Updated: Jun 12, 2021
There is no greater reward than finding your tribe. They are the crew that validate you, the ones who cheer you on, ache with you, laugh with you, and call you out on your bullshit.
I went on a holiday recently with my tribe – six women, six mothers, from six different backgrounds, who couldn’t all agree on coriander, or Fleetwood Mac, but were somehow connected by space and time and children.
We were seven women with seven personalities and seven stories. Like the seven dwarfs – Chatty, Frenchy, Sparky, Scaredy, Doc, BC (Bean-Counter), and the Skipper – set out on an adventure, with an undeclared motto, ‘one-in, all-in’.
Apart from spiders and ironing, I was about to face my other phobias: unnecessary exercise, heights, and the open ocean.
We wagged work and ran away on a Friday, all guns blazing into a hopeful Hamilton Island sun.
In all its magnificent green with glowing golden sunshine, Hamilton Island, forever to be now known as Hammo, is the Emerald City of the Whitsundays.
We’d arrived on Hammo just in time to buy the basics from the IGA: bananas, crackers, tea, and coffee; and we spent up big at the Bottlo. We checked out our digs, oohed and aahed over the view, then headed out for dinner in Hammo’s preferred mode of transport, golf buggies. BC and I shared a scrumptious baby Barra, before we all had a cocktail or two, then straight home and into bed for a sunrise hike up Passage Peak.
Reportedly only 234 metres above sea level, it was still the highest point on Hammo. It was only a 3-kilometre hike, and I was sure I’d walked further to find a flushing toilet at a Z-Grade football game in Brisbane’s boondocks. Three kilometres would be a cinch, right?
I knew I was in trouble when my tribe came out the next morning in their active wear. I did not own active wear, on account of, I’m not active. I ate Greek yoghurt and granola for brekky. Nobody else ate. Perhaps this should have been a clue, they knew something that I did not.
Passage Peak turned out to be the first of my three near-death experiences on Hammo.
The hike was steep. There were stairs. I lost count at twenty gazillion, eleventy billion, and six. It could well have been 6-6-6, because a hot-breathed beast was savaging my lungs and the flames of hell were licking at my legs. We passed a mound of boulders halfway up – it resembled a grave. I expected to find an epitaph that read, ‘Here lies Maryanne. She tried to conquer Passage Peak but alas, she did not own active wear’. I saluted Maryanne as I passed. ‘Rest in peace, Maryanne’.
With every lift of my knees, Greek yoghurt was being pushed back up my oesophagus. It burned.
Six hundred metres from the peak, I felt my lights start to dim. Black blobs appeared before my eyes, probably ash falling from the pits of Hell.
I sacrificed myself, telling the Skipper to cut her loses and leave me behind, that she should keep going and catch up with the rest of the tribe. I was not going to be the reason their mission had failed.
They made it. I never doubted their power. My tribe saw a dramatic sun rise over Passage Peak. They took their photos. Then Doc descended first, to check my blood pressure and make sure I had not expired.
Sparky found me a sturdy walking stick for our descent, which I left at the bottom, leaning on the Gates of Hell, as a warning to others.
‘I’m not sure how I am friends with you lot,’ I told them later. They laughed. I was not joking.
Only hours later, I was to face my next greatest fear.
The Skipper was the organiser of our Hammo holiday – she was the Master, the conductor, the author of this chapter in our lives, and flying over Heart Reef was on her bucket list. Because our undeclared motto was ‘one-in, all-in’, Heart Reef became our quest as well.
I’d recovered from Passage Peak and was now standing in front of a Cessna 208 Caravan. Do not be fooled by its name. It is not a caravan. There was no cute kitchen or multifunctional bench/bed. It may as well have been called a Cessna ‘camper-trailer’.
We were given a life jacket, folded to the size of a coin-purse, which had to remain strapped to our bodies. To engage the life jacket, we had to pull a flappy thing, put something over our heads, pull some toggly things, and as a bonus, it had a very handy whistle and light. If we were going down, I would never remember toggles or whistles or any of those instructions, because I would be bear-hugging the person beside me, which turned out to be Frenchy. Frenchy was a little shaky and already blowing out some big ones as Maverick and Goose launched us somewhere over the rainbow. Doc, who I trusted implicitly with my life at Passage Peak, also was not coping – her sick-bag in hand, minutes into our flight.
Chatty chatted to Maverick and Goose from the moment we taxied up the runway. I wanted to tap her shoulder, ‘For God’s sake Chatty, stop chatting and let the man drive!’ Instead, I kept telling myself aviation standards are so high, we don’t have plane crashes in Australia. But that little voice who nags me at 3am, mentioned the 2018 Sydney sightseeing crash.
‘Those people went sightseeing, nice little family from the UK they were, and nobody saw them alive again,’ said naggy-voice.
Mum said I should name that voice and tell her to shut up. So, I did.
‘Shut ya gob Darlene!’ I yelled, ‘I’m trying to have the experience of a lifetime here!’
Mum was right. It did help. Darlene shut up, at the same time Chatty stopped chatting to Maverick.
With 3000 individual reef systems and coral cays, the Great Barrier Reef stretches over 2,300 kilometres and hugs the Queensland coastline, from its very tip to just before its bum juts out.
Heart Reef is some 70 kilometres from Hammo. Darlene kept telling me I couldn’t swim that far, without becoming shark food. But then she shut up, distracted by the beauty of the reef as we gazed down from over the rainbow.
Maverick warned us, Heart Reef was only 17 metres wide so we should have phones ready, and he’d fly down low for the best shots. I took 127 photos (maybe not quite) in 6 seconds, before he explained he’d come back around so the people on the left could take photos too.
I knew the Great Barrier Reef was one divine place on Mother Earth that needed our protection, but I was convinced my life was about to be laid down for her, when Maverick started doing figure-8’s over her heart. Figure-8’s may as well have been Red Baron loop-de-loops, because my guts was in my throat for the second time that day.
Maverick buzzed over Whitehaven Beach on our way back, doing his loop-de-loops so the people on the left could take their photos again. By this time, I didn’t care about the lefties because I no longer wanted to be somewhere over the rainbow, and was praying hard to be on solid ground, back in Emerald City.
By the time we touched down, if Doc’s knees hadn’t been so wobbly, she would have knelt to kiss the tarmac. Instead, she walked it off, hands on hips.
With the wallabies, we watched a sparkling sunset with cocktails on One Tree Hill, then reminisced and marveled at the day’s worries and wonders, over an Italian dinner at Romano’s, where the service and food were both divinely delectable.
Sunday was what we really came for. The White on Whitehaven Long Lunch.
On the first day of the long lunch, the Saturday had had perfect weather – of course. Television and sporting celebrities had attended Whitehaven and were not only kissed by the Gods of Celebrity and Fame but also by the Gods of Sunshine.
As with all women who have experienced heartache, joy, childbirth or friendship, and had learnt to score under-8’s cricket, we were already legendary; we’d been gifted with infamy, but we were not gifted sunshine that day. The forecast was instead, for windy seas with thirty percent chance of rain.
Like the Wicked Witch had flown in from the west, the wind whipped up dark clouds like flying monkeys over Emerald City, churning up the Whitsunday oceans. When we boarded the water taxi, wind and wave swell were working together to form treacherous seas. I’d only ever known cozy journeys on timid barges that plodded their way to Fraser or Straddie.
Our taxi’s skipper was as jovial and blasé as Captain Pugwash; I was waiting for him to accuse us of being, ‘lolloping landlubbers’! As the swell pummeled us from side to side, our little water taxi came bursting over the tops of colossal waves, and then crashing down the other side of them. Captain Pugwash rated the ocean’s anger that day, 7 out of 10. I thought his scale needed recalibrating. The sea was so rough, a bolt came loose from the frame of an overhead canopy and came crashing down on BC’s head, which left a sizable egg. Captain Pugwash assessed the situation, attempting to find the missing bolt while our water taxi drifted sideways on the swell. It created a moment of panic, which ended in Sparky yelling at the captain, ‘you just drive the boat, I’ll hold the broken bit!’ Our puce-green gills hummed in agreeance as the boat lilted further and we tried our damnedest to resist curling up in the foetal position.
While I was determined to keep my glassy eyes on the horizon of the Whitsunday islands, Darlene kept nagging. ‘You might be able to see land, but you’ll never swim that far’.
‘Shut ya face Darlene!’
Once we were in the bay, Whitehaven was stunning, even in sprinkling rain. White sand, against a turquoise ocean. Our lady-hats protected hairdos from the drizzle, while we waited for lunch to start.
And start it did.
Boatloads arrived, ferrying passengers, dressed in white finery, jeweled and barefoot, but Whitehaven had become Wet-haven, and the manners of those who should know better, became as damp as the tablecloths.
As rain pelted, skirts were picked up, but courtesies were abandoned. The entitled masses whinged and whined, and snatched at food and drinks, scurrying back to pop-up tents that were now weighed down by rainwater.
Patrons became hostile over mojito’s as grown men grabbed at freshly shucked oysters. The refined grew more grotesque as the rain fell – some grew warts, youthful skin began to sag, and graceful bodies and smiles faded and morphed from human to inhuman.
The Hammo 7 were not buying into the ugliness. We’d come a long way, we’d escaped death three times in two days, and nothing was going to kill our vibe. So, we laughed loudly, we shared, we ate, we created cheer, and we became more beautiful for it. We came for an amazing time, and we made sure we got it, despite the weather.
Boarding the water taxi for our trip home, was not as easy as our disembark, which had been as simple as sitting starboard side at the bow and jumping into ankle-deep ocean. (I was getting the hang of the boaty talk.)
Boarding from the beach meant using Captain Pugwash’s knee as a launching pad to hoist ourselves up and into the bow of the boat, again from starboard side.
There are so many micro-stories to tell, about how the Hammo 7 managed to get into that water taxi. Every story though, mostly involved lots of falling, cackling, falling again, taking running leaps, cackling, flashing nickers, and falling some more. I don’t know how, but we all managed to get on board, some of us clambering from the bow, some from the stern. I grazed my knee, peed a little, and cried with laughter. But not before Doc pushed some of her sea-sick tablets.
Before my Hammo trip, I was afraid of exercise, heights, and the ocean. I’m still afraid of exercise, heights, and the ocean, but now I have a story.
A primary school teacher said to me once, ‘You’re a clever girl Kim, why can’t you do this?’ Which was the dumbest thing to say to an 11-year-old who couldn’t get her little legs over the high-jump bar. Exercise became my nemesis and I avoided physical activity from that day, with perfectly timed periods when the sports carnival came around. What I didn’t know back then was, it didn’t matter if I couldn’t get my legs over the high-jump bar. What mattered, was the tribe who were holding the bar for me.
I’ve written before, that you can’t do epic things with ordinary people. My tribe, the Hammo 7, are no ordinary people. Like Lord of the Rings, the Hammo 7 had conquered the trilogy: Passage Peak, Heart Reef and Whitehaven. It was an epic adventure. One in, all in.