Flashback Friday #12

In 2003 after taking time out whilst waiting to take up a place on a PGCE course I was able to spend three months in Australia visiting my son and granddaughter who then lived in Sydney.  I always take time to go exploring on my own whenever I visit him. It can lead to all sorts of adventures!

A tale of Cassowaries and Aliens…
Photo of a cassowary is courtesy of betta design on flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

I chose to stay in the youth hostel in Mission Beach, northern Queensland because of its unusual name and location.

The Treehouse, built on stilts and surrounded by verdant rain forest, is a big open plan log cabin with bare wooden floors and bamboo framed glass-less windows with shutters.

The small number of bamboo doors that exist are open at the top so all sounds drift effortlessly inside and out. Comfortable shabby sofas are arranged in cosy corners encouraging the residents to gather together and chat or make music. Or you can grab a random paperback from one of the many bookcases and curl up in a hammock on the shady veranda and lose yourself in the plot. The air is filled with incense and a touch of dank decay.

On my first morning I am woken early by the torrential rain, thunder and lightning and with the smell of rich earth assaulting my nostrils it almost feels like camping and only slightly drier. The close proximity to the rain forest also means that as soon as dawn cracks an opening in the night sky a cacophony of kookaburras crash into your dreams with the subtleness of falling pan-lids.

It is not a place conducive to much sleep.

It is here that I meet Andy. I have noticed him over the past few days as he bumbles about the place. He’s a quiet, unassuming young man who appears very solitary. On the third morning I am disturbed by the cleaners who start sweeping the floors at 5 am and I can’t get back to sleep. I feel irritated and headachy; I had a hard time dropping off last night due to a group of travellers talking and drumming well into the early hours. The swish, swish of the brushes sweeping over the wooden floors is as annoying as the whine of a mosquito. It’s no good, sleep eludes me. Drowsily I stumble into the kitchen and find Andy with his head in the fridge. Over strong coffee and cereal on the sundeck overlooking the swimming pool we exchange names and watch as the rain drips languidly through the forest. He then tells me about the cassowaries that live here.

Later that morning, once the rain has eased, I catch one of the shuttles into Mission Beach and ask to be dropped off at the Rainforest Walk, which is about a 6 or 7 km circuit. It is very green and very gloomy in there and almost silent apart from the occasional shriek of a bird. I strain my ears listening out for the ‘boom’ sound which the southern cassowary makes and every time a twig snaps or a giant leaf falls noisily to the ground I can feel my heart pounding in my throat remembering Andy’s story.

…a single kick from one of them birds can rip open your stomach as they have a dagger-like claw

It strikes me as a rather unpleasant way to die with your intestines hanging out; alone in a soggy, dark forest. Fresh droppings close to the pathway do nothing to ease my anxieties and as I walk I nervously consider every tree as a place to hide behind should one of these magnificent flightless creatures run across my path.

The fathers will be minding the chicks now and are fiercely protective, don’t get anywhere near them.

The air is thick and still, the plants and trees still dripping from the night’s rainfall; it all feels extremely claustrophobic.

That evening, back in the safety of the Treehouse, Andy shuffles over with a bottle of cheap plonk and over a glass or two we chat some more. Obviously relieved that I’d survived any cassowary attack he makes a decision to confide in me.

I was driving through the outback, not so far from here when I noticed that there were lights behind me. I thought at first it was another truck. I slowed down to let the truck pass, but it appeared to slow down too. The lights moved up and down and sometimes disappeared altogether, before coming back closer and brighter. They were definitely tracking me.

The lights are known by the aboriginal people as “Min Min” lights and some scientists explain their appearance as a natural phenomenon; however Andy, along with many others, is convinced that the lights are from aliens who are attempting to communicate with us.

Some people think I’m not the full quid, but I am you know, I’ve seen these lights around Melbourne too.

At 10 o’clock, light-headed with exhaustion, I make my excuses and head for bed; it’s all getting a little bit creepy. And as I stare at the full moon piercing the shadows I shudder to think what might be out there.

Less than 2 weeks later I found myself in Winston, the centre of the area which is known for the ‘Min Min’ lights, but sadly I didn’t see any aliens.

This post is a contribution to Fandango’s Flashback Friday. Have you got a post you wrote in the past on this particular day? The world might be glad to see it – either for the first time – or again if they’re long-time loyal readers.

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I have lived in the UK for most of my life, but when young I definitely had wanderlust and even ended up living in South Africa for several years which was a wonderful experience. I now look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

33 thoughts on “Flashback Friday #12”

  1. I felt the tension in the forest walk, but would have been disappointed not to have seen any aliens. As for those ‘drumming travellers’, another reason why I would never stay in any hostel, even a tree house one.
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    1. Ah, well, I was more of a hippie child than you. I’d probably stay there again even now. It was so quirky, though I was exhausted by the time I moved on.

  2. A cracker of an Aussie adventure Jude. I have not seen or been near Cassowaries but it is something I want to find. The Min Min lights are true, a cleverman told of them. I am not sure of Andy’s explanation of contact with aliens though.

  3. The Wikipedia article about Min Min lights includes this section:

    “Neuroscientist Jack Pettigrew has suggested that the Min Min lights are a form of Fata Morgana mirage, which causes remote lights or objects to appear above the horizon. This can result in an object which is normally below the horizon being visible. Professor Pettigrew has proved that a layer of cold air, sitting just above the ground, between the distant light and the observer, can trap light. This layer bends the light and keeps it close to the ground, so it can be seen over great distances. This layer of cold air can also concentrate the distant light and stop it from spreading – so it doesn’t get weakened by extreme distance.

    “John Pettigrew used geometry to show a Min Min light was actually very bright truck headlights – 300km away! Another time, he drove 10km away and shone his headlights at the campsite. His companions reported via radio seeing a bobbing light just above the horizon, half the size of the full Moon, changing from vivid red, to orange, yellow then green. As Pettigrew switched his headlights on and off, the Min Min light disappeared and returned.”

    1. A photographer here in Cornwall captured a photo of a ship out at sea floating above the water – caused by that same phenomenon. Weird!

  4. Suitably creepy for a dark forest tale and I was with you every step of the way on that walk. I was lucky enough to see a cassowary while in the area but from the safety of a car, but never heard of the Min Min lights. I’d believe in them, I like a bit of conspiracy theory.

    1. Not the most pleasant walk I have to say, each plop of rain landing on the forest floor made me jump. And I seemed to be the only human in there!

  5. What a relief that you survived, although that lack of sleep would have been hard on me. Great story, though. 🙂 My parents stayed in a tree house motel when they were long past the age you would expect anyone to do so. They said it was a good adventure but they wouldn’t do it again. 🙂


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