good LORD HOWE sweet this little ISLAND is

except for the plague of poisonous fungus

just take a white tern, then a left. you can’t miss it.

man1: who’s old enough to remember the old abbott and costello skit

“howe’s on first?

man 2: no, that was “who’s on first?”

man 1: no, who’s on second. howe’s on first.

man 2: then who’s on third?

man 1: no. what’s on third. who’s on second and howe’s on first.

man 2: that’s LORD howe to you. but if what’s on third, who’s on second and lord howe’s on first, who’s batting?

man 1: no, who’s on second. why’s batting?

by now, lord howe, your brown cow is showing. even abbott and costello would be confused.

you’ll be forgiven if you’ve never heard of lord howe “brown cow” island. it’s a windswept speck of rock in the south pacific ocean, maybe 750 kilometers off the east coast of australia, much of which consists of two massive, uninhabitable chunks of hardened lava that shot up from the ocean floor into the clouds about 6.9 million years ago. the remainder is home to a tiny but well preserved little community of about four hundred people who go about their daily business as if they were just an ordinary part of the australian state of new south wales. that daily business mainly consists of hiring out snorkeling and scuba gear (and bicycles) to well-heeled folks who arrive in search of the magnificent coral reefs in the surrounding waters. and of course renting upscale apartments to those visitors when they come up for air.

lord howe (brown cow) island is not for everyone. for one thing, there’s a strict limit on the number of outsiders allowed on the island at any one time. that number is four hundred, about equal to the number of locals. so if you have a hankering to visit, get in line. they’ll see you when they get around tuit.

second, it’s not for people with high-stress lives. on the island, you’re at the mercy of the elements. just about the only access is by air, and the landing strip is a thin ribbon of concrete that runs across the middle of the island, literally from one beach to the other, a distance of less than a kilometer. if the weather acts up, as it is wont to do, you’re SOL. (shirley outa luck). lord howe must be the destination for which the term “puddle jumper” was coined. our first scheduled flight to the island was cancelled when a thunderstorm inundated the runway, and it was touch and go the next day for a flight that departed the mainland at 5:45 a.m. so don’t depend on firm arrival and departure times. you’ll get there when you get there, and you’ll leave when mother nature waves her fickle wand.

and oh, while you’re there, forget about using your cell phone. there’s no service. none. so feel free to spend your time searching the ocean bottom. you won’t miss a call. guaranteed. and you won’t have to worry about the island’s current pandemic threat, poison myrtle rust. we never got clear on exactly what poison myrtle rust is. it’s some kind of a rare fungus. but the island park service has declared a medical emergency, and has positioned hand disinfectant and boot washing stations at the entrance to every hiking trail, so you can’t miss them if/when you go for a walk in the neighborhood.

once hands are sanitized, it’s time to eat, and there, you can’t miss. the island’s restaurateurs figure if you can afford to visit lord howe (brown cow), you can plunk down the cash (or plastic) for a quality meal. the half dozen or so culinary establishments on the island are all top flight. even the burger joint, which doubles as the general store, serves up a pretty perky patty. lord howe (brown cow) island is similar to the mythical town of lake wobegon, where all the children are above average. here, every dish served is a da vinci or a van gogh, meals so fine you hate to spoil them with a knife and fork. bring a camera.

for rainy days (and there are plenty), there’s the museum. well worth the price of admission. (it’s free). honestly, though, it offers a fascinating glimpse into the island’s past, both geological and australian. and it’s compact; you can be in and out in an hour.

the museum is the repository for local news, and as it’s tiny, the local paper makes a big deal of even minor developments, since they’re all minor on lord howe island. when new south wales noticed the island’s existence, the local paper was suitably outraged.

from the museum we also learned about ball’s pyramid, a triangular wall of rock that sits tantalizingly on the southern horizon from lord howe island. it’s just a rock wall, uninhabitable for humans, but some seabirds apparently find it irresistible, judging from the massive piles of guano covering some of the rock faces. we booked a boat ride out to the pyramid one morning, which was also supposed to be for snorkeling, but the diving was cancelled due to the puke-inducing swells in the water around the pyramid. seasickness pills were at a premium.

for snorkelers/scuba divers, lord howe island boasts the world’s southernmost coral reef. sinus troubles kept us from doing much diving/snorkeling, however, as the saline solution (sea water) drains my sinuses something powerful. after only a few minutes breathing through the snorkel tube, my addled lungs were rasping like an old saw.

the stars of the show, from one twitcher’s (bird watcher’s) perspective, are the winged creatures. the avian inhabitants of lord howe island differ from those on the mainland. therefore, anyone looking for notches on her birdwatching belt is going to find lord howe a royal goldmine. and she did.

good lord, howe she did revel in the island’s birdiversity. there’s no equity among birds, no inclusion either. but diversity, omigod. they’ve got it in spades. and hearts and diamonds. (oddly, no clubs. see below)

from a photographer’s perspective, lord howe island is exceptional. the birds seem to think the humans are there to photograph and admire them, which they are, so the winged creatures have no qualms about setting down just outside touching distance. no telephoto lens needed. a few species were a bit standoffish, but there’s plenty to photograph without those snobs.

same with the fish. they just hang out in huge bunches (schools? universities?) a foot or two off shore, waiting for snorkelers to wade in so they can harass them for treats. it’s gotten to the point where the beach council (yes they have a beach council) now provides little containers of “fish food” to placate tourists eager to comply with the fishes’ wishes. only problem is, just as with the birds, the big fish get all the goodies, leaving the little guys to scrounge for scraps. that hasn’t scared off the smaller fish, though. they’re still there in such large numbers that it seems they have little “fish traffic jams”. i wonder if sometimes a fish gets distracted and rear-ends the fish in front of him. don’t ask why they put up with such seemingly hopeless odds. they must know something we don’t. but there were no starving fish around lord howe island, that’s for sure.

sure, you’ll be forgiven for forgetting lord howe (brown cow) island. at only 400 visitors at a time, the chances are slim to none (and slim just left town) that you’ll ever get to this little dot in the south pacific. but it’s worth remembering that there still exist a few throwbacks to the days of yore, where bicycling a few minutes to the shore for a snorkel or scuba was all in a day’s fun. thank lord who, however he was.

hooray! a round tuit

and…. oh, look! a round tuit! lord howe’s beach council gets a round tuit. to granting you a tourist visa. so by all means, put in your application. if they’ve gotten a round tuit, who knows what’s next. maybe ball’s pyramid will erupt again. it’s been 6.9 million years since the last one. it’s about time they got around tuit.


a mad dash through a tropical island paradise

no sightseeing. no tourism. no dip in the ocean, no sand ‘tween the toes. just one night in a fancy hotel, two nights in a shopping center motel, (across the street from a lovely construction site), a cup of tea with the president, a few hours idling at a fancy beach resort, and back home to australia. that’s fiji for ya. all in a 72-hour mini-work/vacation.

day one consisted of a short flight from canberra to sydney, a long hop from sydney to nadi (pronounced: nan-dee) (by the time we got there it was dark), then a short commuter flight from nadi to suva, arriving dog tired just in time to find a welcoming pillow.

the next day it was up, off to the prez’s house, then a hairy-scary breakneck speed police escort back to nadi for a fruitless wait in beach-resort splendor, hoping for an audience with one of the 18 pacific island heads of state who were holding a “retreat” courtesy of their collective taxpayers. no luck. time better spent at home with a good book.

fiji is making a comeback. a country that once relied on tourism for nearly 40% of its economy saw it cut to a tiny fraction during the coronavirus years. now that the virus scare is history, the industry that once employed 150-thousand fijians is back in biz.

meet pernille, the new danish ambassador to fiji. who knows, she may be the first ever representative of copenhagen in this south pacific island hideaway. i had hoped the accreditation ceremony would be hosted by sitiveni rabuka, the fijian leader who was regularly in the headlines during my newsreading days at the good ol’ VOA. but that was not to be. instead we were greeted at the presidential palace by williame katonivere, not a politician but a conservationist who holds the ceremonial presidency. rabuka (pronounced: ram-boo-kah) was off hob-nobbing with the politicians on the other end of the island.

so after our 30-minutes with the president, it was off to the resorts of nadi (pronounced any way you want) to catch up with the leaders of some of the smallest, most remote and widely dispersed nations on the planet. places so small and distant that you’ve probably never heard of some of them.

these accreditation ceremonies are 30-minute affairs, and this one was choreographed right down to the minute. we were greeted at 10 a.m., and escorted out precisely at 10:30a.m., after a ceremony that consisted of playing both countries’ national anthems, reviewing the troops, and speeches, followed by a quick cup of tea. the president did pour himself a cup and made light conversation in between sips, but at the appointed moment, he put the cup down on the table with a note of finality, called for an earthen bowl with which to present the new ambassador, and dispatched us forthwith. so much for that 30 minutes. on to the next appointment. presidents are so busy. even ceremonial ones at out-of-the-way pacific island nations.

afterward, the journey. suva is the sleepy capital. much livelier is nadi, (still pronounced: nan-dee) on the opposite side of fiji’s main island. it just so happens that a regional retreat of pacific island leaders is underway in nadi (still pronounced nan-dee) that day. more than a dozen heads of state are attending. so plans for a quiet second night at the staid grand pacific hotel in suva are scrapped. onward to nadi!

flights between the two cities takes 35 minutes, but flights are few, far between, and full.

we do, however, have a car. not only that, we have a driver, a protocol officer, and now that pernille is ambassador, a red and white danish flag for the car.

it’s normally a three hour drive between the two cities, but as our car leaves suva, a police escort is waiting alongside the road. it zooms out ahead of the flag car, lights flashing and siren blaring.

the next 80 minutes whizzed by, literally. we held tightly to any “sissy straps” we could find as the two-car procession dodged in and out of traffic at breakneck speed along the narrow country coastal road, avoiding potentially life-ending injuries by millimeters. but oh my god, what we witnessed as we whizzed by at 99 or so miles an hour was nothing less than a gigantic slice of real fjii. no presidential palaces, no five star resorts, no meetings with the locals, just a whiz-bang snapshot of life in middle class fiji. simply the unglamorous neighborhoods populated by average fijians who have probably never visited a beach resort. it was a magnificent photo op, if only we could capture it. after watching helplessly as a dozen incredible scenes evaporated in front of our eyes, i reached for my trusty super-dooper, 15x zoom, three-lens killer iphone camera. the results were, shall we say, mixed. i’m not even sure we saw any real people. but here are a few fleeting images. with apologies.

when the police escort pulled up in front of the ratsun hotel in nadi (still pronounced nan-dee) with us in tow, a hearty round of “thank-yous” gushed forth from the back seat. we felt like the winners of “survivor” on TV.

the next day we got a taste of the five-star life. nadi (pronounced: NAN-dee, dammit) boasts some of the finest resort facilities in the south pacific at the denarau marina, and more than a dozen heads of state of pacific island nations (19 we heard) were availing themselves of the fijian hospitality that day at the sheraton denarau beach resort. (a summit? who knew?) the event received scant (read no) international news coverage, possibly because it didn’t make much news. but a lucky few journalists and diplomats (us) took advantage of the occasion to spend the day poolside, enjoying the hospitality.

no news translates to no story. hence this rather spare blog post. except that the leaders did have some important internal and geopolitical issues on their plates. the pacific islands forum does include probably some of the world’s most out of the way leaders. they were, however, “special” for the occasion, and (little known fact) the area over which these island nations are situated encompasses 20% of the earth’s surface. pretty special, when you think about it.

these special guests symbolize fiji’s return as a prime post-covid pacific island tourist destination, a place on the high side. c’mon down, if you can afford it, and you don’t mind the mind-boggling travel arrangements. if possible, we’ll be back for a farewell visit, when we’re not in such a hurry.


oh bull! (a whole herd of ’em)

christmas in the paddocks with a sheep dog

it sounded so nice. a house on a hill overlooking the ocean on sunny south bruny island, south of the tassie (tasmanian) capital, hobart. a great year-end family getaway for the kids who are escaping from a bout of foul wintry weather in the northern hemisphere. you can’t get more southern than bruny, and at the height of summer to boot. pack yer shorts!

well, pack yer handkerchiefs and antihistamines.

don’t misunderstand. pernille has booked us just about the best place imaginable. a lovely, modern house on a hill overlooking the ocean. lots of sun. outdoor space. miles from the nearest neighbors. (we make a lot of noise with our incessant birdwatching.) it’s not far from the beaches (nothing is on bruny island), and there’s plenty of room for billabong, our border collie, to roam. only catch is, it’s surrounded by acres of alfalfa fields, and one of us — me — is deathly allergic to alfalfa (hay). yep, hay fever.

it follows, of course, that alfalfa fields are feeding grounds for farm animals, and our arrival must have been cause for great excitement in the neighborhood. minutes after we pulled into the driveway, a greeting committee trotted up to the fence in the form of a dozen big, black bulls, prompting an impromptu standoff between our self-styled herding dog billabong, who tips the scales at a mighty 22kg (almost 50 pounds), and probably about 30 tonnes of belligerent bovines. 

a showdown was avoided thanks to a wire fence separating the driveway from the paddock. it was a close call, though. the fence runs just a few meters from our back porch, and billabong fancies himself a minder of grazing animals, never mind their own opinions on the subject.

to add insult to injury, while we were unpacking, a tractor pulled up at the hay field and our neighborhood farmer cut the mature hay down. we then learned about the phenomenon of the “roaring forties,” the winds that are a blot on tassie’s otherwise spotless reputation, as gusts of hayseed buzzed around the house all that evening and into the next several days, sending my allergies into orbit. 

conspiracy, anyone, or just a coincidence?

anyway, enough of my whingeing.

 from L: family friend nathan stambaugh, laura (lopp), karl (moose) and pernille.

christmas dinner. a juicy ten pound turkey that, believe it or not, provided leftovers and turkey sandwiches for five people for days afterward. a “loaves and fishes” phenomenon that lasted until the final morsels of wing meat were dipped into a sea of sriracha mayo between two slabs of supermarket white bread and sandwichized on new year’s eve. NEW YEAR’S EVE! fer chrissakes! and it was dee-licious to the last bite of our final meal of the year. though to be truthful, the last bites were mostly sriracha mayo between the bread slices, with a hint of generic bird meat. miraculous.

(full disclosure: this wasn’t actually the ultimate meal of 2022. pernille prepared a champagne and lobster feast as the clock wound down toward the midnight hour. we never made it. (the lure of the pillow was just too powerful.)

for the rest of the family, it was almost two weeks of bliss; hiking the mountains around our house, exploring bruny island’s rocky coast, running, kayaking, oyster feasting, stargazing at the aurora australis (the southern hemisphere equivalent of the aurora borealis), chasing bulls (for one of us); in short, enjoying the moderate summer days and brisk island nights. for me, on the other hand, it was itchy eyes and soaked hankies until i was finally able to get medical attention after christmas in the nearby town of alonnah, which has a surprisingly well-equipped hospital for a population of probably no more than a couple thousand hardcore islanders.

2023 has dawned, and with it all the vagaries of aging as everyone gets — as the old tennessee ernie ford classic (“sixteen tons”) goes, — “another day older and deeper in debt.”  the year 2022 saw a historic increase in mortality from all causes in australia and many other countries. my fervent wish is that all you reading this today are still around to check out the “end of 23” blog a year from now. we’re already planning another big tassie holiday bash, and i’ll do my best to be here to blog it.

kiwis and their kiwis

an air b&b&b (binos in bed with breakfast)

kiwi. photo credit: Vee Snijders/ (we couldn’t get a pic ourselves)

now in new zealand: pure pods, (at a pretty price); glass houses, from which to avoid throwing stones. and to view mother nature.

tokoeka (pronounced toko -EE-ka) pure pod, on stewart island, off the coast of the extreme tip of southern new zealand, is just the place for a) astronomers looking for a bright, unobstructed night sky while under covers (even the roofs are made of plexiglass); or for b) conservationists and naturalists seeking to prevent the encroachment of predators on endemic wildlife; or for c) birdwatchers pining for a peek at the elusive kiwi, the shy national bird that only comes out at night (except for the photo above).

tokoeka pure pod

pure pods are the brainchild of grant ryan, a self-styled “serial inventor” who has come up with what he calls “the cacophony project”, to help make new zealand predator-free in order to “bring back the cacophony of birdsong”, perhaps as in “snap, crackle and pop”. (hey, he’s a cereal inventor!)

ryan’s pure pods are essentially one-off apartments (pods). they are constructed mostly of glass/plexiglass and situated in secluded spots (like mountaintops). tokoeka, on stewart island, is surrounded by a predator-proof fence that allow kiwis (birds) and other rare and defenseless creatures to roam free. they needn’t fear being eaten by the possums, rats, cats and other predators that european settlers (wingless kiwis) introduced to new zealand a couple centuries ago along with their horses, cows and sheep.

kiwis (the people) love their birds (the kiwis). so these pods are designed for maximum viewing convenience. people (mostly kiwis) can watch the birds (mostly kiwis) from the comfort of their beds (mostly mattresses).

so how do kiwis (people) watch birds (kiwis) that only come out at night? tokoeka pod is equipped with red night lights that don’t disturb the kiwis (birds), so people (mostly kiwis) can watch the nightlife.

full disclosure: we didn’t see a single kiwi (bird) in three nights at the tokoeka pure pod. we tried. but frankly, we fell asleep as soon as we settled in, (we were exhausted and the beds were awfully comfy) and each time we’d get up in the middle of the night to “take care of business”, there were no kiwis to be seen. therefore our conclusion: kiwis were on holiday. but anyway…

the kiwis (people) on stewart island are friendly, knowledgeable and talkative about their feathered friends, which they’ll tell you are best seen on ulva island, a slip of terra firma a ten minute ferry ride away from the stewart island’s only town, oban. ulva island is strictly for the birds. no people, and no human detritus (trash)


the ferry service to ulva island appears to be the region’s chief industry, except for maybe the grocery store and pub/kitchen in oban, the island’s “commercial hub”. the kiwis (residents) seemingly comprise an omnipresent gaggle that congregates around the pub in oban to spread the word about the glories of ulva island (and anything else you’d like to talk about).

oban’s waterfront hotel/pub (center) and grocery store “supermarket” (right)

ulva island is surely among the best bird sites in the underworld (south of the equator). it’s predator-free, unspoiled by anything as refined as a cafe or coffee shop. other than portable toilets, and the ferry landing, it is virgin territory. the only exception is the primitive paths installed so visitors can find their way. (no one’s disappeared in a few weeks, at least.)

it’s walkable from coast to coast in less than an hour, even counting multiple stops for viewing the vast array of “in your face” avian species. i

the one character who made the biggest impression, however, was a kaka bird, unique to new zealand, who distinguished himself by alighting on the tree on the front deck of tokoeka pod and eating it, right in front of visitors. that’s right. eating the tree, branches, bark and all. it was evident he’d been working on it for some time, because many of the branches were reduced to gnawed-off stumps.

the kaka, a ravenous bird with an appetite for trees

this feathered fellow was so unafraid of human intruders, he posed happily for photos from a distance of about three feet (one meter) as he chomped his way through the branches. it’s easy to see why he’s fearless. he’s got nothing to be afraid of. stick your hand within his reach and whoosh!, captain hook.

and now about the rest of kiwiland. and soccer. women’s soccer, to be precise.

the trip to new zealand was not, as a reader might have been tempted to infer, about birds. it was really about the women’s world cup draw, which was staged in auckland, on new zealand’s north island. the 2023 women’s world cup will be held in australia and new zealand in july-august. denmark is among the qualifiers, so we were there to attend the draw. the big news (talk about burying the lede) is that denmark is in group c, pitted against china in its first match of the tournament. that game will be in perth (australia) next july. group c’s four nations also includes england, one of the tournament favorites, so the danes will be hard pressed to progress from the group stage to the knockout stage of the competition. stay tuned next july for updates.

the world cup 2023 mascot greets “a guest”

on the way north from the south island, a stop in wellington is almost mandatory. it’s the capital, and it’s mid-country, on the southern tip of the north island. while there, it’s worthwhile to pop in to zealandia; which is, you guessed it, mostly about birds. last time in “en-zed”, we did the night tour of the sanctuary, this time we tagged along with our host and honorary danish consul general karen puller for an afternoon outing. karen lives only a few blocks from zealandia, so for her it was just a a routine walk in her back yard.

so…what’s to see in the bird sanctuary? lizards! tuataras to be precise. (ok, it’s mostly about birds, but…) these non-threatening reptiles hide there, living mostly on insects and other microscopic characters too small to be of concern. they’re darned hard to see. it took me nearly five minutes of looking at this bit of underbrush to make out the tuatara hiding in the photo.

“en-zed” and oz are sure to be on the radar next winter, southern hemisphere time, as women’s world cup play begins. we’ll be paying close attention. meanwhile, back to the kiwis.


a greenhoose gas

it’s a net zero

pernille and her ubiquitous binos search for shorebirds along chilli beach

lockhart river may be one of the quietest, most out of the way communities in the country that invented the outback. the little town — population about 800 people– may be unknown, even to most aussies, but it is a dream destination for a certain class of folks, exotic birders who travel from the far ends of the planet to catch a glimpse of winged creatures that average folks would never even imagine palm cockatoo, anyone?

so of course we’re in lockhart river. pernille’s reached another milestone birthday, and what else to celebrate but with a journey up australia’s east coast about as far as it’s possible to go, 800km north of cairns, the nearest city of any size. she’s booked us in a birdwatching motel called the greenhoose, which is “just outside lockhart river”.

travel by road along the croc-infested cape york coastline is darn near impossible, but a surprisingly professional airline (skytrans) offers daily flights along the route from cairns, (pronounced cans) to the iron range airport, which according to a sign on the building was built by the u.s. army corp of engineers during world war two. (what were those guys thinking?)

the newly remodeled iron range airport at lockhart river, QLD

the iron range airport is on the outskirts of lockhart river, which is little more than a general store and service station surrounded by a collection of houses that look like they were also built during world war two, but not by the army corps of engineers. the streets of the town are alive with a collection of children and women carrying infants, all of whom seemed to be of aboriginal background, as are the majority of lockhart river’s residents.

coconut palms sway gently in the breeze as father and children frolic in the bathwater-warm surf at chilli beach.

far more enticing than the lockhart river is chilli beach, which is maybe 15km away but takes the better part of an hour to reach by road. chilli beach is NOT chilly. dipping a toe in the surf is a surprise to us scandinavian seafarers. the water off our danish island is typically 18 degrees celsius in the “heat” of summer. here it’s the beginning of spring and it must be close to 30 degrees. it’s the tropics, stupid.

the long strip of white sand is an invitation for a walk along the beach, so i kick off my sandals and wander barefoot in the direction of a pickup truck parked on the sand a couple hundred meters away. approaching, i hear the familiar sounds of bob marley and the wailers pulsing from the chassis. sitting behind the truck along the bank of the beach is a group of presumably aboriginal people with beer cans in their hands.

this is a dry part of the country. alcohol sales are severely restricted. there’s no liquor store in lockhart river. so to see a group of black people (or anyone else) drinking beer at the beach is something of a surprise. i approach them and ask what it would take to “liberate” one of the cans.

“what’s your name?,” the most burly of the men, asks. “peter,” i reply. in answer, he bellows, “i’m solomon. and this is my son peter; and my daughter claudia.” he goes on to introduce the four others, all friends of his kids. a beer appears from within the crowd and is thrust into my hand. it’s a great northern, not one of my favorite brews, but it tastes exquisite on this unkindly warm day. i’m not sure any beer has ever tasted better.

the young people in the crowd are curious about my background, and are eager to hear more about texas. they’ve never been, but are hoping to visit the states soon. i’m equally curious about their backgrounds, especially since i’ve heard that the lockhart river aboriginal community has decided to experiment with limited alcohol sales at the local canteen. it’s an innovative experiment. alcohol is strictly prohibited in many aboriginal communities, but here is a group of black people enjoying a beer on the beach.

as we chat, a dilapidated truck trundles along the beach toward us. an old white man climbs out and begins beachcombing. “hey, there’s stu,” solomon exclaims, pointing to the man. “he’s the owner of the greenhoose, the place you’re staying.”

the owner, eh?

“hey, stu” solomon shouts to the scavenger. “hey, solly,” the old man shouts back. they’re soulmates, two men who’ve grown up and lived their entire lives together in a town so tiny everyone knows everyone else’s secrets. their conversation quickly turns to the latest family news and gossip.

it turns out stu has come out to the beach to collect a box of rocks. pumice stones to be precise. he’s foraging for the rocks to line a garden he’s planning to build at the greenhoose, and he’s learned that pumice stones tend to wash up on shore around chilli beach. his box is half full already. (or half empty, depending on your point of view)

since stu’s the owner of the greenhoose, i ask him if he’s got a clue about the origin of the odd name. and he nails it. it’s pretty straightforward. the founder of the “motel”, stu says, was a scotsman, and he wanted to call the place “the greenhouse”, but with his scottish accent, he pronounced “house” as “hoose”, and the name stuck the way he pronounced it. so greenhoose it is.

before we break up, solly suggests we take a picture. it’s not what we expected, as many aboriginal people are said to be superstitious about having their photo taken. on the other hand, it’s the least we can do to say thanks for the beer and the hospitality, and he’s not superstitious. as we’re posing for the photo, i notice the emblem on his shirt. he’s a member of the lockhart river aboriginal ruling council, and an elder, the highest honor achievable in his extended family. “we’re the traditional owners of this land, going back thousands of years,” he says with a chuckle. “i guess we’re the welcoming committee”

the traditional owners of chilli beach on patrol

with “thoroughly modern solly” in our rear view mirror, dinner calls. we’ve made a reservation at what is said to be the best restaurant in the region, at a place called portland roads, a few miles further down the road. portland roads, we soon learn, is not so much a town or a village. it’s simply a road, decorated with a collection of picnic tables situated around a miniature palm lined bay. there’s one sign that says ‘cafe’. it’s at the front of a three or four (who knows?) story building that backs up to a cliff rising over the bay. the structure is partially obscured by dense rainforest underbrush, so it’s a bit of a riddle to even find out how to get in.

the portland roads eatery

the “cafe” sign at the entrance informs that the place is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. thursday through sunday. but we have reservations for dinner at six. pernille rings up the number on the sign, which is promptly answered by a pleasant female voice. the voice says yes, she’s expecting us, but our reservation was for six. it’s only 5;30, she points out. could we come back in half an hour?

of course we can. so we’re killing time in portland roads, population eight (all in one family) there’s a young aboriginal boy in the bay across the road trying to catch fish with what looks like a spear. he’s probably catching our dinner. it’s fascinating, so we decide to spectate, but just as we take our seats at a picnic table, his parents, who are in a car nearby, decide to call him in for the day. there goes our entertainment. in the end, the twenty five minutes was well spent watching dusk descend over the water.

dinner is five star fare, served simply and without fanfare outside the kitchen where it was prepared. a seafood sampler brought in from the bay that day –squid, calamari, a lightly baked fillet, and some heavenly fried fish balls with a dipping sauce. we were not the only patrons, however. another man came in and was seated at the table next to ours. we imagined he was either the chef’s husband or brother. in a one-family town, it’s a pretty good guess.