It’s an ill wind …

Travel Talk

Have you heard about Domino the dog?  No, this isn’t the beginning of a long joke, but a serious question.   

Domino is a terrier puppy who disappeared down a rabbit hole in some tree roots and, despite mighty efforts on the part of his owner – which included using a digger to shift 20 tons of earth – was given up for lost.

Three weeks after his disappearance, “St. Jude”, the mighty storm of late October, blew over the tree and Domino re-appeared – dirty and dehydrated, but decidedly alive.  By rights he should have been in the Great Kennel in the Sky, gnawing the finest bones and devouring fillet steak to the sound of trumpets.  Instead, he trotted back to his home at Great Glemham in Suffolk, hopefully a wiser pooch.

I read that story and immediately thought of Andy Wright and a visit I made to Tropical North Queensland in the aftermath of Cyclone Yasi, which blew through the region in 2011.   

Its winds topped 185 miles an hour, bringing widespread devastation.  There were storm surges all along the coast, with waves thirty feet high and more.  But as far as Andy Wright was concerned – just like Domino – it was an ill wind that blew some good.

Andy is based in Mission Beach, a small and, frankly, somewhat run-down resort on a stretch of the Queensland shoreline that calls itself the Cassowary Coast (I’ll tell you about the Cassowary in a moment).  The entire area, between Townsville and Cairns, took a battering, but Mission Beach was hurt more than most.     

Andy, whose firm, Calypso Adventures, takes visitors out to dive on nearby reefs and wrecks, was particularly affected because Yasi’s huge waves had stirred up the sea bed.

Sitting in his small shop, which doubles as an office, he told me how, as soon as it was safe to do so, he had taken out one of his boats in order to dive down and see exactly what damage had been done.

And it was then he found the Second World War bomber …

Yasi had stirred up the sand to reveal it, perfectly preserved, lying a little way off shore in relatively shallow water.  At the time of our meeting Andy didn’t know if it was a B17 or a B24, but had sent photographs to experts in America and was waiting to hear from them.  

He was waiting, too, for the rush of enthusiasts who would want to dive on this site.  He’d already had phone calls and e-mails and old-fashioned letters from all parts of Australia, the USA and Europe.  It seemed there were hundreds of people out there eager to visit Mission Beach and dive down to that bomber.     

Andy explained, incidentally, that during the latter half of the Second World War, in particularly during the Battle of the Coral Sea, American air crews based at Townsville would fly up to engage the enemy, but had a limited time before their fuel ran low.   

If they hadn’t sufficient fuel to get back to base, they had orders to ditch in the sea as close to land as possible.  If they were lucky – and the crew of this plane most likely were – local people would be manning boats offshore waiting to pick them up.  “Chances are,” said Andy, “that they didn’t even get their feet wet.”

As I said, it’s an ill wind …   Oh, I also said I’d tell you about the Cassowary.

It is a very big bird – flightless, like its cousins the Ostrich and Emu.  Though some females can reach a height of over six feet, around five feet nine inches is the average.  It can reach speeds of 30 miles an hour and tends to avoid contact with humans, which is understandable as more than half Cassowary fatalities occur when we hit them with our cars.  There are roadside notices urging drivers to be cautious.  Even so, it is an endangered species.

This being Australia, you will be told that the Cassowary is a killer.  That its claws can rip open a human being.   

The Australians do have a tendency to tell you stuff like this – especially if you are a visitor from England.  I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been warned about snakes or spiders or fish or insects that “ … can kill you in seven seconds …”  I don’t know where the seven seconds comes from, but I suppose it sounds more plausible than five or ten.  (Seven is a believable number.  I use it a lot when I’m doing my tax return.)

The truth is that only one person has been killed by a Cassowary and that was because its claw happened to pierce an artery in his neck.  As the young man in question was, at the time, attempting to batter it to death with a large stick, my sympathies are with the bird.

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John Carter

Long-time presenter of TV’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and BBC holiday programmes

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