As I mentioned in Taking Cochlear Implants to the Depths, the man who was (and still is, for that matter) my dive instructor eventually took on an even more important role in my life and we remain as happy together as two pigs in mud.
An interstate move
Early this year, Dohn was invited to take up a position as Managing Director of a small mining company in Far North Queensland (FNQ). It was not on my agenda to move interstate and I had never even been to Queensland, but I could see how important it was to him, and agreed he should take the job and I would go too. After living in Perth all my life — with home, family and friends firmly established in that city — this was a big thing for me. Dohn didn’t care where he went, and indeed had recently returned from two years managing an engineering company in Saudi Arabia, but I had never lived anywhere other than Perth.
In February, the company flew us to Sydney so they could go over things with Dohn, then we were taken up to Mount Garnet in Queensland, where the mining company is based. Far North Queensland is another world! I felt like I was on a tropical holiday (well, I suppose I was) and I was taken aback by the beauty of it all. I had zero expectations, because I knew nothing about the area, and from the moment I saw the coastline as the plane came in to land at Cairns Airport, it was a case of “Wow. Wow. Wow.”
The road exiting the airport is edged with mangroves and swamp, and bears warnings about crocodile-infested waters — not something I’d seen before. Then the twisty drive up the range onto the Atherton Tablelands was stunning, with the rainforest rising directly upwards from each side of the narrow road and joining in a vivid green canopy overhead. Once past the town of Atherton, the scenery was truly spectacular. The countryside is steeply contoured and so, so green, and fringed with forest-covered volcanic (extinct of course) mountain ranges. Houses are, as often as not, typical Queenslanders; verandahed dwellings on poles and clad with weatherboard, perched high on ridges or down in valleys in choice spots beside any of the innumerable watercourses. The southern Tablelands are referred to as “Australia’s Tropical Dairyland” and we discovered that the hills are covered in the greenest pasture and dotted with cows. For a lover of the country, as I am, it was and is idyllic.
View over the Atherton Tablelands from McHugh Lookout, Millaa Millaa.
Mount Garnet, however, is a somewhat different kettle of fish. On the western edge of the Tablelands, it is part of the Savannah Way, and from Ravenshoe (45km before you get to Mount Garnet) westwards the landscape changes to grassy open eucalypt country: “Savannah woodlands”. It is beautiful in its own way but very different to most of the Tablelands.
To get to the mine, once in Mount Garnet turn right at the pub and follow the (very bad) unsealed roads 15km or so through the hilly open forest cattle stations, past many herds of cattle, the odd brumby or two, and several pretty dams, until you reach a group of unimposing dongas by the side of the road. Three hours after leaving Cairns, you have finally arrived! Drive in and follow the signs directing you to back up to the bunds, get out and receive a quick induction of the mine site, then allow yourself to be shown around.
The mine is in a lovely, if remote, setting beside a dam with eucalyptus trees, mostly lemon-scented gums, rising up the far side. The accommodation units have a great outlook over the “lake”. When I saw this, and that there was a vacant donga with an ensuite right at the end of the row, metres from the dam edge, I had a brilliant idea! Why don’t we live at the mine at first, instead of rushing around while on this visit, trying to find somewhere to live for when we moved permanently?
The COO of the parent company, who had brought us there, thought it could be helpful temporarily but gave me three weeks maximum before I couldn’t stand it anymore. In my naive optimism, I thought that was amusing. But I acknowledged even at the time that my biggest problem was likely to be the shared kitchen. I do love to cook.
So it was all settled and a month later Dohn and I were firmly ensconced at a tin mine in Mount Garnet and my life had irrevocably changed.
Making a new life
There is good and bad about the move, and one of the good things is that the location of the mine is undeniably beautiful and serene.
A beautiful winter morning. Photo taken from the doorstep of our room.
However, sharing a kitchen is worse than I could have dreamed (don’t get me started!) and together with my lack of control over the way the things important to me are handled and the remoteness, it’s next to impossible for me to make a fulfilling life for myself as things are. We are looking for a property to buy and when that eventuates, things should look up in many ways. Also, I miss my family horribly. It has been quite an emotional few months for me.
On the plus side, we can dedicate weekends to getting out and exploring. There are some amazing places out here and we are steadily taking them all in. I still ask myself, for example: how did I never know that Cobbold Gorge existed?
Silently making our way by barge down the length of Cobbold Gorge — a magical place.
I’ve also learned a lot about mining and met some extremely interesting people. I have enjoyed many wonderful experiences directly related to Dohn’s job. Just today, I was taken into the tunnels of old tin workings originally built in 1880 — worked by hand, of course. What these men did with brute strength, pick and shovel, has my utmost admiration.
1880s tin workings.
This is an amazing part of the country and I am grateful to have the opportunity to experience it.