Ok, I hit the road late. I had slept in and decided to enjoy it by eating a slow breakfast of some apples, a coffee a packet of sultanas. My sumptuous banquet over, time to go.
Townsville was bustling as I pushed through the city centre and slid onto the highway, behind several trucks, caravans and another one of those Wicked Campers. I waved to every Wicked Camper I saw on the trip, they were usually filled with dull eyed young folk who looked pretty weary, but had paid their money to get to Cairns and were going to damned well do it come hell or high water.
As mid-morning arrived so did Ayr and Home Hill. I knew some people from my youth who had moved to Home Hill, and thought I’d have a bit of a poke around. Nice place, but after a couple of minutes I’d seen all there was to see, so back onto the highway.
Now, I don’t know what happened, or who was involved here, but someone from Bowen, at sometime in our States’ glorious history, must have pissed off somebody pretty influential, because Bowen looks like a poor relation to the rest of the North. The roads were shoddy, the parks hadn’t been updated since the 1960’s, and the place had an air of quiet desperation about it. As I drove in I noted two things: the big reclaimer wheels ripping into a wall of coal in the nearby mine, and a large water tank on the hill with “Bowenwood” written on it. What the…?
Cruising up the main drag, I could see lots of references to Baz Luhrmans film ‘Australia’. Bowen was were they shot of lot of the footage. The Bowenwood reference made sense to me now, because the town looks a lot like 1940’s Darwin… before and after the Japanese bombed it. Ok, I’m being a bit mean here, because the more time I spent in the place the more it sort of grew on me, and I didn’t know why? The nearby beaches looked a bit rugged, and I found myself thinking, ‘Time to get out.’
Instead I decided on impulse to visit Horseshoe Bay. I used to have a calendar at work in my locker with a picture of Horseshoe Bay on it, and it looked great. So I decided to visit it in real life and see if it matched the picture. On the way, I stopped at a local corner shop and watched the friendly lady behind the counter make a salad roll. A real salad roll, which included pineapple, and was so stuffed full of salad and dead pig that she had to compress it with both hands to get it into the bag. Total cost to me: $3.50! Ok, Bowen might look like it lost a bet with a viscious millionaire, but you sure can eat cheap here. In a moment of weakness I lashed out and bought an orange and a few more bananas as well; $2 the lot! Jesus! I pushed aside thoughts of moving up here as I returned to my car.
Horseshoe Bay was nice. Very nice. The sunlight on the rocks contrasted with the huge black clouds sliding over the blue sea. Picnic tables were set up right on the beach underneath a couple of huge she-oaks, and I had the place all to myself. Prising the salad roll out of its’ wrapper I sat contentedly munching away, enjoying the scenery and the sound of the waves slapping into the white sand. I was soon joined by a couple of peacocks, who happily hoovered up the spilled lettuce and beetroot at my feet. This was almost unbelievable! How good was this place? Lunch over, I decided to have a bit of a scout around, and spent a happy twenty or so minutes clambering over the rocks and boulders of the little headland. I was driven back to the car by a sudden squall which bought the rain bucketing down. I started the car and looked at the view through the windscreen wipers, and even in the rain the place looked pretty, it was a shame to leave it, but leave it I did.
Back on the road, and consulting my map I realised I was a mere hop, skip and a jump away from Airlie Beach. In all the years we’d lived up North, and in all the times we jaunted up and down the Bruce Highway, not once had we ever pulled into this little tourist mecca. Today would be my first visit.
The road into Airlie wound through picturesque rain forest clad hills. The rain had followed me from Bowen, and at times it really pounded down. This didn’t seem to phase the local four wheel drive enthusiasts though, who seemed to really enjoy being out of control in the dangerous conditions. I watched in amazement as one bozo lost control at corner, slid onto the wrong side of the road, thank God there was no one coming the other way, jiggled his way back into a straight line, then gunned his accelerator again and took off in a shower of water spray, rocks and mud. Moron.
It was mid-afternoon by the time I hit Airlie. Passing the usual rows of tin sheds denoting the local industrial estate and pentecostal church, the road opened up to a fantastic view of a small harbour, and in the distance the Whitsunday Islands. Brilliant! The main street was packed with cars crawling in both directions, and the footpaths were lined with an abundance of happy, healthy looking young folk in various stages of dress, and undress. Backpacker Heaven.
I did a circuit of the main drag and returned to the top of the street where there was a large park advertising rooms for backpackers. I didn’t shop around, I just wanted to book in and go for a walk. After unpacking the car and tossing all my stuff (one bag and a small book) into the room I hit the pavement. The place was hopping. Behind the main street was a huge group of saltwater pools, with water as clear as crystal (no drowned drunks or crocs here – people of Townsville take note!), and several mobs of people enjoying the parklands, the walkways, and the brew at the nearby pubs. Looked too good to me. I whipped back to my room, and grabbed my towel before hustling back. The water was clean and refreshing, and plenty deep enough. I spent a restful couple of hours paddling around enjoying the sights and sounds of the different languages being spoken, conversing with a middle aged couple from Liverpool, and helping a young German couple with a few Ozzie Adjectives. Afterwards I visited a second hand bookstore, and a newsagent who informed me that she had sold the last Bill Phillips book that morning. She could order one in for me though…
The afternoon was wearing on, and I decided to drive over to Shute Harbour for a bit of a squizz before sunset. Shute Harbour was very pretty. Too pretty. It’s a bit hard to tell, because from the road all you can see is houses and trees. What must it be like to wake up in one of these places and gaze out over the ocean in this magical part of the world? Brilliant I suppose. I parked in the car park at a small lookout and went for a little stroll. I had the place to myself, and wasn’t unhappy about this situation. On the way back to Airlie I got passed by a young girl in a BMW convertable, and for some reason found myself punching my foot to the floor to keep up with her. She must have thought I was a stalker because she gave her car a bit of a workout on the bends. My fathers’ Camry just wasn’t in the hunt, so I let her off lightly…
The afternoon was perfect. Orange skies, light cloud, and a thin line of fruitbats were gliding quietly overhead on their way to rape a nearby banana plantation. As I sipped my coffee I watched as big black crow flapped noisily by, it was carrying something, half a coconut. The bloody crow flew up toward the gum trees, and lost its’ grip on the coconut. I watched in horror as it fell, and hit Dad’s car right in the middle of the roof. I sprayed hot coffee out of my mouth as I yelled at the feathered bastard, and racing back downstairs grabbed a handful of stones and let fly. Not one hit, and the cheeky bastard sat cawing at me. I clenched and unclenched my fists, wishing to hell that I had some sort of gun available…
As it turned out I got off lightly. The roof was slightly dented, but the paint had held, still, of all the bloody luck… just what I didn’t want!
I calmed down eventually, found a decent sized rock and zinged it past the black bastard, he flew off, giving me a spray as he went. Finishing my now cold coffee, I showered, dressed and hit the street again. Dusk was settling in, and I went for a little stroll up to one of the resorts, just for a squizz. I got talking to a groundsman working at the place, next thing he shot off to get the night manager and I was offered a job, immediate start if I was interested. This tradesman shortage is wondrous thing, if I do say so myself! I declined the blokes’ kind offer (I don’t think I’ll get my wife out of Gladstone again in a hurry) and made my way back to the main street via the pool and parklands. In the carparks several Wicked Campers were setting up for the night. I saw plenty of ‘No Camping’ signs, and watched as some police moved a couple of them on, but as soon as the cops left, the vans returned.
Tea was courtesy of a pub / backpacker hostel. It was tasty, plentiful, and well priced. I had a beer to wash it down with, and sat for a while reading my book (George Carlins’ ‘So When is Jesus Bringing the Pork Chops?) as groups of Europeans chattered merrily away all round me. I got caught up in their enthusiasm and had a few more beers, smiling happily at all and sundry for another hour or so. I could get used to this life. I imagined for a moment that I was a travel writer and that I was making a living on the road, writing about places like Airlie. Could I do it? I don’t know, it sure would make a difference though from the grind of heavy industry.
The band finally kicked in, and after listening to a few well played numbers I decided to make my exit before they started playing “Brown Eyed Girl” (my most hated song of all time… next to anything by Celine Dion 🙂 )
My family were glad to hear my voice over the phone, well, the two members of the family who wanted to talk to me were glad. I spoke to my wife for a little while, and then the Littlest Princess came on the line and ripped my heart out, “I miss you Daddy.” Dear wife came back on the line and asked me when I’d be home, I didn’t hesitate, “Tomorrow,” said the aspiring, road stained, hard eyed travel writer! I had planned on either staying here, or spending a night in Mackay, then maybe another night at a mates’ place further down the highway at Green Hill, but I was ‘needed’ at home.
On the way back to my unit I had a beer at the backpacker bar in my park. It was ok, there were some games being organised by a young blonde who had had her clothing sprayed on earlier in the evening. She had teams of people organised and playing all sorts of lively games involving good looking young men and women in embarrassing situations (unless your 10 000 k’s from home and drunk beyond your inhibition level), but my heart wasn’t in it though. Finishing my drink I declined the hostesses kind offer to play some sort of dancing game, and returned to my room. I was the only resident in my block and pretty much had the place to myself. The peace and quiet was just what the doctor ordered. Several more beers, a couple of ports and entire packet of Sakatas for desert, before sitting outside in the dark enjoying the silence, and the smell of a passing shower of rain.
Time to think… naah, I’ll do that tomorrow in the car. Time to hit the sack and watch a movie.