Going troppo

I’d imagined Port Douglas would be like Byron Bay, only hotter. In fact it is more like Double Bay gone troppo.

Built for well-heeled tourists, the town is composed of man-made tropical gardens, tourist accommodation, shopping and eating places — and day spas. There is one petrol station, hidden in a back street. The petrol is cheap; the accommodation is not. The range of designer and exotic clothes was vast, and surprisingly inexpensive for their quality.

At half the price of the Peppers Day Spa, we had a fantastic long massage each at the friendly Port Douglas Day Spa in the main street, near Paddy’s Irish Pub. I highly recommend this Spa: instant results.

When I returned to the waiting room, all pink and relaxed and oily, a man seated there said, ‘I hope I come out looking as beautiful as this young woman’. He wouldn’t believe I was nearly 60, and I wouldn’t believe the owners hadn’t paid him to sit there and say such things.

Painted my toenails hot pink for the first time in 30 years after that!

The many restaurants seemed dear to me, and were astonishingly lacking in even token vegetarian options. Seafood is big, of course, and Emily made the most of that.  Daytime — the coffee, the whimsy and the background music at the buzzy Re-hab in the main street is great.


On the third night we discovered ‘Gone Bananas’, and fell in love with its unique indoor rainforest atmosphere, its cheery and efficient staff — and its fabulous food. Great value for its very reasonable prices — we’d have thought so at higher ones.

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Tropical mountains


Up there beyond Cairns they have spectacular mountains looming close to the coast. Like my own mountains, they too are often shrouded in mist – and mystery.

There is a sharp contrast between the well-used flatlands of sugarcane, cow pastures, and, increasingly, housing estates.

Head up into those hills, dodging the little sugarcane trains whose tracks meander over the paddocks and across the roads, and there is sudden primeval rainforest, too steep to have been cleared.

We peeked in at the edges of the World Heritage Mossman Gorge, the Daintree Rainforest, and the Daintree River, where signs warned us of crocodiles and tourist buses and adventure tour 4WDS flowed as abundantly as the water.

My friend Emily last came here 40 years ago, when Cairns was but a tiny village and there were nought but a few dirt tracks to threaten the Daintree. I guess this is Progress.


The Woman wallows in Luxury

 My friend Emily won this trip for two to Port Douglas as a result of purchasing pyjamas for her husband, my old mate Ken, when he was in hospital. Sadly, he didn’t get to wear them for very long.

At his wake, Emily had invited me to join her on this trip, and many months later, here we were — two aging but sparky battlers, swanning about as if they were born to it, at the very expensive Pepper’s Beach Club.

Our room was actually a suite, very posh — and tasteful — which don’t always go together. Only nine months old, it felt like it had been designed for better things, as there were a surprising amount of glitches in maintenance. And a most disappointing meanness: all goodies were extra, like real coffee with your breakfast.


Five star suite – half a star breakfast

In the delightfully situated open dining area by the fake lagoon, each morning we faced a truly boring packet cereal, tinned watery juice, greasy spoon option breakfast. I’d imagined tables groaning with tropical fruits, but here we groaned and the baked beans were the safest bet.


Our suite had a full kitchen – stainless steel, of course – and a full laundry, in which I faced the most annoying washing machine ever invented. I put the clothes in and searched long and hard for a hollow for the washing powder. I eventually found it, but only by reefing out a whole section of the machine.  I poured soap powder into the hole and replaced the part. How stupid! Obviously designed by a man! ETC.
Then the dumb machine kept going straight to ‘dry’ – wouldn’t let me select anything else but times!

Yes, you know why: it was a dryer. The washing machine was beneath it.
Sometimes I think I should just stay on the mountain. I can’t keep up with these new-fangled androgenous machines.

From the far side

For once I am looking down on cloudland instead of up or across. Only it’s not my cloudland, for I’ve flown to far north Queensland for a four-day holiday, to keep my friend Emily company. The things you do for friends!

Once my nervous system settled down from the take-off, I could kid myself it was all just a passing panoramic picture and I wasn’t really up here in a man-made, man-maintained, flimsy, fallible metal thing, pretending to be a bird.

Then I could marvel at the extraordinary topsy-turvy cloud world below.

There were flat cloud lakes, fields of clouds raked like Japanese pebble gardens, with now and then a tall cloud ridge rising above them. Rarely did the world below intrude, like this dark mountain ridge like a man waving – ‘Hey mountain woman, what you doin’ up there?’

mountain cloud

Once we were nearing the Whitsundays, the sea blues changed to aquas and greens as the coral reefs appeared.

It seemed as if every island of any size had developments on it, and the tiny white darts of boat wakes were plentiful.

Barrier Reef island

I was spared the Qantas idea of vegetarian food because we forgot to tell them about my inability to eat the beef or chicken options. I could at least have the coffee, but since I didn’t put my glasses on to open the sugar sachet, I flavoured it with black pepper and had to ask for another. Darn nuisances, these vegos!

Landing at Cairns was as scary as landing anywhere else: I hate the feeling of uncontrolled speed after the bump of re-connection.

Cairns felt warm and looked overdeveloped, but we only saw it through the windows of our airconditioned limo as the driver whisked us off along the narrow coast road to Port Douglas. Life can be very hard at times.

Ratbag review

There have been many articles written about The Woman on the Mountain, but none so quirky or comprehensive as the one by Fred Baker, editor, journalist, reviewer, publisher and upholder of standards grammatical.

Deliciously entitled ‘Didactic Pastoral and the Authentic Australian Ratbag’, you’ll find it at his Knocklofty Press website.

Talking books

The Woman on the Mountain is coming down to the coast to go on tour in early September.

The north coast of NSW is familiar territory as I have had sun- and surf-loving family and friends scattered along its length for many decades.

The Pacific Highway used to be a winding single-lane road where you became intimate with the back windows of caravans and the idiosyncratic signs of the businesses in small coastal towns.

Now it increasingly ignores the towns and roars flat chat over 4 lanes or more wherever it can. But I’ll be slowing down and turning off, into the bigger towns at least, to talk at their libraries. Perhaps you live near one of these and can come along and hear me have a rave and do bird calls and try to sum up in 20 minutes what it took me nine months to write?

You get to quiz me afterwards and if you tell me how much you loved the talk or the book I’ll write nice things in your copy of it.

Monday 3 September
Forster 1.30pm
Taree 5.30pm

Tuesday 4 September
Port Macquarie 10 am
Kempsey  2 pm
Wednesday 5 September
Coffs Harbour 2 pm

Thursday 6 September
Grafton 2 pm
Friday 7 September
Lismore 10 am
Monday 10 September
Ballina 10.30 am

Then I’m leaving the coast and heading back to mountain country and down the New England Highway to home.
Tuesday 11 September
Armidale 5.30 pm
Wednesday 12 September
Tamworth  11 am

The perversity of nature

This piece was recently broadcast on ABC Radio National’s Bush Telegraph program:


Being hopeless with machinery, and living a long way from town, I treat any mechanically-minded visitor as a precious opportunity. There’s always some collection of moving metal parts that’s refusing to function. This time it was my pump.

I’d excused it slowing down a bit, given that the old Ajax and its partner, the Lister diesel engine, were getting on.

For nearly 30 years they’ve squatted over by my dam, ready to be cranked into action at three monthly intervals, and pump steadily up to my cement tanks on the ridge — 200 feet of head. The faithful pair would work continuously for 24 hours without complaint.

The Lister had been overhauled once, and the Ajax had its leather seals replaced once — but not by me.

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March against Coal


On Tuesday 31st July I got all dressed up to join a street march organised by Rising Tide, a Newcastle-based grassroots climate change action group.

While they constantly use their considerable pool of brains to campaign aginst any new coal mines or increased coal exports in the Hunter in conventional ways like submissions, they equally win my admiration with such creative and energetic actions as this march.

Headed by giant puppets of Peter Garrett and Kevin Rudd, chained to Coal as they are, with a troupe of ashen skeletons in floating funeral raiment carrying coal to local MPs, the parade stopped traffic and chanted ‘No New Coal’ until it was hoarse.

Grannies like me and a phalanx of stroller-pushing mums joined the dreadlocked young in a parade of around 200 people protesting the insanity of increasing coal mining and coal exports.

Given that the giant Pasha Bulka carrier had been washed up on the local Nobbys Beach by just such an ‘extreme weather event’ as is predicted from increasing climate chaos, how can the Iemma government claim to be dealing with climate change when they have approved the huge Anvil Hill mine and the expansion of the Newcastle coal loader?


I reckoned it was worth donning a bikini years after I swore I never would again. Pretty fetching, eh? At least I was ready for any weather event.

After the fires

Five years after our last bad fire, the eucalypt forest has recovered. On the rough and furrowed trunks of the stringybark trees, bunches of dead stems fan out like whiskers, or bony-fingered hands.

When all their normal mop heads of gum leaves were burnt, these emergency feeder leaves sprouted straight out of the blackened trunks, all the way up to the top and along the branches. The forest became an alien one of upraised claws, presenting an increasingly furry silhouette as the suckers emerge.

It was a transitional landscape, for now the mop heads are back and doing their job. The interim sucker leaves are dead and fallen, and eventually their dry stems will break off too.  The blackened bark will remain so.

After fire

In the more rainforest areas, where the trees do not have this special survival tactic, normality is far slower to return — if ever.

But there are a few protected pockets where isolated offspring of the fallen are growing strongly. In the lee of one dead wattle, as its bark cracks and peels off, a Native Bleeding Heart tree (Omalanthus populifolius) and a Giant Stinging Tree (Dendrocnide excelsa) reach for the sky.

In fact, both have heart-shaped leaves. My mind leapfrogs to connections, connotations — to Richard the Lionheart, Braveheart, to ‘coeur’ — courage, to courage under fire — and after fire?

After fire2

Meet my neighbours

Kookaburra winter

Moist ground, short grass, worms a-popping, birds a-watching – snap!

Kookaburras decorate my fenceposts and the bare wintry branches of my stone fruit trees.  For ages they stare intensely at a spot in the apparently motionless paddock.

The cold wind causes them to fluff up their feathers  – white, elegantly speckled and striped in brown, with those surprising azure dabs and dashes on the wings. Their flat tops ruffle and peak like punks, but they are not distracted from their task.

Their beaks are big and tough and capacious, hooked at the end. Good for catching and dismembering much bigger prey than worms, but that’s what on the menu today. Just a snack in between the morning and evening song sessions.

kookaburra magpie

Below his branch a magpie struts, keen to beat the kooka to that worm. Maggies rule here. It’s not the size of the beak that counts…

I don’t see who wins this time but they are always equally quick to react when a worm appears. Zoom!  I rarely see them disappointed – not many worms get away.

kookaburra wallaby

Just beyond them a red-necked wallaby grazes steadily across the paddock outside the fence, laden pouch seeming to skim the ground as she does.

Going about her daily business, like my feathered neighbours, and not bothering about me or mine. It’s a good neighbourhood that way – and no barking dogs, whining mowers and hedgetrimmers, nor thumping music as son-of-house-four-doors-up washes family car under duress.

Fairy fungi?

Delicate yet rubbery, translucently flesh-coloured, looking more like fairy breast enhancers than fungi, these odd little cups appeared on my shadehouse ‘floor’ over a week ago and have sat there, unchanged, ever since.

Breast enhancer fungi

I love the way fungi just pop up where they’ve never been seen before, prop for a while to propagate in slow, strange and secret ways, then simply wizen and disappear.

Not so unlike human lives, I suppose.

So if the fairies are trying to look like Barbies, maybe this fungi, that came up in my orchard last Autumn, belonged to Ken?


If anyone can identify these sexy fungi please leave me a comment . My fungi book is old and short on colour illustrations (Common Australian Fungi, Tony Young, NSW University Press, 1983).  I need a better one – any recommendations?