Friday, December 10, 2010

STRADDIE 2 - MEET THE NEIGHBOURS

THIS  DOWN UNDER LAND OF OZ




The Reluctant Traveller and I had lived in Queensland’s ‘big smoke’  most of our lives.  At least that's how we thought of Brisbane,  though no one  ever considered it a city of immense size.  Nothing like San Francisco, or Manchester, Naples or for that matter Quito. 


The Brisbane of today though had grown upwards and out, become over run by traffic,  with  suburbs stretching out into the countryside; the city centre became a concrete maze of high rise and freeways.  No wonder we found ourselves looking forward to a day we could turn our backs on city life and smog, and settle instead into the simple, healthy life of a Straddie Islander.


Neither of us at the time realised as newcomers we'd first need to earn our stripes; slow down a little, shake off the arrogance of the city dweller, learn to pause a while and sniff the gum tips. 

 Quick and willing learners, it didn’t take long to learn the lesson.

We soon revelled in the sea change, breathing in the sweet fragrance of eucalypt trees, appreciating the beauty of the native flora, getting close and personal to the local birds. 

I looked in wonder, and still do, at the curlews, the noisy and colourful rainbow lorikeets, the raucous kookaburra’s; felt the overwhelming sense of communication when a wallaby or kangaroo hopped into view, or a koala peered down from above. 

Hard to believe at the time, but ahead lay a delightful 30 years and more of living life as it should be lived. Neighbour John, the one who didn’t particularly want urban sprawl intruding on his perimeters, became our first island friend and guide, our helpmate when we needed to put up fences, plant trees, create shelving; the man who taught us how to handle a 4WD on the beach and in the bush.

Here Neighbour John and our son contemplate a tricky ocean swell.
It didn’t take long to realise the Island’s social life centred on the beach.  Picnic parties became camping weekends; instead of  travelling miles from city to resort, on Straddie we had only to shut the front door,  drive a mere few minutes to set up camp on an idyllic beach or bay inlet. 



By prearrangement several families would merge on the same camping spot, set up the barbecue or camp fire, cook the snags, sausages to readers in other parts of the world, grill fresh caught fish.  Or as was the frequent case with Neighbour John,  boil up  tasty sand crabs he and the Reluctant Traveller had caught in the bay only hours before.


 At that early introductory stage our island fun was restricted to weekends as we continued commuting back and forth to city jobs.

But once on the island it meant an endless feast of drives through the island’s interior, exploring the rain forest at its southernmost extremity, swimming and rope diving into the deep freshwater lakes that abound on Straddie.  Every weekend became a house party complete with house guests from town.


Neighbour John’s wife Karen and I went through various cooking stages, taking a wok into the bush to cook up  stir fry and spring rolls.  Karen’s two boys were still toddlers, our children had already flown the nest.

Adults now, the boys, like their parents, have remained our friends and companions, and suppliers of fish to the two aging residents we have become.

With passing years fishing forays became slightly more elaborate,  ‘tinnies’ morphing into bigger boats with all the modern conveniences.  It didn’t seem to make any difference though,  they still arrived home with loads of fish.




If in those first few years we were seduced by the island’s novelty, the sense of endless holiday and riotous play, we soon began to see and feel the true values of living in a small, semi isolated community.

Small gestures, the obligatory hand wave between passing cars, smiling, passing the time of day, offering passers-by and neighbours a lift to shops or ferry, and receiving the same in return; the pulling together in times of crisis, and even here in paradise there would be such moments, gave us a great sense of belonging and purpose. 

None of us were perfect, we all had our share of foibles, but living so closely together, reliant on each other in play and emergency, instilled the lesson of tolerance and acceptance.

Gradually with the passing of time my Reluctant Traveller and I adapted to the island clock, appreciating the silence of the bush, a silence broken only by bird song and wind rustling through the trees. Ahead of us lay endless days enjoying and valuing the company of new friends, and introducing old ones to their first time taste of Straddie.

Life couldn’t get any better.

oOo
Robyn Mortimer ©2010

Next Part 3 – Introducing the Tadpoles to Island life.
And further ahead, the dangers in paradise – bush fire!