On Wednesday, April 10, 2013, three Brighton Writers—Ruby Reid, Adele Moy and myself— drove to Cleveland to take the Red Cat ferry to Minjerribah, also known as North Stradbroke Island. What followed was a delightful trip across Moreton Bay and very reasonably priced, seeing we were seated in great comfort on the viewing deck with its transparent walls which protected us from the rain while we enjoyed our elevenses—whatever they are—early lunch or late morning tea.
Arrived at Goompie, also known as Dunwich, we saw a queue of motor vehicles waiting to be transported by the Red Cat, and a black and white dog that seemed to be sussing the people in the cars moving off the ferry. It was a sweet little beast, came up and said hello to us and then went back to her job of checking the drivers and passengers in the cars that had just landed.
We followed the gentle curve of the hill from the ferry dock past a couple of shops and some residences of Goompie, into Rouse Street and then into Welsby looking for the museum, all the while marvelling at the lush green landscape and the serenity of the place.
The Museum is a low-set wooden building with a wide verandah in the front—rather like an impeccably-maintained old-fashioned Primary school. It has a thick carpet of lawn wrapped around it, a little shop where you can pick up various souvenirs, and the display rooms containing histories, artefacts and photographic evidence of the past. My kind of place. I was immediately arrested by the larger-than-life photographic portrait of Oodgeroo Noonuccal, that I remember seeing on the cover of one of her books. Oodgeroo is a woman many of us remember with great love and admiration. Perhaps it was Oodgeroo who had invited us to the island, this time, too.
Between 1990 and 1992, I was extremely privileged to be the President of the Queensland branch of the Society of Women Writers, a remarkable group of women who staged the Writers’ Weekend in 1992, at the Shorncliffe State School. It was the first Writers’ Weekend in Queensland and it was a huge success, apparently becoming the template for other Writers’ weekends to come, in Brisbane. Oodgeroo Noonuccal was our guest speaker and clearly our drawcard. We had something like 500 people turn up for our “Poetry in the Pub” session to hear her read her work and speak.
Twenty-one years later we are planning another Writers’ festival for August 31 in Sandgate and Shorncliffe, and who is auspicing and supporting us every step of the way? None other than our friends the Women Writers. So we’ve moved full circle. At the museum the first person I saw was a very beautiful young lady who told me her name was Elizabeth Engelbrecht (which, translated from the German, means ‘Bright Angel’) who happens to be Oodgeroo’s great-granddaughter.
Elizabeth invited us into a room which houses the Oodgeroo collection and offered us tea or coffee. I opted for water and was rewarded with the best-tasting H2O I think I’ve ever had. The conversation sparkled; about Straddie, about the museum, about writing festivals—among other things. Then we were joined by the curator of the museum, another Elizabeth—Elizabeth Gondwes—whose surname, from Zimbabwe, references the crocodile.
What passionate discussion flowed from this meeting! Elizabeth Gondwes spoke about her vision for her museum, about how it is a repository of story and ideas—ephemera—which is why music and dance and theatre and storytelling play an integral part. Which brings us back to the Writers’ festival. Writers are the sacred guardians of story, but what is a festival without music and dance? So far we are set to invite some extraordinary writers for our Indigenous panel on the afternoon of the 31st August, so why not a didjeridoo player and an Aboriginal Dance troupe from Minjerribah as well?
On the way home we had 45 minutes to wait for the next water taxi, so we ordered pumpkin cheese cake—which was delicious—and coffee at a cafe-cum-fruitshop and relaxed, enjoying the charms of the island. The water taxi was almost filled with workers from Sibelco, the sand-mining company, who had parked their cars on the mainland, but we were back on almost-dry land in a matter of 25 minutes. It was close to a perfect day.