I grew up on a property of 5,500 acres with my family and 6 cousins, 2 sets of aunts and uncles and 1 set of grandparents. There were 17 of us altogether and, with 9 kids, there was always someone to play with, plus 9 birthdays a year, and 9 cakes from the Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cook Book.
We left the farm when I was 15, and occasions for catching up with the cousins have become rarer, usually only happening at weddings or at Christmas, where there is much drinking, singing and carrying on (for they are a bunch of showoffs, myself no doubt included). It is also very loud. I am the quietest, and that’s only because I have a disability and can’t hear enough to join in (which is really saying something). So there was much joy when CousinG announced that she would be having her nuptials on Magnetic Island and we could meet up again.
Sister booked us a flight, on the proviso that I would pay her back as I haven’t a brass razoo to rub together these days. We caught a taxi to the airport, whereupon she downloaded her latest drama to me (and later gave the short version to H. ‘Why didn’t I get the short version?’ I complained. ‘Because you were a captive audience,’ she replied). I was wearing a rather short silk tunic which, when I walked from the tarmac up the steps to the airplane (tottering a little due to high heels and too-heavy hand luggage), blew up to reveal my undies, and was brushed down by the girl behind me, while her boyfriend tried to look askance.
‘I think I’m wearing nice knickers,’ I mused, and continued up the stairs. When making a fashion faux pas (another example might be getting one’s stiletto heel caught in pavement cracks), the best thing to do is to look as if it happens every day of one’s life, and proceed as if all is quite normal.
At Townsville airport we met H, who had flown up from Sydney, and caught a taxi to the ferry. While I stared out the window, H & Sister chatted vigorously to the driver, who had a senior moment and forgot mid-conversation what he was talking about.
Townsville was quite pretty, with the sea on one side, orange, rocky hills on the other, and old, renovated buildings in between, but it appeared I was the only person there in possession of high heels. P had once told me a story of a ship at the docks that was unloading cattle, when a cow slipped off the ramp into the water. It managed to scramble out, whereupon it ran down the main street of town, startling coffee sippers in the cafes.
‘Just at the time Townsville was trying to take itself seriously,’ he added, making me laugh. I was disappointed, this time, that I didn’t see any cows.
We rollicked on the ferry to Magnetic Island, which was named (or rather, re-named from Yunbenun, that given to it by the first Aboriginal inhabitants) because it supposedly messed up Captain Cook’s compass as he passed by in 1770. We were picked up by CousinA, the eldest. She, Sister and CousinG, who was getting married, had left misspelled notes to faeries in our grandmother’s garden. She drove us past the roadworks to Geoffrey Bay, where we were staying with her and her three kids, while all the rellies were next door.
It’s at times like these that I’m really glad I’m deaf. While the kids ran around and chirped, and woke everyone up at the crack of dawn (not my favourite time), I immersed myself in A Fringe of Leaves and slept in. H & I also swam, whereupon I became dotted with sea lice bites, and walked to the forts that had been used during WW2, on which my boss’ father had worked as an engineer. We saw a koala – I think the first I have ever seen in the wild – and chatted about boys and dates, my next novel and H’s new job, and mused over some blossoms that smelled thickly like honey, and smiled at the German tourists passing us by.
CousinG was not fussed about her wedding. She picked a spot and had coffee with us in the morning while her mother fretted over the sand, smoothing it with a palm leaf. The ceremony was in late afternoon, and I put on a floaty, pink silk Sacha Drake frock that I bought last year and have hardly worn. We were surprised and proud to actually see CousinG, ever the tomboy, in a dress, & when she started crying halfway through, she set off Sister as well. It was a lovely ceremony, and afterwards I collected my pink stilettos (having worn thongs on the sand) and was driven to the reception in Horseshoe Bay, which was also very pretty.
We left on Monday morning to have a look at the aquarium in Townsville, as I needed to do some research for my next novel (which is about mermaids and the aquatic ape). We caught the Turtle Hospital tour, had lunch, and then wandered around the exhibits. One of the volunteers, a blue-eyed, blonde-haired young man who had talked to us about the turtles, had some time on his hands and walked along with us to explain things about the fish. He had finished his degree in Marine Biology, but worked on fish, not turtles.
I kept an eye on my watch, as we needed to get to the airport and I can’t abide being late, and eventually hustled Sister & H to the exit.
‘Oh,’ H swooned as we walked out, ‘who wasn’t half in love with that boy by the end of it?’
I was inclined to agree, but was concentrating on finding a taxi, and sent H into the pub to ask where we could find a taxi rank. He came running out just as one pulled over to the kerb.
‘Why is he running?’ the driver asked Sister and I.
Apparently, no one runs in Townsville.
This was another chatty driver, who had a small gold Buddha perched on his dashboard. Once we reached the airport, I asked my siblings, ‘What was he talking about?’
‘Well, what wasn’t he talking about?’ Sister replied. I gathered it was about the cyclone, and living in Sydney.
Sister made snide comments about having got there too early, which I ignored. When we finally boarded, Sister looked down at my thongs and asked, ‘Where are your high heels, Jess?’
‘Gone troppo,’ I said shortly.
From the plane window, I looked down at smoke from bushfires tangled in the clouds, then fell asleep, and the sun burnt my chest.