I escaped last weekend.
I finally got out of the city.
I ran away to a place I love, only for a short while but a while nonetheless.
A place I love for so many reasons.
It’s not a place I can drive to, leaving me entirely at the mercy of the winds, the ocean’s rough love and a clanking ferry.
There is both so much and so little to do there.
There are few working, moving cars on the island but an abundant graveyard of rusted, long abandoned vehicles left by god knows who. For most visitors, a bicycle is the only way of getting about.
The place governs itself – no police and no attachment to local council – only a bunch of decrepit signs feigning slapdash rules that have no one to enforce them.
The land is baron, filled with bushy trees, rugged salty mangroves and rough, uninviting shores washed up with fish bones, stale seaweed and pebbles that dig into your feet and connect you with the ground in a way far beyond any conventional beauty I know.
There are more wild birds than there are people. Maybe even more wild koalas than people who live on the island full time. And those that do are all but a little magically mad. There’s a general store lady that skins cats and zips around in her beat-up car like the witch from the Wizard of Oz, running between the pier to hire out bikes and the general store to serve the local community.
The cable ties attached to the top of the rented helmets are testament to the madness. “They’ll keep the flies away,” she said with a voice so serious I almost believe her for a second. At least until we take to the roads and memories of the ferocious march flies flood us; her cable tie antlers crumbling with defeat.
There’s the cricket team, who seem to drive much of the action on the island. And then there’s the lovely, kooky old Lois – a third generation islander, who runs a tight ship over at the Chicory Kilns. Her vintage bus hauls tourist groups around the island for native wildlife tours and all the island’s hidden gems. Her large acreage farm is one of them, presenting like a scene from Underland. Random farm animals roam free amongst a junkyard museum of untouched trash and treasure, years and years of dust layer the surfaces. It’s breathtaking, not for its beauty but for how wonderfully bizarre it is.
I wonder if one day my house will look like this, a preserved junkyard. I have a hoarder’s heart, the hoarder blood in my gene pool, passed through the veins from my grandfather.
We camp by the dam on the Eco Inn. The owner, Phil, makes us feel right at home, picking us up from the ferry, riding over the rickety wooden planks of the pier. He remembers us from last time, us the bag ladies.
I let my son roam free here and watch with content as he marvels at the low-slung and heavy-set koalas in the trees right by our tents. He runs laps of the dam, collecting his own little treasures along the way – branches, bones, stones and feathers. He remembers this place as fondly as I do – the magical hues of the sunset, the roads he can roam, the dog named Sammy and the rustic, run down campervan still resting by the dam and inhabited only by giant tarantulas.
He begs us to start another campfire, remembering his Aunties sending him on stick collecting missions last time and the scathing heat of the fire by his face. The heat stops us this time and we make promises to come back here on cooler days.
We fall asleep under the stars, my son so deeply that he misses the vicious sounds of the koalas fornicating. I do not miss a trick – not the koalas, not the cicadas and the buzz of the mosquitoes – I hear it all in the dark of the night.
We wake with the squawking birds and tiptoe from our tents, careful not to wake the sisterhood asleep in tents nearby. My son and I wander down to the shore, scrunching seaweed between our toes and collecting more – more bones, more shells, more sticks and more stones.
We wander back to the sisterhood, awakening slowly for the day. The sun is hot.
On our second day we put on our antlers, jump on our bikes and ride 20k. The flies make us angry and there are no brown snakes slithering across the pebbly, dusty roads this time. We ride to the General Store. I see a ‘For Sale’ sign in the window and get lost in the daydream of owning it, of living here on the island, my own little retreat. My daydream takes away the edge of the march flies and we trudge on, peddling to the map all the way to the Chicory Kilns where we lose ourselves again.
On the way home, my son gets fed up being on the kids’ seat at the back of the bike.
“My bum is numb,” he says, chuckling like a boy at the rhyming nature of bum and numb.
“Mine too,” I laugh out deliriously.
He dismounts and runs the last 2k back to our campsite, his antlers flinging from side to side as he runs. The madness of the island is infectious. We feel right at home.
In the evening, we curl up in the comfort of Phil’s lodge. We drink wine and celebrate the sisterhood and the sharing of this time in a place like this, young man by my side still reeling. And then we sleep, a little deeper and less focused on how rough the koala sex must be.
In the morning, we fend off the mosquitoes and eat from cans and barely-clean bowls that smell of pineapple body wash. We eat true camping tucker – tuna and beans and brown rice, vegemite on crackers, long life milk and muesli. The grass itches our ass, but we kick back on our pillows and let the sun wash over us.
We love our reality, but just as much love the way it’s completely irrelevant out here, maybe it doesn’t even exist. A part of me wishes the winds were so high and the ocean so rough that we were stuck on the island, out of our control, for another few days.
Our souls need the adventure, our souls need feeding. This place feeds it.
As I board the ferry back to the mainland, I tuck the memory in my pocket and bottle the spirited feeling it leaves inside of me. I will remember it for next time I need nourishing and a touch of baron madness.
And I will remember just how much I need this. Often.