Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Barnacle Bills & Cairns Game Fishing Club

Barnacle Bills & Cairns Game Fishing Club

Far North Queensland, or as the locals call it FNQ, starts as you crest the Cardwell Range when your driving up from Townsville, to Cairns on the Bruce Highway. It spreads out before you like a big green blanket, made more dramatic because, the countryside before has been brown uninteresting Australian bush.It is one on of the few spots on the east coast where the Great Dividing range goes out to sea and meets with Mount Bowen on Hinchinbrook Island.

You can see the ocean, the reef, the tablelands, the rain forest, elements that make up Cairns and Far North Queensland (FNQ). Mix in big game fishing, a tropical climate of monsoons, cyclones, floods and electrical storms that make Sydney's New Years Fireworks look like a 'double bunger'. Include the characters and personalities that this 'neck of the woods' attract and you have  an intoxicating mix of geography and human activity that make for a sexy, exciting place for Australia to have as a front door.

Cairns resonated with me, it was still raw,it had that "Go north young man" appeal of adventure about it. The smell of salt in the air, the balmy weather, especially the evenings, even during the wet season with the constant deluge on corrugated iron roofs, though if it went to long, they say it can send you" bonkers"!!. 

The city was in an evolving stage mostly low rise buildings,Hydes Hotel was the tallest - about three levels. The central part was a grid of about ten blocks bounded by the Esplanade and  Cairns Inlet. Architecturally, the only stand out was, verandahs over footpaths, latticework and after a five minute stroll into the suburbs and the ubiquitous Queenslander everywhere. In a basin surrounded by verdant rainforest hills, Cairns sat at the bottom of Trinity Bay on an inlet that narrowed further upstream into mangroves. Where now, there would be crocodiles, not when I was there, as they had all been shot out - for shoes and handbags, then again the mangroves might not be there, as they probably have been developed for resort hotels or marine purposes.

The Cairns Game Fishing Club was just completed when we arrived, it was built next to "Tawny's", the other seafood restaurant in town besides "Barnacle Bills".The "Game Club" as it was known, was at the mouth of the inlet next to the Marlin Wharf. Here the game boats moored and  did the weigh- in for large catches, as did the tourists boats taking people out to the reef and Green Island. At this time, early eighties, Lee Marvin was one of the Hollywood types who would come into Cairns, hiring the  game boat "Sea Venture" and skipper Dennis Wallace aka "Brizzaka"(supposedly Aboriginal for wild man- the description was right, not sure about the other).The Club was not for the Hoi Polloi, the Prez (as he was called ) - Jock Izzat ,  managed it with a firm hand as I will explain:

 After I had been there for about eight months a friend of mine from Sydney arrived in Cairns called John Ormonde. He  with another Sydney guy, who had been there for a long time  Laidley Mort, decided to have a drink one afternoon at the "Game Club." Neither were members, and both were wearing sarongs, they decided to have a binge on Bundie and Coke and stirr the place up, winding up some of the club members, probably about the colour of their necks, nearly getting into a punch up, so they decided to bail and went to the Marlin Bar another infamous watering hole.

 The next day I was called over by the "Prez," "it's about your mate John Ormonde, he's not a member, so unless he's signed in by you, he is not able to enter the premises, we can lose our license if people walk in off the street like he 's done, he's brought in another guy who's also not a member, but is also barred for life, they both got pissed and insulted some of the members and caused all sorts of trouble, besides all that, they were wearing skirts,which was against dress codes,!!! - see it does not happen again".

John never became a member, he asked if he could stay on my sofa when I was living at Holloways Beach for a couple of nights and six months later he was still there.

When I first took over "Barnacle BIlls", in fact the first night I was thrown into the deep end. They were two staff down, one short in the kitchen, one short on the floor. I had been there since three In the afternoon and asked to help out in cold larder, learning the make up of the cold entrees and doing the 'mise en place'. 

At about 7pm Kate who was the hostess has appeared in the Kitchen and yelled out "Tony how long has it been since you served wine at tables" and with that I've been given a table of ten, and the dishwasher has replaced me in the cold larder.The table I was to look after were a film production crew from Sydney, in Cairns filming a commercial, they were a mix of blokes and chicks and in a boisterous 'wrap up mood'. 

Having been in the kitchen I was not aware of how out of control  the restaurant was. People are everywhere, it was over booked, people overflowing from the bar into the entrance to the kitchen making it an obstacle course for staff coming to and fro. Customers waiting on the footpath, others told to wait over on the Esplanade on park benches - bedlam at  7pm!!   the restaurant could seat 80, there was another 80 waiting to be seated. My mind was not on serving a table of ten wine, it was on, how disorganised the front was and what had I got myself into.

I handed them the wine lists, then with their order went to the bar, to be told the four wines they had ordered, three we were out of stock.Back to the table, I explain what we had in stock, so I get another wine order, when I go back to the bar, I'm told another wine they have  ordered has just been sold out. Back I go again, reorder and eventually I get the order right. Back  to the table with four different wines to pour amongst ten people trying to remember who is having what, is a task in itself. I'm proceeding to pour the wine and trying to remember who is having what when I get the the shakes.

 So,I am trying to pour wine for a table of ten,I 've got the shakes and when I see the bedlam  I have the total shits, then my mind starts to think why am I here, do I really want to be running another restaurant, so my shakes get worse and I lose focus, when you have the shakes it is very difficult to control, as the wine not only goes into the glass but everywhere else, which it does. I  had only poured for two or three and the shaking was more obvious and what made it worse was the whole table became aware of it, and started to nudge each other - which embarrassed me further, making it more difficult to focus on the task at hand,as all i wanted was out, how I finished pouring every ones wine was a small miracle. I told them that because we were so busy they would have to pour the wine themselves. I scuttled back to the kitchen like a beaten dog and handed over to an already overworked young wine waiter who was still in his last year at High School. So much for leading from the front and baptism of fire.

I got into a routine each evening,this consisted of writing up the "Specials Board" there was always freshly caught  reef fish, straight from the wharf- Maori Wrasse, Coral Trout, Red Emperor, all great eating reef fish.Either baked whole or in filets panfried in a lemon butter sauce. Next was  setting up the bar and tables. Checking that staff were coming who were rostered on, as they were all casual and in a laid backed environment, the reliability of some was suspect.Also the stock was received for the day and fridges stocked with beer, wines, which was done by the cleaner early in the morning. Meeting with the chef and checking that all was on the menu,  float in the till. How many bookings  for the night and allocating them tables. Taking bookings, as the phone was constantly going off in the early evenings. The restaurant did not fill up till seven. 

Often, I would wander across the park to the "Game Club" for a couple of drinks, there was always someone to meet and have a chat, and I would return about seven to help with evening trade at Barnacles. We tried lunch for a few months, but there was insufficient business so knocked that on the head and concentrated on  trading seven nights per week.

The first couple of weeks it took to get the feeling for how it was managed.  I knew most of the staff as I used to go there before becoming one of the owners.I got better after the first night, but not much. Angela and I split up after six months, I fell for a young Canadian lady, Janice Belsher,  who started working for me at the restaurant. Angela went back to Sydney and Janice and I moved into a beach house at Hollaways Beach.This did not endear me to a lot of people who we had become friends with.  Angela was well liked and the way we split was harsh on her, and not pleasant for which I have tried to make amends. I introduced her, to her now husband, Roger Scales who owned a backpackers lodge in Bingil Bay, south of Cairns.

Janice and I used to enjoy hiking and going for runs in the trails through the rainforest behind Cairns in a place  called EdgeHill. On one of these hikes we saw some movement in the bush and as the trail swung closer to the where the movement was, we confronted a Cassowary which started to run at us. I told Janice to sprint along the track and I took off in the opposite direction and found myself off the track, and being torn to shreds trying to run away. Though not for long, as you cannot go far or fast, in the North Queensland Rainforest because of a vine called "wait a while".It has these thorns that face backwards and dig into your skin or clothes and prevent you going anywhere untill you stop and release them.Thank Christ the Cassowary stopped chasing, as they can kill a person , one kick from the three pronged clawed foot propelled at you, is like a spear thrust, and in the right place can send you heavenwards.They can run through the rainforest unimpeded, the thorns on the "wait- a- while" must act like a comb on their large black feathered body.Fascinating bird, they have this large horned protrubance on the top of their skull,called a "casque" like a big growth, spoils their looks, they are descended from dinossaurs, their big fuckers about six feet high to the top of their head ,flightless they have no trouble running through the Jungle and fast, they can get up to speeds of thirty mph. Apparently we must have been near where it had some chicks as they don't normally become aggressive. I have seen them at Mission Beach walking, through the back yards of houses and seen people feeding them fruit which is their main diet.

As much as the Barrier Reef is one of natures marvels, it is not something that you can become engaged with, or for that matter the ocean. Newcomers after going out to the reef and Islands a few times as guests on someones boat, often decide to buy a boat.Then after a few trips out to the reef realise how far it is off the coast and the cost in fuel which runs into hundreds of dollars. So what happens? the boats end up on the trailers, just sitting in the driveway of their newly purchased Queenslander which their going to tart up. 

Janice and I rented a beach cottage at Holloways Beach, literally on the beach. We stepped out of the back door of the house, onto a stone flagged terrace which was four meters wide and then it was the sand for about another thirty meters and the Ocean.The problem was during the summer you can not swim in it because of the Box Jelly Fish. We had a swimming pool, but it's not the same, I missed the surf.These day with the "Salties" I don't think anyone in their right minds would go in the water winter or summer, their breeding so fast laying up to fifty eggs a time.

Interesting theory about the box jelly fish proliferation, is that as with most things,  caused by man. Who shot the dingoes ? which are the natural predators of the wild pigs, the wild pigs are feral, all over Cape York  and dig up the eggs of the turtles, hence less turtles, which are the natural predators of the Box Jelly Fish.I have seen the sting off one, their vicious looking, as if the person had been whipped by "cat of nine tails" or burned with branding iron, nasty raised red fleshy welts, that are dimpled, the pain is excruciating, kills children or adults who have weak constitutions.

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