It’s not always blowin’ in Bowen
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
WeÂ headed north out of Mackay, reaching Australia’s Mango Capital, Bowen, about which I’d been told on good authority: â€œItâ€™s always blowinâ€™ in Bowen!â€ Turns out, it wasnâ€™t too blowy that day at all … but it could when it wanted to. Our first stop was Flagstaff Hill, where we got an overall view of the port and surrounds. Did you know the movie Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman was madeÂ in Bowen?Â Rhonda Sinclair told me the coffee shop on top of Flagstaff Hill was built when the cast and crew were in town filming.
We spent two nights at Queens Beach Tourist Village in Bowen, a lovely, well-maintained park. Filled out my Census forms here. There might have to be a review of questions asked in Census forms, considering the large population of grey nomads on the road with no fixed abode. Some of the questions aren’t exactly easy to answer when you are moving about.
Bitches and beaches
During our stay we enjoyed walks along Queens Beach. There are concrete pathways right along the beachfront, so the girls loved it. They’d not been fussed on sand between their toes at Tannum Sands, so I was a little surprised when they decided to join me for a dip in Horseshoe Bay. I waded in, leaving them on their leads with my towel on the beach. Some distance out I looked around and there were three little wet things paddling their way towards me. Bless their hearts. They are beach babies after all – with a touch of separation anxiety thrown in! Surprisingly, Â or perhaps not so, I didn’t do a lot of swimming in Queensland. Didn’t fancy me or the girls getting eaten by crocs, sharks, or bitten by stingers or some other sinister aquatic lurkers.
On September 18 we made our way towards Ayr, where I was to meet up with Ron Odgers, an old mate from way back. Ron is a gifted singer-songwriter. Slim Dusty recorded a couple of his songs, one of which was The Only Time A Fisherman Tells the Truth (Is When He Calls Another a Liar). As well as having a few albums of his own songs, Ron’s a fair dinkum movie star. Burdekin filmmaker Adrian Van Rossum created the movie Blokes, starring Ron as “Nudge”, and Burdekin cane farmers Robert Zandonadi (“Two-Bags”) and Rick Romeo (“Magic”). Rambling Rose took pole position (between the power pole and the Tree of Knowledge) on the corner block outside Ronâ€™s house. We solved many problems of the world over a glass of wine (or six) at our nightly date at the Streetlight CafÃ©. Thereâ€™s a street light on the corner, so we sat under Ronâ€™s kitchen window at table one, enjoying the ambience (with me not enjoying the mozzies). Think I might be a target. Fresh blood from NSW. Ronâ€™s youngest daughter Mindy lives with him, along with her son, Jake. Older daughter Kerrie, a nurse, lives not far from them. A beautiful family. They made me so welcome.
They also share the house with Jed, a great Dane; Roxy, a “deaf-as-a-goat’s-arse” 14-year-old bitsa, and Brian, the cat.Â Each afternoon Ron wanders across the side road to a vacant block, where he’s joined by Jed and Roxy. Brian also tags along, stopping to “roll over” on command from Ron, before they take a leisurely, untethered walk up the street.
Also a keen angler, I think Ron’s some kind of Doctor Doolittle when it comes to animals – those with feathers, fur or fins. Most afternoons, he has a visit from a flock of sea kites. They call out their high-pitched wail and he matches it with a practised whistle. Standing at a bench in his lean-to carport, he takes a meat cleaver and cuts up chicken necks into bite-sized portions. Walking outside he whistles, tosses the chicken morsel into the air as a kite flies overhead, scooping it up in its mouth as it glides by. Then he repeats the exercise with other eagles until the supply is exhausted.
Smiling all the while … don’t think I’d recognise him without that trademark smile. I almost didn’t know him when I first arrived as he’d shaved off his beard, something he’s always worn, or at least he has in later years. Mindy’s a great girl. She has her own set of challenges which she’s facing with courage, determination, humour and a whole lot of spunk. She’s a wonderful daughter and a great mum.Â Kerrie is a hard worker and a terrific girl to boot. She’s got her hands full with study and work, yet she manages to bring a lot of joy to those she loves, making time for her family and friends.
Every picture tells a story
They get that work ethic from their dad, a former miner who is now the cleaner at the majestic Burdekin Theatre in Ayr. One morning I was lucky enough to get a guided tour. This venue has such an aura about it, remnants from all the wonderful artists’ performances on its stage since the theatre was built in 1982.
Photos line the walls, telling her story, with showbusiness faces you’d know – English comedians, singers, Aussie icons – they’ve all trod the boards of the Burdekin. You really should go and visit next time you’re in town. Get there before 10am and Ron might even show you around. Another mate I caught up with in Ayr was Rhonda Sinclair. Back in her hometown now, she and I roamed the streets, drove the backroads, ate lunch at a pub, lazed away a morning at the town pool and talked non-stop all the while. Can you imagine that? It was fun though.
On our last day in Ayr Ron, the girls and I took a drive out to Alva Beach, where he used to play as a kid. It was fun sitting there, people-watching, as we talked away the hours.
A unique welcome from cousin Wayne
We left Ayr on September 27, bound for Townsville. I’d been invited to my cousin Wayne Kennedy and his wife, Sue’s house. Although we’ve known each other all our lives, we hadn’t spent quality time together until now. This is probably top of the list on the joys of this journey – those fond reunions. Wayneâ€™s a funny bugger. Iâ€™ll paint a picture of my arrival at their place at Bushland Beach. Iâ€™d spoken to Sue who’d told me she didnâ€™t get home till after 5, but Wayne would be there from about 3pm on. Negotiating my way to their street, I found the number (I thought it was their house), and saw a bloke standing out in the yard. I waved and he just stood there. I indicated to him that I was coming in and was it okay to pull up next to their carport. He didnâ€™t say much and he wasn’t hunting me, so I drove in. When I got out of the vehicle, I said gâ€™day and he said, in a quizzical tone: â€œWho are you?â€ â€œIâ€™m your cousin, Anna, from Bingara,â€ I told him, now not too sure I was in the right place. I went on to tell him I was looking for my cousin, Wayne Kennedy, whom I hadnâ€™t seen since I was a kid. He started gesturing towards the house next door and my heart skipped a beat. Then he grabbed me and gave me a big hug and laughed his head off!
Thatâ€™s the Rose/Kennedy sense of humour for you – and set the tone for our visit. Wayneâ€™s grandmother, Lillian Kennedy and my dad, Malcolm Rose were brother and sister. I loved Aunty Connie (as she was known) dearly. Visits to her house are treasured memories from my childhood. Sue and Wayne live in a beautiful part of the world. Bushland Beach is just a short walk down the end of their street. Whoâ€™dathoughtit? A short stroll through bushland and youâ€™re at the beach!
We settled in for what I thought would be a day or two. Turns out it was eight days later I finally made my way further north. We were having too much fun catching up. Sue and I walked down to the Bushy Beach Tavern on Saturday night where Anthony Taylor and Rick Gough were playing. It was cool hearing Anthony play and sing. And he does requests … gotta love that.
The following day, Sue and Wayne took me on a drive around Townsville and up to Castle Hill, a large mountain in the centre of the city, a steep, winding road which Rambling Rose would not have been able to scale. We then visited Jezzine Barracks and Kissing Point Fort, with all its fascinating military history. With his knowledge and love of history, Wayne would be a very handy tour guide.
Stepping into a dream
After a week with Sue and Wayne, on October 5 we said our goodbyes and left Townsville, passing through Ingham and at Cardwell, that pretty little seaside town, we stopped for lunch in the van.
Iâ€™d been told of a place called Paronella Park, so we headed for there and ended up staying the night. Itâ€™s great value. For the admission price (which was very modest), it included one free night’s accommodation on a powered site at their onsite caravan park. I took a night tour. What an incredible place. And I took another tour in the morning. Our guide, Yana, was very knowledgeable on the subject and you could hear the passion in her voice as she spoke about how the place came to be. It was fantastic to see and hear what one man with a dream could achieve â€“ and for people with passion to continue to maintain and share that dream with others.
Renewing old friendships
Leaving Paronella Park and its beauty behind, I was up for another reunion with an old mate – with Jenny Parsons, a friend and former colleague from The Northern Daily Leader newspaper in Tamworth. It was October 6 when we arrived in Mareeba. I found Jenny working at her job as manager of the local Aboriginal medical service. The years peeled away over a cup of coffee and a chat around the kitchen table. I then had a beaut night with Jenny and Billy, before leaving the next morning for Cooktown. As we were driving Mareeba on Friday, October 7, I got a call from my wonderful property manager, Justine Saint, who had secured tenants for a six-month lease on my house in Tamworth. Phew! That’s a relief. It was starting to get a bit tricky living off fresh air and sunshine over the past few months. They had recommended I stay at the Cooktown Caravan Park, owned by John and Mary, lovely people, so I booked in there, thinking Iâ€™d only stay for the weekend â€¦ but other forces came into play.
Knowing Johnny Green had been up there recently I made contact with him and we met up on the Saturday morning in town, sitting under a mango tree, having cups of tea and catching up on several years since weâ€™d last seen each other. I told Greeny about my mission from Graeme Connors, so between us, we tracked down the French patisserie, which was no mean feat. Even the information centre didnâ€™t know where it was!
After meeting and interviewing the gorgeous couple who own it (mission accomplished, Graeme Connors!), I filled up with diesel only to discover I had a puncture in one of the tyres. Fine time to discover that. Just after lunch on a Saturday â€¦ everything closes until Monday, so I booked in for another few nights at John and Mary’s park. To solve my immediate dilemma, I called NRMA (which automatically diverts to RACQ when in Queensland) and didnâ€™t I have fun â€“ not! When I asked if he could come out and put on my spare tyre so I could leave the servo, I was told by this bloke that my rig might be too big for them to do that. What? Iâ€™m pay for NRMA Premium Plus (the top cover) because of the size of the vehicle. After much toing and froing, and me getting a little short with him, he eventually agreed to come out. As I couldnâ€™t go anywhere (without a spare), I rang my sister to tell her about the RACQ business. Within five minutes a woman from NRMA Premium Plus was on the phone, apologising for the mix-up on RACQâ€™s part â€“ and she then got onto RACQ to let them know I was entitled to all the bells and whistles. I now have a direct line to Premium Plus. I think I waited about an hour before the RACQ bloke, Shane, showed up. He was a nice young man and had to borrow a jack from the mechanical workshop next door to get Rosie off the ground. On Monday I phoned Tyrepower in Cooktown. The bloke at Tyrepower told me a new tyre would cost $200 and take three to five days to get here. Fortunately, there are two tyre shops in town, so I phoned Cape York Tyres and spoke to Blue, who told me he could get me a tyre in overnight for $156. Big mistake, Tyrepower. Donâ€™t try to kid a kidder or a not-so-dumb female solo traveller. On Tuesday, the team at Cape York Tyres very kindly sorted my deflating situation and while filling my tyres with air, Rob, a workmate of Blueâ€™s, noticed one rear inside tyre was flat. Thankfully, it was only a leaky valve, so we were finally on our way â€“ and into the Lionâ€™s Den with Greeny!