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Page 31





We Leave Cairns And Go Skydiving At Mission Beach

The Great Cairns Duck Race

Yes, Folks, we're going quackers trying to find something new to bring you. The Cairns Festival had run for a fortnight and on the last Saturday there was to be a grand finale with entertainment all day long followed by a carnival parade and rounded off with a firework display in the evening. And . . . there was to be a Duck Race in the afternoon.

Rock and Roll

Hair and skirts flying, these energetic youngsters had a ball giving a rock 'n roll dancing display.

There were several thousand ducks competing in the race. Not real ones of course, but blue and yellow plastic ducks. The blue ones were 'corporate ducks' and the yellow ones were for everyone else. It cost $5 to back a numbered duck and we had backed number 588. The prizes were good, so as the start time approached the edge of the pool was crowded with spectators, including us.

All the ducks had been placed in a large net which was lifted up by a crane and swung over the water. Now, you may think that this was a fairly simple operation, but not to the organisers of this little race. These men made launching an Apollo rocket look easy by comparison. Every single stage was preceded by consultation and debate so the start time of four o'clock had long been and gone before the net finally swung over the water.

Ducks in the Net

The race course stretches into the distance as the organisers puzzle over how to release the ducks.

Several more minutes passed before the organisers worked out how to release the drawstring. Then - with everyone standing clear - the countdown started. All the patient spectators joined in loudly, probably to prevent any further procrastination by the organisers. As the count reached zero the crane horn blasted out deafeningly, a flock of startled gulls flew into the air, and the ducks descended into the water.

Ducks released

At last, with the gulls screeching and wheeling, the ducks drop from the net.

The sectioned-off channel of the pool was soon wall to wall with plastic ducks. One little yellow fellow immediately entered into the spirit of the event and headed off down the course; we couldn't see his number but we're sure we recognised him. The remainder, however, were decidedly more reticent. They all milled around and, in the absence of any breeze, went nowhere. This, it seems, had been anticipated by the organisers who had three very noisy leaf blowers at the ready. Naturally, being powered by two-stroke motors, the leaf blowers all refused to start.

Ducks racing

Left: One little duck set off immediately but the remainder wouldn't move.
Right: In the absence of wind, the organisers provided their own.

Eventually the organisers triumphed and, leaf blowers bellowing, they herded the ducks down the course. This was something of an anti-climax and the whole thing was becoming totally bizarre. We dashed down to the finishing line, ready to claim our wide-screen television prize, but were not able to get close enough to see anything. The judges decided we hadn't won but we were extremely suspicious, especially when they announced over the loudspeakers that a green duck had crossed the line first. One thing we are absolutely sure of: There were no green ducks at the start of that race!

Our duck leading

The last we saw of our duck was halfway down the course - and still way out in front.
C'mon Guys, you're supposed to be looking at the ducks, not the sheila in the red bikini.

If You're Feeling Fine, Leave Well Enough Alone

When we arrived in Cairns we decided to have our annual medical check-up. The doctor sent us for blood tests (cholesterol, etc). Now, of course, doctors don't just phone with the test results, you have to make a second appointment. My cholesterol was a little high so I was put on some pills to lower it. We were advised to have another blood test before we left Cairns, which we did. This entailed yet another visit to the doctor for the results. For once we were not kept waiting the statutory twenty five minutes and went straight in. Ten minutes later we were out again. That'll be $110, thank you very much.

Pam was due for a dental check-up so made the appropriate appointment. The dentist said all her top teeth were going to fall out as she had a disease in the bone and two teeth must be removed immediately. He removed them on her next visit. He then referred her to a periodontist for a second opinion on the diseased bone. That periodontist said she required treatment to the roots of her teeth and that would take two more appointments. He also found a 'growth' and advised her to have it removed 'as a precaution'.

For that he referred her on to a dental surgeon who examined the scans and decided that the offending object was actually a tooth growing on the bone. He said that another tooth must come out immediately, pointing to it on the X-ray. Pam did a quick count with the tip of her tongue and informed this highly paid specialist that the tooth had already been extracted. Perhaps if he'd bothered to look in her mouth, do you think?

Pam's bruised face

The mystery tooth was to be removed under general anaesthetic. He booked her in for day surgery and cut it out. A nasty, black bruise soon developed . . .

An occasional biff keeps her in line; Pam sporting her bruised jaw.

Pain-killers were prescribed but a nice drop of merlot worked best.

Meanwhile we had both been for an eye test for stronger glasses. The optometrist found an abnormality in the corner of my eyes and sent me to an eye specialist 'as a precaution'. The eye specialist didn't worry about the abnormality but insisted that my eyes felt 'gritty'. I was indebted to him for that because I hadn't realised. He prescribed eye drops and special lid-cleaning pads.

While in Cairns, we parted with a total of $3,157 to medical practitioners and $611 to pharmacists. First prize of $1,032 went to the periodontist for 90 minutes work. Still, let's look on the bright side. Thank God we weren't sick!

Mission Beach

It was with mixed emotions that we left the Cool Waters Holiday Park in Cairns. We had become friends with many of our neighbours and we very much liked our hosts, Dwayne and Sue. However, we were not alone in moving out as 'the wet' season approached; the park was slowly emptying. After fourteen weeks in one spot we were a bit rusty when it came to our moving preparations but all went well and we trundled 140 kilometres down the coast to a very nice caravan park at Mission Beach. The Hideaway's layout was more formal than Cool Waters, having manicured lawns and palm trees in neat rows.

Hideaway, Mission Beach

Our caravan and car at the Hideaway Caravan Park.

The beach is 200 metres away, close enough for us to listen to the breakers at night.

We found Mission Beach a tiny place with a village feel about it which hadn't yet been spoiled by its reliance on tourism. There were several little places to get a meal or a drink but an over-abundance of real estate agencies signified that it was a 'developing' area. At night the sound of the breakers on the beach provided a background to the eerie shrieks of a Barking Owl in the nearby rainforest. Offshore there were several islands; the place was a paradise only marred by the weather turning wet during the second half of the week.

South Mission Beach

Offshore there were several islands . . .

How To Make Friends In A Caravan Park

Men

Lift the bonnet of your car and peer underneath. Most passing males will stop and join you. There are a range of subjects you can then embark upon, including, but by no means limited to, the following:

Got the idea? When there's half a dozen joining in the discussion, close the bonnet and invite them all to Happy Hour that evening. Oh, better let your wife know.

Women

Walk into the laundry with a load of washing. There will almost certainly be a discussion in progress. If not, start one on:

By the time your washing is finished you will be best friends with several women and know intimate details of many who were present (and certainly some who were not). This scuttlebutt should be relished then stored for later use around the barbecue when the men have separated off to talk about the footie.

The Tully Gorge

Tully Gorge

A drive to the Tully Gorge provided a pleasant day out. From the town of Tully we followed a long winding road which, for much of the time, ambled along the side of the gorge above the river. The water was fast-flowing, the river bed littered with boulders.

The Tully River; there were no falls
but many white water rapids.

Between the trees we glimpsed several boats, each containing eight paddlers equipped with life jackets and safety helmets, heading downstream.

Coming across a gravel track running towards the river, we decided to drive down for a better look. The track twisted and turned beneath overhanging trees then headed steeply down to the water. Logs had been placed across the track to form steps but we couldn't see that from our perspective - not, that is, until the car dropped down the first and we looked back to see what had happened. Nor could we see that the 'road' ended on a soft, sandy beach with no room to turn the car around.

When we arrived at the river, the boats had all passed and gone so we decided to sit on the bank and have lunch. No sooner had we started than a number of march flies (or horseflies) decided that they would lunch too - on us. We sprayed ourselves with repellant which only seemed to whet their appetites, so we surrendered and retreated to the car. Engaging low gear, four wheel drive and diffs locked, we reversed back up the steps and finished our lunch in the car before returning to the bitumen and proceeding onwards.

The road ended suddenly at a hydro-electric power station from which we were excluded by large gates. A sign told us that the station generated 72 megawatts of 'green', renewable power, thus saving the poor old atmosphere from umpteen tonnes of harmful emissions from coal-fired stations. There was probably a spectacular water fall there in bygone days but the river now descended via underground pipes to the turbines before being released back into its bed.

Seen At Mission Beach

Cassowary









A Sign Warning Cassowaries To Slow Down?

Decorated trees













Two Decorated Trees.







The Rise And Fall Of Plucky Pam

As I was writing the previous chapter, I heard the faint sound of an aircraft flying high overhead. We had seen parachutists descending on to the beach a few days earlier and I thought the 'plane might be carrying more - and sure enough it was. I went down to the beach, watched them land, then asked if Pam and I could have a go.

No problem. was the reply, We're just packing the 'chutes. We'll be leaving in ten minutes

I hurried back to the caravan where Pam had just started preparing lunch.
Leave that, I said, We're going skydiving.
Okay she replied, and turning off the stove, followed me back to the beach where the skydivers' bus was waiting and off we went to Tully Airport.

We, and two English girls who were also jumping, were told what to expect and what to do. We were each to be strapped to an experienced skydiver - Pam's was called Glenn and mine was Rob - who would do all that was necessary. It is called 'tandem jumping'. And that was it; we walked out onto the airfield and piled into a twin-engined Piper Navajo. There were no seats, we sat on the floor. Someone asked one of the English girls to close the door as she was nearest. She shuffled across in her harness and we all laughed as she tried to find a door to close. There wasn't one.

Ladies and gentlemen, please put your seat backs in the upright position, trays stowed, secure your seat belts and place all luggage in the overhead lockers. Except there were no seats, trays, seat belts, lockers - or even a door.

The woman pilot took off and climbed steadily to 14,000' during which time there was a lot of joking and the four skydivers shot a lot of footage with digital cameras. It had been decided that the two English girls would jump first, followed by me and finally Pam.

When the time came, Rob and myself, strapped tightly together, wriggled across to the plane's door on our bums. I sat on the edge with my feet dangling in space, looking down at the sea over four kilometres (2½ miles) below. Was I scared? Too bloody right I was scared!

Here we go, said Rob and suddenly I was out of the door and falling, face down, very fast through freezing cold air. Our speed reached about 200 km/hr (or 120 m.p.h.) and we descended like that, in freefall, for 10,000' which took one very l-o-n-g minute. The wind noise was loud and the cold air blasting up my nose was uncomfortable, otherwise it was fabulous. Wearing goggles, I was able to see everything quite clearly - the coast line, the river estuaries, Dunk Island, the caravan park and even our tiny speck of a caravan.

At 4,000' Rob opened the canopy and we slowed down with quite a jerk and began gliding in lazy circles over the Coral Sea. I looked around for Pam, expecting her to be above us, but Glenn had delayed opening their canopy until later so they were actually quite far below us and I was able to watch her land safely. Rob steered the canopy in over the beach then turned sharply into the breeze and descended almost vertically. My instructions were to keep my feet up and let Rob touch down, and that worked well. They removed our harnesses and . . . it was all over. Just ninety minutes earlier Pam had been preparing lunch!

As we walked back to the caravan, Pam turned to me with a surprised look on her face. I can't believe I just did that, she said.

And on Friday 13th too! Go on, ask, me. Am I proud of her or what?

A DVD film of the jump was delivered to the caravan park office within three hours. From that we extracted the 'stills' shown here. The camera had a fish-eye lens which causes some distortion, so please excuse the picture quality. Due to the cost of the DVD I elected to have one made of Pam's jump only. Besides, I much prefer to keep my own terror private.

Pam Freefalling

Left: Pam models her latest hair-do as she plummets earthward at 200 kilometres per hour but does she look scared? Not a bit of it! Right: Glenn points out the caravan park. That's the Coral Sea down below.

Back on firm ground

Left: Better late than early! Rob and I arrived last.
Right: On the beach and alive. Pam and I congratulate each other.

On that happy note, dear Reader, we'll leave Page 31 and Mission Beach and roll over to Page 32 where we have moved to Townsville. See you there. Click Next Page below.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 31 was completed on 15 April 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.