Short stories

Atherton

I put my suitcase down and looked around. A kitchenette with laminate benches and a laminate table and vinyl covered chairs. It was 60s style. I opened the back door to see the bush behind. As I returned to the car I looked around. My unit was one of around ten others. All in a row with a covered parking space out the front. The place looked run down and in an isolated area. Yet this was to be home for the next month, Monday to Friday, and only a few minutes’ drive to the township of Atherton.

Earlier in the day I drove from the Sunshine Coast to Brisbane and then a plane to Cairns. Then a one and a half hours drive to the Atherton Tableland. Now I was making the return drive, to take my work colleague back to the Cairns Airport. I then had another one and half hours’ drive back to Atherton and my motel unit.

It was late on a winter’s afternoon and I was leaving the Cairns Airport for the second time. Though I was in the tropics the sun was fast fading. Soon it would be dark. I was apprehensive about staying at the low-cost motel. There was bushland all around the motel. To me it felt inhospitable and remote. I was a woman alone. The unit had no security on the windows or doors. I felt vulnerable.

As I drove along the Captain Cook Highway I took a detour into the Smithfield Shopping Centre to make a phone call. I saw the sign to Yorkeys Knob. It was getting darker. I knew that I could not spend even one night at the motel. But I was to start work in Atherton the next day, 9 a.m.

My heart was beating with every ring the phone made. I only hoped she was home. ‘Hello’ said a familiar voice. It was my sister Christine, a naval officer, who had recently moved to Yorkeys Knob. After a seven-kilometre trip down the road, I arrived at Christine’s place across from the beach.

All I had with me was my handbag and the steaks I had bought for dinner. I stayed the night. Even though it was winter it was a balmy tropical evening. The ceiling fans sang to us all night. They kept the air circulating and the temperature exactly right for sleeping.

Being alone does not always cause loneliness. But being alone in an unfamiliar situation can cause a feeling of vulnerability.

In the early morning I headed up the Kennedy Highway. My companion this time was Andrea Bocelli. His singing voice was a soothing balm in my foreign situation. Up the mountain range, past Mareeba and I arrived at the motel. My suitcase was in the same position as I left it. I looked at the floor. I wondered what little creatures had ran around my suitcase during the dark of night. I did not plan to stay and find out.

After a shower I checked out of the motel. The booking was now someone else’s problem. What was four nights for four weeks had now reduced to one night. I arrived at my work office. My project for the next month was an analysis of team functioning. My report was to include recommendations and remedies to improve service delivery. The government office delivered services to vulnerable children. One child had died the previous month which was the subject of a separate investigation.

After meeting the Atherton team my first job was to sort out my accommodation. Soon I had checked into the Atherton Blue Gum, Bed and Breakfast. A two-story house owned by a couple with children. The ground floor units shared a common space and fridge. Now with safe, clean and comfortable accommodation I could get on with my work at Atherton.

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