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Published: December 3rd 2020
We spent a couple of weeks with our three youngsters in the relative warmth of North Queensland. First stop was Great Keppel Island off the coast of Yeppoon. We landed at Rockhampton, and nervously boarded a small six seater aircraft for the short flight out to the island. Eight year old Scott was then very much into anything airborne, and had been salivating for several weeks at the thought of a trip in a small plane. Nine eleven was still a year away, so we probably weren't all that shocked when the pilot asked him if he wanted to take the controls for a few minutes mid-flight. I think Scott knew a bit too much about what could go wrong. He politely declined. No problem thought the pilot, we'll get five year old Emma to fly the plane. Now I've heard stories about captains of large airliners in Russia getting their young offspring to fly their planes, and they've usually ended in reports of firey crashes with "no survivors". I think our trusty pilot could have grabbed control back using his own joystick if he needed to, or at least I hope he could have.
I couldn't help but remember
the last time I'd flown to a Queensland Island. It was in the late 1970s with a group of five Uni friends. As Uni students do, we'd driven the two thousand or so kilometres from Melbourne to North Queensland in a combi van and a ute, camping on the roadside along the way. We wanted to visit Lindeman Island in the Whitsundays. As might also be expected of Uni students, we were in a pub in Proserpine one evening, and happened to get talking to a middle aged guy who told us he was a trainee pilot. He was keen to get his hours up so offered to fly us out to Lindeman the next day for the cost of the fuel. We met him at the airport the following morning, and off we set. I was sitting up the front next to him, and all seemed to be going smoothly at first. He pointed out the Lindeman runway up ahead. It was grass, and sat on a plateau on top of the island's highest hill. As we came in, it became clear that there was a strong cross wind. Our trusty pilot seemed to be approaching with the plane
at a very distinct angle to the runway's alignment, presumably because of the wind, and just as he was about to land he suddenly straightened it up. I don't think he'd done the lesson where they tell you that the front and rear wheels are supposed to land at about the same time, and the front wheels came down hard while the back wheels were still well and truly airborne. The front wheels then lifted off again as the back wheels landed. This process was repeated multiple times as we kangaroo-hopped along the grass for a few hundred metres. Things clearly weren't going to plan. Eventually he turned to me and told me that he couldn't bring the landing under control. He said that he'd have to take off again, and loop around and have another go. I turned around to see how my mates were coping with all of this. Blood seemed to have completely drained from all their faces, and the fabric they make airplane seats out of must be really tough to have survived the finger nails that were being driven into it. We lived to tell the tale, but I do often wonder how I managed
to survive the many foolish escapades of my youth.
Great Keppel Island is the largest of the eighteen islands in the Keppel Group, and seems to have had a fairly chequered history as a tourist destination. Our accommodation was very basic motel style rooms, which was fine. The resort was small and quiet, with a couple of nice pools, and it fronted a calm sandy beach. A few years later it became a destination solely for the under 35s and became well known for its advertising campaign. "I got wrecked on Great Keppel Island" was a familiar sight emblazoned on tee shirts across the chests of (predominantly) young ladies around town. It changed hands again in 2006. The existing resort was closed in 2008, and plans were announced for a massive development including 600 hotel rooms and apartments, 1,700 villas, a championship golf course, and a 560 berth marina and ferry terminal. It seems that things didn't go all that well from there. Twelve years later, the only notable achievement was statutory approval of an Environmental Impact Study. Important to get that right of course, but no sooner had the approval gone through than the site was put up
for sale again. Glad we didn't invest in that one.
We spent most of our time there lazing by the pool, and Issy and I spent one very enjoyable evening riding camels along the beach as we watched the sun go down. It was all very pleasant and relaxing.
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