FRIDAY 21 AUGUST CHILI BEACH
After breakfast, we drove around to Portland Roads. It is a quaint little freehold, feral, settlement. There seems to be a number of visiting fishing people there. We presume that yacht travellers call in too.
The handful of permanent residents appear to be hiding from the world, and/or “finding” themselves? I don’t think it gets much more isolated than this.
The origin of the name of this place is unclear, but may have originated with Captain Cook. He named nearby Cape Weymouth after the place in England; there, Portland Roads are a safe anchorage nearby. As Cook was nearly wrecked again near here, the name of Portland Roads is a feasible one.
Nearby Restoration Island was named by Captain Bligh, after the Mutiny on the Bounty, in 1789, when he landed here in his small boat and found the water and plant foods of the island restorative of the group’s health and spirits.
A jetty was built at Portland Roads in the 1930’s when the Batavia gold fields, back by the Wenlock, were found. During WW2 there was an American air base at Iron Range; a radar station was set up on the hill above Portland Roads, and a bigger jetty was built to land people and supplies for the airfield.
So, this little remote place has an interesting history, of which there are relics scattered about in the rain forest.
We spent a couple of hours talking to a local resident, who saw us wandering about exploring and invited us up to his house, perched on the slope above the bay, for a coffee. He seemed keen to talk. His place was comfortable enough. He’d been there for several years and the place was now for sale. Maybe he saw us as prospective buyers?
He reckoned he’d “worked it all out”, and is now ready to leave. We didn’t get enlightened on what it was that he’d worked out, though. He said that he’d spent ten months on Restoration Island, caretaking it for developers who’d bought it.
He says he is on good terms with the aboriginals from Lockhart River, about 40kms south of here. We came to suspect that he drinks and smokes gunja with them! He talked of being close friends with an old aboriginal lady from the area, who became very ill and was taken to hospital in Cairns. He believes that, on the night she died he was visited by her spirit, in the form of a kangaroo that came into the house and left blood tracks across the floor. She had told him she would come back as a ‘roo.
He has bad tropical leg ulcers and generally poor health – too much drink? His wife did live here with him, but left, and is now living with a painter at Dorrigo – not quite such an alternative lifestyle as this one!
The man was interesting, and a character, but I felt that he’d lost touch with reality some time ago – as well as with personal hygiene! He was probably constantly stoned. We were pretty sure there were some interesting plantations in the bush around here……. I think he enjoyed talking to us, anyway; there are not too many new faces in this place which is cut off in the Wet, and too far off the main track for most tourists.
He told us that a fortnightly barge from Cairns brings the supplies for the Roads and for the Lockhart River community. I guess the mail plane run up the Cape lands at the latter, too.
After this encounter, we went back to Chili Beach.
It rained at times during the afternoon, but we managed to get in a pleasant walk on the beach.
Carloads of aboriginal men and youths drive through the camp area. They don’t need to, because there is a track by the beach, but they go out of their way to drive through the camp area, and quite fast at that. They seem to have a camp of their own further up the beach, but I suspect there is also a political point being made by this assertiveness, which may be meant to intimidate.
We saw some palm cockatoos in the trees by our camp – wonderful.
There are a number of bush turkeys scratching around the camp area and rustling in the bush. I call them “Cape chookies”. We have realized that the chookies in these parts have a purple coloured neck collar, as opposed to the yellow one of those further south. These Cape ones seem much more handsome specimens.
The flora and fauna of the Iron Range area resembles that of PNG, rather than of the rest of Australia, so it is quite a unique place.
Tea was fried rice.
During the darkest part of the night, we were woken from a sound sleep by a loud explosion. Got a huge fright. I wondered if one of us had been shot – it sounded like that. I remembered the aboriginal groups driving close by our camp, after dark, and thought of the “whitey hunts” D had told us about! The imagination runs riot at times like these, in such a place…. I was even reluctant to turn on a torch to investigate, in case it made us a target. Then, as I groped around in the dark, felt something wet. A small bottle of tonic water that I’d brought into the tent, to drink in the night, because I was feeling a bit off colour, had exploded, not far from my head. There were several big pieces of glass scattered about. It was lucky we hadn’t been injured, but it did make two small cuts in the side of the tent. Guess the bottle had gotten really shook up on the Cape roads. After cleaning up the glass – very carefully, so we did not hole the lilo – and mopping up the puddles, we did get back to sleep.
This was our second night at Chili Beach, but we had not gotten around to going back to the Ranger Station to pay for it. We are usually very conscientious about such things, but it is a fair distance to drive, over a fairly poor road.