When I first moved to Perth in 1972, the climate was wet and somewhat cold in winter (quite warm, actually, in comparison to the UK!), while the summers were very dry and hot. If you got a day of 40C, you’d likely get the sea breeze, known as the Fremantle Doctor, coming in around early to mid-afternoon when temperatures would drop very fast to the mid- to high 20Cs. In prolonged hot periods, you’d get hot, gusty gully winds in the hills and blowing through the city, while some nights the temperatures wouldn’t drop too much, which led to hot, sweaty, sleepless nights.
By the time we moved East, Perth had morphed from a bit of an overgrown town to a full-size city. It had stretched its tentacles along the coast and development had covered much of the green areas that had existed when I first lived in the city. By the same token, the climate was changing. Whereas previously the Fremantle Doctor was a given, by 1994 it had weakened and the weather had grown less predictable. Nevertheless, it was still a pretty dry climate.
We’d checked out the climate in Brisbane and it didn’t go much above 36C in summer which thought was pretty terrific. Unfortunately we didn’t know about the humidity which makes life in Queensland pretty challenging in the summer.
Anyway, eager for Mo and Bryan’s Next Big Adventure, we climbed on the plane to Brisbane in September 1994, along with our 3 cats – Mr Smudge, Daisy and Jessie – and Rosie, our Jack Russell who had landed serependitiously in our family after Chloe died.
The first thing that struck me about Brisbane was the warmth, humidity, the dampness, the softness lying in the air, so very different from Perth. This city felt quite different, as if somehow we’d entered another country even though we’d only travelled across the continent to another part of Australia.
We stayed in a truly crappy hotel where the room was miserable and the staff were surly and unpleasant. And on our first night we watched the news to see, in the weather section, that a line of severe storms was moving from Boonah to the Bunyips. We had no idea what sub-tropical storms were like but this little bit of news was a portent as we ended up living in Boonah eventually.
As our car was being trucked across the Nullarbor from Perth to Brisbane, we decided to hire a car. And came across something new again.
“Don’t park under mango trees”, the hire bloke said to us.
Never having come across mango trees in Perth, we were puzzled.
“Their sap ruins the ducco”, he advised. Another hint that things were different in this State.
Now while we sold our home for what was then a good price in Perth, house prices were much higher in Queensland at that time than back in Western Australia. So we panicked a bit. To be absolutely truthful, we panicked a hell of a lot. We couldn’t afford to stay for long in motels, so the first priority was to find a home in new pastures which were completely strange to us.
Welcome to stress city. And also welcome to what I eventually would come to realise were greater forces at work than we realised. Synchronicity started to grease the engine of Mo and Bryan’s descent into the Underworld.
On his holiday in Queensland, Bryan had stayed on the Gold Coast, south-east of the city centre, and had waxed lyrical to me about the beautiful Tamborine Mountain in the hinterland. So while we were house-hunting, we also decided to have a look around this fascinating area. We heard our first whip bird there. The male makes a sound remarkably like a whip and the female bird chimes a “whup-whup” at the end. We climbed among the lush greenery, and stood in awe at the amazing views from the peak of Tamborine.
We started driving down the mountain away from the coast and stopped for a coffee and break at Canungra, halfway down. I suddenly saw a small real estate agency and wandered over to look at the photos of homes for sale. There was a property which suited us down to the ground, so we went to have a look at it, liked it, put in an offer which was accepted and went off to get the deposit cheque. When we got back to the real estate agency the next day, the seller had changed his mind. Whether he thought he’d get us to up our offer, I don’t know as he said he’d had a better offer overnight. As it was, he went begging and I have to admit that, when I saw the property still for sale a year later, I felt a little bit of glee that he’d fallen flat on his face.
After this upset, we really moved into Panic City. The real estate agent was very apologetic, and rustled up another place for us to view – a farm close to a town called Boonah. We had no idea where Boonah was and it was rather like driving off into the wild, blue yonder. We seemed to be driving for ever when we crested a hill and there was a quite beautiful little town below us, nestled in a valley surrounded by absolutely awe-inspiring mountains, in an area known as The Scenic Rim.
The real estate agent we met there took us off to look at the farm. “Dilapidated” would have been too kind a word for it, it was a god-awful wreck. So that was a no go. Then he took us off to look at a smallholding on Mt French, a mountain just behind Boonah. What we didn’t realise was that we were having a close encounter of the White Shoe Brigade kind. This Brigade was a shonky band of real estate operators in Queensland who were renowned for their hustles and scams. And what our personal version of the WSB dished up was that old, old trick – show the punters a clapped-out old house then wheel them into to one that looks heaps better, sit back and whip out your contract for them to sign.
And that’s precisely what happened to us. We were shown a low-set home (not set up on stumps which in Queensland is known as a high-set) which was modern, on one acre and set half-way up the mountain with magnificent views of the Border Ranges to the south and pure silence. We were hooked. Couldn’t wait to sign the contract. Only a few weeks later we realised that we’d been ripped off – a far too high price in a market at rock bottom, plus the real estate agent and seller were friends. We were on a block with tank water but no water of its own. And in the middle of a drought which was still going strong, this was not an ideal situation. But at the time we knew no better.
The first sign that things were not going well was the huge attack of bronchitis and ‘flu to which I succumbed – yet again – while we were living in a motel and waiting for the property settlement. I was as sick as a dog. Closely following on this was a toothache which led to a root canal filling which led to the first dent in our savings. The saving grace for our sanity was that the people renting moved out early and we were able to move in prior to settlement of the house sale.
I can remember standing on the wide verandah of this quite spacious home, staring at the wonderful view, listening to the profound silence except for the wind, and saying to my husband: “What have we done to deserve this?” And, although he didn’t tell me at the time, Bryan looked around and thought: “What the hell have we done?” He has a nose for trouble, my husband, and he was quite right.