“You alright, mate?”
A Landcruiser has pulled in behind me as I lie back among the other driftwood, gazing at a pair of seabirds combing the water’s edge, envying their progress:
A tattered Eureka flag flaps from a pole; an arsenal of fishing rods protrudes from the back.
“Just checking you weren’t dead, mate. You want a drink?”
The driver gets out, middle-aged, red-faced, in the briefest of Speedos, with a beer gut that sags almost far enough to preserve his modesty. We soon recline in deck chairs in the Toyota’s shade, while I drink a miraculous beer and tell my tale.
“You started at the Sandhills?!”
“It’s a long story…”.
All afternoon I’ve worked my painful way north, postholing in the mushy sand of high tide, dodging fishermen in cars, limping with a pulled muscle behind my left knee. My left leg, you see, is lower than the right due to the sloping beach. The tops of my feet are sunburnt and the new Chacos’ toe-straps have rubbed my toes raw while salt and sand season the wounds.
Past scattered landmarks: The Desert, an amorphous waste where an Argentinian tourist was lost for days a year before; Tangalooma resort, a former humpback-whaling station that closed in 1962 and turned to harvesting tourists; and The Wrecks, a pod of rusted carcasses dumped to provide sheltered moorings:
And on, past the crumbling bunkers of the Fort Cowan signal station, WWII relics tumbling into the beach, children from the village behind the trees playing in their shade:
And on, to Comboyuro, a deserted, casuarina-shaded campground, and a cup of tea. Back among the blazing wastes, sandals hanging from my pack, I’m soon bounding into the water to soothe my frying soles.
The volcanic brood of the Glasshouse Mountains across the Bay allows some measure of progress. Through that long, bright afternoon they move from eleven o’clock to seven, behind my left shoulder:
I farewell my beer-gutted samaritan and cross the island’s shoulder, an exposed stretch of wave-tossed driftwood tangled with net, fishing line, plastic jetsam fading in the glare.
At last, the Cape Moreton lighthouse, perched atop the only rock on the island, northern limit of my trek. North Point Campground a grassy refuge, with fresh water and composting toilets, where I set up my tarp:
A restless night. I leave my lonesome campsite at dawn, via a road of pure-white sand, to the lighthouse.
There are graves here of a long-gone lighthouse-keeper’s family: Mary Ann, his wife, and little Florence, and Robert, and Edward. What became of Mr Griffin after enduring all this loss? If endure he did. Did the keeper keep on keeping on?
But today I have my own problems. The view down the ocean side is daunting, the Sandhills lost in morning haze. And to the west, the hump of Mt Tempest, world’s highest vegetated coastal sand mountain. My side-trip to her summit can wait.
Every step hurts, a nub of pain burrowing into the back of my left knee like a musket ball. Now and then Toyotas loaded with amused tourists zoom down the beach-highway. Suntanned young faces smirk from the windows.
That lighthouse takes a whole day to shrink to nothing. The pain is awful; the glare intolerable. At Eagers Creek I brave deep, scorching sand to fill my water bottle. The Camel Rock formation, nearly 10km further on, is as slow taking form as the lighthouse is in losing it.
When at last I reach Rous Battery, a WWII pillbox secreted on a hillock, I feel after climbing the steps like a wounded soldier slumping into uncertain safety.
Tea, sipped while peering though the slit at the breakers, while I imagine a serviceman’s nightmare, hordes of Japanese advancing through the surf. Or maybe this was a sweet posting, far from the action, here on the beaches facing the idyllic Pacific?
I camp, endless hours later, in the dunes among straggly casuarinas, tarp angled to deflect the ocean breeze. Aborigines, the Ngugi tribe, once inhabited the isle — nothing remains but their shell middens. Here they once enjoyed the same breathtakingly crisp sky awash in stars, the soothing crash of distant surf…
It’s comfortable enough on my bed of casuarina needles and sand, but for those times I wake to the booming breakers and lie there imagining shipwrecks and other horrors in that dark realm beyond the shore.
Morning, however, is cool and beautiful. I wake excited, ready to end this thing, but with a long way still to go. Ghost crabs scurry across gloriously hard sand. I savour this, my favourite part of the island:
Past Mirapool, a tidal lagoon frequented by migratory seabirds, along Moreton’s heel — and my next obstacle. Says my map: Caution: Beach impassable due to fallen trees:
Then my least-favourite section: first sandal-sucking mud and impenetrable mangroves, then a 5km road of agonisingly soft sand. And the clock’s ticking — my father prizes Reliability and Punctuality.
I pass the Little Sandhill, and there they are, cruising northward to our rendezvous, mercifully early. I hobble on to the Big Sandhill at my highest speed.
The boat lies anchored just beyond the edge of the flats. I check my watch — two days and five hours — and hot-foot it to the water’s edge. A waist-deep dash through the shallows to the transom. My father’s tanned forearm extends, hauls my pack and then me up the ladder and onto the deck.
“Gee, you look sunburnt,” my mother says. “Would you like a drink?”
”So,” says my father, “Did you do the whole thing?”
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote