Prince Charles once said, “of all the jobs on Earth, other than my own, I’d like to be a Boatman on Lizard Island”.
Why ? Well apart from total lack of stress, Queensland’s Barrier Reef Island Resorts are tinged with romance, as they drift neath starry skies fragrant with the eternal music of wind and water .. this calls adventurous folk from all walks of life to work on them .. then share fishing, diving, exploring and tropical sunsets in a free and easy lifestyle.
There is nightlife of course, with the occasional wild revelry, however the real charm lies in the incredible natural beauty, freedom and isolation from society’s pressures, plus the close and lasting friendships so quickly formed.
So if you too follow this path one day, you’ll find an amazingly diverse collection of wayfaring individuals. Here is a fully qualified Engineer working as a jack of all trades; or a businessman of private means perfectly content to tend the gardens; and a waitress just returned from packing fish in Iceland.. Some folk move on fairly quickly, yet others tarry for many years.
.. why not tarry .. all you have to do is wake up, step outside your door, and you’ re at work. No driving through peak hour traffic.
On Heron Island, ( where I was a Boatie .. even better than Lizard ), we would wander down for a free breakfast – hook up the tractor to put a dingy in the water – bring a tender ashore – help divers on-board, chug down the reef; tip them over, laze in the sunshine, pull them back onboard, then putter off home.
Lunch was an hour and a half, so you could give that a miss and swim out with a snorkel and mask. Heron is smack on the reef, and you’d be immediately in such a fantastic underwater world. Free Diving, with just a mask, weight belt, and snorkel, is ever so easy. I was only average, yet could dive to 20m .. while mates like Turk could go down below 30m.
The only danger was euphoria.
You’d be down 15m, half a kilometre from the Isle, surrounded by a myriad changing colours and scenes, turning somersaults to watch the bubbles float up, then think, hey, shouldn’t I be floating up too !
Heron itself is truly one of our Earths most renowned dive locations, so to be paid to live there was extra special. When I bounced in there were 120 Staff, many of whom had lived here for years, and only about one leaving per month. Staff were regarded as part of the family, and could share in any of the activities, such as diving.
One example here is Billy Wood .. he and Margie worked in the Kitchen for years. So they could take slides, then finally they went ashore to use those photos, and Bill become one of Aussies top professional underwater photographers,
There was so much fun .. five nights a week Limbo and the staff played a full on 7 piece live band .. there were Fancy Dress and Skit nights .. playing cricket on the tennis court .. plus enchanting moments by a fire on the north beach, as baby turtles popped their heads up into our world.
Plus the characters .. oh boy what a fantastic group of one off people .. Hank, Viv and
Jimmy .. ( who had an millionaire Heiress asking him to marry her, but was happy just taking guests fishing, with 10yo Tracy Hallam standing on a box driving the boat ) .. I’d love to name them all, Al and Ingrid Hollis, Darby, Mad Mary, Gordon and Pat Hallam, but those two legends, Roger Irving and Clancy Cool sure stood out.
Clancy kept scissors behind the bar, and if anyone walked in wearing a tie, he’d reach over and snip it off, “you don’t need this here mate, have a drink”, and even the Guests pulled some beauties .. Ma Tickle had a suitcase full of jokes.
The first time we met was looking up to see an apparently fragile lady reaching out her hand. “Give an old girl a hand into your boat dearie”, I did and Ka Pow, got a hell of a jolt from her hidden electronic buzzer .. bet she zapped a heap of Boy Scouts in her day.
Then the priceless Island humour.
Years ago the bloke who drove the boat to Gladstone, partied hard all night before finally crashing half an hour before dawn, when the Boat had to leave. The boys couldn’t wake him, so took him to the beach in a wheelbarrow, lifted him into a dingy, and where hoisting the inert body up – which all the onboard Passengers thought was hilarious – till someone said ..
“Don’t laugh too soon … here’s your Skipper !”
Then one of Mad Mary’s’ party jokes was to wait till someone was out of their room, nip in with her mates, and take every last thing away. The victim would arrive home late from dancing, open their door and find .. what the .. a totally bare room !
One bloke was so drunk and out of it, they carried his bed, with him in it to the beach – put that on the carpet from his room, and placed his cupboards etc all in order.
Can you imagine the poor bloke, waking up in broad daylight with tourists walking through his room .. and the bloody walls are gone too ! He spun out, thinking this must be delirium horrors, gasped and pulled the blanket over his head.
( The same bloke, a good mate, when working on South Molle Island helped release at 3am, a live shark into the saltwater swimming pool on Daydream Island .. )
Then there was a bloke working on Heron we’ll call Twilight, who was very superstitious. At that time the newspapers were full of stories about an Aboriginal tribal hit man called the “Kurdaitcha Man”, who was running around with feathers on his feet knocking off folk left right and centre. So Clancy whispered to Twilight,
“I’m scared, cos I’ve put some people off side, and if they get this Kurdaitcha Man after me I’m gone. Do you too have anyone who you’ve got offside ?”
Next night it was “I’m really frightened now, and living out here is no protection, cos this Kurdaitcha Man can walk on water”
Then next night our superstitious pal walks out of the staff toilets to hear an eerie call ..
“ T w i l i g h t “
He looked up, saw a figure on the roof adorned with white stripes, (Clancy of course) – screamed and bolted into the scrub, where no one could find him for 2 days !
They were such a great group of people, including of course folk from the Research Station, where Donny and Emily Uzzel were the standout couple.
Time gently flowed by, I was moved from boats to running the Restaurant, then came one of those life changing moments.
I got talking with a big genial bloke in the bar one night .. and it turned out we had so many ideals in common. He loved the idea of sharing the outdoors world with young folk, and had devoted much of his life to achieving this.
A few drinks went down, plus some odd looks from other staff, but I honestly did not know I was yarning with John Luscombe, one of the head men of P and O Resorts.
Till he said, “We want to establish a Children’s Adventure Camp on Lindeman Island, and with your previous experience as an Outward Bound Instructor; College training in Outdoor Education; and recent success with the Gladstone Community Youth Support Scheme .. how about you come up and establish this Camp ?”
Struth, is the Pope a Catholic .. so next thing, after a heart wrenching parting, I was on the boat to Lindeman.
Is the oldest of all of the resort islands in the Whitsundays. As early as 1923 Angus Nicholson established a camp for visitors. When I arrived Loch and Thora Nicholson had built it up into an extremely popular “Family orientated Resort”, then just recently gone into Partnership with P&O. Loch was a capable very decent man, who’d been on a secret Commando boat during the war, while Thora was just the most wonderful woman.
John (JL) Luscombe’s vision was to establish an Adventure Camp where children could have fun camping, (if they wished), while their parents enjoyed the resort.
So myself and a few staff lads went into Plantation Bay, ripped out lantana to make clearings, planted grass, erected tents, lashed together tables from t-trees .. which felt like Pioneers of old, carving a home out of the wilderness .. and before long it was all up and running.
Groups of children would walk over and camp for three days. We’d go exploring the Island, abseil cliffs, swim, play beach games, and cook great huge feasts over wood fires. Each person would play some part in the cooking, and, as they’d cooked it themselves always reckoned it was the best feed ever.
This bit about having a say in cooking or whatever is ever so important when interacting with young folk .. say you wanted them to play beach cricket, you’d never ever ask them to do that. I’d just glance over to one place and casually remark ..
“Look at all the lillies on the marsh” .. then start counting ..
DING .. it would invariably click in .. ( Lillie and Marsh were famous Aussie cricketers) .. “Hey, can we play cricket?” So, as it was then their own wish, off we’d go and have a great time.
Then oft evenings we’d sit around a campfire on our very own deserted beach, to sing campfire songs to the hills .. or even their parents pausing by on a night cruise ..
“Hey Ho .. anybody home .. meat nor drink nor money have I none
still, I will, be ver-y hap-py .. Hey Ho ..”
After 3 days we’d walk back, and a waltz right into the Resort singing full tilt.
A day later I’d hike back with another group .. and often several of the first group would ask to have another 3 days of Camping Adventure.
While at the Resort itself, life was quite similar to Heron in that all staff were treated as part of an Island family. They worked and lived together with such tolerance and consideration, mixed with bursts of clean over the top exuberance. A lively light hearted group who cared for each other, so then naturally cared for their Guests. The whole place vibrated with a friendly family orientated atmosphere, and with JL at the helm, never a cross word was spoken.
Again there were unique characters, such as Albert. Blessed with the most singular mannerisms, sense of humour, and eccentricities .. he played piano-accordion, plus had a score of little boxes’ which he used to hide under various hats. One emitted elusive bird calls, while his best one would let out peals of cackling laughter, as Albert strolled poker faced, all innocent, past started Tourists.
Roger rolled in, while beautiful Islander girls; the fantastic trio of Laureen, Sandy and Judy; other folk such as Ashley; and our precious Kerry Manders, kept the place buzzing.
I don’t quite know how to finish this Lindeman story .. there were so many magic times .. camping on Pentecost Island, when the place burned down .. trips around other Islands with Ash, Leo, Steve S, or Gabby on “Shangri-La“ .. dancing all night .. sleeping up on the high cliffs .. but mostly just sharing an ever new life with young campers, and such vibrant older friends, on a beautiful tropical Island.
However, after two years, we closed Adventure Valley for a few months during the off season .. I went off to explore Africa, and came home with Malaria.
By now the great John Luscombe had moved on, plus many friends, so my restless feet followed them.
( Another Steve took it on, but Adventure Valley soon passed into history )
How-some-ever, for every door that closes behind us, another one opens up just ahead .. and it did .. Jenny and I sailing the coast, ending up on Dunk Island, then married and living on THE most beautiful island .. Bedarra.
The tale of that exceptional era is still to come.