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The Costs of the Improve

From my travel log 31 March 2004
Townsville, Queensland Australia

I spent four years in Townsville as a PhD student. These years though at time lonely and difficult were the best in my life. I was lucky and free then.

When I was a student and things became too burdensome for me, I went overseas, across the water to Magnetic Island. This island is 8 kilometres from Townsville, a mere 25 minute ride from the mainland. The island became my place apart. I spent long hours on the walking trails and the lonely beaches.

The journey starts by boarding a ferry at Ross Creek and stepping onto Picnic Bay jetty. Sometimes I had friends on the journey and we stepped on the island together. At times I see my friends boarding as I disembarked. At all times, there is a wave of a hand and a smile even though the swells were big and storms are about.That was a comforting thought as one sets off to sea.

So in my last visit to the island in 2004, the ferry no longer landed at Picnic Bay but at Nelly Bay. The new ferry landing was no longer a jetty but a terminal. In fact it had the feel of an airport, and I have landed at numerous airports and there comes a time that all of them look and feel the same. The terminal is one of those post-modern architectural types and is functional but lacks a soul. In fact it looks like one of Manila’s malls.

The state government had long realised that the old jetty was unsafe especially in rough weather. I agree. Also with globalisation there are more tourists and the jetty couldn’t handle them all. But in the improve, there was a cost. Something was lost and may not be regained.

Of course the new ferry landing will result in more building development and investment along Nelly’s once sleepy esplanade. The waterfront here is abuzz with new restaurants and shops. What about Picnic Bay?

For a century, visitors to Picnic landed at the jetty and spent their holidays at the numerous motels and cabanas. Picnic Bay reef is probably the most accesible in the whole Great Barrier Reef. But now with tourists opting to stay at Nelly, the place looks dead. I searchers for my favourite fish and chips shop; “Mermaids” where I always had some grog after a long bushwalk while waiting for the last ferry. Yes the place was still there and the lady who owns the place had no choice but to shut or transfer to Nelly. But leases are higher at Nelly and her family has had the fish and chips shop at the same spot for the last 75 years. She remembers me and we had a long chat on business prospects on the island and Townsville. Well the fish and chips is still good but the business isn’t. So if she did move to Nelly, something will really be lost!

Magnetic Isle is still beautiful and the Picnic Bay reef is still there. The islanders are still very friendly. Perhaps progress tempered by the heart is the way to go.

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