Rockhampton was a queer place, though full of character. There were a lot of odd-looking boats in the river and I had difficulty in persuading boatloads of youths not to jab at the floats with their oars, or grab the wings to hold themselves against the current. In the afternoon I worked on the motor and refuelled, finding it awkward with my bandaged finger. This seemed to hit everything, and dip alternately in oil, petrol and the muddy river.
There were steam trams in Rockhampton puffing about the streets, and everyone there seemed to spend a lot of time in asserting the equality of man. In the evening I was driven out to a pub, given a glass of beer, and set on a beer barrel to answer countless questions. When at last I got to bed I found that I had left behind the copy of Homer’s Odyssey which I was reading.
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In the morning, I succeeded in taking off from the river, but I had hard work through 60 miles of heavy rain before flying into fine weather. I was then inside the Great Barrier Reef, through the reef itself was still 150 miles to seawards. At noon I reached the Whitsunday Passage, which stirred a romantic feeling at the thought of Cook’s discovering it. I wanted to come down there myself, but with a fresh breeze blowing from the East it was difficult to find a suitable spot. If the water was sheltered there was not enough take-off run to clear the land ahead or else there was a sea running or reefs showed their dirty brown teeth. After passing one of the bays I decided that it would have suited me, but I would not turn back to it. I was getting hungry and impatient, but at last I reached Gloucester Island and came down on the passage between it and the mainland. The seaplane, once down, drifted back fast, and I could see a seething tide-rip which had looked negligible from the air. I hurriedly threw out my anchor, and although it jerked and bumped a bit, it held in time. It was lovely and peaceful there, and all the land in sight seemed uninhabited. I sat on the front wing edge, dangling my feet, and eating. Then I smoked a pipe and lazed – this was what I had dreamed about, complete solitude in the sunshine, and silence except for the friendly slip-slap of wavelets against the floats. But I had hundreds of miles to go before nightfall, so I had to tear myself away. I expected an easy take-off with the loppy sea and a good breeze, but to my surprise the seaplane stayed heavy in the water and when she struck the open seas beyond the island she suddenly swung to starboard. I thought that she was going to capsize and jammed on full opposite rudder. She righted, and finally bumped into the air. I wrote in my log, ‘Horrible! Cannot understand it. I must have been flying atrociously, yet did not think so.’
After 450 miles I had the greatest difficulty in keeping awake, and I was tempted to alight at a beautiful little settlement on Palm Island. But I had to get on to Cairns to refuel, so I made myself go on. With 30 miles yet to go the petrol gauge showed empty. I knew that there was still some left, but to be on the safe side I began climbing so as to have a glide in hand in case of need. I flew over a watershed to see Cairns River within gliding range, 4 miles ahead. It had taken eight hours flying to cover the 623 miles.
Cairns was a surprise to me in more than one way. From the air it looked beautiful, lying in a horseshoe basin split by the river, and almost encircled by ranges with a dark-purple bloom. But as soon as I alighted, a launch rushed up. It was loaded with tourists clicking cameras. They stopped dead in my lee, and the seaplane promptly began drifting on to the launch. I jumped for the wing root, switched on, sprang to the float and began frantically swinging the propeller. Fortunately they could not hear my swearing at them. I started the motor just in time, and taxied away. As I was rigging my anchor at a fresh spot the launch came up again. Then the petrol agent arrived, and told me that I could not anchor there; I had been ordered to moor on the other side of the estuary, almost out of sight of the town. I asked with wasted irony if they suspected the Gipsy Moth of being loaded with dynamite. Next, I had to go with the agent to the storage tanks for petrol, so that I finished emptying ten 4-gallon tins of petrol into the tanks by torchlight. Finally, when I did reach the town, the petrol agent told me that I would not get a bed: I thought he was joking as Australia was then in the middle of a slump, but I was turned away by the first three hotels. When at last a kindly Mrs McManus squeezed me into what I think must have been a housemaid’s cupboard; I was grateful. Further, she fossicked some food from the kitchen, and Australian tea that makes one’s hair curl. Apparently anyone in those parts who expected food after 6.30 p.m. was regarded as crazy.