Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Memories of a Tropical North

This year holds a couple of milestone dates for my family so in order to celebrate those, Hubby and I have decided to mark the occasion with a trip to Far North Queensland. We last visited Port Douglas and surrounds about three years ago, so have decided to do an overnighter and then head off to our real destination by hire car the next day. Our actual destination is to be Mission Beach about an hour and half South of Cairns, just across the water from Dunk Island.

I love "Port" as its affectionately known, having been back there many times since I left in 1974. I first lay eyes on the place in 1967 or there abouts, time has dulled the memory for exact dates, but I loved it from that moment on.

I'm sure Mum was less than impressed when she first saw the house (that's a pic of it above years after) we were to live in. It was perched on a cliff, an old rambling, rusty roofed, mice inhabited wreck, with a view to die for. That land today is worth millions.

We couldn't watch TV for three years, as Flagstaff Hill (located to the right of the house), blocked any hope of getting a decent picture. The old wreck of a house stood beside the lighthouse three quarters of the way up Wharf Street, I never really realised how bad that house was until I saw a huge sepia print of it hanging on the wall in the Court House Hotel a few years ago. It bought back many memories. Like the day my two year old brother fell between the rickety old front steps and got his head caught, or the day the neighbours gave me a the biggest bag of sweets I'd ever seen, because I'd placed second in a singing Eisteddfod in Cairns. Those were the days when a cent coin would actually buy something. I think that bag of sweets cost Fifty cents and it was full to the brim. Other memories came flooding back - Rock pool fossicking and oyster cracking, beach bbq's, reef walks at Low Isles, falling off the slippery slide and spraining my ankle and riding my Dragstar everywhere. Little did I know that bike would be a collectors item today. I laughed out loud when I was watching "Extra" on TV the other night and how the Queensland Museum had recently acquired one of these bicycles for use in future 70's displays.

Other memories of swimming at the wonderful little paper gummed lined natural cove behind our house. The cove was later wrecked by the community who raised thousands of dollars in order to build a stinger proof pool. The gums where removed along with all the huge rocks and no doubt shore life. Later, it had to be filled in to create a park because it was totally unusable. I only swam in it twice, the water was always muddy looking and it was downright scary as most of the time it was deserted. The usual crowd of morning swimmers just disappeared and were no doubt as upset as I at this ridiculous ruin.

My other memories of "Port" are taking a ride with all the other kids in the Amphibious vehicle that came to service the Lighthouse. I was supposed to alight at the centre of town, but ended up riding all the way to Four Mile Beach where the vehicle had come ashore from its ship. I remember seeing that ship, tired, rusty and worn, berthed near New Farm on the Brisbane River a few years back when I was on my way to work by Ferry one morning.

I've always remembered a story told to us by the then publican of the Court House Hotel and how her kitten had gone missing. She had gone down into the cellar thinking that maybe the kitten had been locked in there accidentally and sure enough yes....
However, a sinister looking reptile had found its way in there and had her kitten bailed up in the corner, ready to devour her. The long and short of this story was that the publican had then called the glass cutter over from the gallery who killed the snake. The snakes skin was tanned and hung in the pub on the wall behind the bar. No-one in the family seems to remember this, except me. I hadn't been drinking, nor did I have a vivid imagination - well not at that time. My husband still laughs at this story today.

In the 70's before vegetation was cleared for housing, massive tropical pythons would occasionally pop out of the surrounding rain forests. I remember seeing one that someone had obviously hit with a car one night. Of course it was dead and rather smelly by then, but someone had lay it out in its entirety. It was massive. At least as long as the school bus we were on and it wasn't a small bus. That bus carried about 80 kids.

We lived in that house on the hill till around 1970 when we moved into a newly built house beside the Police station. My Dad back then was the local constabulary.
Port was a one man station at that time. A hole in the wall, sandwiched between the local Post office and General Store. You couldn't swing a cat in that space and the place was dark, dingy and musty and as well always seemed to be overflowing with files.

After a few years of fighting for a real station and a proper house, the Qld Government gave approval to build the required facilities, but not after much kicking and screaming from a few of the locals; one of whom proceeded to tie herself to a 100 year old Mango tree in the horse paddock that was to be bulldozed for the new residence and station. Guess it takes all sorts! Like my Dad always said "You can't stop progess"

Now years later it's on again. A much larger facility is required and is due for completion in Aug, 09. Most people want the station relocated nearer to the towns school, which I might add is a fair way from the town centre. I guess most see it as a blot on the landscape because of its proximity to the shore line and want the area retained as parkland. I must admit, I do agree.

My tricolour pet angora goat "Gidi" lived in the cell yard at the police station or rather slept there at night, most days she was tethered in the paddock beside the house. There was an occasion when a dunk who had been locked up for the night awoke to find a goat staring at him from outside on the steps. He (the drunk) then proceeded to call out to my Dad telling him that he thought the Devil himself had come for him. Who knows what that guy had been on!

In the early 70's the town was growing, progress was evident and tourism was becoming a big thing. On Sundays, bus loads of tourists would arrive from Cairns to take in the sights of the Cook Highway, ie.. Ellis Beach, Hartleys Creek Zoo (home of Big Charlie the Croc) and "do" lunch at the "Catalina Restaurant" in Port. This restaurant was a tiny shop front that then had to be extended with a another dining room at the back, but in front of the owners living quarters. Years later it was demolished to build a new and much bigger restaurant by the same name, however it has since closed.

Of course the other thing tourists loved was the local art gallery, where I occasionally hung out on Sundays helping out. Sets of etched glass goblets made from beer bottles or stubbies were a hit with the tourists. In those days some of the wine companies bottled their brews in Green and Clear glass Carafes, so these where also etched and often sold as part of a set.

to be continued....
Old House on the Hill circa late 1970's - Photographer unknown

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