There is a quite beautiful, semi-tropical Island off the Nth Queensland coast named Dunk.
The traditional Aboriginal owners of Dunk Island are the Bandjin and Djiru people,who lived in this area for thousands of years. Their name for Dunk Island is Coonanglebah, or “The Island of Peace and Plenty”.
The first European occupants were Ted and Bertha Banfield.
In 1897, suffering from work anxiety and exhaustion, and advised by doctors that he had just six months to live, Edmund Banfield moved to Dunk Island with his wife Bertha – they let the tranquillity of this tropical paradise weave its magic, and lived on Dunk for 26 full and fruitful years until his death in 1923.
During which time he was inspired to write “Confessions of a Beachcomber” .
“ .. living on the periphery of civilisation, unfettered by the laws of society “
There is something special about this part of North Qld, which lured many Artists to live in Mission Beach .. while gradually a Resort evolved on Dunk .. enticing people from all walks of life to enjoy the natural beauty of this tropical paradise .. later on, it expanded to include golf, tennis, water sports, trips to the reef, and a rather vibrant nightlife.
So what was it like for Staff to live there ?
The answer is magic mate, just bloody magic..
However there were so many years, and so many special, rather vibrant folk passing though .. whilst I can only share our own brief time.
In those days, Barney Steven was Manager, with exceptional folk like Roger, Gina, Clancy, Jock, Cindy, Graham “The Farmer”, Coral Cay Col and Mono powering on.
One day Jenny and I drifted in on our small sailing Catamaran, just to catch up with some ol friends However they offered us jobs, so we thought sure, why not tarry a bit, earn money and top up our sailing kitty.
Roger was 2nd in charge, and he said “Jenny, we would like to have you in Activities, while you Stevo, can go rake leaves.”
I did, then 7 days later Barney said, “our Activities leader has left, you’re now it.”
Part of this entailed hosting special Guests to Dinner. The first night Jen and I shared was with Peter Russel Clarke .. while the 2’nd was with John Brown. He was then Australian Minister for Tourism, regarded by many as a future PM, and had a lovely young wife who wore a shirt saying “I’m John Browns Body” So here we were, trying to share profound notions about Australian Tourism, while both thinking .. hey, a week ago we were drifting yachtie bums ..
The third night we shared dinner with “Tiny Tim” .. who was actually a big genial bloke, with a natural rich baritone voice.
Dunk at this time was firing on all cylinders. Barney had such a gift for perceiving what Guests wanted, and how to gently inspire Staff to give it to them. While again , like Heron and Lindeman, all Staff were given respect, and treated as part of an extended family Which they freely gave back.
What a life .. full accom and meals .. no driving to work, and on Dunk, instead of travelling to play Golf, Tennis or Squash, you just stepped outside your door .. Guests paid a lot of money and flew great distances to enjoy swimming, water skiing, archery, sailing, fishing, day and night nature walks, dancing, and even clay target shooting .. while Staff, (after giving Guests first priority), were always welcome to join in.
Barney also had a great gift for the theatrical.
If staff were thinking about moving on .. well they couldn’t just yet .. cos there was a huge Talent Quest coming up, where all departments were putting in an entry .. Gina, Mozzie and the girls with a risque Can Can .. plus Spagoni’s friends “Flying Circus”
Then, next thing, all staff were preparing for a Go-Kart race !
Another one of the big fun days, was surprisingly, Cricket .. with a game twixt Guests and staff every Sunday. Then once a year the Islands, Keppel, Brampton and Dunk, would gather together for a show down .. often with a few professional ring-ins.
So Barney opted for a “Dunks Dozen vrs Australia” game .. and gave free holidays to Australia’s top four Cricketer’s, just to play one game on Dunk. How many Guests on any Resort could say they’ve played in such exalted company ?
There where 3 good ones from this game.
It was the only time Rod Marsh captained Australia; the only game were the score book read “bowled Marsh, caught Lille” .. and they got Stewie a beauty. Dennis Lillie bowled down a cracker, Rod Marsh flailed his arms, all the slips fielders started running back after an obvious miss, Stewie took off, till Rod smiled and showed him the ball in his hand all the time.
What other great characters there were .. Jenn Payne, Mozzie, Dave, Michael, Sandy Murray, Sandy Benson, Mike, Rod Jefferies, Nicki Stuart, Wally, Stew, Chrissie, Danny and Linda .. far too many to name .. let alone the one and only Bruce Arthur.
An Olympic wrestler with a thriving gym in Melbourne, Bruce turned around one day day and said, nuh, I want to live on a beautiful island and be a weaver. So, like Ted and Betha, and all the great characters of this coast, he up and followed his dream, Battled great odds, and finally established a vibrant, and, unusual Artists colony in the rainforest on Dunk.
A strong man, physically and mentally, Bruce loved wine women song, sharing yarns and Australian Literature .. yet was also gifted with artistic talent, and a zest for life.
.. so it’s natural he does feature in one of the classic jokes :–
Bruce used to enjoy a few drinks some afternoons in the bar .. “ I have to come here, as I haven’t a phone, so this is my Office.” .. then drive back to the forest in a battered old LandRover. Early one morning the boys found this upside down beside the road, with Bruce inside, sleeping peacefully. So formed a devious plan.
A few weeks later, after enjoying a great party on the sand spit, Bruce and the LandRover started chugging home through the rainforest path .. when ..“Wrmmm Wreau Wreau” .. Police sirens began wailing .. blue lights flashing .. and two Uniformed Policemen were asking him to blow in the bag !
Poor Bruce, all the years he’d lived on Dunk and never seen a Cop in uniform .. and now here’s the whole box and dice .. he said later he really did think this was it .. he’d finally flipped out and was hallucinating.
It was a Clancy special of course .. the Coppers were real ones from Tully, and had been invited over to share the joke by their Staff friends.
An American Lady woke the Duty Manager one night, and demanded he get the baby Alligators out of her room.
“Well, actually Maam, they’re harmless Gheckos.”
“ No they ‘aint .. ah’m from Florida, an ah knows a baby Alligator when I sees one.”
When Ex President Carter visited and went fishing, Danny Dade took his bodyguards out on “Gamefisher”. It was as rough as guts, and one bodyguard ended up on his knees praying. That night at the Bar, Danny asked him ..
“What was that about, I thought all you blokes were tough ?”
“Waal”, the guard replied, “ for the furst time in mah life ah had a problem, and ah couldn’t shoot it !”
One of the favourite drinks at this time was a “Tequila Slammer”. When it was mixed you put your hand over the glass, slammed it down on the bar, then skulled it. However one day someone thought, why not do this mixing inside us .. so next thing here was the entire bar .. swallowing the mix, putting one hand on their head, then jumping up and down !
Oh dear, yet there was one better.
Staff always greeted new Guests, then gave them a quick familiarisation tour. This was happening one morning, with a group of rather staid folk from Europe. All was going fine .. well, until they reached the Restaurant ..
.. would you believe it .. this was the morning Australia won the Americas Cup
All the Guests started drinking champagne for breakfast .. insisting the Staff join in .. and then, a mate of Barney’s who was flying an F1 11 Fighter plane buzzed the Resort at tree top level, so all the waitress’s dropped their trays ..
The group being shown around, (who’d only just arrived in Australia for the first time), stood at the door speechless .. staring into a Restaurant full of drunken Guests and Staff , with trays on the floor .. at breakfast ! .. wondering what they’d got themselves into ..
There were heaps more classic jokes .. yet the essential thing is back then, and for many years after, Dunk was such a wonderful, beautiful place to work, live and share with lifelong friends.
Noel Wood from Bedarra encapsulated this when he said :-
love where you are
love what you are doing
and love whom is with you
Yet there are moments in our lives, when you have to believe a a good Angel intervened. Personally I’ve nearly lost count .. but this is one of the best ..
Dunk and the Hideaway Resort on Bedarra Island were both owned by TAA.
Anyway Barney called me in one day and said “We’re having a communication problem with Hideaway, can you nip over tomorrow and sort this out ?
So I went over on the boat with Marcus, and quickly sorted the problem out. However it was several hours before the boat went back, and, as I’d read James Porters’ excellent book “The Family Isles” .. which shows an old Homestead on the south side of Bedarra, ran over through rain forest for a look. Ohh my goodness, this enchanting mud brick building, was just sitting there quietly in the most magnificent panorama you could ever imagine.
I looked through the window, got a jolt of dej’a vue .. and said to myself, “Ohh I’d love to live here”,then ran back over the hill, and returned to Dunk.
Now I swear to God I never said one single word about this to anyone .. yet a day later Barney called me in and said .. “We’re going to open up the old Bedarra Homestead as a day venue for our Guests, and want you to go over and run it.”
How incredible is that ? One quiet wish to the forest, 24 hrs later it comes true.
I couldn’t speak, just nodded yes, went outside, put both palms together and said a huge thank you to the Angels of our Universe ! There are more levels to this life than we think of in day to day stuff, so it’s truly wonderful when we occasionally touch home base.
Can you envisage opening your eyes a few days later, to look out into these scenes.
The scenario envisaged was for Dunk Guests to sail over with Bob and Harry on the good Yacht “Neptunius”, enjoy a day out in this virtual paradise, then sail home.
This took off immediately, and soon about 12 were coming over six days a week.
Then big news – Jenny and I had a tiff a few weeks before – but now she accepted my proposal of Marriage – and we shared our Honeymoon here.
I’d ferry Guests ashore in our glass bottom boat – Jenny would greet them in a sarong, then they’d swim, snorkel, or explore rain forest walks, before sharing a big lunch in the old dining room. These lunches, fuelled by a wine or two, oft times extended for one or two hours, and it was fascinating to daily share yarns with diverse folk from many walks of life, whom you’d never normally meet.
Of course there were heaps of rich and famous visitors, yet I like this one small example. A thing I used to do, was tee up Guests to play in Sundays Cricket game on Dunk, I asked a fit young bloke one day if he played .. nope .. so casually inquired what his sport was. “Oh, I like surfing” A few hours later someone mentioned this quiet, unassuming bloke was the currant World Champion surfer.
Many other famous folk stayed at the Hideaway Resort, ( Dolly Parton asked them to put her bed on the beach .. and Fergie turned up a little later), while some wandered over, yet most times we had no clue who they were. Which was fine, cos living so far removed from all media, you drift into another world.
Our Dunk friends, and neighbours Bert and Deanna, visited by boat .. while occasionally Yachties might drift in .. such as Tom Corkhill on his famous “Cat o 9 Tails” with Dennis Dean and Kerri Coleman .. then Maggie and Chris.
Plus, there was the truly special bonus of having Australia’s most charismatic Artist/Beachcomber, living just across our front bay.
During the 50 years Noel Wood had lived here in perfect self sufficient tranquility, he developed a rare and beautiful philosophy about life, and was greatly admired by all who were fortunate to meet him, for his compassion, clear sighted wisdom, and sparkling humour.
When the big Cricket game was about to happen, Barney and Roger sent the Aussie cricket stars and their wives over to have their own day alone at Plantation.
It was a top day, but at one stage I looked around and Dennis Lillie was missing ?
I asked, and the other boys said, “he’s walked over to see the Hermit”.
Umm, Noel liked people, but generally not uninvited ones.
Dennis arrived back, then asked if he and Helen could stay here for several days till the game. Barney said sure, so Jenny and I greatly enjoyed their company.
However, later that night I asked him how the visit with Noel went ?
“Well, I walked in and said, hullo I’m Dennis Lillie”, (one of the most famous cricket players on Earth then ), and he replied, “pleased to meet you I’m Noel Wood.”
Noel must have taken a shine to him, cos they chatted away for an hour or so, till, just as he was leaving, asked “and what do you do for a living Dennis ?”
Now I’m going to run one Bedarra joke past you .. and believe it or not, this is true.
The only power we had was an old generator, only used at night. However one morning I was showing our Guests around, when one lady asked how we got on for electricity ? Her husband obviously knew her well, because, before I could reply, he said .. “They just send it over every morning in the esky dear “
“Oh that’s very nice of them”, she replied, and wandered off to look at the flowers. The rest of us were staring goggle eyed, but the Husband just looked at us, opened his palms, shrugged, and raised his eyebrows.
What was life at Plantation .. it was walking the reef at night spearing crays; fishing off the rocks at sunset; watching the Swiftlets and Sunbirds; yarning with Guests and friends on the verandah; then exploring the rocks with Sharlene, and discovering all the miracles of nature anew through her young eyes.
After two years TAA, decided to pull the Plantation Homestead down, and build a small exclusive Resort. They offered Jen and I the option to be Managers, but how could we do that .. if we had never lived here before it would be a fantastic job .. but to suddenly be sharing a paradise we’d been incredibly fortunate to have to ourselves .. with 16 Guests and 16 Staff ..
So we left .. had another bumpy road .. then ended up sailing the coast on an historic Yacht, yet as always, that’s another story ..
It’s a lil hard to sign off on this story as, (like Heron and Lindeman), there are special folk not mentioned .. and so many other great times lived by Staff in previous and later years .. ..
To read more please visit these web sites :-
heron island survivors
Dunk Island past employees
However, I feel Noel Wood said it all ever so well :-
“only those who take leisurely, what people in the world are busy about,
can be busy about what people in the world take leisurely “
“Why worry about tomorrow
everyone is always in in such
a hurry to be somewhere else
let’s just pause and enjoy the moment
for it may not come again”