Peter turned 60 in December but did not want a big ‘do’, which left me in a pickle, as I have bad form with these things at the best of times. But Mark and Jane (friends from before we were married) invited us to help celebrate an imminent wedding (Peter is The Godfather to their daughter, Becky) and birthday (their son Alex shares the same birthdate as Peter). So, leaving ‘Opal Lady’ safely tied up at Tipperary Waters Marina, I took him off to Hamilton Island (one of the Whitsunday Island Group of the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland) for a Hen’s party, Stag party, 30th Birthday party and we did fit a little Peter Party in there as well.
Hamilton Island is essentially a huge tourist resort. We were located in apartments all over the island and usually met each day for cocktails at the main pool; the bar is conveniently located in the pool and they accept wet credit cards. Our eldest son, Mitchell, met us there; it took him two attempts as he managed to miss his first flight – do Uni students really have such a bad sense of real time? Anyways he acted as driver for getting to the various events by the only form of personal transport on the island – the golf buggy.
The view from our apartment. This local was a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, who spent a great deal of time perched on the balcony rail trying to get his beak on my cheese and biccies.
The birds along the marina front were no better behaved, having developed a serious sense of entitlement when it comes to people’s breakfasts. I don’t share my croissant with my children, so this little green dude has no chance (he is a Rainbow Lorikeet).
For Peter’s not-birthday party I ordered a seafood delivery from Whitsunday Provisioning in Airlie beach (delivered on the 3pm ferry) and a chocolate cake from the Hamilton Island Bakery. Mitch and I had fun balancing it all in the buggy back to the unit. Instead of the usual birthday slideshow, I put together a quiz show about Peter’s life, with him telling stories about some of the more obscure/unexpected answers eg. “How did Peter get his ‘dumbest dog in the world’ Brack, out of a gorge he had fallen into?” (that was a 3 point question) and “What was wrong with the best man at Mark and Janes’ Wedding?” (only a single point question as the photo pretty much gave the answer away). Together with the leftover champers and beer from the previous events, Peter’s non-party turned out to be very successful.
Unfortunately, we were all leaving the next day and even after putting a large slab of cake (with a little thankyou note) in the fridge for the cleaning staff, we still had a whole eski box of goodies to take to the mainland with us. Fortunately, the ferry staff are used to transporting odd luggage, and so eski in tow we took the ferry across to Airlie Beach on the mainland. Our other son, Taylor, joined us in Airlie Beach (he had committed to a stage production in Perth before realising that the run included his Father’s birthday – seriously, Uni students!)
We didn’t stay in Airlie Beach to play football in the lovely public pool…
or to eat an enormous amount of Italian food…
or to play some very serious games of pool at the bar just around the corner from our unit…
we were there to do a family skydive for Peter’s birthday.
What better way to celebrate 60 years on this earth than to throw yourself, and your nearest and dearest, out of a plane and hurtle towards said earth hoping that the rather flimsy fabric of your parachute lives up to specifications? We did tandem jumps where you are strapped to someone with a seeming excess of adrenaline but a goodly knowledge of what’s needed to survive this. After being packed like little rows of overfed sardines into the plane, I admired the way the instructors kept tightening the straps on our suits, sneeky-like. It is possibly the only time I will ever tell a complete stranger to get as up close and personal as he deems appropriate; tighten away I say. You don’t get very long to admire the view or to panic before the door opens and we are launched from 15 000ft (4 572m in new money) for 60 seconds of really windy freefall (I don’t think it is physically possible to do it without screaming) followed by a more gentle 5 ish minutes of floating around – it was soooo much fun.
We then spent a week in Noosa (possibly Peter’s favourite town in Australia) on our way down the coast for Christmas with the Older Beilbys in Bairnsdale (Victoria). In Noosa we ate out a lot, made fools of ourselves on the river with catamarans and not a lot else really. And as you can see from the photo I think Peter is developing a taste for Margaritas.
We did hire a car to head up into the ranges for the Eumundi Markets and went out to visit the Melany Botanic Gardens and Bird Sanctuary (up in the Glasshouse Mountains). The birds at the sanctuary have all been rehomed/rescued. They have been trained to interact with people and are generally well behaved.
The Cockatoo sitting on Peter’s head happily ate his hat over the course of the tour (Peter was warned so he only has himself to blame).
We were treated to some spectacular sunsets while in Noosa, unfortunately that was due to the Peregian Beach area still being on fire. This region has been fighting bushfires since October. My Mother and sister (both in WA) are watching fires and perversely enough when we called in to Brisbane to see my youngest sister and her family, their back yard was under water from 130mm rain that got dumped in an hour (accompanied by 200 000 lightning strikes which could start fires as the rains put them out – Mother Nature seems to be very grumpy at the moment).
After leaving Noosa, we took the train from Melbourne to Bairnsdale (the Lakes and holiday region of Victoria) as we didn’t fancy taking on all the road traffic that usually fills that 4 hours of highway around this time of year. I passed the time by doing some classifying on Zooniverse. I’m currently working at transcribing the identification labels on botanical samples for the Canadian Herbarium. They have scanned/photographed each specimen sheet and need people to read the labels and enter the information into a database so that the samples can be accessed by researchers from all over the world (not just those that can get to Canada). This project will be using the samples to check changes in Arctic vegetation over the years. I really enjoy reading the older cards that were handwritten back at the turn of the century (I also work on transcribing ANZAC military records and the handwriting on those is really testing). If you have spare time, good internet and fancy being part of what is called ‘citizen science’, I would recommend checking the Zooniverse (be warned if you start with the Penguin Watch, those little guys are addictive).
Christmas we feasted on Mother in Law’s glazed ham, Peter’s best turkey ever, Taylor’s Potato Bake (I think this is the only thing he knows how to cook and I’m pretty sure he only does it once a year) and Mitchell had us all wobbling with his version of Brandy Butter (don’t eat it and drive). There were many games of pool at the Retirement Village’s Centre. Oldies vs The Young Ones – apparently the winning team resorted to stealth farting! No carpet bowls or darts this trip as the competition was closed for Chrissy. I swear the AFL has nothing on the ferocious, though creaky, carpet bowls competition between a group of 70+ year olds. Spending Christmas in a retirement village is a really different experience – my boys were quite popular with the blue rinse set.
The hazy skies and occasional coughing from the smoke coming down off the mountains (all that was left of large expanses of the National Parks burning) was getting worse while we were there and we did wonder about getting stuck in Bairnsdale if the roads back to Melbourne got cut, or if we should relocate the Parents in Law (I fear that it would be easier to rope dragons, but we did insist on checking the emergency plans for the village). I’m not sure if it was the smoke, that the Parents are getting older every time we see them, or that I had just been working on a book of Peter’s life in photos, but I spent every day scanning every photo I could get my hands on and getting the Parents to identify as many as possible.
It was a very odd New Years; we left the Parents-in law surrounded by smoke, Taylor flew off to be with his Uni mates in Adelaide (shrouded in smoke), Mitchell headed back to Geelong (shrouded in smoke), and we headed back to Darwin (not shrouded in smoke, but with a steaming red, hot, grumpy, cat who was very much not talking to me – the Kattery had airconditioning, but he really, really didn’t want to be there).
Thank goodness that we had introduced my Mum to Whatsapp before we left WA (she lives in the Goldfields – also shrouded in smoke at the moment). She must send a proof of life photo each day (or more usually one of us sends a photo for her to comment on). Lately I have been doing online fire and weather checks for her as well. The weather checks aren’t because she doesn’t know what the temperature is going to be (she lives with the news channel permanently on) but to remind her that 43o will be too hot for her to keep laying the new paving! It really feels like the whole of Australia is on fire, except for Darwin, where it is pouring with rain from a cyclone that didn’t even have the decency to hit us (and we had tied the boat up so snugly). I had to go out to update my driver’s licence last week and I realised by the time I had walked to the bus stop that soggy shoes were just holding me back, and I may as well save my umbrella for poking at the crocodiles I felt sure were going to come moseying out of the drains. That licence photo is me at my soggy worst – but who looks at the photo anyway? Peter needs to pack a set of dry clothes to change into when he gets to school each day (being bicycle dependant has some downsides – if it’s not the rain, it will be the humidity). He is doing a Certificate III – Marine Masters up to 24m course. He is doing the course just for the knowledge, as he doesn’t have the commercial experience for the actual certification, but it will also come in handy when we are next negotiating premiums with our insurance company (what we had to do to get the boat insured, at all, when north of the 26th parallel is a blog post in itself).
Mum just doesn’t understand…that place was full of noisy, fur shedding, common household cats… I tried to explain (in short easy words) but they just couldn’t grasp that I am superior! It was a long time with just myself to understand me – and I fear myself and I are now not on speaking terms.
For those interested, here are the short version answers to the two questions from Peter’s Life Quiz:
1.Peter found a crack in the wall that he could chimney-climb down the 20m, to the ‘dumbest dog in the world’ swimming around at the bottom of the gorge, lift ‘the dumbest dog in the galaxy’ onto his shoulder and then chimney-climb back up the rock wall. It is worth mentioning that Brack (the dumbest dog in the universe) was no lightweight; he was an English Bull Terrier x Boxer who weighed in at 26kg.
2.Peter was the Best Man at Mark and Jane’s wedding and he arrived with a plaster cast on his hand. He broke his hand while playing murder ball – not an army approved game. When he reported back for duty two weeks later the army doctor was amazed that the break was actually wider than it had been when he left (apparently lugging beer kegs around for the bucks party, pre wedding family party, post wedding party etc. will do that).