Two weeks on Yunbenun

The Emerging Artist and I have fled the winter in Sydney (which some people are beginning to call Eora, but I’ll wait to see on whose say-so before doing that myself) to spend two weeks on Yunbenun (aka Magnetic Island) in the tropics.

In the taxi to the ferry, the EA asked our friendly driver if he’d live in Townsville long. ‘I’ve lived here all my life,’ he said. ‘It’s my land.’ He is a Wulgurukaba man. Let me start this blog post by acknowledging the Wulgurukaba and Bindal peoples, both with substantial claims to be traditional owners of the land where I have been holidaying, and made welcome.

We’ve been here a little over a week now, with a little less than a week to go. We’ve both been laid low with viral infections, the kind that come with grandparenting territory. We’re less sick now than when we arrived, but still coughing and spluttering quite a bit. Still, we’ve managed to go on some reasonably demanding walks – classified as moderate, but entailing fairly prolonged uphill climbs and including some spectacular views of the Coral Sea. We’ve been entertained by legion kookaburras, curlews, koels and currawongs, and admired the cuteness of rock wallabies. Koalas are yet to make themselves visible to us, but we’re confident that will happen. Our Air BnB host is friendly and very interesting – a marine scientist who is a rich source of information about the sea around us. He was able to reassure me that I needn’t have scrambled for the shore when a stingray came swimming straight for me when I ventured into the water.

Our usual experience is to arrive at a holiday destination and discover that a really interesting festival or event has just finished. This time is an exception. Quite without planning, our visit coincided with the North Australian Festival of Arts, and we spent the weekend on the mainland to participate. We were too crook on Saturday night to use our tickets to Tom Gleeson’s show in the May Wirth (a tent in the Queen’s Garden, named for one of Australia’s outstanding circus performers), but we walked the length of the Strand a number of times, taking in Strand Ephemera 2019, billed as North Queensland’s sculpture festival.

As in Sydney’s Sculpture by the Sea, the sculptures are displayed in a stunning natural environment, and have tremendous appeal for whole families. Here are some photos taken by the Emerging Artist: a weaving and ceramics tableau by the students at St Patrick’s College for girls (a video of the making of it here); an archipelago of caged gnomes painted variously in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander colours, LGBTQI symbols, etc; a car tyre pierced by the handles of hundreds of souvenir teaspoons; 200 coconuts, some of them sprouting, painted with Pacific designs; a string bag representative of the traditional people of Western Cape York, but huge and made from industrial materials; coral sculpted in sugar, beautiful and also emblematic of environmental disaster; bamboo pipes played gently by the wind; what one boy called a pillow fort and I thought of as a defended place to dream. And much more that we didn’t photograph.

And this afternoon, at the Mary Who? Bookshop, David Malouf read to an audience of abut 50 people. It’s hard to imagine that the Tom Gleeson show that we’d missed could have given as much joy as this. David is a brilliant reader of his own poetry, and framed his selection beautifully today. He spoke of three stages: the experience that a poem draws on; the writing of the poem, which often happens many years after the experience; and, if the poet lives long enough, reading the poems many years after it was written. He began with The Year of the Foxes, a poem about a childhood memory written in 1965, and ended with Seven Last Words of the Emperor Hadrian, which has to be one of the most cheerful death-anticipating poems ever written (which made wet stuff run down my cheeks anyhow). When the Emerging Artist and I arrived, we commented that the age of the people gathered in the shop was generally well over 60: it was sweet, therefore, that David Malouf several times felt he had to explain a reference because most of his audience wouldn’t be old enough to recognise it. (He’s 85!)

Now for another week of health-restoring warmth, about which I may or may not blog.

10 responses to “Two weeks on Yunbenun

  1. Bravo, Brava – to you both – report from the Far North Warmth! And the sculptural artworks and other festival encounters – and David Malouf! Was he one of your lecturers, too, at UoSydney? Get better – last October Christine and I were in the throes of week-lasting similar coughing and spluttering while visiting Port Douglas – down to your beautiful town – you might recall my comments.

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    • I do remember, Jim. If one has to cough and splutter, these are teh latitudes to do it in. Yes, David lectured in Jacobean drama in my days as an undergraduate, and was completely spellbinding.

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  2. I’m glad to hear you’re on the mend…

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  3. Oh, I didn’t recognise Yunbenun in your title. My bad. I have Yunbenun/Magnetic Island in my sights for a trip one day. Which Bay are you staying at, or near? I spent two holidays on the island in my youth, when my family lived in Mount Isa, once with an outback children’s holiday organisation (whose name escapes my now) and once with my family. I bet it is very different now, but I have some vivd memories of those holidays – including, on that children’s trip, going on koala hunt walks!

    My Mum was born in Townsville, but I haven’t actually spent much time there. I have though heard David Malouf in person (which I’m guessing you have too) and found him wonderful. He has such grace and dignity without being stuffy.

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    • About Yunbenun, Sue: I just happened to begin my blog post in front of the only lace I’ve seen the name featured, at the ferry terminal in Townsville, and felt compelled to use it because otherwise there’s a striking dearth of information about the Indigenous history of these parts. Even the Museum, which has a really splendid exhibition from the archaeological exploration of the ship Pandora, has one tiny vitrine with a handful of poorly identified artefacts.
      We’re staying at Nelly Bay, a short walk from the ferry, but with lots of walks in every direction, and pretty regular buses. Given the way other tourist places have changed over recent decades, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by Magnetic Is. There are a lot of cars, but it still has a wonderfully hospitable feel, and a couple of major developments that were underway were laid low by the GFC, for which I think we should be grateful.
      ‘Grace and dignity’ is very apt for David M: he’s probably be embarrassed to hear this, but he’s a model to me of how to grow old.

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  4. BTW Hope you feel better soon.

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