The Cool Palms Motel had excellent Internet connectivity and I updated all that I had wanted to. I was current, for the first time in this expedition. Possibly because of that, I found sleep easy to come by and I did not wake up at the now-used-to time of half past three in the morning. For the first time in the expedition, the day’s program was open. I was a day early in the schedule as I had cut down a day’s stay in Cairns, respecting the weather forecast. And, yesterday, when the lady at the reception told me about more rains, and even a cyclone, heading towards Townsville, I considered that my decision had been right. The additional day in Cairns was meant for visits to the Great Barrier Reef and the Kuranda Rail and raintree forest. In such weather visits to such places would be wasted and less than enjoyable. Maybe, His plan for me is a separate trip, sometime in the future, to such exotic locations. When I review the expedition I feel the power of the “unseen hand”. All through I had escaped harsh climatic conditions and I was either late or ahead of the cyclones, as in Darwin, Cairns and Townsville. The rains and floods had caused changes to my original program, but then, I was on the cusp of achieving something that had been a madcap adventure and, perhaps to some, totally unwarranted! That’s the might of God’s Will – It’s not by My Will, but by Thy Grace.
By 6.30 am I drove on to the Bruce Highway, A1, in light rain for a drive that did not have a destination. I told myself that I would drive up to some place where I felt comfortable to, maybe 600-700 km. which would leave me with about 300 km to Brisbane. Rain was moderate to heavy for the first 300 km and traffic conditions warranted caution as the roads were busy too. This is definitely the highway stretch I have come across the maximum traffic over the past month. The long weekend contributed to it, in a large measure. I could make out that most of them were returning after vacation – the condition of the cars and what many of them towed told the whole story.
Sarina, the sugar town, is a small, picturesque town south of Mackay. The town has been named after the Greek enchantress and is one of the largest suppliers of ethanol and is in close proximity to one of the largest coal distribution points in the world, Hay Point. The town has a charm that made me drive extra slow through it. Intermittent to heavy rainfall with it affecting visibility in some places made the traffic slow down a bit. In one of the initial plans I had chalked a day’s stay at Rockhampton. Why was that? Cricket and Tennis had been a steady diet while growing up. There was a romance attached to these games, in the past more than now, I feel. Those were the days when TV had not yet stolen the descriptive images and sequences one formed in the mind from the glorious radio commentaries of a Brian Johnston, John Arlott, Jack Fingleton or Alan Macgilvray. The neighbor’s Murphy radio was the most prized possession in my world of those days. Similar to the excitement of the Ashes series was the annual tennis events of Wimbledon and other Grand Slams. The exploits all over the world on the tennis court by Aussie stars of those days like Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, John Newcombe, Tony Roche, Roy Emerson and Margaret Court were closely followed. The unassuming Rod Laver was the toast of the world in the 1960s, for to this day, no one has repeated his feat of two calendar year Grand Slams. His career was ‘interfered’ with by the Open Era controversy. Else, his achievements would have been unbreakable, like that of Sir Donald Bradman, another Aussie great. He excelled on all surfaces and pocketed 200 single titles, which remains a record to this day. Besides, in a time when the Davis Cup was as prestigious as the Slam tournaments he was part of an Aussie squad that won it 5 times – an incredible feat, undoubtedly. Laver was referred to as the Rockhampton Rocket in tennis circles. And that romance, reflected in the itinerary I had initially planned. This day, when I passed through Rockhampton, billboards referred to Rockhampton as “the beef capital of the world”!
Plantations, greenery and smoky mountains are a feature of tropical Queensland. The pleasing landscape continued unbroken. The undulating, winding roads were a pleasure to drive on. Yesterday, Honey joseph had sent me the contact details of Alphonse Joseph, his dear friend, who stayed in a suburb of Brisbane. When Alphonse called in the morning to check if we could meet on my way to Brisbane. I had told him then that my plans for the day was opaque, at best, as I was not sure if I would be able to make it to Brisbane during the day. I promised to get back to him by 4 pm, when the ‘road ahead’ would be clearer. I reached a small town called Gympie by 4.15 pm and I became certain that I could make it to Brisbane before nightfall. I called Anville Court, where I was booked to stay the next day, to check if I could move in a day early. The owners of the apartment promised to get back with information if the apartment was ready. Additionally, I sourced a couple of other accommodations through booking.com. I did not confirm any of them, as I waited to hear from Anville Court about its readiness. In the meanwhile, I spoke to Alphonse and said that I could meet him for a short while before I left for my night halt in the city. He insisted that I should stay with him and that I need not make any arrangements for stay in the city. Sheeja, his wife, and Alphonse were ready to host a complete stranger. And, what a warm welcome they and their sweet daughter, Isabelle, gave me when I reached their lovely home in Mango Hill! I have no words to describe the genuine grace and hospitality I have been privileged to accept from Praveen Tomy, Ashok Nair, Honey Joseph, Suresh Sebastian, Shyju Abraham, Alphonse Joseph and their families and friends during this expedition. Truly, Goodwill Knows No Boundaries.
Sheeja had hospital duty and hence, after a bright conversation, she left for the hospital. And, not before saying that I should feel completely at home and use whatever facilities in the house I wanted to. Hospitality at its best. After freshening up and completing some documentation I was down at the dining table partaking of a superb typical Kerala meal with red rice, pork curry, rasam, rice, cabbage thoran and papadam. Dinner was marked by a cogent appreciation of the schooling system that Isabelle was undergoing. I see a bright future for this young eighth grader with a mature head on her shoulders. Sheeja and Alphonse had moved from UK to a small town in Australia, Hawker, with a population of 400 residents, where they served in the nursing profession for 4 years. Both of them have fond memories of that tiny town, but better prospects moved them to Brisbane, where they have been from 2014. They have a lovely home, well-kept and aesthetically maintained. And, I am part of this lovely family tonight.