Poignant Parkes – an unexpected visit

Parkes Champion Post

 

Our travels have taken us from Caboolture to Goondiwindi, on a particularly hot day. We were grateful to be in the Legend, with outside temperatures peaking around 38 degrees. Climbing over the Great Dividing Range into Toowoomba was rather an experience, with a steep 10 degree incline sustained for a few kilometres. Before beginning the ascent we saw one vehicle towing a caravan, already overheated (or worse) bonnet up and water running everywhere underneath the car. As we climbed, we saw no less than five other cars, pulled over, bonnets up, and frustrated drivers and passengers making phone calls for assistance. The steep climb was one thing, but add the extreme heat, and cars simply didn’t cope. We pulled over at one stage, as the Legend was running a bit warm, though within normal specs. Most people would have pulled over and switched off their cars, but as Paul explained to us, that is the worst thing you can do, as it removes the car’s built in cooling mechanisms from the equation.

We arrived into Goondiwindi  mid afternoon and were greeted by the adorable Lynne and Stephen at the lovely Goondiwindi Top Tourist Park. They had set aside more than one site for us, though we did contain ourselves to one out of respect! They had highly recommended the Chinese restaurant in town, and we took advantage of this, rather than try and cook in the heat. Kirstine ventured into the pool for a few minutes of peace and quiet, and the brisk waters were invigorating. There is something about floating in water that calms the screaming in your mind sometimes when you are stressed.

The heat made it a difficult night for sleeping, even though we stayed up later to watch the possums run around the park. The people camped behind us must have decided to get a head start on the day, and started packing up at 5.45am!!

Our next day’s drive was shorter and we arrived in Narrabri just after lunch. The Narrabri Highway Tourist Village gave us a lovely grassy site, and we took advantage of the laundry and pool facilities. Kirstine had an interesting chat with a man who had met a gentleman in Kununurra, and was working on assistance dogs for returned servicemen. He shared stories about his son in law, a serving member, and the difficulties faced by military personnel returning from active service. He suggested that we get in contact with RSL Clubs as we plan the next stage of our travel, and this was a wonderful idea!

Our destination the next morning was to be Dubbo, and we were more than a little peeved to arrive at our intended destination and find that they had given our site away. Communication break downs are one thing, but the attitude of the front desk lady was very dismissive and non-apologetic, which incensed us further, though we didn’t make a scene about it. Unable to find other local accommodation, we decided to keep driving to Parkes, having contacted the Spicer Caravan Park and been told that they would make room for us if necessary.

This sudden change in plans, and the poor attitude of the woman we dealt with at the caravan park at Dubbo, really upset Paul, and it took him the time travelled to Parkes to calm back down again.

As seems to be the case, stopping in Parkes was a blessing in disguise. Brad and Cheryl have only taken over the caravan park six weeks ago, and were very happy to give us a site for the night. Not only do they know of young people who have taken their lives, their extended family has been touched by immeasurable sorrow. Suffice to say, hugs were shared and tears shed as we spoke. They are beautiful people, and our anger at having to move on from Dubbo evaporated.

Once camp was set up, the kids played on the sports oval, and Paul let Erik fly the DJI Mavic Pro for the first time. We invited a lady to join us, as her dogs got to know Luna, and we chatted for over half an hour, about our trip, and her journey with anxiety. She acknowledged that so many people don’t understand it, which makes life very difficult. This lady had recently ended a marriage to a man with untreated depression, as he turned his own anger and discomfort towards her. Eventually she had had enough, and has had treatment for her condition as she moves on in life.

Kirstine cooked tea on the bbq, and shared the cook top with a gentleman who had two delicious looking scotch fillets to prepare. They didn’t take up much space – no point heating up another bbq! We spoke at length about our travels, and the purpose for which we are travelling. Only as he finished cooking his steak, did he share that they had lost one daughter in an accident, and their other daughter became suicidal as a result of losing her sibling and best friend. Thankfully, she is improving. Her parents rallied around her, though some family couldn’t deal with her emotions and stepped back. Kirstine asked how the gentleman and his wife are coping. He replied that they had had a tough couple of years, and they are doing  better, though it never goes away. Tears in his eyes, he touched Kirstine’s arm and told her that what we are doing is very important and to keep going.

Tea was a subdued and quiet that night, with Paul and Kirstine mentally exhausted by the drive, the sudden change of plans, and the emotionally charged discussions we had during the course of the afternoon and evening.

We hadn’t planned on stopping in Parkes, and have yet to plan our return through regional/rural NSW. We heard in Narrabri and Parkes that talking about mental health and suicide prevention is needed.

We hear you, and we’ll be back, ready to listen and help others to talk.

 

Flashes of Light and Death

The Bruce Highway is probably our least favourite stretch of road so far in this journey. There are infrequent overtaking lanes, and impatient drivers who risk it all to pass one vehicle in the face of oncoming traffic. Add Queensland school holidays into the mix, and it’s a recipe for stress and anxiety. We were tuned into the UHF, and heard the frustrations of truck drivers who had near-misses (a total misnomer by the way – near miss = hit!), with vehicles, some towing caravans. Kirstine was a stressed co-driver, and Paul was the ultimate “defensive driver”, keeping us all safe. As a result he was exhausted when we got to Caboolture, where the Caboolture River Caravan Park had offered us a powered site for two nights. We were also trying to get in ahead of predicted storm weather, so it wasn’t a surprise when Tina welcomed us, and simultaneously told us of the severe thunderstorm warning issued for the area.

We got to our site, right next to the camp kitchen, and waited out a few giant rain drops falling in succession as we pondered placement of camper and tents. A break in the precipitation sent us out at full speed to set up the camper and awning. We have the camper down to a fine art, and we even had most of the awning set up before the rain started again in earnest. We weren’t bothered, Tina was looking forward to the rain, and we know first hand how dry the country is in Queensland. Propping up the awning with the poles, the rain pelted against the canvas, rinsing out the dust from weeks of travel.

The involuntary physical response to a close-proximity lightning strike, seems amusing in retrospect. Lightning struck a light pole fixed to the top of the camp kitchen, less than 5m from us, while Paul had hold of one of the awning poles. He ducked and covered, and nearly hyperventilated from the shock. One of the kids also felt a tingle in their palm at the time, so close was the strike. We decided to wait for a break in the weather to finalise the awning. No-one wanted to be out from undercover at that point, as the storm continued to brew above us.

We grabbed the walls for the awning and put them into place, pegging them in in record time. A second lightning strike to the SAME pole on the camp kitchen, put an end to our set up, and we decided that the kids were going to be sleeping in the camper with us. No way were we going to put up the two two-man tents in those crazy conditions.

Trying to communicate in heavy rain is frustratingly hilarious – yelling to make yourself heard one meter away is just crazy. The kids chowed down on a late lunch, and Paul & Kirstine sat under the awning and watched the rain pour down in torrential quantities, causing us to lift our feet onto tubs to stop them getting soaked as the stream ran through the space under the awning. It was fantastic, crazy and the epitome of elemental power. By far the best entertainment! Paul was still coming to terms with his brush with lightning, becoming introspective as we focussed on the rainfall.

That night, nearly asleep, a thump outside Kirstine’s window woke us. The rain had pooled in a corner of the awning, and caused two poles to collapse. Shoving a huge canvas pocket of water outwards was rather fun, but with the Velcro of the main pole already wet, we ended up having to do this again before the storm abated.

Hailstones pelted the camper and Legend, and Paul ducked outside to try and protect the windscreen from errant balls of ice. The canvas roof of the camper showed the dents from multiple hailstones, and we crossed everything that there would be no lasting damage.

Crossed fingers did the trick in our case – we emerged into the sunshine of the next day, unscathed. It was a wild and crazy ride, and made for great storytelling as we picked up our eldest son from the airport the next morning, as he joins us for the next week of our journey. The water dragons sunbathing have already made an impression, and his eyes nearly bugged from their sockets as he surveyed the river near our campsite, and digested the fact that there are bull sharks lazing in there. Oh the stories we have to share with him!

A location too spectacular to share

We’re foregoing the usual alliteration in our blog titles, in fact, we don’t even want to tell you where we were. Nope, we want to keep it all to ourselves.

What’s that you said? You promise not to tell anyone else where this place is?  Can we trust you?

Well, if you swear to keep the secret …

A visit to Mon Repos, just outside Bundaberg, is a must. The Turtle Discovery Centre is fascinating, and the boardwalks out to the beach where the loggerhead turtles come to lay in the summer, are lovely. The kids were disappointed not to find turtles on the beach, but still had the memory of seeing them in the waves at Cape York!

Half an hour from Bundaberg you’ll find Woodgate. It’s an unassuming little place, surrounded (hidden) by national park, and home to the Woodgate Beach Tourist Park. Kirsty had offered us a powered site for a night, and was very excited to see us when we arrived. She allocated us a site between the camp kitchen and amenities block – ideal for us! We set up the camper and then decided to go for a drive to explore the area. This stretch of beach is rated as one of the most beautiful, but with such a small population in Woodgate, there are no crowds. Plenty of beach for everyone!

We had the drone with us, and drove to Theodolite Creek to see if we could find a good location for Paul to fly. The weather conditions were perfect, bar some gusts of wind which kept the heat at bay. Pulling up at the day use area, we found toilets and picnic tables, and some families had set up for the day out on the beach with its extremely low tide. The tide left shallow pools and running creeks safe for kids to paddle in. This was incredibly inviting, but then we saw a narrow path leading through the bush away from that beach, and decided to follow it.

That was the best thing we could have done! We stumbled onto an off leash area, on a MASSIVE tidal flat, interlaced with the same shallow pools and streams we had seen earlier. Our jaws dropped, the kids squealed, and Luna was eager to run for the first time in nearly a month. Paul gave the command to sit and wait, and unlatched her leash. She was quivering with excitement, and when he gave her the command to run, Luna took off barking and squealing, running laps around the children and splashing into the water like a child. Having been in croc/stinger/1080 country for weeks, we’d kept a tight rein on Paul’s canine saviour to keep her safe.

The kids ran off to explore the rock pools, finding tiny hermit crabs everywhere, Kirstine strolled along with them, DSLR over her shoulder, Paul found a spot to set up to fly the drone, and Luna ran non-stop laps between all of us! Paul flew the drone a total of 3km while we were there, and Luna probably ran 10!

We hadn’t been expecting to find this spot, and were woefully unprepared – no swimmers! It didn’t stop us wading through the sun warmed pools of water, at least 500m from the actual surf. We stayed for over an hour, but could have spent a day!

Eventually back at camp, the kids played with some younger children from a neighbouring camp, and the next morning these littlies were waiting for our kids to wake up so they could play again! Their mum joked that we’d better do a headcount before we left camp, as we were likely to have an additional three girls in the car with us!

We thanked Kirsty and told her that we’d definitely have to come back for a holiday. Woodgate will never be a busy resort town like Airlie Beach. There’s no ritzy shops, take away food chains or high rise buildings. It’s a quiet beach side town, and perfect for a family holiday spent riding bikes, exploring  the walking trails or beach. As you can tell, we didn’t enjoy ourselves at all, and you shouldn’t go. We’ll go on your behalf, taking one for the collective team 😛

Grateful in Gladstone

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What? I’m comfy!!
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Luna enjoys some attention from the Triple M ladies!
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Driving Oz with the Black Dog meets the Cub Club!
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Ken presents Paul with the awesome air compressor
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Ken from Gladstone Nissan
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Brent from Opposite Lock Gladstone

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We spent a night in a cabin, thanks to Poinciana Tourist Park in Yeppoon. It was nice to have air conditioning, TV and our own bathroom! Every so often it is a real treat to not have to set up camp, and just relax in a room instead.

The next morning was our earliest start for a while. The alarm ringing at 5.45am was not a welcome sound, but we needed to be out and on the road just after seven, and Paul also had an interview to do over the phone with Triple M Central Queensland just before leaving. We jumped in the Legend and headed through Rockhampton towards Gladstone, where the Nissan dealership had organised a meet and greet. The roadworks we encountered were unexpected and caused us a bit of stress – we don’t like being late for anything! Through the magic of Facebook messaging, we were able to let people know that we were going to be delayed, which made us feel a bit better. It was great to hear the interview played on the radio while we were on the road though!

We arrived in Gladstone, and were met by Errol & Ken from Nissan, ladies from Triple M (who brought a bag of goodies for the kids), and Stephen & Debbie Mills, who run the Cub Club for Cub Campers owners. What a great welcoming party! It was just great chatting with everyone about the Legend, the Cub, the Cape, and of course, our Cause, and Luna didn’t appreciate the scratches and pats at all .. hehe. Anita from Channel 7 news in Gladstone turned up too, and it was a very busy time! Ken gave us the very impressive air compressor, which Nissan and Opposite Lock teamed up to provide. He also wanted to give us a chicken, which had randomly turned up next to the Legend and was entertaining the children, but we figured that Luna may not want to share the limelight she is currently enjoying, so Ken decided to try and find its real owner instead.

After leaving Nissan, we popped in to see Brent at Opposite Lock, who hadn’t been able to make it to the meet and greet. We wanted to say thanks in person, for contributing to the compressor for our trip. We do love looking at 4WD stores, and have had our eye out for a sand flag for some of our outback travel. When we asked Brent for a price, we were shocked when he handed us the one from the shop floor – even more support! He’s a good bloke, and we were really pleased to hear that business has been good for him. He had been so busy that he couldn’t leave the shop, so that made our short visit even more important.

We grabbed lunch, and stopped briefly to see Stephen and Debbie to get a sticker for the Cub. He’s made us Honourary Members of the Cub Club! We are super touched by this gesture, and promised to give any other Club members we encounter, some cheek on his behalf.

It was another couple of hours to Bargara, near Bundaberg, for our stopover. The Bargara Beach Caravan Park had offered us a powered site for the night, and we were so completely drained when we got there. It was an excellent sized site, and near the camp kitchen and amenities. We always appreciate that, taking into account the kids!

Aside from the early start, it was such a huge day – radio interview, meeting and greeting, new sponsors, tv interview, and many discussions. Gladstone has had suicides and mental health problems, prominently affecting first responders and also farmers suffering with the drought. It’s been a warm dry winter in Queensland, and they are hoping fervently for good rain before summer arrives. With the picturesque beaches and scenery, it’s easy to forget that most of the state of Queensland is drought declared. The old tourism slogan, “Queensland – beautiful one day, perfect the next”, now seems so shallow when you consider that the definition of “perfection” can be subjective to those whose living is reliant on enough wet stuff falling from the sky to make crops grow and keep stock alive. We are grateful for the support we received in Gladstone, and though we can’t make drought breaking rain fall over the state, we can continue to highlight the strain that farmers are under, and remind everyone to check in on your friends and family. If you’re worried about them or haven’t heard from them for a while, go and lump on their doorstep with a packet of bickies, and tell them to put the kettle on. In this world of impersonal social media and technology, the personal touch could make the world of difference to someone you care about.

Meaningful Mackay

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“Oh my gosh, that’s US on that sign!!” was the exclamation as we drove past The Leap Hotel towards Mackay. We’d heard that there was a sign advertising our visit, and it was strange but thrilling to see our event advertised for the following day.

We were on a high then for the rest of the day, and zoomed through set up at the Big 4 Mackay Marine holiday park. Ilona had given us a large corner site, and we even had a key to an ensuite! That was a fantastic surprise for us all. The kids noticed the waterslide and water park straightaway, and kept asking if it was Monday yet, so they could go and enjoy the free pancake breakfast in the camp kitchen!

Nerves were running high as we drove back out to The Leap on Sunday morning. Luna kept nudging Paul’s elbow and arm while he was driving, sensing that his anxiety was on the rise.

The Leap is named after an historical event which happened at the top of Mount Mandarana. “As legend has it, in 1867 settlers decided they’d had enough of local Aborigines spearing their cattle for food. One raid in particular caused so much consternation among the farmers that matters came to a head and police got involved. The troopers tracked the natives to the top of the mountain that looms where the hotel stands today,” says the history. “From high up near the clouds, a tribeswoman named Kowaha reportedly hurled herself from the sheer cliff face, rather than surrender to authorities. With her baby in her embrace, she leapt from Mt Mandarana and fell to her death far, far below. Incredible as it may seem, the baby girl survived her and was taken into care by the wife of a trooper. The Leap Baby, as she came to be known, remained in the district until her death in 1928. Since that fateful day of confrontation the area has become known simply as ‘The Leap’, a place where visitors come to learn of and ponder about the mysteries surrounding events in Mackay’s heart-rending past.”

The Leap Community Club, through their representative Kayleen, had been in contact with us for some time about doing some fundraising for us when we came to visit. It was wonderful to meet her in person! Her husband, Chris, manned the barbeque for the sausage sizzle, with Kayleen and Jenny on salads and raffles duty. It’s a busy place on a lovely sunny Sunday! Luna attracted the attention of a motorcyclist who’d stopped in at the hotel as part of a club ride. We chatted with Bryce for quite a while, as the kids made repeat visits to the bbq for more sausages. Bryce is extremely personable, and our conversation touched on many topics – animals, assistance dogs, mental health, peer support, management styles. He gave us his business card and offered to see if there was anything he could do to source a newer laptop to replace our old one whose battery has failed. Even better, Bryce then went a bought a sausage in bread before rejoining his club on the ride.

Kayleen presented us with a donation of $500 for our charities, achieved through raffles and the sausage sizzles. We were blown away by their generosity! It was a lovely couple of hours spent on the verandah of this historic building. If you are headed to Mackay, please drop in at The Leap Hotel and say hello from us!

We had become quite stressed by the creeping failure of our remaining laptop, now only functioning when plugged in to mains power. Repeated attempts to source a replacement had been fruitless and frustrating. Imagine our surprise when we answered a call on Monday morning from Bryce, who told us that he had organised a refurbished laptop from his workplace at the North Queensland Bulk Handling Ports Corporation (NQBP)! All before he’d finished his first coffee! After a quick catch up session with Kirstine’s aunt, we met with Bryce, or rather, Captain Bryce, at the NQBP. This lovely and modest man is responsible for bringing in cargo ships to the Port of Mackay, taking control of the navigation after flying out to the ships by helicopter. Our jaws dropped, but Bryce assured us it wasn’t so glamourous at 2 o’clock in the morning when called out!

Everyone at NQBP was so friendly and welcoming, and it was a lovely visit. Photos were taken, we admired the marina views from one of the conference rooms, looked at amazing aerial shots of the area, and the kids were given a stash of biscuits to take home. We still can’t believe that this happened after a chance meeting at the Leap Hotel at the fundraiser!

Out grocery shopping later, we had an email from Harvey Norman in Mackay, who had responded to a request Paul had sent before we arrived in town. The manager, Adam, had offered a substantial discount on a high end laptop capable of running the video editing software that Videocraft provided us. We had a limited budget, and the donation from the Rotary Club of Mount Isa, and were able to leave the store with a machine which Paul can now view and edit the 4K production quality footage that we have recorded but not been able to watch! Our sincere thanks to Adam, Emma and Cassie for their patience and support.

Our visit was topped off by Paul interviewing with ABC Tropical North radio as we packed up camp this morning. Meech was very interested in the book that we will be writing, and asked if Mackay will be getting a mention. We can guarantee it certainly will! Of course, now Paul can edit footage from the DJI Mavic Pro and our Videocraft equipment on his own laptop, while Kirstine takes care of the written work on hers from NQBP.

We feel incredibly blessed and grateful to our sponsors and supporters in Mackay. We had meaningful conversations with locals, who’ve all been touched in some way by mental illness, and our trip has resonated with them. Thank you Mackay!

Positivity in pensive Proserpine

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**** TRIGGER WARNING – natural disasters ****

 

Suicide numbers have risen in Proserpine and the surrounding area following Cyclone Debbie in March this year. The world has been so focussed on Hurricane Irma and events overseas, that we have already forgotten that our own beautiful Whitsunday region was ravaged and is still not recovered. Residents were left with damaged homes & businesses, work places were also affected and so the financial repercussions of the most dangerous storm since Cyclone Yasi (remember banana prices??) were compounded. Some have homes but are not allowed to live in them till repaired, and are paying the eye-watering prices for rentals charged by owners whose vision is solely comprised of dollar signs.

During our brief stay in Proserpine, we saw countless tarps over rooves and buildings, some businesses closed, others with chalkboards out stating that they are still “recovering from Cyclone Debbie”, and are trying to trade with as much normality as possible.

Rod Grittner Nissan serviced the Legend for us while we were there, and Anne was herself a Legend in organising everything at short notice. She and Liz were happy we’d come to be seen in town, as they know there have been more locals take their lives as the effects of Debbie continue to drag on. Their own building was damaged and needs to be rebuilt. They, too, are still waiting.

We took a drive to Airlie Beach and Shute Harbour, and were delighted to see that the Lagoon had opened again in the last couple of days. The journalist we met with, told us that it meant that the businesses nearby were feeling hopeful again – there were actually people walking down the street – possible customers! Some insurance companies appear to be dragging their feet, some residents haven’t even seen assessors yet, others have had their insurance companies claim that they were “underinsured” and therefore offer to pay only a percentage of the costs to repair/rebuild. It was so infuriating for us to hear this. Paul has had a lot of experience with natural disasters, and understands the trauma that comes not only from the event, but the drawn out recovery process. It’s no wonder that the community’s mental health has taken a hit in the last few months.

It was truly inspirational then to meet Joy at Gunna Go Caravan Park, just outside Prossy. Joy and her family had donated a powered site to us for our stay, and it was just lovely being there. Whilst their park sustained damage in the cyclone, Joy is steadfastly moving forward and wanting to put the storm behind them and focus on their business. The kids loved the showers because there were plenty of hooks low enough for them to hang up their toiletry bags, clothes and towels. The undercover area is a wonderful place to sit and relax during the day, and between 4-6pm becomes a licensed bar for guests and locals. Paul even met a man who was working in Queensland, but was from the same suburb and street that Paul used to live in once!

We watched a possum walk a tightrope over our heads on a powerline, and the cane fields aflame at night, the orange glow visible from our camper. Though the Proserpine River area has a large population of crocodiles, we are yet to see one of them!

The damage to primary and tourism industries in the Whitsundays was severe, but they are fighting back. Joy lives up to her wonderful name, and epitomises the fighting spirit in the region. They are sticking together, moving forward, and determined to put Cyclone Debbie firmly in the history books.

To save the region, the lives and livelihoods of Proserpine and the Whitsunday area, VISIT, drive through and buy a coffee or some groceries, or even better, STAY at a local caravan park (don’t haggle on price), and let’s hope the cane harvest is bountiful!

Taking in Townsville

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If you are in need of fuel in Cairns, go to the BP at Earlville. Troy is a customer service gem, and he can keep his cool when it’s busy and he’s the only staff member there!

It’s a pretty drive down to Townsville from Cairns, back in banana and sugar cane country again. As we were going back through Innisfail, we had to stop and get some of those sweet bananas again. This time Kirstine also spotted a stand for sugar cane juice nearby, so walked back to investigate. The vendor told her that the sugars in the cane juice are unprocessed, and therefore better for you. She added fresh lime juice to cut through the sweetness, and it is now one of Kirstine’s favourite refreshing beverages – not that you can find it very often! The machine used to squeeze the juice from the hard green cane looked incredibly vicious, not a juicer that you might find in your kitchen or local café. This one had toothed rollers, and seemingly no gap in between them. They were incredibly effective though – you certainly wouldn’t put a finger in there. The kids had a taste of the juice, but the vendor also sent me on my way with some pieces of cane for the kids to chew/suck on. That was a new experience for them!

We were very happy to arrive in Townsville and meet the staff at the Coral Coast Top Holiday Park. Marijke is a delight, and made us feel very welcome. They generously provided us with a powered site for the duration of our stay. There is a small resident possum family at the park, and that night Marijke brought the children some apple slices and carrot to put out at the tree they like to hang out in, just behind our camper. Whilst the children were in bed when the possums came out, Kirstine was still up and about, and was pleasantly surprised to be able to handfeed both mama & baby possum. Granted, mama possum mistook her finger for a piece of apple and gave it a nibble, but soon realised the error when the real apple was offered.

We ventured up Castle Hill, not on foot, and enjoyed the views, and were most amused to get back in the car and be listening to “Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran on the way back down! Paul was having a difficult afternoon with flashbacks to recent nightmares and past events, so it was a quiet afternoon for him and Luna. Kirstine took the kids to visit a long time friend, and our kids got along famously! It’s like they’d known each other for years!

Before leaving, we were invited to an interview with ABC North Queensland radio. That one went live to air, which was a first for Kirstine. It was wonderful to be so warmly received.

Townsville has several groups that are focussing on suicide prevention, and though their calendars didn’t align with ours, we find it very positive to follow their activity on Facebook. The fact that we had a total of three caravan parks offer us a site while we visited, is indicative in our opinion, of the strong community drive towards better mental health for their residents.