A Report from the other Anne Lachlan Memorial Whitsunday Kayak Expedition [61]

As told by Peter Osman and team members

The postscripts to this report are works of fiction. All names in the postscripts and the report title are fictitious, including the name Anne Lachlan, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

It’s midwinter. It’s 6am and a bitter frost holds Sydney in its unforgiving, ice cold grasp. But who are these shadowy figures conspiring to escape? It’s Osman, Thomson, Hollow, Eddy and Ratcliffe, slipping away on the first day’s driving to the fair Whitsundays! It’s the OTHER expedition!

Our Intended Route

  • 1st July, Depart Sydney
  • 3rd July, Flametree Tourist Village
  • 4th July, Shute Harbour to Northern Spit, Henning
  • 5th July, Boat Port, Lindeman
  • 6th July, Neck Bay, Shaw Island.
  • 7th July, Whitehaven Beach
  • 9th July, Crayfish Bay, Hook Is.
  • 10th July, Maureen’s Cove, Hook Island.
  • 12th July, Curlew Beach, Hook Island.
  • 13th July, Dugong Whitsunday Island,
  • 14th July, Cockatoo Beach, North Molle Island.
  • 15th July, Shute Harbour

Our Actual Route (no dates – we lost track of time)

  • Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island;
  • Windy Bay, Hazelwood Island;
  • Hill Inlet, Whitsunday Island;
  • Lookout at Tongue Point;
  • On the way to Border Island, stopped at Esk Island;
  • Cateran Bay, Border Island;
  • Crossed to northern point of Whitsunday Island;
  • Crossed to Hook Island and then north to Crayfish Bay, Hook Island;
  • Rounded the Pinnacles, northeast Hook Island;
  • Maureen’s Cove, Hook Island;
  • Crossing Nara Inlet to Curlew Beach, Hook Island;
  • Explored Macona Inlet, Hook Island;
  • Crossing Hook passage to Dugong Beach, Whitsunday Island;
  • Crossed to South Molle, Deedes Point via Cid Island;
  • Past Middle Molle across Unsafe Passage to Cockatoo Island, North Molle;
  • South past Daydream Island to Shute Harbour.

Favourite events

Tenterfield Saddler

I drive from Sydney to Muswelbrook, Rob from Muswelbrook to Armidale and Andrew from Armidale to Tenterfield. Despite storms, heavy rain and massive coastal flooding, the inland route is clear and undoubtedly faster than travelling along the coast.

As the evening draws on Rob shows us Mercury, Venus and Saturn very close to the moon near the horizon and Jupiter overhead.

Dee and ET arrive half an hour after us, with Tenterfield Saddler thundering out of the boom box in Dee’s car. They have requested a pink room with spa and masseurs. We the Lads have thoughtfully organized a room at the Henry Parkes Comfort Inn. While we were there it had a big sign calling it “The Pink Place”, however we’re told the sign is near the end of its days, likely to disappear at any time. The Motel does have a spa, and a masseuse (we misheard Dee and ET’s request) is available by appointment.

The rooms are good value and the hotel staff helped us out giving ET a bundle of packets of marmalade/jam/vegemite for our camping. Thank you Henry Parkes Comfort Inn, your hospitality was much appreciated.

Andrew puts a fair bit of effort and vocabulary into desalinator repairs in the motel room. In fact he doesn’t swear once but we would have understood if he had!

The Barge

Shute Harbour and the forecast is a storm warning, 30knot winds and 2-3m seas! A bit beyond our group’s capability so the decision is for ferry transport and a water drop off with Peter and Paul, the ferry operators from Camping Connections. Peter has spent the last few days rescuing kayakers from different islands and bringing them home. He doubts we’ll get a decent kayaking trip between islands considering the weather and tells us that people have been mainly restricted to paddling in bays. Paul’s opinion is reinforced by one of his passengers, a lone kayaker returning on ‘Scamper’. She is a trip leader for one of the companies and shakes her head telling us “It’s rough out there.”

An unconscionably early and unnecessary start as I missed Paul’s phone call the night before. He arrives at the dock and suggests waiting until 11am to accommodate wind and tide for a ride that won’t damage the boats. While waiting for the ferry, “Scamper”, another group of kayakers arrive, David Hipsley and Henry, with companions yet to come, Paul (a young sailor) and Norm (my mate from a kayaking trip to Gallipoli). They hope to follow us a few days later.

‘Scamper’ lands and we lash our kayaks carefully into racks on the boat then Paul ferry glides out of the harbour and takes us at high speed to Whitehaven. ET rides with Paul on the bridge. Dee, Rob, Andrew and I stand near the front of the boat, flexing our legs deeply to withstand huge jolts as the ferry hits the waves and great swathes of spray crash over us. Apparently this is a mild trip compared to earlier in the day. On the way across, in the distance to our port side, a couple of intrepid kayakers in a plastic double are paddling furiously from Whitehaven to Hook Island.

Finally Whitehaven, and its time to offload amongst various excited or lethargic day-trippers who arrive by helicopter, ferry or sea-plane. And amongst the melee is Tony White of NSWSKC and his family, who just happen to be camping next to us. They have hired boats and fitted them with ingenious home made V sails, adaptable to any kayak.

‘Where the Wild Things are’

Rob organises the first of the communal desserts with a fruit chocolate fondue. This is popular with Tony’s children as well. They help finish off the dessert and then clean up all the bowls and plates. Good kids!

In the morning Tony’s children are playing at being holograms. There are no constraints on their imaginations as they think up increasingly tortuous logic to prove whether or not they are holograms. Dee teaches them a song “Where the Wild Things Are”.

Fishing and Gutting

The morning starts with yoga on the beach led by ET, this becomes a regular event, a good way to start the day or unwind at its end. Then we all paddle into Hill Inlet looking for crocodile slides. There are several possibilities but they are false alarms, turning out to be no more than watercourses. ET paddles on ahead and starts fishing, catches two bream in quick succession while the rest of us meander amongst the sand banks. Landing the fish is a collective effort, advice flows freely but somehow ET remains calm and competent through the barrage of suggestions. The fish are quite a reasonable size, and she shows us how to kill and fillet them. The remnants and carcasses are thrown on to the beach for the gulls and a sea eagle, which Andrew and Rob photograph as the birds swoop up and down cautiously checking out their supper. ET cooks the fish, which are superb and also puts together a fantastic custard and chocolate pudding with myself adding enthusiasm, muscle and many exhortations about lumps while whisking up the custard.

Starship Enterprise Crew go to Tongue Point Lookout

Starting off to Border Island we detour to the Hill Inlet lookout on Tongue Point, overlooking Whitehaven Beach. A passing Queenslander woman smiles and quietly says “You won’t be catching sunburn then”. Tourists glance quizzically and quickly step aside as if mistaking us for aliens, or escaped inmates from an asylum. Maybe it’s the body hugging multicoloured stinger suits, perhaps our frequent references to Captain Kirk, Spock, Scottie and the crew of the USS Enterprise. Or could it be Anne Lachlan’s ghostly presence?

After trekking up the hill and approaching the lookout a tourist grins lopsidedly and says “Go back, the view’s terrible”. Of course it turns out to be spectacular, looking out over line after line of surf breaking into Hill Inlet and on to the pristine sands of Whitehaven Beach. As we leave, the tide is going out and with it are stingrays, floating in the shallows moving with the current in pairs and groups, like a marching formation from Disney’s Fantasia.

Butterfly Glen

Esk is a grand place for sailing and exploring the coral reefs. It’s on the way to Border Island and well worth stopping for. Andrew is looking out for turtles, They sit like boulders in the water and then dart off, almost too fast to see.

The forecast is 15 to 20 knots and a moderate sea. We explore Border Island and Dee leads us to a secluded glen. The place is magical, full of vivid blue butterflies and we get a couple of good photographs, particularly a pair poised motionless together on a twig.

Hammerhead Shark

During the paddle from Border to Hook Passage, a butterfly accompanies ET and I. We ferry glide to the point while the others drift south with the current. Just before arriving ET shouts, there’s a hammerhead shark, slim and three quarters the length of her Mirage 530. It half seems to be chasing its tail like a dog, jumping out of the water ahead of us and turning to circle first ET’s kayak then mine. It has a delicate silvery grey, blue body and is not at all aggressive, just curious and playful.

Eagle Fishing

All of us, including the butterfly, arrive at the same time at the northerly point on Whitsunday Island. On the beach the group discover a huge goanna, while I drift over the rock gardens looking at black fish darting amongst the blue-green-orange coral.

A quiet lunch on the beach is interrupted by an eagle diving to take a fish off the line that has been cast by a group of fishermen in a nearby tinny. The eagle gets caught in the line and dragged into the water. The fishermen make no effort to help the bird. I know many decent powerboat users but there seems to be a small community amongst them that feel consuming petrol gives them the right to be selfish, criminal or foolish! ET calls out “Cut the line.” I run to cut it but fortunately the bird is able to break the line first and escapes. Those sea eagles sure have sharp teeth!

Skeg Acrobatics

The wind is a steady 10 knots with a light sea on the way to Hook Island and north along the coast to Crayfish Bay. En route, about two thirds of the way across I try out several ways to repair a skeg on the water. My efforts to sit astride Andrew’s boat are clumsy but elicit laughter, photo opportunities and a toffee from Dee. It’s worth it!

The shoreline is a maze of small cliffs and boulders and filigree lace weathered rock outlined against the sky along the cliff top. Along the shore grottos, small caves and fissures hold tough little Hoop Pine trees and glades of Pandanus.

Finally we land at Crayfish Bay.

Stargazing and Earthshine

Evening and the sky shows us Mercury, Venus, the moon and separately Jupiter. Rob describes the constellations and we wonder at passing satellites that flash on and off as they rotate. Then the moon sets, changing from a crescent to a full moon as it picks up reflected light from the earth — earthshine! Rob is elated. It’s the first time any of us have seen earthshine.

‘Sea Fever’

Dee has brought along a poetry book. Most nights after turning in, one of us reads a couple of poems, tent to tent: Robert Frost ‘The Road Less Travelled’; D.H. Lawrence “Snake”; Tennyson ‘Crossing the Bar’; Lear ‘The Owl and The Pussy Cat’; Elizabeth Browning ‘How do I love thee?’; the hobo poet, Davies, ‘What is this life if, full of care’. Tonight Andrew reads “Sea Fever” by John Masefield. It proves to be the most popular poem of the trip being repeated three times in the days that follow.

Snorkelling, tropical fish, clams and turtles

The snorkelling is breathtaking. Big fish, little fish, colourful fish, fast fish, lazy fish, long, thin, speeding fish…looking at them, following them, marvelling at their exquisite beauty. It’s like swimming in space. ET’s exclamations of delight are heard from the beach. Her scream, too. She thinks it’s a dead giant clam, but it’s a very alive giant clam that shuts on her flipper.

And then there is the coral. Forests of it, with colours so vivid that in comparison, the postcards are dull. There’s one kind that look like rocks in a stone pathway…but between them, the mortar isn’t boring grey, but rather iridescent corals of blue, green, pink, purple. And then some of these rocks move…Turtles! They gently amble around us doing their own thing. But they’re easily frightened at which point they turn into hull-seeking torpedoes desperate to escape. We get used to shouting warnings. “Turtle coming in on your left. Look out!”

Rounding the Pinnacles

The weather forecast at 7:30am reads 18 to 23 knots SE/SW, possibly dropping slightly in the afternoon. High tide is about midday. The decision is to leave at about high tide depending on a confirmation of the forecast at 11:30am.

Andrew plans for a two hour delay favouring an ebb current over the more choppy conditions of a flood current. The ebbing tide and SE winds are heading in the same direction making for a smooth, fast ride past Pinnacle Point. Waiting for this is definitely worthwhile.

The crossing is short and sweet with one metre seas and a 15 knot wind. We all sail around Pinnacle Rock rather than through the gauntlet to minimize group risk, as the waves are a bit high in the gap and the currents around the Pinnacle are much slower than on Andrew, Rob and Sharon’s previous passage. Dee is bracing hard against the wind as she sails fast around the rock. And after the exhilarating ride is Maureen’s Cove, a beautiful but quite steep coral beach. No mozzies, no sandflies!

Dee Reclining

The crossing to Dugong Beach back on Whitsunday Island is uneventful but livened by more skeg repairs and Dee carrying out the Mike Snoad Manoeuvre, reclining along the top of her boat in a pose reminiscent of Hollywood! The silver-tongued Andrew persuades her to take up this pose, pointing out that if an ancient mariner like Mike can manage then she will surely have no problem. He forgets to say that Mike used two sponsons either side of his boat. Dee unwittingly and skilfully achieves a world first in kayak photography, reclining along the boat without the aid of sponsons!

Dee’s attack and retreat

Dee is in top form for this last full day. Having mistressed the reclining on boat pose, she repeats the feat and only occasionally falls in! Then volunteers to be Andrew’s gunner, climbs onto the back of his boat, takes his hand pump and proceeds to viciously attack a bemused Rob with jets of water. Rob recovers and looks thoughtful as Dee returns enthusiastically for a second ambush. He then quite coolly picks up his paddle and ever so gently, slowly, deliberately, pushes it into Dee’s chest. Her expression is astonishment, disbelieving and wet as she topples off the boat amidst raucous laughter.

Deed’s Point tidal races

Deed’s point and we play in a soft tidal race experimenting with various manoeuvres in the strong current; ferry gliding, seeking out eddies, Andrew sees a turtle in a calm back eddy and tells me they collect there for food.

‘When I am an old woman’

It’s the end of the journey. The tents are set for the last time, in a field overgrown with thick, springy grass. There are no clouds, the evening draws in, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury are still visible. Dee reads Christina Rosetti “When I am an Old Woman”, Auden’s “Stop all the clocks” and again “Sea Fever”. She reads simply and beautifully with her soft Irish voice. In the distance a sea eagle sounds a plaintive whistle and the wind sighs through the casuarinas.

Racing home

Wrong turn to Bundaberg — that’s my excuse, actually I was trying to visit the rum factory! While Rob and Dee speed through Brisbane and ET flies over us all, Andrew and I make up for our gross miscalculation by taking the Kilkivan road to the Gundy pub along the way to Woolooga. This is a pleasant lane crossing the Mary River on an ancient wooden bridge. The diversion allows us to catch up with Dee and Rob. They are taken by surprise! Words such as “fat bastards” and “jammy sods” float through the ether!

Useful advice

  • The barge — don’t sit out bad weather if you get stuck on the mainland. Hire a barge to get you out there and get going.
  • Water drop — ask the barge to drop off water at an island halfway through the trip.
  • Rat bag warning — always put food dry bags away inside the kayak hatch. Don’t leave juice poppers out where eagle-eyed crows and bush rats will spot and attack them.
  • Duct tape coated on the sticky side with contact cement is a quick fix for the rat bag. But don’t use the repaired bag for food as the contact cement smell will taint it.
  • Check the tides and currents — check actual heights at high and low as well as the times of the tides
  • Read the 100 Magic Miles book — it has lots of detail on tides, currents, history & much else.
  • Insect repellents that worked (Aeroguard, Autan Repel and a Citronella/Emu oil mix — NOT Bushman 80%, which dissolves many plastics and does amazing things to watch straps!). Also antihistamines in moderation fixed the few mozzie bites we did get and Paddy Pallin sells a special insect repellent you can wash into your clothes.
  • Stinger suits — provides all kinds of protection, but mostly sun protection (but the two colour versions made us look like Trekkies).
  • Snorkelling gear and a paddle float helps for snorkelling from the kayak.
  • Skegs and coral beaches — use four or five people to carry the boats up the beach. If a skeg jams it’s easily fixed but don’t force the lever as this will kink the cable, just pick out the coral with a knife or piece of wire – it’s simple to do and easily done on the water.
  • An external aerial connected to the short wave radio gives a loud enough signal for communal listening to the weather — encourages group decisions.
  • Digital camera batteries (take as many as possible, preferably AA, you will need them!)
  • Sarongs, excellent for drying yourself out after a day soaking at sea. Over short periods they filter the sun enough for a slight tan to prevent saltwater sores — peruse the shops at Airlie Beach. Make a group decision on all purchases. Andrew’s choice toned beautifully with his orange Adapt-a-Cap!

Postscript 1 — The Anne Lachlan Legend – from the correspondence of the late Professor Roy-Lachlan and a diary owned by Anne Lachlan-Troy Jnr (PO Box 21a – Rookwood cemetery)

The trip theme celebrates Anne Guinevere Lachlan who in 1905, inspired by the recent victory of Queensland women winning the right to vote, attained a degree of notoriety as both the first lady taxi driver to practice in the town of Bowen and perhaps the most imaginative scam artist in that very respectable municipality.

The 1905 archives of the Northern Supreme Court at Bowen show Anne to have been arraigned before Mr Justice Edward Mansfield for enticing an intoxicated group of young men to travel a not inconsiderable distance by taxi to a local beach. Ostensibly to sight a mermaid!

As these brave souls staggered along the beach Anne, who had some experience in vaudeville, scampered behind the dunes and quickly changed into a rather fishy costume. All would have been well but for a startled seagull knocking the mermaid off her perch on a somewhat slippery rock. This led to a wardrobe malfunction and a series of most un-mermaid like expletives revealing Anne as the erstwhile mermaid. She was subsequently arraigned before the said judge for conduct unbecoming a taxi driver, perjury and unconscionably exorbitant fares.

Anne got off on a technicality – lucky girl. It turned out that the beach had 75 years earlier been the site of a voyage by the colonial cutter ‘Mermaid’ on its way to Bowen to found a penal colony. The beach was subsequently named Mermaid Beach, whether in light of Anne’s exploits or in celebration of Oxley’s voyage is still a matter of hot dispute amongst local historians.

In 1905 and as a direct consequence of this debacle the Queensland Government introduced the first Act of Parliament regulating taxis and in particular their fares.

The other expedition voted to take the centenary of Anne’s adventures as a suitable theme for the voyage. The expedition members sought to obtain sponsorship from the NSWSKC by selling a nice line in grey, woolly G-strings.

Postscript 2 — Notes pertinent to the history of Anne Lachlan

During our research into the darker side of Anne’s adventures two characters pre-eminent at her trial confused us. Just to unravel the Roy/Troy confusion, the following is an expurgated account from the 1905 July edition of the Bowen Truth. “Love Pentangle at Mermaid Beach”

Samuel Ponsonby Troy was Anne’s quite brilliant defence council at the Supreme Court at Bowen. Frederick Emmanuel Roy was the constable who took her in custody. It was Samuel who discovered the plaque commemorating Oxley’s voyage in the cutter ‘Mermaid’ and pointed out that Anne had fulfilled most of her obligations to the intoxicated young men by leading them on to the beach with the plaque. A furious Fred, who was a rival with Sam (and two others) for Anne’s affections, subsequently destroyed the plaque sadly leaving only your faith in this reportage to attest its veracity.