Hayden and I go to our favourite delicious Indian takeaway on Palmer Street. While we're waiting for our food, we go for a short stroll along Ross Creek past the maritime museum. As we look up and down the banks, I feel the sea breeze on my bare arms and I see the lights gently twinkling on the other side and the boats bobbing peacefully on their moorings. We pick up our Indian (one butter chicken and rice to share, one garlic naan and one sweet naan), and take it home. All is right with the world.
Later, we book our flights to Melbourne for Drue and Sarah’s wedding in November. Yay! We’re going to Melbourne! On holiday!
I wake up already thinking about Melbourne. I’m slightly anxious. We haven’t been back since we left nearly two years ago. I’m looking forward to the wedding of course, but we’ll have a whole week to hang out beforehand. What are we going to do with that?
I spend the morning looking at accommodation options and trying to imagine what we might possibly do after we’ve had a cup of $2.80 coffee (is it possible that it’s still only $2.80?) and about five rolls each of sushi.
After dinner, I declare my wish that Townsville had a Borders or any bookshop that was open late. I haven’t pronounced this wish out loud for ages (it was probably a year ago that I gave up on this impossibility). My absolute favourite thing to do in Melbourne was to go browsing in bookshops after dinner. I’ve loved doing that ever since I first moved to Melbourne in 1999 when it struck me as the height of civility, and the effect hasn’t worn off yet. My favourite was to go browsing in Borders and in Readings in Lygon Street, then afterwards to Trotters or Brunetti's for delicious pastries.
I ask Hayden if he wants to come for a walk to have some dessert? He looks at me warily. This is highly irregular. All restaurants and cafes in Townsville close their kitchens at 9pm sharp. In Townsville, if you’re going to the 7:30 movie you have to make sure to have some dinner first. It is 8:55pm … but I convince him to chance it. We have a nice walk along the strand and when we reach C Bar, they allow us to sit outside and have a milkshake, a cup of tea and a slice of cheesecake. I feel lucky.
But while we’re sitting there, the cafe staff begin packing away all the chairs and tables from around us. They take the potted palm trees inside. They take down the guard railings and we are left feeling quite exposed, our little table alone in a sea of emptiness and the waitresses all standing around staring at us, willing us with their eyes to finish our cake so that they can go home. The cake isn’t that good so we leave half of it behind and let the waitresses off the hook.
Wake up. Mmm, wouldn’t it be nice to have a big Melbourne-style breakfast? You can get a good Sunday breakfast at The Balcony. (Actually it was breakfast at The Balcony on our recon trip two years ago that made me decide that I could live in Townsville after all). I decide that that’s exactly what I’m after now. I bundle Hayden into the car, promising that afterwards we can go shopping for his running shorts, and we drive into town. The nice lady at the Balcony’s front counter tells us that she can’t give us a table straight away, there’s a twenty minute wait. Not because the café is full - I can see empty tables behind her - but because they don’t have enough staff on today. Ok. I’m not daunted. But it’s not like we can just go to the café next door. There is only the one café serving breakfast.
So I go and look in a dress shop filled with synthetic clothes I don’t like. Clothes shopping in Townsville is very easy on your purse. On the whole the clothes are cheap and nasty, and no-one minds at all if you just wear shorts and thongs and the same five-year-old t-shirt. Sometimes when I see little kids at the beach I tell them, I was wearing this shirt before you were even born.
The big rugby league game is on this afternoon. It’s a preliminary final, and the North Queensland Cowboys are in with a chance (you should have seen the locals in the sports store this morning. They couldn’t get their hands on enough cowboy hats, cowboys jerseys, cowboys thongs etc). The pub is going to be full of big angry red-faced blokes. Instead of playing pool, like I had been thinking about, we make plans to go and watch the game at Rob’s place. We ask him if he wants us to bring some sausages? He says no, he’s already got some thawing in the sink.
I'll never stop being a Melbourne girl transplanted, but ... It’s Townsville. I’ve gotta go with it.
On Saturday afternoon I asked Hayden if he remembered where we were exactly two years ago at that moment? and we both laughed a bit because where we were was about five houses down on the left. We haven’t travelled very far.
Two years ago we were on our first visit to Townsville, and we were taking Marny her birthday carrot cake (it turned out that she’d already had two other carrot cakes that day. She was very gracious about getting a third). We were in town for Hayden to attend an interview for a job at the refinery and for me to check the place out just in case he got offered it.
All in all it was a successful trip. I took the first of many photos of palm trees, the beach and the view to Magnetic Island. I see it nearly every day and I’m not tired of it yet.
For some reason I was itching to go to Charters Towers, and I was so worried that it wasn’t going to happen. (I’m a champion at worrying. I could take out the North Queensland titles. I don’t think I’d make State Champion though, cos that one would definitely go to my mum). Charters is a hot dry little town 150km inland from Townsville, ie somewhere we were never going to go in summer. Since this coming summer is slated to be our very last here (that’s the plan anyway), it was looking as though I was going to miss out. I have quite a strong feeling that once we leave North Queensland, wherever we go to (Singapore? Perth? London? Melbourne?) it’s going to be a long time before we’re back here. And even if we do come back to North Queensland, it will be to go diving on the reef, or to some resort island, or, or, I don’t know, but it wouldn’t be to Charters.
If we didn’t go soon, it would be never. I could tell.
Luckily my parents were visiting cos Mum could understand the pain of my worry, and she suggested that we all go to Charters together. The plan was that Hayden and I would accompany Mum and Dad on the first stage of their journey back to Brisbane. We’d turn around after a lunch in Charters, and they would go on to an un-namable camping spot in the deserted middle of Queensland like they like to do.
We got a perfect day for driving west: it was bright and clear and warm, and I had not imagined that the drive to Charters would be so beautiful - in an open country, blue sky and bush and that's all kind of way. I am definitely developing a taste for the dusty innards of Australia.
When we arrived in Charters, I was glad we had saved it up for last. It was the perfect setting for us to use our making-our-own-fun-while-visiting-a-country town skills that we have been developing for the past year and a bit. Last winter's efforts at self-entertainment in small country towns was mainly focussed on the sugar cane harvest. That culminated in our visit to the Museum in Proserpine where we learnt all about the cane production process from a film made in 1982. We watched that film from deckchairs in a little section of the museum which recreated the atmosphere of the historic Proserpine Picture Theatre, and we left with a thorough understanding of what happens to the cane crop from start to finish.
We were ready to learn about something else.
The topic of our visit to Charters Towers was the gold rush of the 1880s. Charters itself is extremely dry and still and has hardly changed at all since those days so it was exceptionally easy to imagine all of the goings on from that time, which we learnt about during a visit to the National Trust Information Centre and the National Trust Museum.
Many of the old buildings, built in the most prosperous time in the town's history, are there still and largely unchanged (compared to what happens on the tropical coast, where any really old building will likely have been flattened by a cyclone or encircled with moss and tropical foliage like Angkor Wat). In those days, Charters Towers was nicknamed The World and it was the bustling metropolis and Townsville was its sleepy port.
My favourite feature of Charters Towers was the view from up on a hill just outside the town. You could see how the land surrounding was dotted with mine shafts (now all boringly blocked up with concrete) and little walking trails meandering between the plots made it so easy to imagine the hand-dug operation.
Upon striking it lucky, the miners could walk less than a k into town to the Stock Market. The assayer out the back would value the gold and mould it into bullion. Then the miner could pop over to the stock market in the next room, and sell it all for stocks. There town was full of sheisters looking to take advantage of the newly rich.
Now the stock market building is a tea shop, which served us a really-not-too-bad cappucino. I love this gentle kind of historical tourism. As we drove away I really felt like I'd been in another land and another time. Getting back to Townsville, it seemed so confoundingly modern and busy. And breezy.
Remember our lemons? They were green on our tiny balcony tree for nearly a whole year before they finally came good.
With my parents on their way to visit us, I decided to bake a cake (as always, they drove up from Brisbane giving us plenty of lead-time before they arrived. I could have baked the cake at least four times over during the days it took them to get here).
The mixture was good and thick (a whole 250g butter) and it gave my poor old mixer a work out. I got that mixer back in 1997 - the year of Bittersweet Symphony. (Where were you when they were playing that song? I was in Cash Converters in The Valley in Brisbane, searching for a stack of CDs that had been stolen out of the house I was sharing with two other students, an architect and a guy who was in a band. I'd heard that if you could spot a good number of your own CDs in Cash Converters the day after your house got broken into, they'd generally let you have them back for free. Unfortunately they didn't have my CDs, but they did have this cool retro mixer for $7.)
Sadly, the thick mixture was too much for the little old mixer, and she gave out before the mixing was completely done.
After half an hour in the oven the cake was still a bit mishapen - but it did taste OK.
Goodbye little old mixer. RIP. I wish I could go back to 1997 and get another one.