"Australia 1999" story # 14


Fraser Island, Queensland
April 7, 1999

"Oh - why isn't this guy here yet - the doughy dickhead!?" said Raquel, as we waited for the tardy owner of a Four-Wheel-Drive rental shop. Her voice had the stubborn, self-righteous certainty that all Australians use to complain with, although, on this morning, I tended to agree with her. We wanted to visit Frasier Island SOON. Also, I just loved it when she called people "doughy dickheads."
     More than an hour later, the owner finally arrived, joking that he'd "had a big night." Not much of an excuse, but everyone on the continent will tell you: "Those Queenslanders are backwards."
     Raquel, Chris, and I got a red, 4WD jeep and cruised to Ixnay Point, a fat glob of sand separated from south Frasier Island by a pine-green, dugong-infested channel. I felt like I'd come to the end of the earth - that the tree-lined, sand island represented paradise, so near yet unattainable.
     Luckily, boats had been invented, so we took one across, spotted some dolphins, and began our trekking of Frasier Island. We four-wheeled through a bumpy, interior track. The 15 mph ride jerked us so much that our heads sometimes hit the car's roof. The setting quickly changed from sandy bush to tall-treed forest.
     Bright sun and clear sky reappeared when we reached the eastern beach. We drove alongside the intimidating turquoise sea, until we came to some of the world's most perfect animals. Lean and sporty, dingoes prowled the beach. The dogs were tan, with white paws. Their friendly jowls and perky ears boasted of the good hand nature had dealt them: four aces, and a worriless, play-filled life. Pound for pound, I'd take the dingo over any land mammal - a puma, a grizzly bear, even Sugar Ray Leonard.
     "If you guys hadn't come with me," I told Raquel and Chris, "my plan was to slowly acclimate myself into the dingos' society by chasing animals with them. I would've slept with the dogs, ate with the dogs ..."
     It was sad to have seen such great plans go to waste, but my non-canine friends did offer an advantage by being keen to snorkel. We turned inland a short ways, to a group of thick-wooded, spider-like mangroves surrounding a tea-tree lake. Raquel and I wore our "swimmin' cozzies" and snorkeling masks and went in for a look around. A guy at the 4WD-shop (he was a bit of a "poof", actually) had recommended this sight for snorkeling, and he was right if all you wanted to see were some tiny bugs burrowing in the lake's sand. Personally, I would've almost recommended snorkeling in a bathtub over this. It was a nice place, though. We felt like Tarzan when we climbed up the mangroves and dove in from eight feet. I attempted somersaulting off the tree, but my arms gave out mid-somersault, and I shot like a bullet head-first into the mangrove roots below. I felt like another famous island-dweller, Gilligan, at this time, but I luckily missed the roots and landed in water.
     On the forest-covered track to the next lake, the Aussies and I furthered peaceful relations between our countries by pulling off another Aussie-slang-for-peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich trade. Raquel taught me to say "Facken 'ell" to curse, and, when in agreement with someone, to say "Bob's your uncle!" Then, Chris and Raquel, after she searched for a place to put her chewing gum, devoured some sandwiches, complaining all the while that they weren't VegaMite.
     A shady parking lot for Lake Boomanjin was our next stop. A dingo family huddled by a bush. A magma-black, three-foot sand goanna lumbered near some fallen branches. "By Craiky!" I yelled, and I ran after the lizard, prepared to dive after him, like the Crocodile Hunter, if I had to. He beat me up and tree, though, and taunted me by flashing his thin tongue.
     The peaceful lake was big and green-colored. Bare bushes and white sand edged the water, with small sand dunes at one corner of the lake. We snorkeled without reward, then returned to the parking lot so I could stalk the goanna again.
     We drove on. Before we reached Lake Birrabeen, I rested my elbow on Raquel's gum-spot, a.k.a. the armrest. "Ew!" I scolded her. "Facken 'ell!" I carefully returned the gum to its spot, and we were at Lake Birrabeen.
     What I saw next was one of the most amazing sights I'd ever come across. The lake had a snow-white beach, and this sand was visible thirty feet into the clear water. At this point, the water changed from a subtle turquoise to an awesome, impenetrable bright blue. The white shallows trapped the sun like a crystal, and I'd never seen blue come alive as when the star's rays danced on the deep water's surface. It was a perfect scene, and it could only get better if I took off my shirt and joined it. We floated for a while, enjoying how it felt to soak up perfection.
     As it got late, we rode into the islands' rainforests. The trees were tall and lush, and their big fronds blocked the sunlight. We seemed to have been driving on the slope of a very long hill, when we pulled over to explore - or because someone had to go to the bathroom, I forget which.
     Our rainforest adventure began. Raquel navigated through some ferns and tried walking up a tree by holding onto a vine. She spotted a winding, pristine creek at the hill's bottom, so we walked down, took off our shoes, and got in to explore. A freshwater eel (I'd never known there was such a thing?), slimy and mucus-colored, snaked through the water and bumped into my leg. We climbed over logs and under vines, feeling like venturers into the Amazon.
     Unlike Amazon explorers, we had a car with us, which we took into civilization. I don't know how persuasively the tiny coastal community Eurong could argue its civility, though. It had little besides a bar, and there was little to do besides drink alcohol and climb trees after coconuts. We did both, but we were better at the former. We went for a swim in the wild ocean, before Chris and Raquel retired to their rented condo.
     I'd decided to brave the dingoes and sleep outside. From my sleeping bag, I watched a shooting star and made out the Southern Cross constellation. It was a peaceful night, except for a party of howling, drunk beach-wanderers who I suspected might tie me up in my sleeping bag and toss me in the water for a joke if they saw me. But, did they turn out as harmless as the dingoes in the end? Bob's your uncle! (the point behind this paragraph is that Australian slang makes no sense, you bloody poojabber!)
     We got off to a slow start when the next morning was full of rain and our had problems starting. Eventually, we were able to take off for Lake Wabby, a few miles to the north.
     The lake's water was crocodile-green, and it lay between forest on one side and a girth-ful, layered sand field that looked like the Sahara, or a scene from Star Wars, on the other. At the edge of the sand shelf was a steep drop into the lake. It was quite a blast to run down this sand dune and dive into the midnight-green depths.
     From there, we went to Lake MacKenzie, supposedly the prettiest spot on Frasier and the most-postcarded. It looked much like Lake Birrabeen, with the white powder sand, but there was no sun to enliven the water's colors. Raquel and I snorkeled, and I caught some small, black turtles swimming at 16 feet below the surface. A family of kids delighted in my catch. Raquel, who'd been strongly anti-Crocodile Hunter the whole time, was impressed. "You really do catch animals," she said.
     Bob's her uncle!!!
     We sped off to catch the day's ferry from Frasier's southern tip. We'd crossed only 36 miles of the world's largest sand island's 112 miles, and we'd seen five ecosystems already. It was an amazing place.
     We drove along the beach, passing occasionally over creeks which led to the sea. Suddenly, we hit a creek too fast. Water flew up into the hood, stalling the car. Not now, we thought, we've only got limited time to return the vehicle! Chris got out of the car, administered some engine spray successfully, and we drove on.
     Again, we stalled going through a creek. And, again, we held our breath until Chris fixed it. We drove on, getting closer and closer to the end of the island.
     SPLASH!!! We hit a creek way too quickly. Water poured into the hood. How many times could we keep fixing the stalling car? Chris reached for the engine spray, but the spray-nozzle fell off down a small hole! None of our fingers could reach the nozzle. We needed it bad - the ferry left in minutes. A chorus of "Fucken 'ell's!" went out. It looked like we'd be stuck there, assuming the hefty rental fee of another day.
     We moped for a second. Then, someone came up with the idea that saved the day: "We can put something thin down there," he said, "and pull out the nozzle ... by attaching Raquel's gum to it!" We turned our heads to where Raquel had set her gum. It was still there!
     We peeled off the gum, instituted the plan, and four-wheeled to catch the ferry in the nick of time. Whew.
     For one rare moment, it seemed, gum had actually gotten someone OUT of a sticky situation.

go to the previous story                                                                                   go to the next story

J. Breen's modern-o.com