Just once I’d like to start one of my trips like a professional, organised and well-slept.
I was up till midnight on Friday, the usual last-minute frenzy of packing and fine-tuning the Virga. Satisfied with the result, weight-wise, or no longer even caring, I turned in; four-and-a-bit hours later the alarm tore me once more from that flimsy cocoon of sleep and within minutes I was slipping arms into the pack straps.
Actually I think I was asleep when I stumbled out onto the pre-dawn road and aimed at the station, the thought of a distant coffee like a candle flame to a moth. The 5:17 pulled in…
..and the sun rose above the wires and apartment blocks as we headed into the city. The day was looking fine, so far, no hint of the predicted storm. I half-dozed, just relieved to be surrendering control to the driver of this ghost train.
I changed trains at South Brisbane, where I could wait no longer, and gambled $2 on a coffee-machine Nescafe. I lost, and this is the first time I’ve ever thrown half a cup of the ambrosia of the bean onto the ground in disgust.
Some Pacific Islander boys were stumbling around, half-wasted and apparently severely dehydrated after their Friday night on the town. Another train took me to Wynnum North, where an enormous taxi driver agreed to take me to the Port of Brisbane. The cab stank of cigarettes and I felt queasy. “Storm’s coming,” he informed me. “145kph winds just went through Oakey.”
“Oh, really?” I replied in mock concern, though I was secretly delighted. A storm on Moreton was just what I’d hoped for when I chose this weekend. Something dramatically different from the usual baking sand and unforgiving sun.
I pulled my pack from the cab at the Port of Brisbane with the sky souring and the smell of rain on the rising wind. The driver was eating a chocolate ice-cream on a stick as he drove off. Breakfast.
I huddled with a party of divers under a tin roof as the rain began. Dozens of heavily laden Toyotas and Nissans filled the approach to the boat. The sky was black, the rain came down heavily, wind driving it under the flimsy roof. At last we presented tickets and hurried up into the lounge while vehicles flooded into the holding deck below.
I was a little disappointed that the weather had hit while we were still in port, but it was pleasant to savour a latte while watching it through the windows:
The ominous weather report hadn’t deterred the fishermen and tour parties. The lounge was crowded and the vehicular bay was jammed:
We’d exited the river and were heading across the bay when an announcement sent ripples of excitement through the passenger area. Whales! Not far from the boat. The ferry seemed to list as there was a human deluge onto the port side:
I joined the rush onto the rain-lashed deck…
..where a succession of delighted “OOOH!”s and “AHHHHH!”s heralded each sighting. There was a pod a few hundred metres off, ploughing through the grey waves in flurries of spray as they migrated towards the warming waters of the Southern Ocean.
I love my little Cybershot camera — and it’s waterproof, which was a huge bonus on this trip — but a 4x zoom is never going to present you with many gasp-worthy images. Here’s some footage from the vehicle deck, though, where you can experience the delight of some young Asian tourists — and, if you look closely, spy one of the cavorting cetaceans in the distance just to the right of the red-haired girl:
Tangalooma, where the boat and some of the passengers were heading, was a whaling station before the industry was banned in 1963. Humpbacks like these must have initiated a more predatory excitement in those days.
Turning to my splendid Arion Press edition of Moby-Dick, or, The Whale, I see that Mr Melville had this to say about humpbacks:
Says this government pamphlet:
When southern right whales and blue whales became scarce, Australian whalers began to target humpback whales, killing approximately 8300 off the east coast between 1949 and 1962. By the time the International Whaling Commission banned humpback whaling in the Southern Hemisphere in 1963, over-exploitation had already reduced the population to an estimated 3.5–5% of pre-whaling abundance, leading to the collapse of Australia’s east coast whaling industry.
Apparently a mere hundred or so remained at the time of the ban.
Moreton Island appeared in murky relief as the worst of the storm, like our gamesome and lighthearted friends, left us behind:
Here are The Wrecks, a suitably dramatic feature for our landing, though they were all carefully placed there to provide sheltered moorings:
Cars streamed ashore, a few, like these, heading south, as I’d soon be doing:
Most of the wind had dissipated, but a steady drizzle continued as I tightened my straps and began walking along the sand…
..stepping over the pretty corpses of the first of several — nay, dozens — nay, thousands of starfish among the flotsam and jetsam…
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote