Tuesday, November 30, 2010

recollections of Keswick Island: the day we almost perished and I went blind

* a collection of stories and memories, in no particular order, from the life and times of John Clarke, who served as a policeman in the Australian Police Force, a great practical joker, he also had a great affinity with people and wildlife, was a champion swimmer, snooker player, loved golf, still loves fishing and is also an artist. I hope you enjoy his recollections - cheers, karin (his daughter)

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We went on holidays to Keswick Island off Mackay, Qld, Australia - the island was leased as a pastoral lease by Father Leo Donnelly and friends of his.  The first time, we went with the Leightons from Port Macquarie and had a great time - it is a big island, 8000 acres, and we were the only ones on it.  We lived in a hut on the edge of a coral beach next to the channel dividing us from St Bees, which is another big island, about 1km across the channel.  One day, George Leighton towed me and the kids over to St Bees Island with the big aluminium half-cabin boat and dropped us there, while he went round the island fishing.  He was supposed to pick us up at 4pm.  Meanwhile, Sal (my wife) and Marie (George's wife) had gone to another area on St Bees Island to visit  Ernst and Musch who lived there on the Island.  Ernst came over to Keswick Island where we were staying, and picked Sal and Marie up.

George was delayed and didn't arrive back at 4pm to pick us up and I got worried as the water was getting higher and higher on the sandy beach where we were located and quickly being cut off, and also concerned because the big boat tended to break down a lot.  So at about 5pm, I put the kids (Karin, Melissa and Tim) in the little dinghy and started to row across the channel back towards Keswick Island.  At the same time the tide began to make, and we were being swept along the channel towards all these rips that were white water, and it looked as though we were going to miss Keswick Island.  If I had lost control of the dinghy, I'm sure we would have capsized in the rip and we all would not have made it.

Just then, George arrived, he had got keen on the fishing and fogotten the time lol.  Karin remembers the occasion vividly and could see how worried I was.  I explained to Karin that thing looked real bad and we might not make it back to Keswick Island, meanwhile I was rowing madly and trying to keep the boat steady.  I prepared her for the possibility that we may have to swim for it, and as she was quite a competent swimmer she would have to do her best to make it on her own, while I saved the little ones who couldn't yet swim.  Karin had never seen me so worried, but felt a deep strength surface and a determination.  I told her there was nothing more we could do now, but pray, and boy did we pray, and thankfully, George arrived just in time!

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I (karin) recall also that Dad (John) went blind on the island for a period of around 3 days, it took a while to figure out what had happened, and it was a tremendously frightening time, we finally realised that Dad had touched a caustic plant species and then his eyes, and this caused a temporary blindness.  He did recover thankfully.  He would tell the story much better than I can.  My story about it is here if you'd like to read my version There are also the other chapters that I've written about our adventures on Keswick Island over two holidays, if you are interested you can read them by clicking here each of the white square thumbnails contains a story in sequence from the Introduction to Chapter 8

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