shore got swamped; more than just swamped; it flipped over completely. The angry sea had pushed vigorously up to and against the foreshore, dumping pumice stone and foam along the high edge of the beach. She-Oaks bordering the beach writhed and groaned; helpless victims of the unforgiving cyclonic wind.
Little could be done about the upturned boat. The boat owner and his mate salvaged what they could; everything that was floatable was floating; some possessions had headed out to sea; some had sunk and other bits and pieces had made it to shore. Nothing further could be done until after the turbulence abated.
One of the young men decided the generator shed and the heat generated therein was a good area for him to dry his soaked clothes; that is, until the following day when he discovered diesel and oil had been flicked onto his shirts and shorts. He remained in good spirits, even when he found his new t-shirt, a special Christmas Day purchase, had been ruined forever.
Early Boxing Day morning the activity going on outside hadn’t abated; in fact, it had increased in tempo; the rest of my stranded guests began to stir. They seemed to be relishing the conditions; it was more fun than time spent at Adventure World! Sleep may not have come easily to me; it hadn’t come to me at all, but it hadn’t bypassed them. A fact that pleased me, actually.
Earlier, I’d set up an urn on a table at the far end of the kitchen so the guests could make their own coffee and tea. I suggested that everyone prepare breakfasts for themselves. On the table that held the urn, I placed the toaster, plates, bowls and cutlery, along with cereal, bread, butter and spreads. Those guests with families who had been staying in the cabins added their own food supplies to the table. Everyone was happy to share and to take care of themselves, understanding that I had a lot on my plate – not my breakfast plate!
While they attended to their own needs, I began converting some of the leftovers from Christmas lunch into large pots of goulash and soups; and whatever else I could concoct to feed the masses in an uncomplicated, simple way. We were in for the long haul. I told everyone to help themselves to the food whenever they felt hunger pains; and to the coffee and tea etc.
Fortunately, whether it’s a good trait or not, when I cater I always over-cater; always fearful of “not having enough”. Invariably, I have more than enough to feed not only the army, but the air force and navy, as well! My cupboards, freezers and refrigerators have always resembled those of a supermarket; a large supermarket; it’s a habit that, over the years, has proved its worth; particularly when living on an island where you can’t just pop down to the corner store if you run out of bread, milk or whatever else. Therefore, a weight was removed from my shoulders. I felt confident I had enough supplies to outlast the storm, and then some.
Unfortunately, the twin toddlers holidaying with their parents ran out of nappies fairly quickly. I held no back-up nappy stocks on the island, of course, so I gave the mother some towels and a pair of scissors with the suggestion she use the towels wisely and sparingly! She was happy to oblige.
Within hours, there was no dry bedding left anywhere. Sheets that had already been on the clothes’ line before the cyclone made its unexpected presence known just got dirtier and dirtier from the heavy rain as it viciously splashed the dirt up upon them. The rain poured in a non-stop torrent. It was pointless taking the sheets off the lines because I had nowhere to put them! I had to turn a blind eye and hope for the best. There were more important issues that needed my attention at that stage.
Once their appetites were sated, the shipwrecked guests settled down and began occupying themselves. Some conversed; others played cards or darts; some quietly read, lost in their own thoughts. Generally, all were in acceptance of the situation in which we found ourselves. There was nothing else they could do, other than accept it. All of us, me included, were isolated; marooned. I’d made it clear that there was no way in the world I was taking my boat out again until the weather abated; and they respected my decision. Pushkin and Rimsky, my cats, remained upstairs in my bedroom eager to stay away from all the activity downstairs and outside.
The guests understood my reasons for asking them not to go off wandering alone; and if they did intend going somewhere, for whatever reason, I asked that they take someone with them, and that they inform me of their plans beforehand. I explained I had the right to veto any plan I deemed unnecessary or dangerous, or both. My fears were if they wandered away alone somewhere they could get injured from a falling branch, tree or other flying objects. If that occurred, our problems would be compounded.
To be continued....
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Warning: This is quite a lengthy tale - so I'm breaking it into chapters...Chapter One begins below - Others will follow over the next little while.
In the early Nineties I lived, alone, on Newry Island; well, not entirely, alone, “Pushkin” and “Rimsky” my two cats were my bedfellows.
The island lies within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Since 2001 only camping is allowed on the island. Most of the buildings were demolished; only shells of their former selves remain.
Once upon a time, back in the early to mid-1900s, Newry Island housed one of the earliest resorts in that northern area. Newry lies between Rabbit Island and Outer Newry Island; with Acacia and Mausoleum Islands nearby to its south-east. Newry sits in the azure waters of the Coral Sea, 25kms north of Mackay; and few kilometres north of Seaforth, as the fish swim, or as the seagulls fly. A well-maintained boat ramp at the 22km long Victor Creek, 4kms north of Seaforth is the main departure point for Newry Island.
In my care were the island’s basic accommodation, bar and dining facilities. It was my job to handle everything it took to run the small, unsophisticated resort.
From my first sight on the first day I crossed from the mainland to the island, an island I’d never visited before, I fell in love the run-down resort with its cabins built close to the foreshore, facing the ocean; its simple, straightforward, unrefined main dining/bar area in need of repair harboured many stories between its walls. The buildings reminded me of the seaside as it used to be when I was a small child; a long time before our coastal areas and tropical islands became clones of Hawaii, Florida and similar glossy, “plastic” holiday areas.
No rain, or very, very little, had fallen during the nine months since my arrival on the island. The dam was at a disturbingly low level; it had gone beyond hovering; daily, its level decreased. Lowering the pump became an every day chore for me to enable water to flow down to the main building, the guest cabins, and to the outside public amenities block. Eight self-contained cabins, the bar/dining/kitchen area, and a camping site were serviced by the dam’s water supply. Fortunately, visitors to Newry understood my dire water shortage. In most cases, they happily obeyed my requests to not waste the precious commodity.
Christmas was drawing close. The eight cabins were booked out for the Christmas/New Year break; all by family groups. My plans for the “Silly Season” were well underway. The larder and bar were being stocked. I made sure I had more than sufficient supplies of diesel for the running of the generators. The main holding tank was full, and I had a couple of spare drums…just in case! Everything was running smoothly…I was on top of it all.
Cyclone Joy formed out in the Coral Sea, off the coast from Cairns on 18th December, 1990. Joy slowly travelled westward; and then remained hovering off the coast of Cairns for almost a week, causing rough seas and high tides along the northern beaches between Port Douglas and Cairns; teasing everyone’s equilibrium. With little or no forewarning, on Christmas Eve, tiring of the Cairns’ area, Joy picked up speed and headed southwards.
From the outset of Cyclone Joy’s appearance on the 18th, I’d been monitoring her activity and progress daily; not only by radio, but also by frequent telephone contact with friends who lived at Clifton Beach, north of Cairns. When living on a tropical island or at any of the coastal and near coastal areas in North Queensland it’s mandatory to keep track of a cyclone’s erratic movements.
My commonsense kicked into gear a week before Christmas. I knew I'd need someone to give me a hand through the busy time ahead. A couple of weeks earlier I'd met a very nice young girl, Alice, who had visited the island for a weekend with her young boyfriend. Alice's father, Ian, was a guest on the island at that time; so the young folk joined him for a couple of days. Rick, Alice's new boyfriend was a nice young lad. He was working as a jackaroo on a property out from Sarina, south of Mackay. Rick wads off the land. His family were beef cattle people. Alice took a gap-year off from her university studies, having decided to travel around Australia, much to her mother's dismay.
Alice had been a governess at another cattle property outside of Sarina, but when I met her she was no longer working in that role. She was staying at a backpackers' hostel in Mackay, run by friends of her father, Ian.
So I had a light bulb moment. Alice would be my ideal work companion through the Christmas period. Fortunately, when I offered her the job (a very low paying position...I couldn't afford to pay her much over and beyond her board and keep...including access to the bar!), she jumped at the chance. I picked her up by boat from the mainland the following day. No time was wasted dilly-dalllying over decisions!
Alice and I had ball together. We had so much fun. I may have been old enough to be her mother, but we got on like a house on fire. She was a great, intelligent young woman with a zest for life.
After a few days Alice asked if it would be okay if Jill, her mother, came to the island to spend Christmas. They'd not seen each other for a while. I agreed, of course. Jill lived in Melbourne; Melbourne was Alice's home city. Jill was thrilled at the invitation, and like her daughter, wasted no time in heading north to Queensland...and Newry Island. I had to pick her up Christmas morning along with other guests who had booked to come across to the island for Christmas Day. All was set in place.
Christmas Eve arrived on Newry Island, bringing with it a clear blue sky and gentle sea breezes. The temperature was around 28C…perfect summer weather; perfect Christmas weather, with not a hint of a storm on the horizon, let alone a cyclone. My day was filled with a multitude of chores as I prepared the following day’s Christmas lunch for my expected 30 guests. I kept patting myself on the back for having the good sense to ask Alice to be my off-sider. She was wonderful with people. She was a smart girl; and she was the life of the party. I couldn't have wished for more.
My Christmas lunch menu consisted mainly of cold fare, accompanied by couple of hot dishes. The final preparation of the planned dishes I’d complete on Christmas morning after I'd picked up the balance of my guests. Early Christmas morning I planned to make two boat trips across to Victor Creek on the mainland to collect guests who’d booked to stay on the island for a week, intending to enjoy New Year on the island as well. Amongst those guests were also some day-trippers, overseas backpackers.
My holidaying guests were mainly family groups with little children. Along with the family groups, a couple of young fellows in the mid-to late twenties who often stopped off at the island during their fishing expeditions chose the island to be their Christmas destination, too.
Early Christmas Eve morning with broad smiles across their friendly faces they arrived by their own boat, a 12-foot runabout. They anchored it close inshore. I suggested to deaf ears that it would be more sensible to anchor their boat out near where my boat was moored; in the deep waters of the channel between Newry Island and Outer Newry Island; but I’m a woman…what would I know about boats?
Christmas Ever evening we partied a bit, of course. Later on in the night once the guests returned to their cabins after spending a fun evening mingling at the bar enjoying a few Christmas spirits of the liquid kind, Alice and I finished off decorating the extensive, temporary buffet table that was to hold the elaborate luncheon feast. The table was adorned with palm fronds, banana leaves and bougainvillea blooms; along with various other specimens of indigenous greenery befitting a tropical island. Once satisfied with our efforts, we stood back and admired our excellent creativity! The long table looked spectacular.
The Christmas tree standing proudly at one end of the dining room. Alice and I had found a suitable dead, weathered remnant of what had once been a living tree. Sprayed white, it had been given a rebirth; a second life. It looked wonderful - sparse but it stood proudly in its place. Glimmering silver, white, red and green baubles hung from its spindly limbs; the glistening balls of varying sizes reflected the moon’s rays as they shimmered through the full-length windows that looked out across the beach to the softly murmuring sea; a perfect ending to a perfect Christmas Eve.
I felt excited about the coming day.
The Christmas spirit on the island was alive and well; it was contagious. Those who had children assured the little ones that Santa knew where they were; lemonade and slices of my rich fruit cake were left on the end of the bar for Santa’s anticipated arrival during the night. My luncheon preparations were all but completed. Feeling confident everything would run smoothly, my first Christmas Day on Newry Island couldn’t arrive quickly enough. I could see only calm waters ahead.
By 8 am Christmas morning I’d already completed two return boat trips between the island and Victor Creek, Seaforth to fetch the balance of my guests; day-trippers intent on returning to the mainland later in the afternoon after a leisurely tropical island Christmas lunch. In all, including the guests already settled in the cabins, on Christmas Day the final number of guests increased from 30 to 31; all keen to partake in my special luncheon fare and the island’s ambience. Some guests, of course, were staying beyond Christmas Day. Five young children were included in the number; and amongst those children were twins, aged around 20 months.
After my second group of day-trippers disembarked, I motored out to the mooring to secure my 21-foot Trojan De Havilland; and then, I rowed ashore in my little red tender. The little red dinghy had two wheels beneath its stern, making it easy for me to pull along the sand. Upon reaching the beach, I pulled it right up to the foreshore, and tied it securely to one of She-Oaks fringing the beach.
Once satisfied everyone, including Jill, Alice's mother was happily settled in and relaxed, I raced into the kitchen to begin finalising my luncheon preparations. Alice kept an eye on the bar because I couldn’t be in two places at once; but along with my two regular fishermen guests also tended to everyone’s requirements if needed, that end was well-covered; therefore taking a lot of pressure off my shoulders. I had no concerns that anyone would take advantage. My guests couldn’t go anywhere. They were on an island surrounded by water; with me the sole operator of the boat. I was their only means of escape! I held the tiller, as it were!
From the moment I stepped into the kitchen, I didn’t see daylight again until around 11.30 am when I emerged from the galley to begin laying out salads and various other cold platters onto the long buffet table in the dining area, in readiness for the hungry hordes to descend.
Glancing towards the ocean, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The weather was unrecognisable to what it had been only three or so hours earlier when I’d returned from my second trip to the mainland. The conditions had changed for the worst. A frenzied sea was being whipped up by a boisterous, unrelenting wind; it whirled erratically and wildly. The once clear sky was now covered in low-hanging, steely-grey clouds that groaned and moaned from their heavy load. The burdensome clouds threatened to explode at any moment.
I hadn't the time, nor did I have the ability to row out to my boat on its mooring in the channel. To try to do so would have been madness. When I first arrived on Newry months previously, I’d been advised that in the event of a cyclone for me to anchor the island boat securely away up in the far reaches of the creek across the channel on neighbouring Outer Newry Island. The turbulent system now racing southwards was moving too quickly for me to act.
Monday, November 19, 2012
Disappointments are part of life. Each one of us has high expectations of many things. I know I have; and, to be honest, it’s not my only failing. At times, my high expectations can be my downfall. I expect a lot of others; but, in reality, no more than I ask of and expect from me. There are times I disappoint myself; and there are as many times, if not more, that the behaviour of others disappoints me.
Sometimes we’re pleasantly surprised when the end results meet or, on occasions, go beyond our expectations. Alternatively, we can be bitterly (or mildly, too) disappointed when something or someone doesn’t “measure up”. It happens - that's all part of the rich tapestry of Life! Venturing further, I dare say that experiencing disappointments makes one appreciate the reverse situation even more.
In the early Eighties, brimming with excitement and anticipation, my then mother-in-law and I drove to Brisbane from the coast we lived at the time to see the visiting Bolshoi Ballet’s performance of “Swan Lake”.
A few months earlier we’d attended a matinée concert in Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast where we watched, in awe, the Queensland Youth Ballet perform “Alice in Wonderland”. Brilliantly executed by a troupe of exuberant, talented young dancers, it was a colourful, entertaining and memorable event.
So it was with high expectations, off to the Bolshoi’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s beautiful ballet we drove. Who knew if we’d ever again get a chance to see the world-acclaimed, much-loved ballet that premièred at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre in 1877.
“Swan Lake” is synonymous with the Bolshoi Ballet; to my way of thinking (and I’m not alone in these thoughts, I imagine) it walks (or dances) arm in arm with the name “Bolshoi”.
However, to our surprise and great disappointment the performance we watched that particular Saturday evening in Brisbane was absolutely abysmal! Like a mob of amateurs, the dancers stumbled about the stage, desperately devoid of grace. The company of dancers received lack-lustre applause with no standing ovations. Obviously my companion and I weren’t alone in our judgments!
I spent half the evening watching the members of the orchestra in the pit; the lady harpist, in particular. She was far more entertaining and talented than those purporting to cavort across the stage! They weren’t a sight for sore eyes...they caused sore eyes!
No wonder Nureyev chose the Kirov over the Bolshoi; and no wonder he chose to defect!
The Bolshoi dancers waddled about the stage like an inebriated, bedraggled gaggle of geese!
The “Danse des Petits Cygnes” (Dance of the Little Swans) was more like the “Dance of the Headless Chickens”! The cygnets didn’t know how to degagé their derrière.
Not only were Odette’s feathers ruffled at the pas de deux between Odile and Prince Siegfried (he should’ve been fried), ours were, too.
The local wood ducks up here on the mountain that blissfully paddle on a nearby dam are more graceful!
My expectations of the Bolshoi Ballet were permanently shattered that Saturday evening.
However, Nureyev didn’t disappoint when I watched him dance in “Giselle” during his Brisbane visit in the mid-Seventies. Rudy mesmerized; his sensual, feline movements; his arrogance and strength were breathtaking! Nureyev certainly cut the mustard!
Unfortunately, at that time Brisbane didn’t have a suitable venue to host such a dancer of Nureyev’s quality. It was during the days of Brisbane's old Festival Hall and the only ballet that could be performed was “Giselle” because the stage wasn’t big enough for other ballets.
I convinced my ex-husband to go along with me to see Rudy. I said I was going whether he did or not, anyway. But he did accompany me, albeit a little unwillingly.
We had wonderful seats to the side of the hall with unhindered view of the stage; and our seats were quite near to the stage - looking down onto the dances.
The old Festival Hall was originally built as a boxing stadium back around 1910. Throughout the ensuing years it hosted not only boxing matches, but wrestling, as well as "roller derby". It also was the venue for many rock concerts. The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, The Kinks, The Bee Gees to name but a few performed in the hall. I saw Paul McCartney and Wings there; Neil Diamond...even Benny Goodman...and so many more. Festival Hall really wasn't suitable for a ballet performance, particularly one with Rudolph Nureyev as its principal male dancer, but as I said back in the Seventies Brisbane had no other suitable venue.
So there were all the ladies of the city dressed up "to the nines" with their diamonds, pearls and faux furs in the dowdy, old hall.
When the ballet came to an end, and Nureyev came out to take his bows.
Spontaneously, I leapt up out of my seat and yelled out loudly: "Good on you, Rudy!"
Quite a number of the ladies in the front rows looked up at me in distaste. I'm sure I heard a few "Tsk! Tsks"! My ex made futile attempts of disowning me...but...Rudolph Nureyev turned to me; smiled and bowed! To me!
I hadn't intended calling out to him, but in my excitement of seeing the master dance...anything was possible! My adrenaline was flowing. I'm glad I did yell out to him...at least, I can truthfully say that Nureyev bowed and smiled at me; he acknowledged me excitement. It's a moment I will never forget; and one I will always cherish.
I would’ve watched Rudy dance “Gangnam Style” in a cow paddock – as long as I saw him dance live!
Garlic-Mustard Goose: Position oven rack in bottom third of oven; preheat oven 220C. Remove excess fat and skin from tail and neck cavities. Pierce goose with sharp fork, especially where fat is thickest on legs and lower breast; don’t pierce the flesh. Season cavities and skin; tie legs together to hold shape. Place goose, breast side down, on V-shaped rack set in roasting pan. Add enough water to pan to reach depth of 1/2 inch. Roast 40mins. Spoon off fat from surface of liquid in pan; reserve 1/4 cup fat. Reduce oven to 175C. Turn goose onto 1 side. Roast 30mins. Turn goose onto second side. Roast 30mins. Combine 3tbls Dijon mustard, 2tbls lemon juice, 2 crushed garlic cloves, salt, pepper, and 1/2tsp thyme or marjoram. Turn goose breast side up. Brush goose with mustard-garlic mixture. Roast until juices run clear when thigh is pierced with fork, about 50mins. Transfer goose to platter; tent loosely with foil to keep warm. Reserve pan juices. Spoon fat from top of juices in roasting pan; add 1/2c port; bring to boil on stove top until reduced to 1 cup. Whisk together 1/3rd cup plain flour and 1/4c reserved goose fat in saucepan over med-low heat until roux is light brown, about 5mins. Gradually which in port mixture and 2-1.2c quality stock; simmer until thickened; whisking constantly; stir in 2tbls port; season to taste. Don’t be a silly goose! Get goosed! Cook your goose! Let it be the feature of your Christmas table this year!
Monday, November 12, 2012
It's not only because the start of the "Silly Season" is drawing near - for me there is always a lot going on at this time of the year. Everything commences in early November. It’s been this way since I was born. Unfortunately, the momentum increases each year - the years have gained momentum, that is, not me. I’ve slowed down to a snail’s pace!
Mercurial years travel faster than the speed of light; swifter than a Swift! They’ve accelerated at an unfair rapid rate of knots! The pace allows me no time to catch my breath, let alone put out the garbage! On top of having to accept the transient years’ high velocity, something is missing from my celebratory couple of weeks – the explosive gaiety of Guy Fawkes’ Night! Party-poopers took that celebration away from us years ago!
Purposely, the grandeur of my birthday celebrations is toned down of late. These days I sneak up on birthdays, and then, in silence, I tip-toe past before the day realises what day it is! This trick comes with age; and with age, comes wisdom. Do you recognise the simile? As with “the chicken and the egg” – what comes first – age or wisdom?” Maybe it’s just age alone! Let’s not delve too deeply into that one – moving on!
With another birthday looming (it finished “looming” on Sunday, 11th November…Remembrance Day), I thought this year I’d celebrate it in a style beyond that of years gone by. I believed I’d be the winner of the $100million Oz7; but, once again the clumsy Lotto mob chose the wrong numbers! When will they get it right?
Therefore, I didn’t go crazy on Sunday; but I did feast upon a huge pile of fresh Aussie prawns from the waters of the Great Barrier Reef up Cairns way. Along with crunchy-crusted fresh bread, butter, cider vinegar and a finger bowl, I was in Seventh Heaven!
On the subject of winning huge amounts; it always amazes me when people say: “Oh! That’s too much money for one person!” A Brisbane friend of long-standing declared similar to me the other day as we discussed said Lotto. I couldn’t help but correct her, as that is not my belief, in any way; it never has been! She’d quickly change her tune if I won an enormous amount!
Every one of my best friends would benefit from my good fortune; as would some relatives (the operative word being "some"...there are some I'd probably bypass!). The majority of my close relatives are worthy recipients, and they, the majority, would be well-taken care of; they’d be set for the rest of their lives. Of course, it’d be up to them not to squander the “golden egg”; but, once theirs, they could do with it whatever they wished; but I have faith in their astute judgment and commonsense. After all, they accept me for who I am; making their expert, impeccable judgment undeniable!
There are so many charities and good causes, such as Cancer and Alzheimer’s research, to name but two of numerous others, that’d be beneficiaries of my good luck. I’d revel in the enjoyment of spreading my triumphant windfall, my lucky break, amongst family, friends and good causes. I’d feel no guilt whatsoever in savouring such selfish fun, expecting and wanting nothing in return; already I would have received more than enough! So, you see, $100million wouldn’t be too much for this one person. Selfishly I’d accept my winnings; I’d bask and wallow in guiltless pleasure!
The best job in the world is philanthropy. I’d love to be able to apply for, and get the job! Now, please excuse me - I need to blow up balloons, string streamers and pop a cork - it’s time to party – with or without Lotto’s assistance!
Golden Eggs: Peel 6 hard-boiled eggs. Heat 2tbs veg oil over med-heat; cook 1 thinly-sliced brown onion until golden; add 2 finely-chopped tomatoes, 12 fresh curry leaves, 2tsp mustard seeds and 1tsp turmeric; cook, stirring, 2mins. Add 400ml can coconut cream; simmer 10mins; add eggs; cook 1min.
Golden Egg Casserole: Melt 2tbs butter in large pan over med-high heat; add 1c sliced mushrooms and 1 medium green capsicum, chopped; sauté 8mins; remove from heat. Whisk 10 eggs with 1/2c plain flour, 1tsp baking powder, 1/4tsp salt; stir in mushroom mix, 455g cottage cheese, 2c shredded cheddar, 240g cooked pork sausage mince, 6 cooked, crumbled bacon rashers and 60g sliced, drained black olives. Pour into greased oven dish; bake at 200C, 15mins; reduce heat to 175C; bake 15-20mins until set.
Fried Devilled Eggs: Slice 12 hard-boiled eggs in half, lengthwise. Remove yolks to bowl; add 1/4c mayo, 1tbs Dijon mustard, 1tsp lemon zest, 1tbs chopped chives, dash hot sauce, salt and pepper; mash; adjust seasonings. Fill egg whites with this mixture. Heat peanut oil to 175C. Dip eggs into plain flower; then into beaten raw eggs; then in Panko breadcrumbs; gently put eggs into hot oil; fry until golden.
Potato Cakes with Chilli Eggs: Coarsely-grate 550g peeled potatoes; squeeze out as much liquid as possible; set aside on tea towel; grate 1 onion and treat similarly. Heat 2tbs olive oil in large non-stick pan; cook onions, 5mins; stir in potato; mix; fry in an even layer, 15-20mins, until golden underneath. Slide pan under heated grill; cook 5-7mins until golden. Make four indentations on top with spoon; crack an egg into each dip; season; scatter over finely-chopped red chilli, or pinch of dried chilli. Cover; place on hob; cook 4-5mins, depending on how you like your eggs cooked; serve from pan with crusty bread.
Sunday, November 04, 2012
Yippee-i-o! It’s Melbourne Cup time again! You’ve heard the one about the horse entering the bar; and you’ve heard the one about leading a horse to water, but not being able to make him drink. Here’s the answer to both - finally! The horse eagerly cantered up to the bar, but all he was offered to drink was water - that’s why he had the long face!
For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere who may not be aware – The Melbourne Cup is Australia’s major thoroughbred horse race – “the race that stops a nation”! It’s a 3,200metres (1.9888 miles) for three-year olds and over. It’s the richest “two-mile” handicap in the world, and one of the richest horse races. The Melbourne Cup is always held on the first Tuesday in November. The winner of the first Melbourne Cup in 1861 was a bay stallion, “Archer”, ridden by John Cutts.
Melbourne Cup Day is almost a public holiday here in Australia; it’s celebrated throughout the country; some believe it should be declared a public holiday. Between all the sweeps and partying, it should be!
I love Melbourne Cup Day; and always have. I've got the champagne chilling; the prawns and oysters have been ordered, ready to be picked up later today; the smoked salmon has been smoked, and my bets have been laid! The form guide is at the ready!
If you’re looking for me tomorrow – don’t bother! I won’t answer the door or the phone. I’ll be too engrossed watching the lead-up to the race from 6 am; "oohing and aahing" at the fashions on the field; and engrossed by all the races from 10 am to the end of the final race when the final hoof goes over the final line – with no interruptions!
The special race day is held at Flemington Race Course, Melbourne, Victoria.
In the mood of the Day…I’ve spun the little tale below – all past Melbourne Cup winners are highlighted to help you make some sense of my nonsensical ramblings!
The Shocking thing was the Americain looked on very Saintly from the end of the bar while sipping on a Brew. He scratched his White Nose before he accused MacDougall of being a bit of a Windbag! MacDougall Viewed the scene around him. He then nonchalantly tipped his Dark Felt hat, and murmured “What a Nuisance” to the Kiwi from Toparoa who sat on the stool next to him. MacDougall and the Kiwi continued sipping their schooners of ice-cold Haricot beer, preferring to ignore The Trump.
Looking on with a Tawrrific soft glow from the Lantern hanging over the bar highlighting her Empire Rose complexion was Jezabeel, the adopted daughter of Count Cardigan and Prince Foote. As most of you know, Prince Foote is the son of King Ingodas and Marini-Henri of Maraboa, Russia. Count Cardigan, the brother of Lord Fury was a Statesman who had been an Artilleryman at the Battle of Gurner’s Lane. I’m filling you in on a bit of the family history, in case you weren’t aware of the lineage.
Earlier in the day, Peter Pan flew in from the Backwood for a bit of Hi Jinx because out near Wodalla and Merriwee the river was Rising Fast. Peter Pan was a Rain Lover, but he felt it safer and more sensible to Skipton with his Sister Olive who wouldn’t leave without her Gold and Black cloak. She arrived looking like she was going to attend a Gala Supreme, namely the Beldale Ball.
Even Stevens had felt the Might and Power of the Subzero temperatures down Baystone way. He decided it more Efficient to make Just a Dash along Piping Lane grasping his Vintage Crop in his right hand! He’d successfully convinced The Parisian aka Comedy King to join him.
Old Rowley decided to Think Big when he saw a Blue Spec on the horizon. He and Archer, The Quack, cared less that it was a Phar Lap; so off they charged on a Nightmarch to the Delta. For protection they each carried a Carbine, but Sirius, like a Silver Knight guided them along the way. When they reached Newhaven, a Rainbird sang pure and clear like an Evening Peal. Immediately they felt at ease, and even the Light Fingers of Chester, The Grafter, couldn’t alter their relieved, joyous mood. More importantly, they ignored him after his failed attempt to steal The Pearl. He was caught Red Handed; but all that was soon forgotten when the whole bar congratulated Tim Whiffler. Those at the bar overheard him say to Jeune, “Let’s Elope!” What a Don Juan! “Bravo! He sure doesn’t horse around!” Everyone called out in unison, The Revenue in the bar that night paid for the Nightwatch, and then some!
Festive Pizzas: On a floured surface, roll out 1x375g packet puff pastry to 1mm thickness; cut with a small, 4-5cms, cutter; place rounds on large, flat, buttered pastry tray; brush with olive oil. On each round, place a slice of goat’s cheese with a slice of cherry tomato and a slice of yellow tear-drop tomato; brush again with olive oil; sprinkle with black pepper and sprigs of thyme; bake in preheated 210C oven, 12-15mins. Various toppings; prawns, roasted capsicum strips; asparagus, mozzarella, anchovies and black olives.
Scallops with Broccoli Cream Sauce: Cut 24 scallops from the shells; replace onto shells; place on flat baking tray. Make sauce: Melt 20g butter in saucepan; sweat 200g trimmed broccoli and 3 crushed garlic cloves; add 300ml cream, salt and pepper; cook 15mins; process in blender until sauce consistency. Cook the tray of scallops in 220C oven, 2-3mins; spoon a little sauce over scallops; spoon a little sauce over scallops; place 2 scallops and small fork on small plates.
Smoked Salmon Dip: Place 3tbs soft butter, 200g smoked salmon, 1/4c sour cream, 1tbs finely-chopped onion and 2tsp lemon juice in processor; process until smooth. Fold through 1tsp halved capers; season with black pepper. Chill till required. Cream Cheese Croutons: Mash 125g soft curd or cream cheese with 4tbs grated cheddar, gruyere, parmesan or other hard cheese; add plenty of freshly-ground black pepper and chopped parsley or tarragon; stir in well-beaten egg. Spread onto crust-less slices of French bread; top each with a piece of anchovy and halved black olive. Cook in 170C oven, 15mins.