Place of excitement and many mixed memories. I once went out with a very nice girl in Townsville years ago. She was nice over the phone, and in her letters, but not so nice in person. Funny that. I visited her when I finished school, and spent a week at her place. Got on like a house on fire with her parents, her sister, and her friends. Just not her unfortunately.
During that momentous holiday I mistakenly strolled into the local motorcycle gangs pub, The Renegades were not impressed to see me at the time. Got caught up in a small riot outside another pub where police were doing some pretty ordinary things to a large group of Aboriginals. Was chased by a group of off duty soldiers who thought it would be fun for 5 of them to beat up a skinny kid, and spent all my money on a plane fare home. Ah, memories. Actually it was kind of fun…
I visited some of the old haunts that morning, everything had changed since my last visit, well, except for the heat. The mall was looking a bit dated, but pretty clean, the buskers were doing a ripping trade, some of them were extremely talented too. The atmosphere was laid back and carefree. Welcome to North Queensland! I found a small cafe’ and ordered a salad roll and a coffee. Munching on another banana from my rapidly dwindling supply I started reading through some of the leaflets that I’d picked up from the various Information Centres on the trip down.
One of the brochures from Mission Beach contained a small map clearly outlining Dunk Island. It was the size of a small city. No wonder the bloke at the van park reacted like he did, he probably thought he was dealing with a prize goose! I shoved the brochure back in my carry bag and decided to focus on where I would stay tonight.
According to my newly acquired guide, clean, and reasonably priced accomodation awaited the traveller at every turn in Townsville. I jotted down a couple of likely contenders. After lunch I drove out to Rowes Bay van park. I’d stayed there before years ago, and had enjoyed the atmosphere, and the cool sea breezes. No Vacancy. Ok, no worries. Onward we go. Back to The Strand.
The Strand has undergone a massive transformation. Parks, pools, water playground, walking paths, statues, exercise areas, littered the foreshore for about a kilometre or more. It looked fantastic. Unfortunately every motel along the strip was showing a No Vacancy sign. Except one. Right at the end of the street, across the road from the New Improved Rock Pool. I took a room, won’t tell you the price, but it was here or nowhere, apparently there was some convention / sporting / athletic thing on that week, and the place was packed to the rafters. I tossed my gear into my new home, and grabbed my towel before whipping barefoot across the road to the rock pool.
The Rock Pool
It was big, it was well laid out, it was full of murky water, and it was all mine! That’s right, at 1pm in the afternoon I had the whole thing to myself. Fantastic! I dropped my gear on the ocean side of the pool and stepped into the water. You can imagine my surprise to find that it wasn’t four feet deep like I expected, but closer to seven. I was literally in over my head. Even better! Nice and deep, and refreshingly cool. Time to exercise.
I cut a couple of slow laps across the pool, which took me longer than I expected. I stopped and noticed that a restaraunt overlooked the pool and was doing a roaring trade. Might pop in for a visit later I thought. I was joined by another couple, who frolicked in the shallows, and were pretty much having a good time. Geez I was in a good mood. How good is this place!
The bloke swam over to me and said Hello. North Qld, where the people have time to say ‘G’day’. We got chatting, and he told me that he was a fisherman on leave. He pointed toward Magnetic Island, “Did you know that area between here and the island is a major Tiger Shark breeding ground?” he asked. I didn’t.
“Also,” he added, “we often get the odd croc swim down from the mangroves up north to have a bit of a look around.”
Looking over the sea I felt a small shudder, I hate those bloody things, “Well at least they can’t get in here,” I said. He laughed, “Bullshit! That’s why the council empties this pool once a week mate, just to check for crocs or drowned homeless people.”
My eyebrows shot up, “What day do they do that?”
“Thursdays I think.”
It was Tuesday.
I found myself looking into the water. We were treading water in the deepest part of the pool and I couldn’t see my feet. Suddenly I had a real big desire to get out of the water. He laughed at me, “Don’t worry about it mate, they’ve got lifeguards here.” This didn’t reassure me a lot. My swim ruined I said goodbye as casually as I could before thrashing the water to foam in order to get to the side of the pool as quickly as possible. He could have been taking the piss, but you never know…
I had a quick walk round the parks, and my good mood returned. I was completely dry by the time I got back to the unit, and decided to visit the local monument, Castle Hill. If you can see the Hill then you’ll never get lost in Townsville. Ten minutes later I was lost. Whole suburbs had sprung up on the side of the Hill, and I found myself driving back and forth trying to find the old road that leads to the lookout at the top. Two council workers, who I’d passed several times from differing directions, eventually gave me directions, and I found the road. The view from the top is magnificent, and I was stunned at how big Townsville had grown now. The city stretched for miles in all directions, and had a prosperous air to it. Townsville and Cairns were definitely booming. Each struggling to be declared the Capital of North Queensland. Personally I’d say Townsville is bigger and wealthier, but Cairns is prettier.
Back to the unit, and time for a couple of drinks. The sun was setting, so I opened a beer and watched it go down, the afternoon sky in the North is magical. Time for tea. I grabbed my backpack, slipped on my shoes and strolled toward the city end of the The Strand where I’d seen some good pubs and eateries. I decided I’d eat first, then afterwards go for a late evening jog/walk.
The pathway was full of joggers, walkers, families, couples, cyclists, picnickers, kids playing in the water park and the odd drunk. It was great! The council had even put in a large set of floating stinger nets so people could paddle about in the ocean in safety. The nets were full of people enjoying a twilight swim. I walked along in a state of wonder and happiness. All these people looked so happy, so healthy, and why shouldn’t they? These parks are starting to spring up in more and more places, and are absolutely worth every cent spent on them. I was hit strongly by the desire to live across the road from this park and walk and swim here everyday.
The pubs were as full as State School hat racks, crowds of well dressed, and again, happy looking people lined the bars, sat at tables, and covered the paths outside. I wasn’t in the mood for a line up and a long wait for a meal. Eventually I found a little fast food shop and ordered a kebab. Minutes later, my bag full of kebab, some salty snacks, a bottle of port and a fresh bottle of ice cold beer I started strolling back to my room. A young aboriginal girl stood in my way, “What are you looking at ya white &$*#?” she said. I stopped dead, surprised. “Nothing,” I ended up muttering. She smirked, “Nothin’ eh?” She was joined by her three big brothers who looked like Trouble Inc. Shit. The sound of pounding feet from behind reached my ears, and I half turned, expecting the worst, but was gladdened to see a group of khaki clad soldiers jogging towards me. The Cavalry had arrived in the nick of time! I looked back at the girl and her ‘friends’ and smiled, “Gottago!” I said cheerfully.
Exercise At Last
As smooth as silk I tagged onto the buch of running army lads and did my best to keep up. The kebab was flattened to the dimensions of a pancake by my alcohol supplies, but that was better than my face being pounded to a pancake. The soldier next to me grinned, “Enjoying yourself?” he asked casually. I was huffing and puffing loudly, “Not really!”
He laughed, “Well, we’re going to keep going for another few k’s mate, feel free to join us.”
A hundred or so metres later I dropped off the pace and stood for a while with my hands resting on my knees sucking in a few big ones. I wasn’t too far from my unit.
I ate in the park, and opened the beer, idly watching the moon rise above the ocean. Life was good. People strolled past, many of them saying “Hi,” as they did, which made me feel not unlike royalty. I beamed back at them graciously, full of warmth for my fellow human beings, and not a little tipsy. I returned to my unit and rang my family before peeling the last banana from my supply bag. I watched a movie on tele and celebrated the event with a couple of ports and my last tallie of beer, before wandering back outside again. I ended up visiting the park again, just to soak up some more of that Northern Magic. There were still crowds people running, walking and swimming, and large spotlights lit up the swimming area, and parklands. How good is this?
Back in my unit I lay on the bed, filled in my diary and thought about the day. I could get used to this… and I got to do my run as well as have a swim. Nice one. Getting fit on the road; how hard could it be? Tomorrow, another adventure awaits.