Tag Archive: Barrier Reef


Bound Over by a Lawyer Vine

My immediate thoughts when I hear the word ‘jungle’ are Tarzan and Jane. My mind sees dense thickets of vegetation with creatures lurking in the foliage, twigs snapping, gaudy macaws screeching in the trees and huge pythons slithering away then plopping into murky water. I would have to say my jungle mind is pretty uncomfortable and doesn’t sit easily inside my head.

Leonie and I are eating a meagre breakfast beside our beach camp at Turtle Cove. The last of the dry twigs are burning quietly and the billy is about to boil. I lean across and dip my fingers into the loose tea container, collect a good pinch and toss it into the now roiling water. I gaze on, my arms around my knees as the tea leaves bounce maniacally, after a few moments I put a cloth over my hand, take the curved handle of the billy and swing it.

Swinging a billy is essential to create the perfect brew, something I learnt from people on Green Island when we had barbeques on the beach. You need a degree of self confidence to swing a billy. Grabbing the metal handle that is in the fire requires an act of faith only bettered by a South Seas Firewalker. Once hold of the handle it has to be swiftly lifted out of the fire and allowed to hang in the fingers. The can is gently swung in ever increasing arcs until it reaches a point where the water would tip out if stationary. The arc then has to be continued right up and over the top. After a few complete revolutions the billy can is slowed down and put on the ground. Bizarre thing to do, but that is how the bushmen did it, and I do it still. Once on the ground a spoon is used to tap the side of the billy which causes all of the tea leaves to settle to the bottom, the piping hot tea is poured out and quaffed instantly. I have never tasted better tea, Tetleys included, and I am a big fan of Tetleys round tea bags! Good bushmen carry their billy  attached to their swag and will take it to the grave.

The following is undoubtedly familiar to many. I remember singing this to a collection of Sherpa’s as we headed to Annapurna Sanctuary, it didn’t take them long to catch on to the chorus and they gleefully belted it out. Needless to say, one of my favourite drinking songs and sung at every camp in Australia.

Waltzing Matilda

OH! there once was a swagman camped in the Billabong,
Under the shade of a Coolabah tree;
And he sang as he looked at his old billy boiling,
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.”

Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, my darling,
Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?
Waltzing Matilda and leading a water-bag—
Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?

Down came a jumbuck to drink at the water-hole,
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him in glee;
And he sang as he put him away in his tucker-bag,
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me!”

Down came the Squatter a-riding his thorough-bred;
Down came Policemen—one, two, and three.
”Whose is the jumbuck you’ve got in the tucker-bag?
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.”

But the swagman, he up and he jumped in the water-hole,
Drowning himself by the Coolabah tree;
And his ghost may be heard as it sings in the Billabong,
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?”

Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson

Nourished and packed we take our bikes across Captain Cook Highway and a short distance into the jungle, find some rocks and hide our bikes. From a distance the jungle appears to be impenetrable.  Jungle in Northern Queensland is tropical rainforest. One dictionary definition of jungle offers:- ‘land overgrown with tangled vegetation containing the dwelling place of wild beasts’

Wild beasts! Hmm. Like I said earlier, these thoughts don’t sit comfortably within my head.

The stream that we identified on the map isn’t anywhere as big as I had expected. As we are still only a few hundred yards from the sea I thought it would have deep pools and rushing water. In fact it is a gently tumbling brook with lots of moss and slippery stones.

I shoulder the day-bag and off we go, both wearing T-shirts, shorts and Dunlop Volleys. Walking in Australia often involves sticking to the stream beds and rivers as the bush, unless it has a track, can become incredibly tangled and practically impossible to negotiate. The stream beds of course are more open, with the added bonus of cool water.

We slowly pick our way up the stream. At first I hop from rock to mud, to rock. to gravel, hang on to a tree, swing around it and endeavour to keep my feet dry. Leonie, who is much less fussy, quickly steps into the water and starts to chuckle at my attempts to stay dry.

‘You soft Pommie bar steward. Get in the bladdy water and let’s get a move on.’

Leaning into a great buttress of a tree I look over my shoulder. ‘In the Motherland we are far more cultured and take great delight in using our dexterity. We are the original and authentic explorers, so don’t try to tell me how I should tackle this adventure. OK!’

I step over the buttress, slip in the soft mud, then skitter a hapless shuffle as I slide down the short slope into the water.

Leonie is beside herself, great honking laughter wowses through the forest. Her eyes roll back as she shucks her shoulders and splashes on up the stream, leaving me to consider how pleasant it is in the water once the initial shock has cooled my feet.

The rainforest soon opens up a little and it surprises me that the understorey isn’t as tangled as I expected. We stop frequently to natter about our new surroundings, unable to identify most of the plants and trees. It is clear that the tree tops are way above our heads and the lower branches have larger leaves, presumably this is so that they will catch more of the light.

Mosses of different greens cover the fallen tree trunks, the forest floor is home to old fallen leaves, rotten branches and lots of unidentifiable debris. Each time we stop I scratch around in the litter and notice plenty of insects, ants, some snails and other bugs. If we stay in one place for more than a few minutes corpulent mosquitoes appear and start pestering us. It is hot in the rainforest but there is seldom any open area so direct sunlight isn’t prevalent.

For some time the terrain has steepened, so after an hour we rest in the splayed butress roots of a large tree. We have brought insect repellent with us and decided to spray ourselves so that we can enjoy a snack. We spray our arms and legs, then some on our hands to rub onto our faces. After snacking on the usual scroggin mix and sipping from a flask of cold tea we sit peacefully and look around.

Now that we are quiet we become more aware of the birdlife. Mostly it is small birds that flit too quickly for us to identify. The occasional flash of brilliant blue, red or yellow alerts us to the presence of a bird, but they are frequently gone before we can pinpoint one. Eventually a tiny bird comes closer, the metallic blue on it body and tail is so striking. Later to learn that this is a Fairy Wren, so pretty.

We hear some movement higher and behind the tree, something large is definitely coming. My fears of the jungle rise up and my heart starts a flutter patter routine. The noisy movement stops, a moment later it starts again and we recognise a couple of small wallabies moving around. As they come into our line of sight they rapidly spot us and bound away up the slope, making an incredible din as they go.

Scuttling noises now alert us nearby, a lizard with jerky movements is moving across the forest floor a few feet away. Thinking that I can easily outpace a lizard I jump up and set off toward the lizard. In a flash it is gone, waddling comically over to a tree then disappearing into the undergrowth of ferns and mosses like an actor leaving the stage through a curtain.

This is so exciting. However, now that I have moved it is pointless sitting still. I will have disturbed anything else in the neighbourhood. We decide to walk on up the increasingly steep slope slightly away from the stream, it looks like easier going, more open ground. We try to step carefully to create little noise but we are inexperienced and crunch and crack our way onward, surely disturbing all the potential cassowary sightings. We come to a large rocky outcrop with denser shrubby growth at the base. I figure that we can stick close to the base of the cliff and scramble up and around any obstacles to see if we can find a way past to higher ground.

I push my way through various hanging branches, hold them back as much as possible for Leonie to get through. At one point we find a liana vine hanging in a great curve close to the ground. It is so big that we can sit in it like a swing (Tarzan and Jane territory). After a short distance it becomes clear that we aren’t making a lot of progress so I decide to try and head out of the thickets for the more open ground and get back to the stream to again try our luck there.

As I push through some cobwebby vegetation I realise that my T-shirt is hooked up on a vine similar to a rambling rose. Leonie is cursing because she is having the same problem. The miserable thorns are digging into my body through my T-shirt, and as I try to lift them off carefully they stick into my arm and scratch my legs.

‘Let’s just catch our breath a moment Leonie. We seem to be making matters a heck of a lot worse by fighting this triffid. Perhaps we should reverse a bit?’

‘You have my sarong in the bag, see if you can get it out. I will cover myself up more and try to force a way back to where we came from.’

With a great deal of difficulty I remove my pack and fish out the sarong. Leonie is able to push it onto the vine to her left and hold it far enough away to reverse out of the thicket. Once there she tries to hold some of the trailing devils out of my way but I am well and truly enmeshed in the pain zone. I reach over for the sarong which I wrap around my left arm, hold the backpack in front of me with my right hand and push using it like a battering ram.

‘Oh Jeez. That hurts….yeeeeow!’ I can feel the spikes ripping into my scalp but I am beyond caring and just push through the last few feet.

Leonie looks at me with a grim smile. She takes her tattered sarong and uses it to dab at the numerous scratches and rips on me. Phew this has turned into one heck of a painful weekend. Bluebottle stings yesterday, mossies like warplanes during the night and now the pinnacle of misery a Lawyer Vine attack.

Once back at the stream I strip off to wash myself down in the cool water. It does feel good and helps to soothe things. I sit in the stream naked apart from my trainers, and that feels even better, I never sat naked in a stream before. Starting to feel giddy I lay down in the water just below a small waterfall and let it slosh all over me, the clatter on my head is brilliant.

Meanwhile Leonie has rinsed out the sarong which we use as a mop, dress ourselves and quickly get back down to the bikes. Despite the pain it was a wonderful experience to be in that beautifully natural world for a  short time. I could never live in that environment, but for a brief period I felt part of it.

We pack our bikes and cycle back down the road, hoping to cover the 30 miles back to Cairns before dark, we have no lights on the bikes.

At Ellis Beach we are tempted by the food and drink counters where we stop to fill up on something tasty.

I go up to the juice bar and Leonie moans. ‘Oh my God Johnno, you must have piles or something. There is a humongous patch of blood on the back of your shorts.’

Blood? The vines were not that serious, just loads of scratches that stopped bleeding after I had bathed in the stream. I put my hand down to my backside and there really is a lot of fresh blood. I nip into the nearby toilets. Pulling my shorts off I realise there is something on my behind. I shout for Leonie who comes into the Gents and starts to laugh. ‘What the heck is it Leonie?’

‘Leeches Johnno. Leeches. You soft skinned Pommie.’

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The silky warm water caresses my legs then hisses back down the slope.

This tropical soup that passes for the Coral Sea is fed by brown sludge from the rain swollen rivers of North Queensland. It is penned in against the coastline by the Great Barrier Reef, the ruddy brown colour seems out of place, surely you would expect crystal clear water, tropical fish and vibrant coral.

I half raise myself onto my elbows and narrow my eyes against the dreadful thrumming headache and glare of the powerful sun. After drinking far too much Stone’s Ginger Wine, and some gasping bilge that passed for rum, I am suffering as the heat intensifies, my throat is parched. My mouth feels as if somebody has ripped out my tongue and replaced it with a bath sponge. Why do I drink so much? Leonie is clearly suffering equally but lights up her first ciggie of the day.

‘How can you do that?’ I hear myself croak. My voice resonates inexplicably from my sinuses.

She coughs, winces and turns her head to gaze over the seething chocolate water. Another smooth wave cruises up to the slope, smushes down into the sand then washes froth up to her toes. ‘Because Johnno, I am an Australian and my mother’s milk was blended with alcohol. You, on the other hand, are a soft Pommie bar steward raised on milk from herds of fat, docile Jersey cows.’

Nonchalantly flicking the ash away from her knee, she draws hard, plumes the smoke in my direction and adds. ‘In other words, toughen up your act or you will be getting on the next boat back to the Motherland. Aussies just cope better. What’s more.’ Pausing for effect.’We own the Ashes.’ Leonie knows how much I hate being called a Pommie, and loves it when I am tormented by the Aussies about our supposedly inferior cricketing nation. They think they own the ashes, those precious burnt bails.

I flop back onto the sand, exhausted and incapable of any meaningful debate.

SONY DSC

Sit Up And Beg bicycle. Lovely bike full of character.

We had ridden hard the previous afternoon to get to Turtle Cove before sunset. Our vintage sit-up-and-beg bikes held up well. I had been cleaning and oiling them, pumping up the tires and studied the map carefully. Turtle Cove was about 30 miles from Cairns and seemed to be perfect for our expedition, we craved a wilderness experience. From what I could deduce Turtle Cove had no houses, was miles from anywhere, had rocks on the beach and a stream flowing out of the jungle that looked to be pristine. Perfect location.

Once we set off from Cairns we quickly established a rhythm. The old bikes only had 3 gears, crumbling brakes and tattered saddles that nipped at the nether regions, but we were full of determination. Our previous ‘best’, Ellis Beach, was left behind, on we rode into virgin territory. We became possessed with a metallic tang of anticipation for our trip.

I found myself mumbling, ‘Appreciate it all, don’t miss a thing. Pedal, look, pedal, look. Appreciate it all, don’t miss a thing.’ The road surface was kind with only slight rise and fall, we began to power on, both locked into our own world where we filched through private thoughts.

We did stop once to grab a couple of cold drinks from a touristy stall. Australia is a great place for healthy food and drinks. We both had freshly squeezed fruit smoothies and a handful of our home-made ‘scroggin’ mix.

Imagine our delight when we reached Turtle Cove. Nobody there, nothing on the beach except a few pieces of bleached flotsam. A beautiful stretch of natural undisturbed paradise. We both quietly dismounted, dropped the bikes beside the road and made our way to the sand. No path led down so we had to push through some scrub. The sand was fine and deep, we tossed off our trainers and luxuriated in the cool texture as it accepted our feet. At the water’s edge we simply stood with the water washing up to our knees, grinning like two fools. Turtle Cove, our Paradise Beach.

We brought our bikes down, found a spot to camp, collected wood for a fire before night fell and organised ourselves to enjoy the treats brought with us. After boiling a billie and eating our supper we cracked open the grog. We slowly drank the bottle of Stone’s Ginger Wine, it made us euphoric, sitting in a tropical night under a vast sky that seemed to envelop us. It was so close that we could reach up and touch the stars. We laughed and talked endlessly, the conversation becoming totally forgettable after the bottle of rum had been drained. We washed the wine bottle in the surf, wrote a message with a promise to pay the finder a pot of gold, capped it and tossed it far out onto the sea. We hoped that somebody would find it on an icy cold day in Alaska, open it and smell the beauty of this tropical night.

The new day was progressing and I wanted to make the most of it.

‘Leonie. I need to get a brew going. It would be good to eat something to line my gut too.’

‘Ok Johnnyboy. Stoke up the fire, I have to visit the ladie’s room.’

I manage to pick myself up, distinctly queasy I find some more wood to resurrect the fire. Good fires always relight the following day without much fuss. Sinking to my knees I break the twigs and arrange them in the embers. Before long tiny streamers of smoke rise and I introduce large twigs, confident that the fire will burst open soon enough. Gathering the empty billy I move across the road and dabble in the small pools of the stream. I splash the cool water onto my face, it feels good. In my delicate state I stop frequently to mull over vacant thoughts, content to let my eyes see without thinking too much. The water is clear yet full of life, fascinating. Eventually I fill the billy and head back.

It irks me as I realise that I forgot to pack any medication. So we have no painkillers to help quell the headache. I pride myself on being organised, this is a silly oversight.

Leonie is arranging things for our lunch. She is a vegetarian and has to put a great deal of thought into food to make it tasty. She had brought tabouli, falaffel, a hard goat’s cheese, chutney, avacados, lots of salad and a handful of fresh herbs. She creates sandwich fills for pitta bread. We take our food over to the rocks, hop out to the larger ones in the water and enjoy our meal. After several doses of tea we are ready to crack on with our adventure.

We intend to follow the stream up into the jungle. We know there is no path, and that is the best part, a proper adventure, to go where no man has gone before! Well it will feel like that to us.

‘I am going for a dip before we set off. It will freshen me up a bit more.’

I rush down to the water and dive in. It feels great, I am reluctant to open my eyes under water because of the murk, so swim with my eyes tightly closed and surface when my breath starts to run out. It isn’t very deep because I can feel the sand under my feet as I kick. I stand up, the water to my waist, flick the water out of my hair and draw my palms over my face to sweep away the saltwater. What feels like a blob of sticky jello is in my hair so I try to flick it off, then push my hand into the water to rinse it away. With a sharp intake of breath I notice that I am standing in the middle of a ‘flock’ of bluebottles and the jello is actually a tentacle. I begin to feel the stinging in my fingers and on the back of my hand. Oooops!

‘Don’t come in the water Leonie. There are bluebottles all over the place.’ She stands, hands on hips, at the waters edge immobile.

My hand is hurting a little now and I need to get out. ‘Try to find something like vinegar to put on the stings. It isn’t a problem but it is hurting. Isn’t it vinegar that works on these stings?’

She glares at me and runs up to the tent. ‘Get out of there quick before you get stung somwhere else that might hurt your paler parts of your body a lot more than a twinge on your hand.’

I look around and see that I am more or less on the edge of the ‘flock’. Picking my way carefully I go back to the beach where Leonie has a small tube of Sting Relief. The jello has gone but there are angry looking welts and an emerging rash around the back of my hand and inbetween some fingers. She smears plenty of the cream on my skin, there is almost instant relief.

‘There you go Johnnyboy, you owe me another one! Lucky that I though to bring a first aid kit.’

I mutter grudgingly. ‘Yeah yeah, you Aussies are super stars. Only problem with this place is the dangerous wildlife, it looks very pretty but packs a heck of a punch. Typical Aussie.’

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Next issue: Up the Jungle