Sydney airport was insanely busy as I weaved my way through thousands of bodies, all seemingly coming right at me. On the tarmac, the pilot announced that we would be delayed until after the hour as the airport had reached its maximum flight limit. It was about then that my stress levels peaked and I tried very hard to remember why I needed to go to Flinders Island anyway. I can just write at home surely.
At Launceston the weather was just as I has left it, only more so – raining, cold and blanketed in fog. Which wasn’t an issue except the Sharp Airline terminal was outside and down the road about 200 meters, most of which was under construction. Did I mention my bag weighs 22 kg? So, dragging my giant case through muddy gravel in the biting wind and pouring rain in a dress and tights was a quite a valuable life lesson in packing. Also in choosing which airport to dress for.
Facing a four hour wait in an empty room at the Launceston terminal, I considered going into town to pass the time but by then I was soaked through, cold and tired and not entirely sure where ‘town’ was, so I decided to focus on the crossword in the local paper and think warm thoughts.
The baby plane to Flinders Island was great fun and terrifying at the same time. The first officer went through the safety routine too fast, I raised my hand with the first of several questions but he was already climbing into the cockpit. Which I could see right into! Some people might feel reassured by that; I’m not one of them.
Take off was exhilarating; much more exciting in a small plane. But we ascended straight into thick fog and stayed in full whiteout for almost the entire flight. When I was 12 years old, my proudest achievement was swimming 50 meters freestyle without taking a single breath. On this day I finally beat my PB time.
The island made a spectacular appearance through breaking cloud just a short time later, making me gasp. Already I could get a sense of its pristine beauty.
Crossing the tarmac, I was becoming aware that perhaps brightly coloured tights and high heeled knee high boots was not typical island wear, and that there is a very good reason for that.
Stepping into Flinders Island terminal was a bit like accidentally walking in on someone else’s family reunion. Everyone knew one another and the atmosphere was comfortably familial. There were a few double takes at my unfamiliar face and I was wondering where to go next when small woman with a huge smile called my name. I walked over as she was already deep in conversation with the woman I’d been sitting next to on the plane. She stepped forward and introduced herself as Helen, Property Manager at Mountain Seas Retreat. We’d been emailing so it was nice to finally meet her in person.
Helen introduced me to her friend, a lovely woman who first came to the island years ago as a Mountain Seas Artist in Residence. She originally came for six months to write a book, and ended up staying for six years. “This place does that to people.” I had been warned.
Helen explained, as she miraculously picked up my lead lined bag and flung it into the boot that this would be my car to use during my stay. I wasn’t expecting that and was extremely grateful. It wasn’t exactly straight off the factory line but should get me from A to B for the next two weeks. I wasn’t going to need the passenger’s seatbelt anyway.
The agreement that Mountain Seas Artist In Residence (A.I.R) make is that we will make a community contribution in exchange for our stay. Mine would be a collaborative community arts project: ‘Before I Die’ board, with the assistance of Flinders Island Regional Arts and Flinders Council.
I’d been working via email with Jana Harper, Flinders Island Council’s Community Development worker, for a couple of months, on the project and she’d asked Helen if we could drop in to her house on our way from the airport so that she could show me where the boards were and meet the dog.
Whitemark, the island’s main town, is really just one street, if you don’t count the intersection. There’s a grand old pub at its heart, the supermarket/ petrol station and post office opposite, and newsagent/ book store/ gift shop/ general store/ private museum a few doors up. The bakery is around the corner opposite the only cafe on Whitemark’s eat street.
Jana had very kindly painted the two boards in black chalkboard paint over the weekend and had everything ready for me to spray the next day. It was lovely to meet last, the hospitality was overwhelming. We chatted for a while as I threw the ball to the dog and we synchronised plans for the next couple of days. Helen then whisked me off to the local supermarket/ petrol station and I bought a day’s supplies before we finally left Whitemark and hit the road to Mountain Seas retreat.
On the way, Helen had me in stitches. She is one of those amazing women who just does shit and is a bit of a character. She told me to “never, repeat NEVER take the keys out of the ignition”, anywhere on the island. Never. And be careful of the wildlife. Abundant is not a strong enough word to describe the wildlife population, especially the wallabies. “Don’t swerve, this car can’t handle it. You’ll hit a power pole and we don’t want to lose any power poles.”
Mountain Seas is only about 15 minutes drive from Whitemark and sits quietly on about 300 acres within the national park. The retreat itself is built in the shadow of the formidable Mt Strzelecki which was shimmering softly in warm apricot and gold as we wound our way up the impressive driveway, as if to say ‘welcome’.
Small dark shapes that had scattered when we drove up, pottered back in for a closer look at my tights.
I met Arwen and Wolfgang, other A.I.Rs in the communal living space that we would share for the next two weeks. They’re both photographers and were super friendly, I was immediately comfortable. There were no paying guests booked in during my stay so we would have the whole place to ourselves. What a treat.
I got a tour and instructions from Helen who insisted on carrying my bag by herself up the stairs to my room, one handed, while I tried to wrestle it back. The airline’s ‘heavy’ label flapped in my face at eye level accusingly.
My room was warm and inviting with loads of space and a big desk. I was feeling pretty blessed I have to say. Exhausted after 12 hours of travel but so very, very blessed. And excited about what the next couple of weeks would bring…