A trip down the rocky road of memory
We talk of going down memory lane but in fact memory can be more like a rocky road – bumps and potholes everywhere.
I mused on this when, unexpectedly, I found myself spending a night in Redland Bay and taking an early morning walk to reacquaint myself with this once much loved area to the extreme south east of Brisbane.
My relationship with the bay goes back more than 50 years to when Bob and I and our three small children first arrived from Kenya and it became one of our favourite weekend playgrounds. We asked so little of life in those day; just to have each other and be together; and though we had no money we had a lot of fun. In our old car we would drive out on Sundays to the one small beach in an area of mangrove mudflats. North and south of Brisbane were the endless beaches of the Gold and Sunshine Coast, or Bribie Island, where the sand was white as snow or the colour of an underbaked biscuit. We went there too, when we could. But Redland offered safe swimming for small children and the pub atop the cliff was exactly 40 miles from our Tarragindi home. You had to drive at least 40 miles, in those years, to be allowed to buy a drink on a Sunday.
Taken from a bit higher up. No concrete pathway back then, we had to clamber down the bank with our picnic baskets and blankets.
The Redland Bay Hotel had something else to recommend it back then – a jukebox. My grandchildren and great grandchildren will be amazed and probably amused to know how limited was our access to popular music in those pre-digital (pre cassette tape, pre CD) days. We could listen to it on the radio and hope to catch a favourite song. Or buy the record, which cost money which we didn’t have. I was enamoured of Neil Diamond’s song Shiloh at the time, and of Melody Rush’s Angel of the Morning, and would happily drive out to the bay just to hear them!
In those days we generally headed baywards with friends Jock and Rosemary Payet who had come with us from Kenya in the late 60s. Their small Louise and our Robert, Amanda and Cathy would play happily in the pebbly, shallow water while we adults swam and chatted and ate our simple picnic lunch. We might go and have a beer at the pub but we could rarely afford to eat there! And Rosemary’s picnic lunches were better than anything you could buy at a pub back then. Or a sandwich shop.
Within a couple of years we had bought a block of land on Lamb, one of the many islands which dot Moreton Bay, of which Redland Bay is only a small part. It was sold to us as a waterfront block and indeed it was – at high tide. When the tide went out it exposed an expanse of mud and mangrove breathers sticking up like daggers. But the jetty was close by and we swam there, and fished. I once foul-hooked a huge mangrove crab and, on another occasion, a flounder. There was a rail across the island from the jetty and a rail cart that had to be pushed. This was so that the mangoes, grown on the eastern side facing North Stradbroke Island, could be harvested and pushed to the ferry for transporting across to the mainland. Our children had great fun with this rail and over the other side was a family called Bulwinkle who had 12 acres and showed us much hospitality – and supplied us with mangoes! In summer, though, the mosquitoes would swarm out of the surrounding mangroves and mug us with ferocity and it was not possible to push the rail cart fast enough to outrun them. We learned to smother ourselves in repellent first – but it was never quite enough to protect us.
Coming back on the Sunday evening ferry was always a treat. It was a little foot passenger ferry that serviced the mid-bay islands of Lamb, Macleay, Karragarra and Russell (where peculiar people lived, or so we were told). The sun would be sinking behind the hills on the mainland , the water like a mirror. Our companions were other weekenders like ourselves, very few in number back then and only a handful of residents living permanently on the four islands. There was great camaraderie and some swapping around of scones and cake and biscuits and cordial. On our drive home – only about 25 minutes in those traffic-free days – we would stop for the Sunday night treat of fish and chips, which was my children’s favourite meal of the week despite all the effort I put into providing them with tasty and nutritious meals from Monday to Saturday! Oh, they were glorious days!
And life moved on – we returned briefly to Africa, then back to Oz and nearly 20 years in Noosa, then west a bit, then in the mid 90s back to the general bay area again, though not to Redland Bay itself. I moved into my fifties, Bob into his sixties. We bought a small yacht and kept it on the marina at Manly towards the northern end of the bay and once again headed south to Redland on weekends, this time by water. We used to anchor off Karragarra and row ourselves over to Lamb and Macleay, where there was a small pub. By then the pretty little islands had attracted residents with a reputation for being feral – probably because there were no police there to pursue the pot growers and others seeking the kind of freedom that often translates to lawlessness. But we never had any problems with them and loved our peaceful anchorage. We’d take Friday off so we could make it worthwhile – setting out early and hoping there would be enough wind to get us down the bay. Staying overnight and Saturday and coming back Sunday afternoon with a south-easterly behind us. Winter was harder, with the westerlies blowing us all over the bay and the rare northerlies were a real problem and meant trying to make it mostly on the small engine.
That all stopped 22 years ago when we moved to Tamborine. And I haven’t been back to Redland Bay since, or at least not long enough to go down by the water where my memories lie.
All those memories trickled back to me yesterday as I walked for two hours around that once dear and familiar shoreline. Under a flawless sky so many things remained unchanged. The old, mostly weatherboard houses. The people who still smile and say hello when out walking even though this area is now an outer suburb of Brisbane. The water shone under a strong spring sun and the islands stood out clear and low – Coochiemudlo just to the north and beyond it Peel with its sheltered bay and lovely St Helena, out of sight but nor mind because we often used to sail there. Ahead of me and to the south Macleay, Lamb, Karragarra and Russell. Plus all those tiny little uninhabited mangrove-edged islets which dot the bay more thickly as it narrows towards the Gold Coast Broadwater. And beyond them all, on the horizon, the long bulk of North Stradbroke Island.
There are, inevitably changes – in fact the whole area has the feeling of a place on the edge of transformation from sleepy waterside to condomania. Now that all the places with good beaches have been overtaken, those that simply offer water views are modernising fast. The dear old wooden houses have subdivided their large gardens and large, glossy signs promise apartment blocks to fill the space. A Woolsworths supermarket under construction dominates the small townscape within a few metres of the water.
Yet at 7 o’clock yesterday morning I sat in the sun outside the Jetty Store and ate my breakfast and sipped my coffee where more than half a century ago we bought potato chips and soft drinks for our kids. It hasn’t changed much, nor the scruffy little waterside park opposite. The friendly operators seemed to know everyone who popped in and these were all the ordinary Aussie types of yesteryear. Music played softly in the background and though I couldn’t identify it the sound was vaguely and reassuringly 70s in tone. Folksy. Even the birds sounded as they did in my youth. And for a moment I knew a moment of ineffable peace. The peace that passeth all understanding, as Bob would have said, had he been there. But he wasn’t, nor Robert either, the once eager child who was always first on and off the jetty during our island adventures.
That’s the problem for those of us who venture down the rocky road of memory; we encounter those loves whom we will never meet again. And yet, the view at the end is always worth it.
(IGNORE PICTURES BELOW. YOU HAVE ALREADY SEEN THEM BUT I CAN’T SEEM TO GET RID OF THEM!)