Another wet season day
The grumbling grey skies
have unleashed their load
upon our corrugated iron roof
I shout loudly but impotently
I can’t compete with nature’s noise
on the roof.
Outside amidst the falling lake
which raises creeks
& greens country
lightning cracks viciously,
“Come on you rain” we cry
Wet season excitement!
Written as the first heavy rain of the Wet Season fell at the farm
2020 withered away. We experienced the country around us change from green to barren & desert-like, waiting for what seemed like forever for the late arrival of the wet season. It eventually arrived almost 3 months late. Not a full on tropical wet season but wet enough to once again see the country turn green, seemingly almost overnight. We did it easier than many, tucked away at the farm near Mareeba in FNQ. We were lucky, never under threat, no community transmission recorded in the the region. We were comfortable & secluded, ‘treading water’ whilst we had expected to be ‘adventuring’ in the Cape York Wilderness. We had a couple of delightful tastes of the Cape, the house-sit & postie gig in Portland Roads last February, & the visit to Balurga Station in July/August, but we remain hungry for more. As far as it is possible to tell in these covid afflicted times, it is looking hopeful that the Cape will be open in 2021 once the wet season finishes & the flooded rivers once again become passable. And so we plan to do in 2021 what became impossible in 2020. The pandemic has not gone away, but it seems that the ‘lucky country’ has found a balance in managing it. No guarantees expected though.
Overall our time on the farm has been a laid back affair but since the last post here (excluding the Christmas greeting) two traumas have impacted us & cannot pass unmentioned.
First was Gina, the gorgeous dog we cared for for a bit over six months. A forever home was found for her. It shouldn’t have been a surprise but, as they do, she had snuggled her way into our hearts & breaking up was a far harder affair than I had ever imagined it would be. MrsTea found it no easier, but had prepared better than I. Early in the morning she was to leave I awoke knowing she would soon be gone, & that I had not said my goodbye to her. MrsTea had bid her farewell the night before. I got up & took her for a walk, & returned to sit with her on my lap sobbing. I was a complete blubbering mess, couldn’t string more than a word or two together between sobs when the owners found us sitting there. We had always known we would not keep her, simply not practical given our travelling lifestyle, but it hit me unexpectedly like a Tsunami. She of course was simply her usual excited self about going out in a truck. After a hiccup with the new home, she was found another, & is now loved & we are confident wanted forever.
The second trauma was just as hard, but in a very different way. I could write pages about it, but will attempt to refrain from doing so. In a nutshell, we were going to buy a different vehicle to travel in. It was a complex proposition with the vehicle some 1800kms south of us, & involved a number of flights over a couple of months, both to check out the vehicle, & to make arrangements even further south in NSW to have a new auto transmission fitted. Bear in mind borders between states were opening & closing at the drop of a hat. I think a total of 6 or 7 flights were booked & arrangements made with good friends to assist in the process. Our plans to return to the Cape changed too. I was to eventually fly to Brisbane to collect the vehicle (An OKA – an Australian made 4wd off road light truck converted to a camper, a rarity, but highly thought of – even rarer with the desirable engine which had been fitted to this one). From Brisbane I would drive it 100’s of kilometres south to the chap who had agreed to do the transmission work we wanted. Another rarity – not many folk around with his experience of OKA’s, Cummins motors , Allison auto transmissions & the workshop capabilities required. But it all came together with a huge amount of energy invested in making it happen. I was to leave the vehicle with him & we would head home to Victoria for 6 to 12 months, returning to collect the OKA when the job was done. I had been contacted by another OKA owner aware of our plans (OKA owners have quite an active ‘grapevine’) wanting to buy the gearbox which would be removed. He paid us for it as soon as we agreed a price & was keen to drive up to the the NSW workshop the day after I dropped off the vehicle to collect it. The workshop owner had already ordered & paid for parts from the USA that I also wanted him to fit. That is how certain all the arrangements were. It all fell apart when just seconds away from transferring the payment to the seller, sat in his Brisbane kitchen, all the arrangements crumbled in minutes. I discovered that the chap I had had no reason to distrust had been far less than honest, when by chance found that that the engine number on the documentation did not match that in the vehicle. Further dishonesty came to light as a result in the form of ‘dodgy’ paperwork & compliance plates & an admission that the Cummins motor was not as advertised.
I now consider that we dodged a very expensive bullet, which would have become a nightmare when I came to re-register the vehicle in our home state. In just moments all the planning & certainty for 2021 evaporated & I was devastated. The seller aware he had been caught out couldn’t get rid of me fast enough! As long as I was there I was a threat to him being caught out by the authorities. He thrust wads of cash at me , repaying the deposit I had paid, covering my multiple air fares, & booking me onto a return plane within the hour. I arrived back at the farm to MrsTea’s complete surprise days earlier than expected. It had all been so quick there had been no opportunity to let her know what was happening. The debriefing took days & was assisted by a number of friends, including the folk whom I felt had let down, as we pieced together what had occurred to make sense of it all. Eventually clarity came & helped with the anger & disappointment at the dishonesty & deception. Have no doubt if I had been able to retain copies of the paperwork I would have reported the seller to the authorities & he would have been in huge trouble, along with his dodgy motor vehicle certifier mate. But time heals, the hurt has waned & now we are once again looking forward to discovering the Cape York wilderness.
When we left Portland Roads last March after 5 weeks, just a few weeks pre-Covid, we received a glowing reference from the folk for whom we had ‘sat’, & made it known we would be up for a return visit in 2021 if they needed us, if we were still in Far North Queensland. They sounded keen, but were uncertain, in part because of the impact of Covid on their business, and whether they would be able get away for a break. Early in the new year we received the call we were hoping for. “Can you still come back up for a repeat visit?” Once again, similar to last year, we danced a little jig of joy together after putting down the phone. Not only would they cover the flight costs both ways again, & provide us with a car & delightful accommodation, but this time would like us to stay for double the length of time, almost 10 weeks!
For the first time in many months we were excited about our prospects & began the necessary planning & arrangement making. Flights were booked, a number of heavy boxes packed with supermarket non perishables posted up ahead of us & once certain of the dates – letting the owners of the farm we have called home for almost a year know what we were going to be doing. They were wonderful about it, we have left our Tvan there, (& our car with a friend in Cairns) & will return to the farm for a while after our 2nd Wet season Cape experience, to await the post wet season re-opening of Cape. Folk who do not ‘live on the road’ may not appreciate how much we value these sort of arrangements. Things that most of us take for granted at home become of far greater value when away from home. Somewhere to leave from & to return to. Somewhere to leave our ’stuff’.
As I sit here writing this, in the semi dark of mid afternoon, with the storm shutters closed in the non glassed window spaces, the heavy monsoonal rainfall & gusty winds creating havoc among the palm trees outside, and the calm smooth coral sea of this morning now being whipped into a whitecap frenzy just across the road I am grinning ….. from ear to ear. We are back at Portland Roads, back to tropical paradise, back to familiarity. It all seems to have been so much easier second time around. I guess it always does, but it’s been a long time since we returned anywhere. It’s a good feeling.
Last time we left in a rush during early morning darkness to get through rising flood waters which threatened to trap us. This time we played it safe & left a day early. Different place, but there was a risk of the creek flooding, so we spent the night in a caravan park cabin close to the airport, having also avoided the risk of the twisting mountain road down the range to the coast being closed. A common occurrence during the wet season. Rockslides, fallen trees & vehicular crashes. Briefly back into Covid-land, where all are expected to wear masks (at the airport & on the plane), a reminder of the world only seen on Tv for the past year. The 30 seater Dash 8 aircraft did it’s thing, albeit with a bit of turbulence here & there, which upset the routine of Rona, the single hostess having to start & stop her coffee & tea run a couple of times (but all got a drink & bickie in the end) & dropped us into Lockhart River’s American army 2nd world war built airstrip 90 minutes after leaving Cairns. 800kms north by roads when navigable. Flying in had been a little different this time. Last year the dominant views once away from the rich blue coastline & multiple reefs was of broken trees (cyclone affected) & burned country. This time all was green & lush. A ‘proper’ wet season this year (& our first …. woohoo after 3 years of being up here for a wet season it looks like we are finally getting to experience a wet Wet season).
Arrival was warm. Not just the hot, thick humid air, & the light & warm drizzle, but the people too. Once off the plane we were hailed with “You back again – good to see ya” by several folk who recognised us. Nice! Sheree, one of the couple who’s place we would be looking after almost an hour’s drive north of the air strip, was there to meet us, plus a couple of other chaps who would be collected by dinghy at Portland Roads for a two hour journey up the coast to friend’s place on the banks of the Pascoe River estuary.
Just to remind us that we were embarking upon another adventure, about 40 minutes up the washed out & heavily rutted dirt road, which had taken us through the rainforest & up over the Iron Range, crossing multiple small creeks as we went we reached the Chilli Creek. Previously we had only known it as a concrete causeway, but now it was covered by thigh deep very fast running water. Too risky to take the Land Cruiser across, & the only option was to wait until it dropped to a safe level. It was a flash flood, compounded by high tide in it’s estuary not far away. As we waited the water continued to rise reaching what we estimated to be around a 2 metre depth above the causeway. No phone signal out here! Attempts to call Sheree’s partner Greg on the satellite phone were unsuccessful. The two other passengers were concerned. Neither were looking forward to a 2 hour boat trip up the coast in the dark. It’s heavily inhabited by crocs & more rain was forecast. They wanted to get across. I was confident that it would be foolhardy to attempt to drive the crossing & Sheree concurred. After an hour Greg arrived on the other side of the water, along with the chap who had the boat. More waiting until the water began to drop. When just under waist deep the boat owner, at some risk crossed on foot. It was quite an effort, & he made it clear to his two city based friends that they should wait and that by now they would be in the boat in the dark anyway. Eventually with water down to knee level they crossed with their luggage held high. Crab walking to brace themselves against the current out in the middle. We didn’t envy the journey ahead of them. After 3 hours of waiting we drove across with the rushing water level with the car’s door sills. For us it was all a bit different & an interesting start to our time here, but for Sheree it was frustration in what had been a long day for her. It was also a good reminder that we can be cut off at any time & that sometimes mail collections from the airstrip will have to wait.
We think Portland Roads has a population of around 12, scattered around within a few kms, including Dave over on Restoration Island whom we visited last year. At present a number of folk are away, & we think the population is no more than a handful.
The anticipation of returning grew as the time got closer, but our first ‘outing’ to Chilli Beach confirmed it is everything we hoped for. Chilli Beach is without doubt the best beach we have found anywhere. It has white sand contrasting against the perfectly blue water & stretches for many palm lined kilometres. It is a wide & shallow beach accentuated by rock formations, a couple of off shore islands & distant rainforest covered hills & mountains forming a bay. The stretch of remnant rainforest behind the palms is home to a variety of rare birds including the always impressive Palm Cockatoos.
We had been told of a spectacle which definitely sounded worth checking out. Someone mentioned in passing when collecting their mail, that a large dead turtle had washed up the previous day on Chilli Beach close to the shoreline, & several large crocs had been observed on the sand feeding on it. The morning was wet (torrential – we really are getting a proper wet season), but when it stopped we hopped in the Hilux & drove out for a look. Disappointingly, but not unexpected, there was no longer any sign of the turtle or the feeding spectacle. However walking along the wide sands at low tide , between storms, thunder in the distance & the colours which accompany such weather was bliss. No breeze, but cool (relatively) by virtue of the recent downpour, the water smooth & clear. Totally alone in a pristine environment. Words were unnecessary but we shared them anyway, superlative after superlative. Approx 70 metres out from the water’s edge we saw a largish croc cruising by, probably around 4 metres we estimated. It was definitely aware of us, disappearing under the water as we got closer to the edge. As we were walking back the way we had come, trying to recognise where we may have left the car among the trees another vehicle came out of the trees & along the beach toward us. When they pulled up we were pleased to recognise Paul, one of the folk who had welcomed us back at the airport, a big gregarious tattooed islander fella, from Lockhart River. We shared our love of our surroundings with each other. He was returning from his ‘block’ a way up the beach where he has a shack , the only one on Chilli Beach. How good would that be! Better still he offered us use of it when we return to the Cape later in the year. I hope we can take him up on his generous offer. Geez the more we engage with this place the more we love it!
A largish boat has been moored out in the bay opposite the house for a couple of days, behind it are a series of half a dozen tinnies (aluminium dinghies). Our binoculars revealed wet suits hanging out to dry on the top deck of the larger boat. We surmised it was a commercial diving operation but for what we didn’t know. Perhaps Crayfish? Last Friday was our second mail run, & we had been contacted by the owners who asked if we would also pick up a passenger from the plane & bring him back up to the ‘Roads’ with us, where he would be picked up by a boat. It turned out that ‘Fletch’ was a diver, & was coming up to be collected by a cray boat. The tide was way out when we got back, & the other boat had left. Fletch’s boat was still something like 20 kms away, and so we ate & talked together for several hours & learned much about his life & about diving. Quite an eye opener. The ship we had seen previously was as we had guessed a diving boat. The string of ‘Dories’ as the tinnies behind are known, each had a generator & air pump with a ’snorkel’ air intake above head height. The divers use this air when hunting crays or Beche de Mer (Sea Cucumbers) & the snorkel is to avoid them being fed with fumes from the generator.
Apparently being the dory operator is a tedious & poorly paid job, with a high turnover of personnel. It is also a job upon which the diver’s life is dependent, but often the divers have to train new folk on every fishing expedition. We couldn’t be sure whether divers like Fletch are particularly trusting souls or just ‘gung ho’. He’s been diving since the age of 19 & has survived to 42 so I guess the system must work, although there were also tales of ‘lost’ workmates over the years. Of Asian birth but adopted by Australian parents at 4 days old, Fletch had many tales to tell, & tell them he did. A great evening which passed quickly until a voice called out from the dark to let him know the mother ship was a way off shore & the dory was waiting to take him on board. We wont be surprised to see him again whilst here & will look forward to it.
Well I didn’t really know what I was going to write before I started, but somehow words appeared on the screen in front of me. It’s been quite a while since the last post. Hopefully this will be the first of getting back into the regular posts now that we are ‘on the move’ again as it were.
Thanks to all of you who are reading after what has been a bit of a Covid hiatus, & thanks to any of you who are new readers.
One request before I sign off this time. Many of you read this blog, having been alerted to a new post via my posting on a few Facebook groups. As you will know there was a recent ‘spat’ between Facebook & the Australian government about ’news’ sharing on Facebook, with the result that overnight Facebook blocked all Australian news sources. Unfortunately it appears that Facebook’s definition of ’news’ was far broader than most folk realised & even this blog was blocked! It could happen again, & if it does I will be unable to let you know I have made a new post. Soooo……. there is a very easy way around this, instead of relying upon Facebook (who have now lifted the block for the time being) how about subscribing to the blog? All it means is that you enter your email address to receive an email notification each time I make a new post. Easy & just as easy to unsubscribe at any time if you wish too.
Best wishes for 2021 wherever you are & whatever you do.
Cuppa & MrsTea.