Vidins in Mackay :: The Great Barrier Reef

20170925_121637Wonder. Amazement. Gratitude. Beauty. How can you sum up the Great Barrier Reef? Simply, you can’t.

We woke early to drive from Mackay to Airlie Beach, only to find the Bruce shrouded in a thick morning mist. Imagine – the temp is mid-to-high twenties, the road ghostly empty (yes, it’s too early for Grey Nomads). The sugarcane remains still in the soft morning air, craggy green mountains phase in and out of sight as the morning mist slowly beats across this northern land. Sugarcane train tracks lattice across the plains, like silver ribbon wrapped around a present of yellowgreen.

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Morning fog on the way to Airlie

Eight months ago, Cyclone Debbie ravaged this part of the coast. The cyclone has very much passed, Debbie’s destruction remains. Temporary fences surround properties from Proserpine, Cannonvale and Airlie Beach. Men in hi-vis workwear mule around the Port of Airlie awaiting their transport to various Whitsunday Islands, part of the reconstruction efforts. Despite the angry weather, the Whitsundays remain stoic, and forge ahead.

It takes three hours to get to Hart Reef, stopping at Hamilton Island. Sharing our horseshoe seat is a family from Shanghai and a mother and daughter from Melbourne. Both groups are spending the day at Hamilton, and we exchange stories from our respective homelands. My newfound friend from Shanghai goes by the name of Dennis, his wife and 3 year old daughter remain nameless but happy to smile during conversation. We talk about the beauty of north Queensland, and Dennis explains the official government policy of China was not to install heating in homes below a certain parallel. I ponder my privilege, wondering what it would be like living under communist rule, having a choice of how I heat my home dictated by government policy. The three year old wriggles like a fish and spills all our coffee, smiles abound when we share a wipe to clean it out. Our Melbourne friends wax lyrical about how wonderful Melbourne is, trying to make ‘4 seasons in one day’ sound like a good thing. I politely tell them that Brisbane is full and horrible, and never visit. Ever.

Our Chinese and Melbourne friends alight at Hamilton Island, and we are joined by a big family group who invite the kids to play Uno with them.

After a very quick three hours, we make it. We’ve arrived at the reef.

Blues and rich turquoise surrounds us. The sea is gentle, warm and inviting. We are encouraged to wear stinger suits. To the uninitiated, stinger suits primarily prevent being stung by one of the many nasties here on the reef. In all reality, they only look really good one one type of person, and sadly, I’m not one of them.

We suit up and Zoe is off! She is immediately immersed into a new world, loving every second of it. Eli takes considerable encouragement, but eventually he enjoys some time in the water. The fish – amazing. Hundreds, of all colours and shapes. Darting, floating, in schools and solo. The groper lazes around the edge of the reef, unperturbed by panicking scuba divers or underwater photographers. We spend hours in the water, marveling at the beauty under the surface.

The trip back to Airlie is just as relaxing. I perch on the upper deck, surrounded by sunshine and the gorgeous Whitsunday Islands. Yachts sway lazily, tourists rest back, basking in the glorious afternoon sun. The stoic islands stand beautifully in the bay of blue. I relish with the wind on my face and sun on my skin.

It’s almost impossible to describe the reef. The shades of blue. The schools of fish. The beauty. The solitude. We had a perfect day out on the reef, and the contrast with the recovering Airlie Beach couldn’t have been more stark. This beautiful tourist town, it’s main street a patchwork of open and boarded up shops. Bars slowly filling with an early evening crowd, boutiques, cafes and trees filled with fairy lights dot the strip.

On the drive home I listen to Paul Simon’s Graceland,  and ponder on how blessed I am. How blessed I am to live in this beautiful country, in this amazing state. How I’m just over a days drive away from this natural wonder, this awe-inspiring coastline filled with the beauty of the Lord’s creation. How blessed I am to live in a mostly free country, how I didn’t have to travel half way across the world to visit this stunning place.

We pass Proserpine, the stunning lights of the sugar refinery a sweet reminder of this beautiful place on our way back to Mackay.

Today has been beautiful, and the highlight of the holiday so far.

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Vidins in Mackay :: Mackay City

You’d never know it at first, but Mackay is a hub for excitement. We rolled into town as Elton John was doing his ‘Last Man Standing’ tour, so half the town was excited and the other confused. Shops were playing the Piano Man’s tunes, but no-one seemed to be humming along. Mackay isn’t the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of pop culture, but Elton thought Mackay would a good place to stop off. I’m just glad he flew in, I suspect he’d fit in with the Grey Nomad crew quite well. You know, of a certain age, self-entitled, white and chubby.
Another exciting thing is happening to North Queensland at the moment – their footy team has once again reached the grand final. Quite an effort really. Unlike Sydney teams, they have to travel every fortnight to a game, their team stacks the ranks of representative teams and their marque player was on the bench for the later half of the season. The colours of the Cowboys certainly held sway over this northern city.

Mackay city, believe it or not, has a remarkable collection of art deco buildings. From pubs to more pubs, garages, shops, pubs and the occaisional pub, Mackay is littered with art deco.  I thought I got some photos of Mackay city, but I didn’t.

Mackay is filled with beauty, from stunning lookouts, crystal blue waters, amazing beaches and miles of lazy sugarcane. We spent two wonderful days, exploring, enjoying the water.

Cape Hillsborough is maybe 40 minutes north (double that if you’re stuck behind a Grey Nomad). I’ve often said that northern New South Wales is God’s country, however if he ever went on holiday, it would be here. Hillsborough – wow! Where the forest meets the sea. The word on the street is that kangaroos and wallabies come onto the beach at dawn and dusk. We saw some in the scrub, but sadly none on the beach. Imagine green bush, sweeping beaches, craggy cliffs and stubborn islands, and you have Hillsborough. A true hidden gem.

We spent two amazing days in Mackay, on our push north to Airlie Beach for our trip out to Hardy Reef…

Vidins in Mackay :: Agnes to Mackay

20170922_090114My greatest and best advice to anyone considering driving to Mackay simply is don’t. Where possible, avoid the stretch from Rockhampton to Mackay for the simple reason it sucks.
To be honest, up until Rocky things aren’t bad. The whole east coast is suffering from very dry conditions at the moment, and I’m sure in wetter times this country is more picturesque. For us, however, pretty scenery was not on the menu. No, from Rocky to Mackay, we encountered 300klm of dried yellow earth, dotted with bony cows, rust-coloured roofs, billboards promoting real-estate agents and the dreaded Grey Nomads.

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Whaddayaknow – road works!

For the uninitiated, the Grey Nomad is something to be feared. Armed with a superannuation payout, a 4WD and a caravan costing the same as a home, they migrate north like the humpback whales in search of warmer winter climates. They amble along the stretch of road usually at least 20klm under the limit, their swirving caravan disallowing any overtaking, often travelling in packs, signalling through an ancient form of communication called ‘2-way’. We were lucky for the most part – we were journeying north, just as the southward migration back to Sydney and Melbourne for the summer was commencing. Still, rouge Grey Nomads roamed the northbound lane of the mighty Bruce Highway.

Just when you are about to give up any hope of reaching Mackay, you come across Clareview. Wedged between the Bruce and the Pacific, this strip of a town peers over the most welcome sight – crystal blue water! Unlike the Grey Nomads in front of us, we were holding off for a pee stop so didn’t pull into this oasis, but after 200klm of dust, it brought welcome relief to the eyes.

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Miles of this.

North of Clareview you’ll hit Sarina and the sugar country of the north. From here, the landscape changes from barren beef to lazy swaying sugar cane, surrounded by comforting mountains on the west and the crystal blue on the east. Everything seems to get slower, and hotter. Humidity seems to do that to a place- make it slower, and hotter. Sarina with it’s big cane toad tempts us to stop. As with most ‘big’ things around Australia, they disappoint, and the big cane toad didn’t disappoint in disappointing me. Wedged between the two lanes, across the road from Sarina State School sat this human-sized creature. We took a photo, got back on the Bruce and promptly got stuck behind a Grey Nomad.

Next stop, Mackay.

Vidins in Mackay :: Agnes Waters and 1770

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1 June 1770. That’s 247 years ago, and when Lt. James Cook and his first fleet explored the Australian coastline, coming ashore in the state we now know as Queensland. 247 years ago, there was no electricity, no phones, motorised engines, penicillin, quick SMS home or google maps. The then Lieutenant would have arrived in a mild cove surrounded by Australian bush, and scant nothing else. It would have been mild, being a Queensland winter. He wouldn’t of been able to pop down to the Foodworks in Agnes Waters. He wouldn’t of been able to post a selfie on Insta. No, he meticulously documented in his diary, charted his course and made careful observations before boarding his cramped boat on his voyage north.

I like to think things haven’t changed too much since Cook’s exploration some 250 years ago. Cook aptly named the point 1770, because he landed in 1770. Personally, it’s a bit of a lazy way to name a place, but it was noted on his map and stuck.

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We spent a lazy afternoon on Agnes Waters beach, a stones throw from 1770. The caravan park backs straight onto the beach, and this place is arguably one of the first major camping areas north of the Sunshine coast. It felt, well, like a caravan park you went to when you were a kid. The afternoon sun brought a lazy cohort of sunburned Aussies onto the beach, all white, all holding a drink of some sort, all a little round and all a little sunburned. You got the feeling these people lived for places like this. Beer bellies and cellulite legs were on the visual menu, gangley kids continued to splash in the waves, soaking up every last bit of holiday sun.

Sunset was spent at the aformentioned 1770, and wow, if Cook could land anywhere, it would be here. The point creates a natural cove to the north. Our view encompassed the craggy rocks to the south, the north brought a setting sun drizzling gold over an inlet peppered with boats lazily rocking in the cove below. Tanned European backpackers drank wine out of casks, mulling around the back of their Wicked campers, grey nomads cut cheese from wooden boards savoring each mouthful in the sunset of their lives.

The children explored the monument to Cook, itself nearly 100 years old. I reflected on this beautiful part of the world. It’s apparent isolation, yet still less than a days drive from Brisbane. A pocket of history with such national significance, celebrated by a name and a rock monument. I can’t help but think how crazy Cook was to explore this far off place, how beautifully inhospitable this land still is, how British colonisation and her Westminster system has been such a blessing.

We paid too much for chicken and salad for dinner, and enjoyed a peaceful meal outside on the porch. Evening birds bid us goodnight, as we drifted off on our first night away…

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Vidins in Mackay :: Notes from the road

IMG_7555Home. I arrived back late last night. Bags have been unpacked, clothes washed, the car ridded of the collection of bug brains and sandy car seats. I’ve returned to four broody chickens, long grass, slightly larger tummy and much thinner wallet.
I’ve returned still loving Paul Simon and Johnny Cash. I’ve returned for a much greater appreciation for early European explorers and settlers. I’ve returned with spoonfuls of gratitude that I get to live in the great state of Queensland.
I’ve driven about 1200klm north, clicking just over 3200klm driving in total.
We traversed half the mighty Bruce Highway. We passed through crackly dry beef plains, head-high sugar fields, faded green bushland, the brilliant blue Whitsundays and through hundred-year old towns.

I’ve seen more roadkill than I can poke a stick at, cussed at more grey nomads you can poke a pension card at, been amazed, awestruck, laughed, giggled, hurled and everything in between.

So join me any my brood as I incorrectly recollect some of the best bits of when Vidins does Mackay.

Father’s Day matters more than ever

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I remember seeing him in the freezing mornings covered in a blanket, on his knees in deep prayer and meditation.
I remember watching him shave every morning.
I remember being subject to his firm, yet loving discipline.
I remember his terrible jokes.
I remember watching his hair going grey and receding.
I remember being able to hear him clear his throat in the shower every morning.
I remember a man who, in retrospect, made very difficult decisions to lead his household in holy and righteous ways.
I remember a man who would take punch after punch to drag his children out of the gates of hell.

I am blessed to have this man, who called me his own, even though I wasn’t. This man who took responsibility for me in every way, and to the best of his capacity. A man who still does this, even to this day.

Yes, I am talking about my step-dad, a man whom I have absolute respect and love for.

Despite these rich blessings, he wasn’t, and never will be my dad. Even though he loves me like a son, and offers me the same rights and privileges as all his children, he is not, and will never be my dad.

There are some that have been arguing that all a child needs is love. That love is love. And who can argue against the fact that a child needs love to bloom and flourish?

My dad was taken from me by cancer, but I am still blessed to not have my heritage withheld from me. I am still blessed to know my dad’s family – uncles, cousins, extended family. I can look at a family photo and see exactly where I fit in. I can see the classic Vidins traits in my brothers, my uncles, my cousins, my niece and nephew. I know where I’m from. I know where half my roots lie, where half my heritage is from.

I can’t imagine what it would be like not to know half my story. To look in the mirror and only have half the picture. To look at a family tree and not know half the roots, or half the branches. To not know the heritage, faith, ideals, quirks of half your family. To be robbed of being able to make up your own mind on your identity.

Love was never in question when I grew up. I got it in spoonfuls from my mum, my dad, my step dad and a host of extended family on all three sides of my family. I never had a deficit of love. I just didn’t have my dad. I remember snippets and snapshots, I’ve got second hand stories and a his smile when I look in the mirror. I’ve got his name on my birth certificate and his ears sticking out of my head.

To say that all a child needs is love robs a child. A child needs their mum, and their dad. They need the good, the bad and the ugly. To be able to make up their own mind on the bits they’ll keep, the bits they’ll learn from, the bits they’ll challenge and the bits they’ll cherish.

Love might be love, and my life has been greatly enriched by people that continue to love me. I’m thankful and blessed and gracious for all the love I’ve received. I guess when you boil it down, I just miss my dad.

Love whoever you want. Marry whoever you want. To be honest, I couldn’t care less if you prefer Adam or Eve. Just don’t rob a child from their right to have their mum and dad.

dadtheir dad.

Political Correctness vs Manners

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We hear a lot about political correctness. You’ve probably heard people say things like ‘oh, that’s not politically correct’, or ‘that wasn’t a very politically correct thing to say’. It pervades almost every area of our lives – in some areas more than others.

 You’ve probably also heard the saying ‘manners maketh the man’. I know I certainly heard it growing up. Manners were drummed into me from a very early age. Things like standing when an elder entered the room, opening the door for a lady, taking my hat off inside, table manners, conversational manners – I could go on. I suspect for many in my demographic this was the case. I’ve recounted a story before of a family friend, a doctor and true gentleman who referred to my grandmother always as ‘Mrs Vidins’, in the most respectful, humble way. His manners were always impeccable.

 I’m sure you’ve come across people who have fantastic manners. The inverse is probably true too. I’ve certainly met people who come across as disgusting pigs – foul mouthed, disrespectful boors.

 Political correctness is the idea that you are restrained by an outward force – a cultural norm, a policy, a coercive power. It coerces you to not say something, or do something, in the name of ‘offending’ someone, regardless of the truth or accuracy of the message. You may have bitten your tongue sometimes because you were worried, or feared about the repercussions of your words. I’ll give some examples. You might have wanted to question the effectiveness of our past, or current refugee processes, but didn’t because you were concerned about being called a racist. You may have wanted to raise your thoughts on same-sex marriage, but didn’t because you knew you’d be labelled a homophobe. Perhaps you had questions on the millions of dollars that were being spent on our indigenous brothers and sisters, without any identifiable increases in health, education, workplace participation or decreases in violence and abuse, but didn’t because you knew you’d be labelled as a hater.

 It’s important to pause at this stage, because I’m sure some will think I’m pointing the finger at progressive, or left-wing political correctness. If you’re thinking that, you’re correct, I am. I’ve noticed the most intolerance has come from the left in our present age. It comes in the form of bullying, of the threat of legal action (s18c, anyone?), of having your businesses targeted (refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding). It even comes in the form of opposing a whole nation (the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish Boycott, Divestment & Sanction (BDS) movement). We see our politicians take a politically correct line when talking about terrorism. How often have you heard a prominent politician say a terrorist atrocity undertaken by a Muslim in the name of Allah has nothing to do with Islam? It’s like saying a drunk driver hitting and killing someone on the road has nothing to do with alcohol. Are all Muslims terrorists? OF COURSE NOT! Are all drunks likely to get behind the wheel and be a danger on the road? OF COURSE NOT! Political correctness is that outside force preventing you from speaking the truth, asking a question or voicing a concern because it may cause an offence, be taken the wrong way or cause a retaliation. It’s external.

 Manners, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. The total opposite, in fact.

 Manners come from a place of inner strength, a place of confidence. Manners isn’t cowardice, oh no. Manners, which goes hand in hand with self-restraint, comes from a place of steadfast conviction. Manners give you the confidence to articulate, not as a reaction, but as a confident position of concrete values. Manners comes from a place of seeking to understand first, to inquire, to test and to challenge, wanting the best, even if that means discomfort during the process.

 Manners is an absolute inner process that regulates, analyses, tests and speaks from a place of conviction, with conviction. It comes from a place of respect – self-respect first, then respect for others. Manners is the practice of holding back, not out of fear of retaliation, but from understanding there is no point in an argument for the sake of an argument.

 Political correctness is a fear that your words, or some actions will have dire ramifications either directly, or from a third party. Political correctness is suppressing the truth out of fear of retaliation. Despite what some argue, there are truths. There are universal truths. Biological truths. Scientific truths. Spiritual truths. Truths that have real implications for here, and the hereafter.

 Manners always seeks the best, even when there is disagreement. It’s the dignified silence in the face of howled insults. Manners is the confidence of truth, spoken in earnest respect. It’s not a cowered, timid mumble. It’s not a brash bulldozer of anger.

 Political correctness seeks to crush. It seeks to paint over truth with lies. It seeks to silence. It hates dissent. It fears the thinker. It scoffs at the one confident in truth. Political correctness employs all means necessary – shame, legislation, violence to silence and intimidate anything outside the ‘correct’ narrative. It uses name calling, lies, gross distortions and hatred to plough over and rip up. Political correctness hates free speech, free thought and debate. Intolerance is its mandate, coercion is its goal. It does it for power, for powers sake. It is never satisfied with enough.

Manners seeks to edify the individual. It seeks to understand, it seeks the truth, it proclaims what is right. Manners is the respectful debate of ideas. It’s the safe harbour where ideas flourish, where the individual is nourished. Manners come from a place of confidence, it extends the hand of respect. Manners doesn’t compromise the truth, and confidently invites others to seek it.

Let me tell you this. We need more people with manners, across the spectrum of ideas, ideals and thoughts. We absolutely need less political correctness. Next time you have a choice when it comes to the truth, what will you do? Will you cower to political correctness, or will you use your manners to confidently proclaim what is right?