Noel from Flinders Island Regional Arts and the local Police Sergeant fixed the two chalk boards to the wall on the outside of the art gallery early in the morning. I had arranged to arrive at about 11.15 along with Jana. The CWA were also launching their patchwork exhibition at the same time and were providing a BBQ lunch after the ribbon cutting.
The island matriarch Lady Mary Mactier would be cutting the ribbon. Lady Mary had recently celebrated her 100th birthday and spent most of her life on the island. She has been deeply involved in dance and the arts since before most of us were born and was the perfect choice as ‘official ribbon cutter’.
I did some writing in the morning and headed off at about 11am. Stepping into the car I was mentally preparing my ‘few words’ in case anyone actually turned up when I reached for the ignition and realised that the keys weren’t there. I searched every inch of the car, emptied my bag, ran back inside and checked my room and the kitchen and retraced my steps. Nothing! I was running seriously late when Arwen called Helen for me on her phone. It was the ultimate humiliation. I was desperately searching the car again when her ute pulled up and she emerged, smiling. “You took the keys out of the ignition didn’t you?” she said.
Crawling around the interior now I felt the edge of the key in the crack of the drivers seat. A memory from yesterday rushed back at me, I’d thrown them there last night when I was unloading and my arms were full.
Oh. That’s right.
Crisis over, I arrived, slightly flustered, before anyone seemed to notice that I was late. The CWA ladies were all over it as only CWA ladies can be. If ever there is a national crisis of government, I’d want the CWA in charge. They’d get it all sorted with disarming efficiency and grace, and sell you a raffle ticket and a scone you didn’t know you needed at the same time.
It was close to noon and there was still no-one else about except two ladies standing by the boards. I heard one of them say “Well I’m off, this doesn’t look like it’s happening today.” Oh well, at least my project failure would have few witnesses.
A brand new BBQ had arrived on the boat that morning and ‘the guys’ had delivered and assembled it in about an hour whilst the CWA ladies whipped up the sausage sizzle. When we realised that we needed a hammer, one just appeared. When we realised we needed scissors for the ribbon cutting, someone popped over to Bowman’s and borrowed a pair.
I was chatting in the gallery for a few minutes when I was pulled outside to meet someone. I stepped out the door and around the corner to find a crowd of people miraculously gathered on the grass. Where on earth did they come from?
Suddenly it seemed, I was meeting the entire town. One after the other, people welcomed and enthused and congratulated. I heard a variety of reasons why people loved the boards and thought the concept was ‘spot on’ for here and now. I was invited to so many homes I could have spent the next two weeks just visiting. There are so many artists and writers on the island I wondered if they actually made up the majority of the 900 strong population.
Lady Mary spoke eloquently about that in her speech, she said “I often wonder if it is because the island draws artistic people to it, or if it inspires it in the people already here. Both probably.” Everyone agreed. Jana gave a little speech and I said thank you to everyone and spoke about the wall and its concept. I suggested that people might want to come back at night with a torch to write their more private comments, given the lack of anonymity of the location. The wall is located in the centre of town, opposite the pub and is unmissable.
After cutting the ribbon, Mary wrote the first comment: ‘Before I die I want to …. try free fall’ which cracked everyone up, prompting a second comment: … ‘catch Mary’ and they were off. My fears that no-one would take to it were quickly dispelled. This was exactly the right place for this project and exactly the right people to embrace it. They had all thought about what they wanted to do with their lives and were already doing it. That’s why they’re here. I made a mental note to look at real estate this week.
Eventually, people moved off and I went over to Bowman’s to buy and map and phone. Now I was free to go exploring and a weight had been lifted off. Someone told me that only Telstra phones work on the island (information that would have been helpful a few weeks ago.) I was advised to buy a prepaid Telstra phone from Bowman’s to use while was here. Brilliant idea. I didn’t fancy a slow, lonely death by snake bite in some far corner of the island.
Joe, the shop dog I’d met on my first visit seemed to remember me. I certainly remembered him. He came straight in for a cuddle and I put everything down to apply myself to the task. A phone was produced from the ancient shelves bursting with every product known to man. “Is there anything you don’t sell here?” I asked.
Back at the retreat and Helen appears at the door with the healthiest looking broccoli I’ve ever seen, from her own hothouse. She also grows organic veggies for sale in the summer, in the winter she just grows them for herself and often gives the surplus to the artists. I was already starting to crave fresh veg and was thankful.
Generosity of spirit washed over me as I curled up in a woolly rug in a big wooden chair that evening, to watch the sun slowly sink. The smaller islands seemed to float above the ocean as it twinkled in a final encore of purest sunlight, and I thought about the natural beauty that draws people here from all over the world.
How easy it is to miss the islands other natural resource: its people. I’d been invited inside a very special circle of creative and open hearted people today, and experienced just a glimpse of life in a place where people are fully engaged with both their natural environment and their local community. It was a privilege that I’ll carry with me for a very long time.