Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Hilton Foyer-Reception

Having collected our luggage off the carousel, Marj stood guard as I went to hail a cab.

Behind me I heard a loud voice bellow: “Come here!  You! Come here!”  

Turing around to see what all the noise was about I discovered the yelling was directed towards me.  A glaring khaki-clad Herr Hitler was angrily waving her hand about, ordering me to go over to where she was holding court.

With raised eyebrows I walked over to the tantrum-throwing demon. 

“Are you talking to me?” I asked, trying my hardest not to sound like an impersonation of Robert De Niro’s “Travis Bickle”.

Marj whispered: “I think everyone has to get into that bus over there – you and me included.”

“Why, for Heaven’s sake?  Who the hell does she think she is?”  I responded, not in a whisper.

“Oh! Let’s just do as we’re told and get on the bloody bus,” Said Marj as she started to move in its direction. “It’ll keep her happy.  We’ll go along with her – for now!  Anyway, look on the bright side…it’ll save us a cab fare!”

“Okay!  But I’m not going to be part of any tour group I’ll tell you that right now.  I’ll make it clear to her, too, in no uncertain terms! You can join the group, if you want to, but there’s no way I’m going to be part of a mob being bossed around by her for the week!” I stated, nodding in the guide’s direction. “Did you know we were supposed to be a part of a tour group? I've got a mouth; I'm capable of asking for information.  This is totally ridiculous!”

Marj had no idea we were supposed to be part of a tour group, either; but for the moment, we decided to shut our mouths and go with the flow; at least until we were transferred to our hotel in the city's centre.

Like an angry, over-zealous, hyperactive sheep dog the vertically challenged fiend rounded everyone up; and like obedient sheep, one by one we boarded the bus without further delay.

The bus driver, having received a curt nod from Herr Commandant, obediently put the bus into gear, and soon Changi Airport became a distant memory in the rear vision mirror. 

Standing upfront at the beginning of the aisle Herr Commandant conducted her non-stop spiel as we went along.  The bus’s passengers soon began exchanging glances between each other; strangers smiling and winking at strangers. I, of course, found it difficult to hide my amusement as I passed comments out the corner of my mouth to Marj; all done in a lowered voice because I didn’t want to be hauled over the coals by our officious leader. She probably would have tossed me off the bus and made me walk the rest of the way if she'd heard my remarks!

I could see she had her eye on me, though!

A surge of relief flowed through me when we reached our hotel in Orchard Road, The Hilton. Without missing a beat we were promptly marched off the bus towards the hotel’s entrance and foyer by our fearless leader.  No sooner had our feet touched the pavement Herr Commandant began to bark out further orders. 

I went up to her and quietly said out of the earshot of others; “Excuse me...I just want to let you know now so there's no further misunderstandings, my friend and I aren’t part of this tour group. We are “free, independent travelers”.  Thank you for your assistance so far, but from now on it won’t be needed.  We’ll do our own thing, and find our own way around.  Thank you very much.”

I received a steely glare in return; but keeping my cool, I responded with a pleasant smiled as Marj and I entered the hotel…just the two of us, leaving the group in our wake.  There was no need to be rude.  Our position had been made politely, but firmly.

At the reception desk booking in, my presence caused an amount of confusion. The girl behind the desk found it difficult to match “Ray Arnold” and his wife, Barbara with the two women standing in front of her who had produced their vouchers and airline tickets bearing those names, but declaring emphatically that their names weren't Ray Arnold or Barbara Arnold. In fact, those two women were Lee George and Marj Armitage. 

Further confusion could have occurred quite simply.  Both Mr. Arnold and I had names that could be reversed.  For example, he could easily become “Arnold Ray”…and I….well, there I was in Singapore…and my name could be misunderstood to be “George Lee”.  To make matters even worse, in my case…my full name showing on my passport was/is “Lee Frances George”; that helped compound the confusion.  Except for one small letter, my three names can also be a male’s name; as well as being reversed successfully, every which way!

Meanwhile, a queue was building behind us as others waited patiently (some not so) to book in as our conundrum was being unravelled. And all the while I could feel the steely glare of the disgruntled tour guide boring into my back.  She kept me in her sights. 

Marj let me do the all the explaining to the befuddled desk clerks. Because Marj and I weren't a "couple" it was also necessary for us to switch to a twin-share room We had no intentions of sharing a bed for a week if a more favourable situation could be arranged.  We were good friends, but that would be stretching the friendship a bit too far.  It was obvious we weren’t Mr. and Mrs. Arnold; and clearing up the muddle did further delay matters. However, fortunately, a twin-share room was found for us. Eventually, everything was under control. We were ready to board a lift/elevator to take us up to our floor and room.

Within a second of turning away from the reception desk a couple of obliging, smiling, young porters arrived out of nowhere. Grabbing hold of our luggage, at a pace, off they headed in the direction of the lifts.  I had a friendly, humorous tug-of-war with the porter who was about to disappear with my luggage. 

After all the name confusion when booking in I believed if I lost control of my personal possessions there was a strong possibility I’d never seem them again - ever.  After a brief tussle; all the while explaining to the young man that everything was just fine, and for him not to be offended; that I was perfectly capable of looking after myself and my luggage; and explaining I was happy to do so, I slipped him a tip for his efforts.  He was only doing his job; and he was doing it well, but a vivid scenario of misplaced possessions was running through my imagination. It was one I didn’t wish to become a reality.  The porter graciously accepted my tip. His face beamed with gratitude.

After what seemed like an eternity; an eternity filled with “Mr. Bean” moments, Marj and I reached our room. 

Marj let out a loud sigh of relief as she threw herself onto her bed.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I exclaimed.  “Come on!  We’re going out! It’s our first night in Singapore.  We’re not staying cooped up in a hotel room!”

“But it’s 11 o’clock at night!” She stared at me as if I’d joined David Bowie and had become “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”!

“So?  I don't care!  I could be midnight for all I care!  Let’s go!  Let’s get out of here! We’re only here for a week…I don’t know about you, but I’m going to make the most of it.  And I’m not at all tired.  Surely, you’re not!  It's time to check out our surroundings in readiness for tomorrow!”

Coming to the realisation that even making an attempt to put up a fight would be fruitless, Marj waved her white flag; she surrendered, knowing when she was beaten.  Anyway, I was going whether she came with me or not! Nothing and nobody was going to hold me back!   

Less than 15 minutes later after the obligatory bathroom visits we were in the middle of Orchard Street; in the middle of the night; but we weren’t alone. 

Orchard Road never sleeps. The air was electric; the street was alive with people; some strolling at a leisurely pace, others bustling along in a hurry to reach their destinations. Multi-coloured neon lights flashed brightly. A hawker here and there approached us as they unsuccessfully tried to sell us cheap watches or whatever else they had attached to the linings of their jackets and elsewhere. The busy boulevard back then was separated by a treed island running along its centre into two one-way thoroughfares. Cars and cabs buzzed up and down. Oblivious to the motorized vehicles the odd rickshaw and/or trishaw passed by.  The sight of rickshaws was odd to us. They were something we weren’t used to seeing every day, or night of the week.  While in Singapore I never went for a rickshaw ride.  It didn’t sit well with me to be ferried along by such a method. Yet, all the rickshaw operators seemed happy in their jobs; but it wasn’t for me.  I had two legs to carry me everywhere. If and when the need arose, I’d travel by taxi.

One dared not jay walk; not only in the fear of being fined because jay walking is illegal in Singapore; but also in the fear of being run down.  I’m not sure if the traffic would stop for a pedestrian.  However, a few days later when caught in a tropical downpour that uncertainty was allayed, in a manner of speaking; more about that incident further down the line.

The emotions I felt during our first night in Singapore were like nothing I had ever experienced before. The night mood was contagious.  From the pervading ambience, the general vibrations, the cheerfully relaxed state of mind was widespread. I couldn’t contain my joyful emotions, and I had no desire to do so.  I felt like a child let loose in a candy store, or in the centre of the biggest celebration of life in the world.  Initially, Marj didn’t feel similarly, but it didn’t take long for her to catch the bug. She soon fell under the spell, as well. It was inescapable; all-encompassing. Even if she hadn’t succumbed, my own feelings of excited elation were too powerful to be dampened or crushed by anyone or anything. 

We came to a pedestrian crossing at the end of Orchard Road. When the lights indicated permission to walk, we complied with their orders; and crossed safely to the opposite side of the road.  If there had been any flies around I would have caught every one of them.  I think my mouth was constantly open in awe of what was going on around me. 

However, I doubt there are any flies in Singapore. Singapore is sparkly clean. There is no litter, anywhere. If you're caught discarding chewing gum, you're gifted with a heavy fine.  If you have the mind to; and don't mind, you could eat off the toilet floors...they are that clean!  Everywhere you roam people are cleaning. Travelling from place to place you see others trimming the verges alongside the roads; the streets; toilets; foyers of the high-rise are filled with.non-stop activity; non-stop cleaning and tidying. It's safe to eat at the myriad street stalls without fear of food poisoning. Health regulations and food-safety practices are strictly adhered to.  It's amazing; and it's a shame the rest of the world doesn't follow the examples set by Singapore.

Strolling along Orchard Road we were on a reconnaissance mission, planning our movements for the following day.  We needed a bit of a mud map for our future adventures, I informed Marj. By that stage, she’d become my willing ally in whatever adventures or wicked deeds I had in mind!

Absorbed in our surroundings, I spied an exclusive Davidoff cigar salon situated at the end of a marbled entrance to one of the many high-rise buildings fringing Orchard Road.  I dragged Marj along with me to investigate my discovery.  Unable to control my urges upon entering the timber-lined, temperature-controlled salon with its inviting, plush leather-seating, I purchased a box of Davidoff half corona cigars.  The aroma emanating from the classy, elite, specialised boutique had lured and seduced me.

With my inaugural Singapore purchase clasped in my hand, my co-conspirator and I re-entered our hotel, but before we drew the curtains on our first night, we decided a celebratory nightcap would be a fitting finale to toast the beginning of the unknown fun that lay in store.

At the time of our visit, late 1986, the Hilton had a sunken lobby bar.  The hotel has since been refurbished; I’m unaware if the lobby bar still exists in its form of those days.  By the end of our stay, Marj and I had become familiar faces at the sunken bar. The friendly bar staff always greeted us with much fanfare when we arrived. They showed genuine interest in learning what we’d done and seen during any given day.

On our maiden visit we didn’t linger long at the lobby bar; only long enough to fine tune our movements for the next day.  A visit to Arab Street was at the top of our “places-to-see–things-to-do” list. It was settled that Arab Street would be our first port of call the next day. Of course, Raffles had not been forgotten, nor had my longstanding promise to myself. I had an unbreakable appointment for 4 pm. I'd be there come hell or high water or tropical downpour! Nothing was going to stop me!

Brisbane, Queensland and Australia seemed so far away as Marj and I sat chatting at the bar. We’d both had a long day and night. Weary, but exhilarated, we downed our drinks and headed off to our room to catch a few hours sleep before the party began.  The night had only been a rehearsal....

Monday, October 21, 2013


Ulysses Butterfly
Grumman Mallard
De Havilland Beaver
Missionary Bay, Hinchinbrook Island

Changi Airport, Singapore

When communicating with a fellow blogger the other day memories of a year I spent in Singapore one week in late 1986 came to mind loud and clear. Not that it takes much to rekindle my many fond, fun memories of my wonderful visit to Singapore!  Every time I hear of someone heading to there, I find myself back sitting on a stool at “The Writers’ Bar” in Raffles Hotel. A few years ago I wrote about this brief episode in my life; but that’s not going to stop me doing so again. This time I’ll give a more detailed account.

The “Reef Venture” arrived at the resort's jetty 9.00 am bearing a load of provisions along with a few new guests eager to start their island escape. As was my usual practice each time guests arrived, I sat with them for a short while out on the deck surrounding the pool. Sipping on hot or cold beverages of their choice while spontaneously being lulled into a sense of guiltless lethargy by the relaxing sound of the ocean gently lapping the shore of Orchid Beach, I explained the island’s many pleasures that inclueded the various walks and daily boat trips on offer.  As if on cue a large, exquisite Ulysses butterfly oblivious to the wonder it caused amongst the newcomers idly meandered through the tropical growth drinking the nectar. Once I’d completed the “greet and meet” a staff member escorted the holidaymakers to their respective cabins. Upon entering my office the phone started ringing.

As clear as a bell I remember it being shortly after 10 am on a Wednesday morning, Hinchinbrook Island time - which, by the way, in reality, was (and still is) the same as mainland Queensland time.  Although, on the other hand, island time was “island time” and completely different to mainland time…but that’s a whole other story and explanation!

The caller was my boss, the owner of the resort. He was, and still is, the Managing Director of his own company; a civil engineering-construction company with its head office located in Toowong, a suburb of Brisbane. The construction company has projects throughout this country, not solely confined to Queensland.  The news he had for me almost knocked me for a “sixer”; or put another way..."out of the ball park"

The construction company leased its work vehicles from Toyota; about 30 in total, which was quite a lot for a relatively small firm in comparison to some other much larger construction companies.  Toyota had run a competition of sorts, and "our" Brisbane-based civil engineering company won a trip for two of its employees (of the construction company, not the island resort. The two businesses were separate entities, entire unto themselves).

The prize was a week’s accommodation in Singapore, staying at the luxurious Hyatt Hotel on Orchard Avenue. Breakfast every day from the hotel’s elaborate hot and cold buffet, and one dinner for two in the Hyatt’s first class a la carte restaurant were included in the prize, as well as the return flights, of course. 

The original recipient of the prize, a Ray Arnold, and his wife (I didn’t know who they were…Ray Arnold worked in the civil engineering sector) pulled out at the last minute because of unforeseen family obligations.  The prize had to be taken up within the next week, or it would be forfeited. 

Marj, the ex-wife of the owner of both the resort and the construction company was a good friend of mine of long-standing.  She retained shares in the civil engineering company; and the company still bore her name, as well, even though the marriage had fallen to pieces. Rather than forfeit the prize, her ex-husband, my boss, offered it to Marj and me, with the condition we had to catch a flight to Singapore the following Wednesday. That meant I had to be in Brisbane on the Tuesday.  I had less than a week to get my end of everything, work-wise on the island, into order. Immediately, I went into full-speed-ahead mode!

Unlike my sales-marketing trips to various travel/tourism expos and seminars/conferences, my trip to Singapore was more leisure-based, than work-related; which was just as well because I did no “work” when there.  That word was absent from my mind, to be truthful!

Excitement ran rife for the next few days, not only within me, but throughout my staff, as well.  I wasn’t sure if they were happy for me, or excited knowing I’d be off the island for a week, out of their hair; perhaps, it was a blend of the two!

Even when I was younger, unlike many of my peers, I bore no burning desire to travel overseas.  However, my lack of the travel-bug gene didn’t mean I lacked knowledge about other countries; nor did it mean I had no interest in foreign and not so foreign lands; their cultures or their people. I’ve always been an avid reader of whatever I can lay my hands on, be it fiction, non-fiction, historical, geographical; the list was and still is endless.

When it began or how it began, I really don’t know, but for years I’d promised myself if I ever did happen to venture to Singapore – never thinking that I ever would – Raffles Hotel would sit at the absolute pinnacle of my list of places to visit. 

Raffles was probably the main reason each time I visited Cairns, I stayed at the Tradewinds-Outrigger Hotel.  With its white plantation shutters, marble-tiled floors, lush, green potted palms and tropical plants throughout, The Outrigger Hotel, to me, exuded the tropical romanticism of Singapore’s legendary Raffles Hotel. For years I’d retained the fanciful image I'd conjured in my mind; and the promise I’d made to myself; a promise no one else was aware of; it was my secret desire.

Tuesday arrived quickly.  I’d barely had time to catch my breath it seemed. Many loose ends had to be tied and in order before I left for my unexpected, unplanned adventure. I had faith in my staff, but there were still many things that needed attending to before I boarded on the Air Whitsunday’s seaplane, the Grumman Mallard en route to Townsville airport to catch a connection flight to Brisbane.  The Grumman Mallard was an amphibian aircraft.  Air Whitsunday operated out of Airlie Beach, the mainland centre for the various Whitsunday islands that are dotted over and about the Great Barrier Reef.  Airlie Beach is approximately 465kms (289 miles) as the seagulls, terns or seaplanes fly.

Depending on the number of holidaymakers travelling to Hinchinbrook and/or Orpheus Islands, Air Whitsunday sometimes flew the De Havilland Beaver to the islands. The Beaver was smaller than the Mallard. It was fun to fly in; but there was some extra special about the old Grumman Mallard.  I loved flying in that plane.

Upon the arrival of the Grumman around 12.30 pm on the Tuesday, a couple of my staff members and I leapt aboard the AIMS’ punt (Australian Institute of Marine Science). I was gallantly ferried out to the seaplane.

AIMS regularly conducted research on and around the island.  The mangrove forests that line the western side of Hinchinbrook Island fringing the Hinchinbrook Channel, along with the dense mangroves that grow extensively along the creeks that run from the island’s interior.  The waters emanating from Mt. Bowen, Queensland’s third highest mountain flow into Missionary Bay. The area is claimed, by many of the experts in such matters, to be the most diverse in Australia.  Many have likened the area to the Amazon Delta.  AIMS asked me for permission to leave their punt tied up to the island jetty. In return, AIMS gave us permission to use the punt for sea plane pick-ups and drop-offs when it wasn’t being used by them.

So there I was - off on the first leg of my trip. Townsville airport would be my first port of call; and then, I'd jump aboard a flight to Brisbane. I was on my way.  All I could think of was Raffles 

Late in the afternoon, Marj was waiting for me at Brisbane airport. We spent the night before our flight the following day at her riverside home in Chelmer, a Brisbane suburb. There we enjoyed a few wines over dinner, combined with a lot of talking and much laughter.  Marj had physically seen more of the world than I had.  A few years before our planned joint trip, she and her family traversed Russia from its far east coast across to Moscow on board the Trans-Siberian Rail ; and then, continued on through Europe before returning home to Australia. There was a trip to the United States somewhere along the line, too, from memory.

I told Marj of my plan to be at Raffles Hotel every afternoon on the dot of 4 pm; and that on my very first visit I intended to wear white. I had no particular reason for my desire to wear white, but, somehow, in my romantic imagination, it seemed fitting.

During a trip to Melbourne a couple of months prior to my Singapore sojourn I’d bought a very expensive, Italian-designed and made white cotton shirt-maker dress from newly-opened Diorama. An ex-guest of the resort had an interest in the venture and he had personally invited me to visit the new shopping outlet; a complex filled with many individual high fashion salons. At the time, Diorama was a risky, adventurous, ahead-of-its-time venture. A group of like-minded aficianados of fashion brought their dreams into fruition, and under one roof in a building in Collins Street, Melbourne they created a wonderland of unique, exclusive fashion salons. Diorama’s glamorous salons, some of which allowed entrance “by invitation only”, showcased the best well-known and respected overseas designers, along with the crème de la crème of Australian designers.

Having accepted the invitation to be personally escorted through Diorama’s myriad salons, I fell under its captivating spell immediately, and weakly I succumbed. The only excuse I can offer for the flaw in my character is - I’m a woman. Place me amongst a cluster of alluring salons filled with beautiful clothes, all “one-offs”, shoes and seductive perfumes what do you expect a girl to do?  What increased the temptation  at the time was the fact that my bank balance was far more healthier than what it is today!

I fell in love with the dress the moment I laid my eyes on it.  Trying it on was the mistake I made. From that moment on, I was defenseless. I was putty in its threads.  It was a stunning dress; simple, but stunning. It was meant to be mine; damn the price tag!

I’d only worn it once before the Singapore trip, and I felt like a million dollars the night I'd first worn the dress; as well I should because it cost almost a million dollars; a slight exaggeration, of course.

It was my dream to walk into Raffle’s Writers’ Bar dressed in my “million dollar” white vestment; or investment! 

So with my game plan firmly in place, I continued explaining it to Marj my intentions, telling her if we ever became separated while out and about in Singapore, or if there were times she wanted to go her way, alone, to see and do whatever she wanted to do without my company, from 4 pm each day she would know where to find me. I’d be sitting in “The Writers’ Bar” at Raffles Hotel.

I think we were both as excited as each other; but unlike me, one who always packs her suitcase well ahead of time, to my amazement, Marj hadn’t even begun to pack hers. Last minute packing is not my style. It never has been. If going on a trip, even if only for a couple of days, I’m always packed and ready well in advance. I think what intrigued me most about Marj’s lack of urgency was she always took so long to get ready for a simple night out or similar. Here we were going overseas for a week and she had nothing ready at all! At some ridiculous hour in the morning she dragged out her ironing board! 

She used to dilly-dally about so much when we’d be getting ready to go anywhere…and “anywhere” might sometimes mean just going to the beach, it would drive me insane.  I'd be tearing my hair out in sheer frustration. It shouldn't take anyone so long to get ready! I’ve never understood why it takes some people forever to ready themselves.  Get on with the job, I say…stop fiddling about!  So when she hadn’t even thrown a single pair of panties into her suitcase, my eyebrows were raised to the ceiling and beyond!  I had to walk away, out of her bedroom. I could feel my temperature rising!

I told her if she wasn’t ready the next day when the taxi transporting us to the airport arrived, I’d leave without her. Taking control of the situation, or at least one small part of it, I booked the cab to arrive well in advance of our flight’s departure time. Again she accused me of being silly and of panicking. She poo-hooed and ridiculed me for doing so; but I didn’t weaken in my resolve.  I’d rather wait at the airport in leisure than be held up in traffic having an anxiety attack. 

As the following day unfolded, it was just as well I was so insistent because when we reached the airport the bag handlers and booking-in clerks had gone on a last minute strike; and there was only a skeletal staff working!  One single outlet was open to accommodate check-in travellers. The queue leading to the one and only bay was endless.  It was pandemonium.

We had just reached the end of the line and were in the middle of checking in when our flight was called.  We had to run like hell to board the plane before its doors closed. We were the last to board.  Out of breath, we found our seats.  Marj and I exchanged looks.  I didn’t have to say anything; but I knew she knew that if I hadn’t persisted in being at the airport early, way before our scheduled departure time, we would never have caught our flight; but we did. I was a good friend - I refrained from saying - "I told you so!"

Finally, we were in the air en route to Singapore.  As each moment flew by, my Raffles’ dream grew closer into becoming a reality.  I could hardly wait.

We landed at Changi Airport at night. There we were greeted by a very bossy female tour guide. I was certain she was a female reincarnation of Hitler!  Up until that point, we'd not realised we were part of a tour group.  I've never been a "group" person; and neither was Marj.  It was a situation that had to be rectified promptly.

I'd arrived in Singapore with a name like "Lee George"...one that can be either female or male; and "Lee", in particular, was a very popular, common name in Singapore. On top of that, Marj and I were flying under the names of  Ray Arnold and his wife!  

I sensed there could possibly be some confusion ahead.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


Town Hall Clock, Gympie

Front Entrance to Gympie's Central State Primary School

Without fail he’d be at our double garden gates every afternoon waiting for my brother and me to arrive home from school. He didn’t wear a watch; he didn’t own one.  Seated in his usual spot he couldn’t see the Town Hall clock just across the way; but he was never late.  He would have been able to hear the Town Hall clock strike every hour and half hour, of course, but, to my knowledge, he couldn’t count.  I guess he just instinctively knew the time of the day; no matter what the day was. He could differentiate between week days and weekends; although I don’t know how he worked that out, either. It must have been instinctive.

At opposing ends of the fence fronting the street upon which we lived were two sets of gates.  Well, we didn’t actually live on the street – you know what I mean! A narrower garden gate swung between two posts, one of which held the letterbox at the end of the concrete garden path; or perhaps, at the beginning of the path, depending on which way we were headed – coming or going!  The double gates at the opposite end of our front yard were separated from the single gate by a garden ablaze with a pale pink-blossomed climbing rose bush, and a garden abundant with zestful zinnias, generously-hued gerberas and composed chrysanthemums.

The double-gated entrance was wide enough for a car to drive through, but it was never used for that purpose. We didn’t own a car.

When going to or coming from school the double gates were the ones we passed through. At that end of the yard they were the logical choice.

Gympie’s Central State Primary School was situated just up the road a few yards and around the corner in the next street from where we lived.  Close enough for us to walk home for “big lunch”; or run home!

It didn’t take him long to learn our habits.  He was a clever fellow. That’s why daily, excepting Saturdays and Sundays, he set up his sentry post at the double gates; he was no dummy.
On Saturday afternoons we always went to the matinees at the Olympia Theatre; and upon our return from the picture theatre he’d be there waiting at the smaller gate; not the double gates.  When going to the Saturday matinees, the smaller garden gate was the one we always used because that was nearest to the direction we were headed.

Every afternoon when we rounded the corner as we headed for home from school, we’d spot him.  I’m sure he always saw us before we saw him because he’d have already jumped up from his seated position; his body quivering with excitement and his tail wagging frantically from side to side.  His senses were more alert than ours; and each afternoon he found it difficult to contain himself, but somehow he managed…just! 
He knew he wasn’t allowed out on the street. Impatiently he waited; heart pounding; tail wagging, body quivering, ears wired for sound; an excited smile across his tan and white face; a smile that would convert any Sad Sack into a Happy Jack. After a welcome that made us feel we’d been away for a month, not a few hours, he’d jump with joy; and the race would begin!  Up the back stairs my brother and I galloped; Graham ahead of me; both of us clearing two steps at a time.

However, smugly, our excited, impatient friend always won the race!   And, I always came last!

Peter was his name.  He was a tan and white smooth-haired Fox Terrier.
Peter was the first dog we ever had. In truth, he really was my brother’s pet; I had my ginger cat, appropriately called “Ginger”; but I had enough love to share around. My love for Peter wasn’t diminished.   
He was a fine, cocky little fellow who loved to chase a ball, a stick or shuttlecock about the yard.  Peter was a frisky, inquisitive dog who enthusiastically joined in all our games. He may have been little in size, but he was gigantic in character.
And then, one afternoon he didn’t greet us at the gates. Our hearts were broken.  There was little our mother and grandmother could do or say to console us; though try they did. We had to learn to work our way through our grief in our own personal, individual way.

Pets play such a special, crucial part in a child’s life and development. Animals teach children so many of life’s lessons; necessary lessons about love; kindness; respect loyalty; joy, and of course, sorrow. All the emotions that help mould us into being decent human beings.

Oh! Dear! Sorry! And here am I about to give you some hot dog recipes to woof down!

Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Hot Dogs: Heat grill to med-high. Combine 1tsp each tomato sauce and Dijon mustard. Separately mix 1c drained, roughly-chopped sauerkraut with 2tbs chopped onion. Slice 4 large knockwurst/bratwurst/kielbasa sausages down the centre, lengthwise, creating deep pocket; don’t cut right through; coat insides with mustard mix. Place strip of cheddar cheese in each pocket; top with sauerkraut; encase cheese at ends so none is exposed. Tightly wrap a bacon rasher around each stuffed hot dog so stuffing stays in; secure with toothpick at each end.  Oil grill; place dogs on grill, stuffing side down. Grill on all sides until bacon is cooked.  Toast 4 hot dog buns; remove toothpicks from hot dogs; place in buns.

Sticky Hot Dog Jackets: Rub 4 baking potatoes, each about 225g, with a little olive oil; sprinkle generously with salt flakes and black pepper. Wrap each in double- thickness foil; cook on bbq 1hr, turning often; or bake unwrapped in 200C oven, 1hr.  Glaze: Combine 2tsp maple syrup or honey, 1tbs balsamic, 2tsp wholegrain mustard and 1tsp tomato puree. Brush over 8 pork sausages; cook on bbq, basting until cooked and sticky. Combine 8tbs mayo, 2tsp wholegrain mustard and 3tbs finely-chopped chives or shallots. Split the spuds down the middle; not all the way through; add mayo and sausages (like a hot dog). 

Hot Dog Rolls: Lightly grease tray; line. Cut 2 sheets thawed puff pastry into 12 pieces; sprinkle with finely-chopped onion, 1tsp chicken stock powder and 1/2tsp chilli powder or black pepper. Using 12 wieners; wrap each in pastry; seal with beaten egg; and brush tops; sprinkle sesame seeds on top of roll; bake in preheated 200C oven, 18-20mins or until golden. 

Tuesday, October 08, 2013


Sun Plaza Motel, Mackay
Gunabul, Restaurant-Function House, Gympie
Gunabul from another angle

Wedding ceremony at arbour in the gardens of Gunabul

3-par 18-hole golf course...Gunabul

My late brother Graham & Bernice - and "The Rattler"

Little Lady Echo

Perhaps Raymond Chandler wasn’t saying goodbye to a femme fatale when he wrote his novel, “Farewell, My Lovely”, but, instead, he was bidding adieu to Cape Farewell, the southernmost tip of Greenland, which he thought was lovely; just a thought.

Chandler may have been the first cab off the rank when he penned the words in 1940, but I’m nicking them; a loan, only a loan. He can have them back when I’m finished. I’m using poetic license that I don’t have in my possession right now. I know it’s here somewhere, but I can’t put my hands on it at the moment.

Also, at the risk of overstepping copyright restrictions, as well, it was a matter of “Farewell, My Lovely” for me the last Saturday; a moving farewell to a very dear friend of long-standing; a bittersweet parting enacted out at my driveway. 

I hate good-byes. I’m the one you see bawling her eyes out at airports; and you’d never want to be with me when I watch “The Notebook”!  I’m even worse when I read the book!

Forlornly I stood, around 11 am Saturday morning, fighting back my tears; tears that threatened to overflow in liquid abundance; enough to flood the valleys below. Sobs threatened to wrack my body as they struggled to break free.

My constant companion for the past 20 years; she who willingly went along with me to areas far and wide throughout this state; transporting me to some places I’d never been before or since, gave not a backward glance as she was taken away strapped on the tray at the rear of a truck; beyond my reach; out of my life forever.

 I’m sure she was afraid to look back, knowing if she did she’d fall apart seeing me standing there, alone, long of face. It might have been wishful thinking; a figment of my imagination or the reflection of the noon day sun, but I was certain her rear right tail light flickered at me as she disappeared down the road. Her final salute; her way of saying: “So long, my friend! I’ve enjoyed the ride, too!” 

Yes! I’m talking about Bessie, my doppelganger Ford Festiva. I purchased brand-spanking new Bessie from Bowen’s Ford dealership on the 9th November, 1993; two days before my birthday; my birthday gift to me. Over the years, like a pigeon-pair we covered a lot of territory, but the time had come for us to part ways. 

Together we weathered many storms.  We shared many happy fun times under the sun. 
Not once did she complain about my tuneless singing or mutterings. 

Bessie and I also shared sad times. She was my constant companion and means of transport when my late brother was in the P.A. Hospital prior to his passing.  Almost every day she ferried me from Gympie to Brisbane and back again in the six weeks leading up to his death. Never once did she let me down. Never once did she complain.

My brother, Graham had undergone major surgery for throat cancer at the Townsville Hospital in late January, 1998.   He’d spent over 6 hours on the operating table.

On New Year’s Day, 1998 I took up the position as manager of the Sun Plaza Motel, Nebo Road, Mackay. Taking on that job was one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made in my life. Looking back on it, I still ask myself the question “Why?” - I could write a volume about my short tenure at the motel. Perhaps one day I will; the story of that nightmare will have to wait for now. 

Mackay is south of Townsville; a two-hour road trip between the two cities. The only free  time I had from my motel duties were a few hours on Sundays; the hours between when I’d finished preparing and serving room service breakfasts on Sunday mornings and 4 pm in the afternoons. Those precious few hours were “my” time. 

From when Graham entered hospital in Townsville I spent my free hours on Sundays visiting him.  As soon as I’d finished preparing the last motel breakfast, I’d jump into my car and hurtle northwards to Townsville, my foot on the pedal, to spend a couple of hours with Graham before having to turn around and head south again around 2 pm to be back at the motel at 4 pm. 

I despaired at having to bid my brother farewell. I dreaded the return trip to Mackay. It wasn’t the trip or the city I dreaded, but what awaited me there - the motel.

Those few hours on Sundays were the only time I had to spend with Graham. I never burdened him with my problems; they were mine.  They were minor details compared to what he was dealing with.  It was a stressful time because I wanted to be near to him; I desperately wanted to be able to sit with him every day; but I couldn’t. 

At the motel I was working 24/7. Not only did I prepare the room service breakfasts every morning, I attended to the daily office duties, as well; along with overseeing the housekeeping staff and all that that entailed. At night I tended the restaurant bar and waited on the tables; while all the while bearing a smile on my face and exuding a pleasant attitude towards the dinner guests.  And if that wasn’t enough, I was on call throughout the rest of the night if late-comers wishing to book a room rang the night-bell.  Often I was woken in the wee small hours. 

The motel was situated on Nebo Road, which is the main thoroughfare through Mackay.  The Bruce Highway, Queensland’s main coastal highway, becomes Nebo Road when it reaches the southern outskirts of the city. 

Managing the motel kept me very busy, with little time of my own. The job kept Bessie busy, too, because she was my only means of transport when it came to running motel errands, such as banking, shopping etc. It was a full-on job. 

To make matters worse the owner of the motel at that time who had a sugar cane farm at Marian, a cane-growing area about 30 minutes west of Mackay, was a horrible person.  He was an arrogant, paranoid, ignorant, thoughtless creature, with the manners of a pig.  Actually, I insult pigs. Pigs have better manners!

When it came time for Graham to receive chemotherapy I insisted that he move south to Tamborine Mountain (where I live now, as a matter of fact).

He would receive his chemo treatment at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, a little over an hour’s drive away from Eagle Heights, an area on the northern end of this ridge.  At the time, his daughter and her future husband lived at Eagle Heights.  I believed it would be better for Graham to have close family around him because he would need the emotional and physical support that was impossible for me to give because of my work situation.

Eventually, when Graham was released from Townsville Hospital he flew south to take up residence at his daughter’s home for the duration of his treatment.

Stuck in Mackay, I was at my wits end.  I knew I couldn’t remain there.  It was time for me to move back south to be closer to my brother; to be there for him if and when he needed me during his most difficult time.

I didn’t want to move back to the city.  I’d left Brisbane in March, 1979.  After 19 years away from city life, with some of those years spent on islands, I had no desire to return to the hustle and bustle of city living. 

I rang a girlfriend of mine in Gympie.  We’d known each other since our primary school days; and as teenagers we spent our weekends surfing the waves at Noosa Heads and other beaches on the Sunshine Coast. We’ve been friends forever, it seems.

Both of our brothers had been lifesavers together in the Noosa Heads Surf Lifesaving Club in the early Sixties. Joy, my friend, and I remained good friends throughout the years, no matter how far I roamed.  She's spent her whole life in Gympie.  She wasn't a gypsy like I was. That we’d not seen each other in a long time made no difference; distances and absence matter not at all in good, strong friendships; our friendship remains to this day.

Bringing Joy up to date with what was going on in Graham’s life and my own, I told her I intended returning to Gympie as soon as possible; that I needed to be closer to where he was rather than be stuck up in the middle of nowhere feeling totally useless.  

Having been raised and schooled in Gympie; the town in which I'd also spent the first five years of my working life, I knew the area well. I still had good friends of longstanding there.

Gympie is only 168kms (105 miles) driving distance north of the city of Brisbane. Moving from Mackay to Gympie was the most logical decision for me to make, in my mind.  Joy leapt at the opportunity to be of assistance.  Within three weeks, I was on my way.  She’d found a house for me to rent, having painted my prospective landlords a rosy picture of me (as it turned out, they were related to another good friend of mine of longstanding). Joy also recommended my services to the owners of a restaurant-function house at the South Side of Gympie, which turned out to be “Gunabul Restaurant-Function House” as pictured above.  I rang the owners immediately; and on the healthy references Joy had given, I was hired as their chef/cook, sight unseen.

Every piece of the jigsaw puzzle was falling into its rightful place.

The 38 acres (15.3 hectares) property upon which Gunabul sits also boasts a 3-par, 18-hole golf course. In past years before the golf course was constructed, cattle grazed on the lush river pastures. The property runs down to the banks of the Mary River.  The home was originally built around 1885 for a local solicitor, Francis Power and his family.  Some of the features of the original home still exist in the present incarnation. Its high ceilings and a marble fireplace are examples, as are the original windows that are still in good working order.  In its early days the home was called “Kitiwah”.  The old home, now restaurant, is in immaculate condition. It has been known as “Gunabul” for only the past couple of decades or so.

I felt overwhelming feelings of elation as I pulled out of the driveway of Sun Plaza Motel and turned left into Nebo Road at 7 pm Saturday 25th April, 1998…Anzac Day.   Without a backward glance, I directed “Bessie”, my little Ford Festiva’s nose southwards; and off we went. Gympie drew closer with each turn of her tyres. 

In a strange way I felt like I was going home, even though I’d left Gympie 33 years previously in late July 1965.

Pushkin, my beloved ginger cat was comfortably settled into his cat box on the rear seat. He’d already travelled far and wide with me. He’d become used to my roaming over the years.  Pushkin had lived on Newry Island with me; he wasn’t unfamiliar with adventures. He wasn’t at all concerned about the latest undertaking. He knew he was in safe hands. 

After a couple of brief stops en route I arrived in Gympie, 803kms (499 miles) down the track a bit from Mackay around 4.30 am Sunday, 26th April.  I found a cosy spot overlooking the river to wait for the sun to make its appearance. I let Pushkin out of his cat box to roam free throughout the car to stretch his legs.  I didn’t want to arrive at Joy’s home too early. She reprimanded me when I did pull into their yard at 6.15 am because they’d been up before the birds expecting me to arrive at any minute.

A few hours later, having indulged in lengthy conversations and gallons of coffee; we had a lot of catching up to do; although feeling a little jet lagged after a sleepless night on the road, I paid a visit to Gunabul around 11 am to introduce myself to my new bosses.

I commenced working at Gunabul on Tuesday, 28th April.  I stayed with Joy and her husband in their home for a couple of days after my return to Gympie; and then I moved into my new abode.

The weekend of the 30th April included a public holiday on Monday, 4th May. It was the Labour Day long weekend. 
At the start of the long weekend somehow Graham found the strength, and/or determination to drive from Tamborine Mountain to Gympie to spend a couple of days with me; a trip that takes about three hours to conquer; sometimes more, depending on traffic conditions.

My Saturday – day and night - was taken up working as I had a wedding to cater for at the restaurant, but the rest of my time was free. Graham and I shared special, precious hours together just relaxing and chatting.  He was not well. He was very weary, it was clear to see; Blind Freddy could have seen his frailty; but his spirits were high and his intent, positive; far more positive than my own thoughts; thoughts I kept private within myself.

Graham showed strength of purpose during that weekend in May, 1998.  A good friend of his from when he was a young man working for the railway in Gympie took him out for the day on the Saturday of his visit. Bernice, his friend of many years (and mine, too), fulfilled a dream of Graham’s, one that he’d held for quite a while. 

Graham left Gympie to live in Mackay in the mid-Sixties.  Ever since he was a kid, for whatever reasons the lure of working on the cane fields had grabbed hold of him; and that’s what he did when he was about 22-23 years of age.  He married a Mackay girl and they had three children.  He remained living in Mackay until 1997.

When The Mary Valley Heritage Railway began conducting steam train trips/tours from Gympie through the lush Mary Valley, Graham’s interest was alerted.  Often he told me of his keenness to “Ride the Rattler”. The old steam engine departed from the historic Gympie Railway Station; the place where he first started working.  Many times as young fellow he rode the trains out through the Mary Valley.  The fully-restored, heritage steam train, “The Rattler” pulls restored wooden carriages filled with interested, excited tourists. The 40km journey traverses curves, gradients, bridges and lush countryside through the tiny country villages of Dagun, Amamoor, Kandanga and Imbil dotted along the way throughout the Mary Valley; and then returns to Gympie.

Graham returned from his day out, exhausted, but elated.  He had had a wonderful day.  I am, and will be forever grateful to Bernice for her generosity of spirit and friendship - for giving him that day.

Hugging me as we said our farewells before he departed on his return trip to Tamborine Mountain in the early hours of Monday morning; he preferred to drive in the night/early morning, Graham said to me:

 “As soon as I beat this thing, I think I’ll move back here to Gympie, too. Could I stay with you for a little while until I find something of my own?  I might even find a little place down at Tin Can Bay and do lots of fishing and crabbing.”

Naturally, I agreed with him that it sounded like a wonderful idea.

However, even if I was able to lie to him without remorse at doing so, I couldn’t lie to myself.  I knew his dream would not become reality.  

Within, I’d already acknowledged what was staring me in the face – the truth; a truth I couldn’t run away from no matter how much I wished it to be otherwise.

The next day; the Tuesday - Graham was admitted to the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane. He never came out of hospital again.

After a couple of weeks he fell into a coma; and there he remained comatose. During my visits I talked to him in the faint hope that somehow; somewhere; in someway he could hear me; His time on earth was drawing to an end. I wanted to be at his side as often as I could.

On reflection, I don’t know how I fitted in those hours driving to and from the hospital as well as cooking in the restaurant, but I did; I had to; of that there were no questions; no doubts.  If any road blocks had been erected in my path, I would have given up work.  My time with my brother was far more important to me than cooking for strangers.  I’d always find another job…but I’d never find another Graham. 

And with me all the way down the Bruce Highway; into the city; battling the city traffic and back out again was Bessie, my little Ford Festiva.  She never missed a beat; not once during all those miles we covered did she complain.

Another long weekend was on the doorstep in celebration of the Queen’s birthday.  Monday 8th June was the public holiday.  The restaurant would be closed on the Sunday and Monday.  We didn’t have a wedding booked for the weekend, which was odd because hardly a weekend went by that there wasn’t a wedding to cater for; and/or a function of some description.  Perhaps because it was the last long weekend of the year, people decided to grab the opportunity to travel to the coast or elsewhere, but whatever the reason the lack of bookings and the promise of a fairly quiet weekend ahead in the restaurant played right into my hands.

On the Thursday before the long weekend I prepared all that was necessary to cover the requirements for hot and cold buffets on the Friday and Saturday evenings, leaving detailed instructions for my kitchen-hand and my boss (the wife of the duo who owned Gunabul) who used to also be my off-sider in the kitchen to follow.

However, prior to Thursday, on the Wednesday afternoon, I drove to Brisbane to spend a couple of hours at Graham’s bedside. Driving back to Gympie later that evening, I was cruising along on a four-lane section of the highway just inland of Cooroy, a small country town a little north-west of Noosa Heads when I came upon a loaded prime mover just ahead of me.  It was the last, long straight stretch of highway for a while; so I decided I should take the opportunity to pass the truck. I could see no lights of oncoming traffic heading south towards me so I accelerated and swung out into the right lane to pass the huge truck and its long load.  
The prime mover seemed to go on forever. Forging my way forth, I made progress, albeit it gradual. Suddenly out of the blue the highway started to narrow from four lanes back into two lanes.  To my right was a slightly raised island separating the north and southbound lanes. I was in trouble!  Up ahead, I could see the bright headlights of another prime mover rapidly descending upon me southwards!   I was running out of room to move. There was no space for negotiation.

My heart pounded. It felt like it was going to burst out of my chest; but I knew I had to keep my wits about me and just survive - somehow.  With a grip of steel, I held onto the steering wheel, as I planted my foot to the floor.

 “Come on, Bessie!  We can do this!  We have to do this!” I said through gritted teeth.

There were no other options; no other choices.  Somehow, but I’m unsure how, we did make it.  I’m not a very religious person, but I felt at that precise moment it was Graham’s spirit that lifted Bessie and I up into safety, while telling me it was not my time; it was his.  Those few seconds in time were eerie; unexplainable.

Bessie and I cleared the island without any damage to either my little trustworthy vehicle or to me.  It felt as if we’d floated through the air; it was as if my car had grown wings.  It was the strangest of experiences. My nerves were shattered, though; but I decided to pigeon-hole them until I’d reached the safety of my home; my own four walls.

So there I was on the southbound lane, heading north with, no doubt, a stunned prime mover driver, cursing vehemently, behind me at my rear left heading north; and an equally stunned, cursing (or maybe speechless) truck driver heading south on the same lane that I found myself on. Still holding the breath I’d inhaled when I first noticed the dire situation in which I’d found myself, I swung smoothly back into the left lane, just ahead of the north-bound prime mover, keeping my foot heavy on the accelerator, not losing momentum or speed until I knew I was clear of all impediments. 

I’m sure I didn’t exhale until I parked the car in my home garage; entered my house; poured myself a stiff Scotch and collapsed on the sofa with Pushkin at my side. That was when the realisation, not only of my close shave on the highway, but, also of everything else that was going on around me set in. It hit like a bomb.  I started to sob uncontrollably.

Still in a state of shock on the Thursday, the day after my nerve-wracking return trip from Brisbane, I knew I was in no fit mental and emotional state to hit the highway again so soon.  I needed a day to regroup; to gather myself together.  Within, I was a jangled mess; outside no one would have known any difference. No one needed to know the depth of my emotions.  

I buried myself in the restaurant’s kitchen; threw all my energy into preparing the dishes which were needed to cover the weekend buffets.  It was clear to me that I couldn’t remain in Gympie on the weekend.  I knew I had to be in Brisbane on the Friday.  I couldn’t spend two complete days away from my brother’s side.

In my heart and mind I knew Graham’s days were numbered. I believed he wouldn’t last the weekend. His time on earth was rapidly drawing to an end. My instincts were strong. 

Filling Bessie’s fuel tank in readiness for another trip to Brisbane, I patted her on the rump and promised we wouldn’t find ourselves in a similar situation to the one we’d confronted and had miraculously come through on Wednesday evening. She’d never let me down, and I knew she wouldn’t again.  I wasn't going to let her down, either!

Friday morning I left Gympie shortly before the crack of dawn. Drama lay ahead later in the day, but what transpired was my fault not Bessie’s. Having settled her into the car park opposite the hospital around 6.45 am, I bade her farewell. My intention was to spend the day in the hospital room at my brother’s bedside. 

Clasped in my hand was “Take Me Home”, John Denver’s autobiography.  I’d already read the book a year or so previously, but I felt it fitting that I read it again on that day. Sitting at Graham’s bedside I wanted to lose myself in the story and in the memories of the music and lyrics of a unique singer-songwriter.  It was something I felt I had to do. It was a means of comfort, I guess. Graham had told me for years and years that he didn’t want any hymns played after he died.  He made me promise sincerely I would play “Annie’s Song” at his funeral.

Graham idolised Denver. I think he had every CD, LP and cassette of Denver’s in his possession. I, too, was a fan of Denver. I still am; probably even more so these days.

In 1994 Graham and I were in the audience at the Townville Entertainment Centre watching Denver perform.  It’s a night I will never forget; and one I’ll always cherish.  We even managed to meet and talk with Denver; a wonderful night to remember - in so many ways. I was living and working in Townsville at the time.  Graham drove up from Mackay to stay with me for a couple of days so we could go to Denver’s concert together.  It was one of the best times we’d ever shared. So reading John Denver’s autobiography, sitting alone at my dying brother’s bed seemed to me to be an appropriate thing to do. I felt Graham knew I was there beside him. If that wasn’t so, I chose to believe it, anyway.  He would have been at peace knowing I was there with him…with Denver, as well!

Later in the afternoon I returned to the car park around 4 pm. As it was the start of a long weekend, I wanted to beat the peak hour traffic; be ahead of those intending to holiday on the coast for the three-day weekend.  I wasn’t driving back to Gympie, but down to the Gold Coast to spend the night, and perhaps a couple of nights, at my ex-husband’s home, at his invitation, because I intended spending Saturday at the hospital; and doing the same on the Sunday; and similar on the Monday, if necessary.  Graham’s time was running out. As I’ve written above, I believed with my heart and soul that he only had a couple of days left. I needed to be close at hand.

I tried to start my car, but poor little Bessie’s battery was as flat as a tack!  I had left the car lights on all day! I’d left home in the dark; and by the time I’d reached the hospital car park, the sun was up, shining its bright morning illumination.  My car lights were the further most things from my mind at time of my arrival! 

However, luck was smiling on me that afternoon.  A police car pulled in a few cars up from where I’d parked.  Noticing my dilemma, the two wonderful young cops raced off to their police station, and shortly thereafter returned with jumper leads to assist two ladies in distress – Bessie and me!  Within moments, we were on the road again; not a country road taking us home, but down to the coast a few paces ahead of peak hour traffic. 

Graham passed away around noon on Saturday, 6th of June, 1998, shortly before Bessie delivered me to the hospital.  The following Wednesday, Bessie helped me transport my brother’s ashes back to Gympie. I placed the urn containing Graham's ashes on the passenger seat, safely secured by the seat belt.  A John Denver cassette with "Annie's Song" in its song list played softly in the background.  Denver and I were taking my brother home.

Hardly ever in her 20 years up until this past year or so, did Bessie miss a beat. On Thursday last, exhausted, she said: "No more...."

Bessie may have hardly ever missed a beat, but I certainly will miss Bessie..."Farewell, My Lovely - you will always hold a special place in my heart!"

As of Friday last, 4th October, 2013 I've my new little white car - a Toyota Echo....little Lady Echo - "Lady" to her best friends...not "Little Sir Echo".

Thank you, Bess - you were the best!