The rainforest, the reef and the ringer
in Mike and the Bush Mechanics on 31 October 2010
I’M wwoofing once more, this time near Cooroy on the Sunshine Coast. My host, Elizabeth Fekonia, is a fermented foods guru. I’ve been making and eating all sorts of fermented food. And how!
It’s just as well. I caught a long lift with Phil – a ringer, roofer and mechanic – from Tully, two hours south of Cairns, all the way to Cooroy. We left at 7 am and Phil dropped me off at lunchtime the next day, after stopping for the night above a rundown pub in Rockhampton. Along the way, as I ate oily roadhouse food, I consoled myself with the thought of freshly picked vegetables to come.
I stayed in Cairns for longer than expected, and I was a dutiful and astonished tourist. I visited the Daintree Rainforest, gasping as I drove the stretch of road between Cairns and Port Douglas. It tracks the coast, with forest on one side and deserted beaches and aqua-clear water on the other. I did an introductory scuba dive on the reef one day, and drove on the lush Atherton Tablelands the next.
As always, I kept my eye out for the rivers. Up there, rivers have Apocalypse Now foliage: trees and vines of the darkest green, growing so thickly they extend from the shore and hover well over the water’s edge.
I could have stayed longer, but Phil called me. He’d given me a lift on the way up, from Ingham to Caldwell. He was driving back down again, all the way to the Gold Coast. Would I like a lift?
So I traversed the giant state again, at an unexpected pace, entranced by Phil’s tales of life on cattle stations throughout Queensland. He’s a tall, solid man, with goofy enthusiasm and long, gentle eyelashes. The kind of guy who’ll spend days helping you – or driving you – and ask for nothing in return.
He told me about mustering wild bulls and riding them in rodeos; about the time he made a plucky pass at a tough cocky’s daughter and later scored a punch in the head in return; and about vomiting blood and passing out alone in the middle of a highway, hours from death, after his appendix burst. (Maybe that’s how he learnt about the kindness of strangers.)
He told me about Clint, his force-of-nature friend, a sometime hunter, cattle dog breeder and free-diving spear fisher who could hold his breath and plunge to prodigious depths. In the two weeks that elapsed between my lifts, Phil had been offered land on Clint’s property near Tully, home of the big gumboot, the wettest place in the country. “Yeah, they say it rains 360 days a year,” Phil laughed. "At least it's a bit cooler than other places up north."
Soon he’ll drive back up the coast and begin building a new home for his young family. He’s planning to use Besser blocks, with a wide verandah all the way around and a roof strapped down and set in concrete: protection from the sun, rain and cyclones.
One reason Phil wants to move to Tully is for the community. “I’ve only been visiting there a while,” he said, “and already it seems like everyone knows my name.” I’m not surprised though – he’s a good man to meet.