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Saturday, 6 November 2010


Coal, much of it shipped to fuel China's industrial revolution is being extracted from the Bowen Basin in great quantity replacing sugar cane as the mainstay of Mackay's economy, with more and more attention to tourism.
What's became of the blokes?
On our way to the inland highlands, an horizon of blue mountains, we diverted to visit a sugar mill - Sarina Sugar Shed - learning yet again the familiar story of how the sweat and heroism of the cane cutters has been disenchanted by mechanisation - saurian machines surging through the fields, doing the work of a hundred blokes, incapable of inspiring a line of the drama - Summer of the Seventeenth Doll - a landmark play of the 1950s exploring the erosion of cherished Australian ideals of manhood. "Have you read it?" asked John "No" I said, vaguely recalling a Hollywood film starring Ernest Borgnine and John Mills, with an altogether different title.
Instead of cane-cutting feats we now have GT Chargers and occupational status, instead of Kewpie dolls we have dream homes and the latest deciduous mod-cons.... the replacement of the Colgardie safe by the fridge, the drover by the commuting executive. Summer of the Seventeenth Doll presages an Australia with a new face and a new set of clothes, yet one whose physiology is principally and depressingly the same. (Jack Hibberd, dramatist and critic writing about Ray Lawler's play in 1977)
An indulgence as we left was candy floss - something I've not enjoyed for sixty years, and as John discovered, not to be tried with a beard. So it goes, change upon change, and then...
...wonderful, exciting, memorable, yet at the same time utterly ordinary. Everyone knows about the bizarre animal, the Platypus, which, when first described by European explorers, was thought a hoax, like the composite grotesque exhibited as a feejee merman by P T Barnum. Yet far from being odd this little brown creature, hardly larger than a water vole, was going about its daily existence, living in a stretch of slightly murky water on the Broken River high in the hills of Mackay, 60 miles from the Coral Sea, in Eungella National Park.

Platypus from Simon Baddeley on Vimeo.

Five seconds on the surface the little animal appeared, paddling, then tail-flipped to the shallow river bottom rooting with its beak for crayfish and other fare as it has since primordial times. Twenty seconds later it surfaces again, and we tourists gaze rapt, pointing our cameras to take silly snaps of a little shape as vague as a tabloid picture of the fabled 'bigfoot'. We had to wait a while, but once strolling along the well laid path beside the river bank, John, I and Lin saw a Platypus three times in three places, along with a Brown Snake, a large freshwater eel twisting with slow grace almost at our feet, many birds, including a jewel like kingfisher darting up and down the river, and slow moving turtles, their backs so mud-mossy they seemed fashioned of weathered bronze. High above the sugar cane fields between us and the coast at Mackay we gazed through, what the Park's service signed as a 'sky window' - a landscape suddenly appearing through the sub-tropical forest; no less magnificent for making all the brochures. Some places can cope with people. This was one of them, in part because the Australians know how to do national parks, affording them federal protection, husbanding them with consummate professionalism.
"There it is!" Lin on the Broken River (photo: John Martin)
** **  **
The second seminar of our tour, held in Mackay Regional Offices, went excellently. John and I complement each other as well as in any collaboration I've experienced, which is why I shall miss him while I'm in New Zealand. On Thursday's seminar we used film from Marion (Mayor Felicity Ann Lewis & CEO Mark Searle) and Wyndham (Mayor Shane Bourke and CEO Ian Robins) in Australia and from the UK - Birmingham (CEO Sir Michael Lyons and the then Leader - Cllr Theresa Stewart) and Woking (CEO Ray Morgan and then Leader - Cllr Sue Smith).
Professor John Martin and Simon Baddeley in Longreach (photo: Lin Baddeley)

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