Dingoes and Dad Jokes on Fraser Island


Fritz was from Austria but had lived in Australia for decades. He was a likeable bloke, although his jokes were all terrible, and he told them relentlessly and we were stuck in a jeep with him all day.  Troy, who drove the other jeep, was as Australian as Vegemite and didgeridoos. He was a big man with a bush hat and mirror shades, and a head full of imagery like “as busy as a one-legged man at an arse kicking competition”.

We trundled off the ferry as it docked at Fraser Island and cut through the rainforest, where Fritz pointed out scribbly gums and funnel web spiders’ nests, then stopped at a lake where the sun arranged shapes on the water and the others swam and I sat on the bank and got bitten by sandflies. Fruit, cheese, biscuits and Fritz’s bad jokes, then back in the Land Cruiser, back through the rainforest and onto the beach and a fast run down the creamy sand, watching out for the plane which uses it as a landing strip.

The sky went into a sulk and flung a few minutes of rain at the windscreen. We slowed to look at wild dingoes loping guiltily along the beach and stopped to photograph the wreck of the Maheno, a grand Edwardian liner which slipped its towline and beached on its way to the scrappers in 1935. No one could be bothered to shift it from there and it has been left to decompose.


Then back in the jeep, speeding down the Seventy Five Mile Beach, slowing to bounce over half-buried rocks, then taking a hill at a run. The sky had cheered up by then. Sandwiches, crisps and beer for lunch.

“Grab some more food, mate,” Troy said.

“No I’m good, mate.

“Another beer then.”

“I’m good, thanks.”

“Does your husband know you’re out?”

We stopped again in the afternoon to clamber up rocks and look out across the frothing ocean, and get bitten by more sandflies; and then again to laugh at a tour bus which had got too close to the water and sunk up to its axles and was listing hard to port. Then hurrying to catch the ferry back to Hervey Bay.

© Richard Senior 2015 

Tumbling through the Air in a Tiger Moth

I had been thrown round the sky by an aerobatic pilot before. But that was in an aggressively capable modern aircraft, built for that sort of thing. I had been strapped down firmly with a seven-point harness and had a canopy slammed and locked into place above me. And I was twenty, then, and had no fear.

This time, I was in a Tiger Moth: a flimsy-looking, open-cockpit biplane built of fabric and wood in the Second World War to a design from the early thirties; and I just had a pair of straps, disturbingly like those on my backpack, to stop me from falling to my death. “If you fall out they can blame me,” said the pilot as he strapped me in. I wasn’t reassured.

The septuagenarian engine coughed hard, spat out a gobful of smoke then settled into a throbbing rhythm. We chugged across the field, then turned and accelerated along the runway. The Tiger Moth limbered into the air, like an elderly man mounting a stile, and climbed at its own leisurely pace as we pottered out towards the bay. There was a wonderful view from 3,000ft over the marina at the boats at anchor and out towards the Barrier Reef. In straight and level flight, it is easy to imagine yourself back in the days of boaters and blazers and croquet on the country house lawn. But we were not there for civilised flying.

Okay here we go,” said the pilot over the radio, chopped the throttle and pulled the stick right back. The Tiger Moth reared up to the vertical, stood on its tail and stalled. It fell sideways with a bang, as if a wing had come off, and spun. All my senses screamed that I was going to die. I gripped the edge of the cockpit, as if that would somehow save me. The sky, the ocean, the marina, the reef whirled round me in the confusion of a tumble down stairs as the pilot dived to build up airspeed and unstall the wings and then pulled straight up into a perfect loop. Over the top, upside down; my headphone lead flapping about in the air; the wind howling through the rigging, the sun flashing off the glass in the windshield. I looked up at the ocean and down at the sky; and we tipped right over, back round to where we had started. Then, straightaway, sideways into a barrel roll – boats sailing upside down in the sky – under and over, and the world righted once again.

Terror to elation and back again. Rolling, looping, spinning. East to west inverted, west to east right side up. The engine snarling, then abruptly cut. Just the whistling of the wind in the wires. Sky and ocean switching places again and again, until I was no longer sure which was right.

But no one can hear you scream from up there.


(c) Richard Senior 2014

Jetting Off

It is a postcard day in the Whitsundays with a flawless blue sky and turquoise ocean and little wind to speak of.

You flick the starter and open the throttle and ease the jetski out of the marina, keeping it under the speed limit. Then you are out in the water and gun it towards a cruise ship moored in the bay, circle that, then a half-sunken yacht, then tear off again – faster this time – turning, turning, turning, much faster than seems at all safe when you have never done this before; but you are following a guy who knows what he is doing and stick with it.

You hit a wave at an angle and take off, scare yourself and let go the throttle; but you are not supposed to do that and get warned not to do it again. Your job is to keep the throttle open, hang on and trust in the machine, much as you do on a motocross bike.

You are going faster now, gaining confidence. But then the guy you are following pulls a sharp turn and you wind off the throttle, and he is at the other side of the bay. You open it right up to catch him, too focussed to look down at the speedo; but you know – because they said – that you have 130 brake horse power, roughly the same as a 1.9 Audi A4 in a craft which is smaller than a rowing boat. It does 90 knots flat out; or 104 mph, 167 kph.

You slow and stop and edge into a cove at idle speed. The sun-dappled water is perfectly clear and green sea turtles the size of coffee tables swim past so close you could reach down and touch one.

You give the turtles time to get clear, then you turn and you open the throttle again; and you are confident, then, to keep the power on in the turns and leap the waves and trust the jetski to stay afloat; and you want to stay out on the water all afternoon but have only booked for the morning and reluctantly head back to the marina.


(c) Richard Senior 2014