Thursday, July 18, 2013

Earth bound

We ended up with 75 at the symposium. 73 adults and two newborns - Henry and Mitchell. Highlights for me today included a special rendition of The Lion Sleeps Tonight - especially for Jess and I who had expressed disappointment that Jay referred to it in the children's program, but hadn't played it. Thanks Jay! The rest of the day passed in a blur as i coordinated delivery of the conference program, ensured Dr Susan Krieg and other speakers had what they needed, organised media opportunities and ensured food was available as needed. Suffice to say it has been a rewarding yet exhausting day. One of the unexpected bonuses was seeing the girls from Isaac Regional Council and Whitsunday Regional Councils. Seeing them all again after delivering professional development programs on their home turf was a bonus! Made for a great day! Currently in the air and homeward bound. Back to the mundane environment of the office tomorrow. Never mind. 16.7.13

Charter flight

I really did have the most incredible weekend. Sailing was awesome so, high winds aside it, would highly recommend it. There is nothing quite like the sense of serenity and peace, even with the wind clanging every piece of equipment imaginable. Highlights of course other than being out on the water was sharing some time with the loggerhead turtle. We saw many, but I like to think it was the same one greeting us and welcoming us to her bay. She was so gentle that it was a privilege to see her on a semi regular basis. If I thought the adventures topped there I was wrong. Options for transfer to Mackay were to take the barge, then drive 1.5 hours. Thanks to Frank we decided this was not a viable option so he organised a charter flight from Hamilton Island to Mackay. The plane was a small single winger craft. Two seats. Mine, and the pilots. Trish welcomed me and proceeded to run through the safety drill - on the Tarmac, by tying a piece of string around my waist. Apparently, this was the life vest. Hopefully it wouldn't be required, but just in case it was there ready for use. Remove the packing, slip the vest over your head, wait until you are outside the aircraft, then pull the toggles to inflate. Perfect. The range of dials and other controls was impressive. Lots of gauges and numbers. The ones with fluorescent paint were the important ones. Why else would they be high viz orange? I was in very safe hands and as such was able to sit back and enjoy the flight. Actually I was so excited I sat perched on the edge of my seat the entire time - looking at anything and everything. The key advantage of the small plane definitely being its ability to remain below cloud level. Islands, buildings, cemeteries, all look incredible from such a a vantage point. I must admit though that the cemetery was on the close end of the Mackay airport. It would have been too creepy approaching the airstrip to see the cemetery awaiting you if you overshot the runway. The most amazing part of the flight was not only seeing the rainbow, but virtually flying though it. Somehow as we approached it became almost circular and we ended up flying through the edge of the ring made by the rainbow. Incredible experience. Right up there as far as special moments go. 15.7.13

There's a bear in there - and Jay Laga'aia too

The fun and games continued. This time as a result of work commitments. The reason I was actually needing to be in Mackay was to support delivery of the Read for life: early childhood symposium. A one day program for educators, public library staff, parents and anyone interested in promoting the value of early literacy in children. My brief for the afternoon was to meet Jay Laga'aia at the airport and transfer him to his session at the Gordon White Library, a branch of the Mackay City Library network at Mt Pleasant. Jess from the main branch is an angel and we couldn't have achieved what we did without her support. So, there we were at the airport, waiting for Jay. Based on Brisbane arrivals I had added a portrait of Jay and Big Ted to my iPad and stood holding that so that Jay would recognise us. I shouldn't have worried overly. The "arrivals area" at Mackay airport is a doorway with a "No Entry" sign adjacent to the coffee outlet. No problems. Approx 6 people were awaiting loved ones, guests etc. so, I shouldn't have been overly concerned about missing Jay in the crowd. At least a couple of his fellow passengers had a chuckle and one little girl carrying Cookie Monster was pleased to report she hadn't seen Big Ted. Before we knew it Jay was there, introductions made and I had vowed never to wash my cheek again. That's what a kiss on the cheek from Jay will do. Trust me,over the last few days I have seen sensible senior citizens turn into giggling girls at the pleasure of having their photos taken with this legend of Playschool, Home and Away, Bed of Roses and Star Wars! We made it to the library with bags in tow ready to set up and do sound checks to find our audience had already started to arrive. Then they kept on coming, and coming and coming! We ended up with over 400 Mums, Dads, Nanna's, carers and children ready and waiting. Ready to go Jay stepped up and began his performance and the audience was his. From beginning to end, it was incredible. Everyone getting into it, teapots, crocodiles and billy goats left, right and centre. A 45 minute performance and meet and greet turned into almost two hours of singing, dancing and pure joy. I loved the Three Billy Goats Gruff (with girl Billy Goats) and was touched by the pure simplicity of the Ukulele, but got most from the interactions Jay had with the littlest of his visitors. One little lady brought her own, pink Ukulele with her and carefully requested that Jay sign it with her name, not her sisters. This young lady knew what she wanted and seemed not to recognise the significance of this guy serenading her on her own ukulele. Classic moments abounded this afternoon. Did I mention I would love a Ukulele? Doesn't have to be pink, but for this non musical person, any interest in things musical is to be encouraged. The line to say a personal hello and get a CD signed was longer than any I have ever seen and to Jay's credit he stayed on for as long as it took. Not only that, he thanked the children for waiting to see him, and not one went away empty handed. Playschool postcards form the perfect surface to write a hello on and every now and then a Star Wars card snuck out from the bottom of the pile on special request. Many happy people later (big and little) we finally were able to pack up and head off. After a quick shower and change of clothes we picked Jay up and went to dinner. This icon of Australian Television had dinner with three librarians - one each from Brisbane, Mackay and Surat. There goes his street cred. Just for the record, yes we did have a great evening. 15.7.13
Note to self. Boats float. That means that when you are suited up with boots face mask, snorkel and new super sized flippers when you come up for air, it isn't the current that has run off with you. Instead the boat has moved and you need to go over to the ladder. No, not panic and lunge for the dingy as you imagine being swept out to sea. Meanwhile, where is Captain Frank? Out of sight putting the camera away. Just before I entered the water May the loggerhead turtle welcomed us back by coming the closest to the boat she has ever come. Only thing was I had taken my glasses off in order to swim so missed it all except for a vague blob as she did her dive. We left May's Bay late morning after watching a sea eagle eat his breakfast on nearby rocks and a sea gull who had adopted the dingy dive in and retrieve a fish to eat. More like a minnow, but he seemed proud of his achievements. We headed over to Cid Harbour to explore, then with the weather improving substantially decided to return to May's to anchor overnight rather than return to the marina a night early. So after lunch we headed back, this time me taking the wheel and having my first lesson in handling the yacht. Not dissimilar to a car, but with a much larger wheel. Actually, on this yacht we have a choice of wheels. So, I started getting my head around the depth of water, working out how to steer straight and when to veer. The wheel is large and as such takes longer to respond, but once it does, she responds quickly. Takes a little getting used to, but I enjoyed it immensely. Others have found our bay so we took a different mooring on our return, hopped into the dingy then went across the bay and up an inlet to a pirate beach. Coming back we went to look at the coral bommies under high tide. A totally different experience to this morning. Heading back to the yacht we saw May and were able to cut the engine and head across to where she was swimming. Seeing this gentle creature so close was incredible. Her head seems so small in comparison to her shell mass, but she looked happy, smiling at us before she dived and went down into the water and out of sight. 14.7.13

Snorkelling of sorts

The weather for our trip has been far from ideal,but you make of it what you will. Winds overnight were up to 40 knots, but May's Bay protected us from the worst of it. With a little sunshine this morning we took the opportunity to go out int he dingy and test the snorkelling gear. Well, I put my face mask and snorkel on, dangled head first out of the dingy and checked out the coral, bommies and fish. Sighting of the morning was Mr Moray eel. A pale white colour I thought perhaps he was a rock due to his lack of movement, but appatprent,y thats what they do.....lurk, then when something comes within range, lunge! Perhaps not the traditional way to snorkel but given the wind conditions and temperature of the water a good compromise. We decided to head back to the yacht, making it back on board within minutes of another downpour. Perfect timing. Next was breakfast - spaghetti on toast with toast cooked the camping way. For this city girl a new way of doing things using a funky little rack to balance the toast over the gas flame. Why is it that food tastes so much better outdoors? 14.7.13

May's Bay

Rubber ducky entry and exit is another skill to learn. My skills must be improving though as I successfully negotiated the beach without getting wet or injured. Unlike my Thai experience six months ago. The beach here is small and intimate, and very quickly passes onto mangroves which line the waters edge. These trees really are quite beautiful. The last time I was so up close and personal was a biology trip in high school. The root system is what makes them unique, enabling them to exist on the waterline, yet breath via their network of roots which form a latticework system of breathing points above the water line. As for the salt water, I'm can't quite remember how they deal with that, but given how healthy they look they cope magnificently. Having discussed the potential danger of cone shells I was aware that shell seeking was to be undertaken with care. That and the fact that many beaches within this area would be considered national parks or protected environments. That said, I only found one shell worth investigating, flipping it over to discover it was inhabited by a hermit crab. After he wiggled his claws at me, I gently placed him back in position and left him to his housework. It is the turtles in May's Bay that have most captured my attention. We have sighted a couple each day. They appear out of nowhere, take a breath or two on the surface and go again. Sometimes they reappear further across the bay as they seek food. One this afternoon came up close by our yacht, alerting me to her presence as she huffed out and took another breath of air. The sound so unusual I had to look - and there she was just watching me. An amazing experience. I took a photo on my iPhone, which looks more like the Loch Ness Monster than doing credit to this beautiful girl, but I knew if I left to get the camera, she would be on her way before I returned. I consider myself very lucky to have seen her so close, in her environment, not one of man's making. 13.7.13

It's a sailors life

The interesting thing about expectations is that they are often misfounded. Take this land girls thoughts on sailing. Here was I thinking it would be relaxing, full of solitude, might I even suggest romantic. How wrong was I. With winds that reached 25 - 30 knots overnight there was nothing but noise. I thought that the motion of the boat was what I would find most challenging to deal with. Perhaps I was a Pirate in another time and place as this has been the least of my concerns. The noise though has been something else entirely. Apart from the occasional pump kicking into action and the ropes slapping against the mast the continual slurping and slapping of the water against the hull made me realise the subtle power of Chinese water torture. Most noises I could equate to something at home. The bilge pump reminds me of Tia and Willow scratching at the door to come inside, the ropes slapping on the mast equate to branches falling on the roof, motel doors slamming when I travel for work etc. I wake, recognise the sound, turn over and go back to sleep. The incessant slurping of the water is something else....that said, at least I slept. That makes one of us. The weather this morning isn't much better. Wind has dropped a little perhaps, but it is cloudy and overcast. So at this stage it looks like we will settle in for an hour or so with a book, then reassess things later in the morning. Might not be the best weather for snorkelling but we might take the rubber ducky across to the bay and go for a walk. 13.7.13

Hamilton Island here I come

The big adventure has begun.  This girl is off sailing for the weekend, prior to heading to Mackay to deliver the Read for life: early childhood symposium on Tuesday.
Paul did the furry pickup without incident this morning.  I laughed to see Cinque's travelling companion - a Labrador.  His arch nemesis, although Charley looked like she had some age about her so hopefully he behaved himself.
So, an hour or so in the business lounge, iPad and book in hand saw me happily occupied until my flight to Hamilton Island.  We landed without incident, although the airstrip here must test the skill of the best pilot.  A narrow strip of land seemingly surrounded by ocean.  Once the descent begins I find it better not to look.
Frank met me, we collected my bags - one for work next week, one for pleasure and off we went.  Buggy to the marina, then loading gear onto our yacht.
Actually I think we "stowed" the gear.  There seems to be a specific language to boating and this land lubber has lots to learn.  Home for the next few days is a 44 foot Jeanaue - Miss Deveraux out of Hamilton Island.  Checking out all of the cabinets and hides holes to stow gear kept me entertained for some time.  Hopefully my full quota of bumped heads and banged elbows has been reached and the rest of the trip should be relatively uneventful.
We headed out of the marina late afternoon and by 3.00 had settled on our mooring for the night - May's Bay.  Accessed via a channel between Whitsunday Island and Cid Island, you go further around Daniell Point and on to the next cove.  Dugong Inlet off Daniell Point seems like a popular spot with 32 vessels seeking mooring for the night.  May's Bay had us and one other - a huge multi million dollar cruiser complete with wide screen television.  I'm not quite sure what the sailing protocol is, but I waved as the lady of the boat went out to tackle the anchor....who knows, we might get an invite for drinks one afternoon.
The movement of the yacht takes a bit of getting used to.  Above decks I am fine (well so far), even when we came through the entrance to Cid Harbour - known locally as "the washing machine".  The challenge I have is being below decks in the cabin.  I saw a plane go past, then another one, then a opposite directions.  At the point confusion was about to reign, Frank put me out of my misery by showing me the "star" that I could see.....and each time our yacht moves in the water, we pass back and forth the sight line to the star. 
Best sighting of the afternoon though was a sea turtle - must have been May of May's Bay fame!



Sunday, July 7, 2013

Charters Towers

Took me a while to get this one out - one of the challenges of being on the road.  Once back in the office I played catch up for so long I forgot I was yet to log this blog entry.  So, now the photographs are available seems like the ideal time.

Charters Towers aka "The World" is an historic town, filled with beautiful heritage buildings.  The Council and community really value the unique qualities of their town.

We have spent the week based at the Excelsior Library, which started life as a hotel and now spends its days meeting the needs of locals in other ways.  The building is quite beautiful, and being located on a corner of town, easily accessible to everyone.  

Within the region, there are also historic points of interest, including Ravenswood (too far to visit this trip without risking missing our flight) and Mingela, a town 50 kms out of Charters Towers.  Once a thriving little town called Ravenswood Junction, as its name suggests, it was the departure point for the train to Ravenswood.  Now though, other than a couple of houses, there is a pub - advertised as a quintessential county pub with a cat and peacocks, the fuel station has closed as has the general store and the post office.  Chatting to a local though, we found out that you can still access a post box for $20 annually.  Just stop by and see the guy at the pub if you are interested.
Highlights of the trip were sunrise at The Weir and then next morning at Tower Hill, meeting Maggie in the Pioneer Cemetary, seeing my first Red backed Fairy Wren, and meeting new friends.