This excerpt is another from Dad’s book Footprints in Australian Sand. I am in the process of translating it into english. In this he tells of our very first family holiday in Australia. By this time we had moved to Brisbane in Queensland.
MOSQUITOES, SNAKES AND RAIN
Early one Monday morning our fully laden Holden utility was on the way to a place called Bli Bli. Our destination was Polvi’s sugar cane farm on Finland Road. Our three children were enthusiastic map readers. Instructions flowed the whole way from Brisbane on. Erkki keenly followed our progress. He announced how far we still had to go every ten kilometres.
Finland Road was found without any problems and its naming history was quickly discovered. Several Finnish families lived along its route. We got to know many of them during our holiday as Polvis had accepted several lunch invitations on our behalf. Iida Polvi herself had prepared a magnificent lunch.
Jalmari Polvi, under Iida’s instruction of course, had prepared one of the cane worker’s camps into top condition for our use. First of all we were instructed on the Finnish version of the sugar cane farmer’s language. Sugar cane was keiniä, harvesting was keinin hakkuuta, chipping was sippausta and the tool used for it was a sippakuokka. Before harvesting the cane was burnt – keininpoltto.
Our holiday was at a time when harvesting and the busiest time was over. Jalmari did however hire all our children at basic rates to do some chipping. A good day’s work resulted in three bellyfuls of very good food prepared by our hostess Iida. For the same price Mum and Dad’s bellies were filled too, although Helvi and I did not do any chipping. Our accommodation was a cane camp on the banks of the Maroochy River. It included a kitchen and three bedrooms. The refrigerator was fueled by petrol and was a source of endless delight and surprise to us.
On showing us around our accommodation Jalmari emphasised a few things which we needed to take special note of. He had cut grass around our camp by machine leaving a large clear area including both sides of the path down to the river. Elsewhere there was a dense metre high growth. Jalmari said he had left that for the snakes to live in. It would be best for the adults and the children to steer clear of that as the reptiles that lived there were invariably poisonous. To emphasise his words our host told a few horror stories about local snakes.
We were given the use of a small row boat and our host warned that the children were not allowed to go out alone. The current could easily snatch the boat on its way despite the efforts of little hands. The open sea was only a few kilometres away. Even experienced fishermen could unexpectedly find themselves in difficulty. Swimming in the river was equally as dangerous as it could have sharks upstream from the ocean swimming in it. It sometimes happened that dare-devils or otherwise careless swimmers found themselves confronted by sharks. They were never a pleasant experience.
The nearby beaches had many safe swimming areas. They were patrolled by life savers and currently extra precautions had been taken against sharks. The government had hired professional fishermen who took care that sharks did not disturb swimmers in whatever way they felt best. We could go swimming at those safe beaches as often as we liked. The closest ones were only a few minutes by car.
The windows and doors of our cane camp were fitted with fly screens and we were advised to take care that mosquitoes would not invade our peaceful existence. Mosquito bites could cause painful sores especially for children and at times, fever. Our host had supplied a small tin plate in each room onto which we could attach a mosquito coil. He assured us that whenever he lit a coil the mosquitoes would disappear over the horizon. Noticing our children’s concerned expressions Jalmari said in his powerful way that there was no need to worry.
He told us about these necessary things because we were first timers in the magnificent Queensland environment. They in no way restricted our interesting and peaceful holiday which we would enjoy for the next ten days. There would be excitement enough making sure the snakes would not invade our beautifully cleared surroundings. Entry for them was absolutely restricted but they might try to trespass.
There were many safe ways to get rid of snakes but our good humoured host only recommended three of them. We could just wait patiently and let the trespassers go in their own good time. Secondly, Helvi could keep a pot of water on the boil and when necessary throw it over the snake. It would die instantly. The third way to talk safely to these slithering trespassers was to shoot them in the head with a rifle. That would be best to do through the camp window and because it required careful aim it would be good to practice shooting now and then. The last choice got an enthusiastic vote from our 12 year old son Erkki. It would be best to start shooting practice straight away…..
There were many different kinds of bushes on the farm bearing juicy looking berries. Our son Erkki who literally shadowed Uncle Jalmari step for step tried to find out which berries could be eaten and which couldn’t. He was taught a good lesson when Jalmari took a generous handful of delicious looking berries and promptly threw them in his mouth at the same time singing their praises and saying how good they were. Erkki followed his example but put only a few berries in his mouth. He soon noticed that he had been tricked as Uncle Jalmari had kept the strong peppery berries in his mouth which was empty when he chewed.
And naturally Erkki continued the trickery by doing the same thing to his sisters Ritva and Raili. Of course the experience was followed by angry tears as the berries burnt the girls’ mouths but Uncle Jalmari murmured in satisfaction. The children had learned that not all tempting looking berries were in fact edible. The leaves and berries of some bushes were very dangerous. It would be best to steer clear of them. Uncle Jalmari’s reputation of knowing everything soared to new heights in the eyes of the children….
Sometimes a brisk shower of rain forced everyone indoors. Even those moments were well utilised by the all-knowing Jalmari who enlightened us about the wondrous secrets of Queensland. As the rain beat down on the roof he asked the children Do you know what causes rain in these parts? All three of our children tried very hard to explain the birth of rain. Our host agreed that those reasons would hold true elsewhere but here on the Sunshine Coast the reason for the oft repeated showers was different. When suspense was at its height Jalmari once again demonstrated the depth of his local knowledge.
Long ago this area was inhabited by a tribe of very special and happy Australian Aboriginals. There were two tribes who lived in these parts and no-one dared disturb them because they were giants. Usually they lived in peace and told tales of the mighty deeds of their Ancestors. The Chief Elder of each tribe was handsome and brave. They were very polite to each other. They did not want to start quarrels which could lead to a fight. A contest between the two giants would not be a laughing matter as everyone well knew. Even I had to live apart from my family for fourteen years when two of the modern day giants fought the Second World War.
Amongst the tribe’s women was one so beautiful that you couldn’t find anyone like her even in the biggest Beauty Contest. Her name was Maroochy – the same as the name of our river. All of the single young men giants wanted to marry Maroochy but one after another all the suitors disappeared when the giantess turned up her especially large and pretty nose. Soon the rumour spread amongst the tribes that the maiden Maroochy had her eyes set on only the two Chief Elders. One of them, by the name of Diddery, camped around Yandina and Cooroy. The other, named Coolum, lived mainly in the area around Coolum and Bli Bli.
Both of these Chief Elders, who were single, started to visit Maroochy more often than usual. Before long everyone knew that both of the Chief Elders were wooing that incredibly beautiful giantess. However, nobody knew how proud and shallow that maiden was.
Maroochy, of course, did not turn up her nose when the Chief Elders wooed her. Turning up your nose at the Chief Elder would have been such a serious matter that not even the most incredibly beautiful girl dared to do it. Even though Dinderry and Coolum were very patient they did not want to wait forever for Maroochy’s answer. They made it plain to the maiden that she should make her decision soon. At that stage the giantess discovered to her horror that she had fallen in love with both of the wooing giants. A decision seemed to be impossible. So she suggested that the giants should decide between them which one was to have her.
That was a terrible mistake. Relations between the two suitors tightened in the blink of an eye. Even though the blink of a giant’s eye can sometimes last many days it became clear fairly quickly that the matter could not be settled without a contest. At first the idea of a contest seemed ridiculous. Flattering to Maroochy, she became so proud that even other than the tribe’s wisest women noticed it. Week by week the relationship between the two tribes tightened. The Chief Elders started to look sullenly at each other and visit Maroochy at different times. But it is hard for giants to do anything in secret. When the giantess quickly ran to tell her friends which one had been to woo her the secret quickly became public knowledge.
Coolum’s patience broke as the years wore on and he decided to settle the matter before his hundredth birthday. Day and night for many weeks he sharpened his stone axe on the cliffs. A huge big boomerang was always in top condition but just to make sure Coolum speared a fairly large whale and smoothed its blubber onto the boomerang for a week or two. And then he was off to search for the spiteful opponent suitor who had apparently visited Maroochy a couple of times while he was getting his weapons ready.
And so a big battle ensued. The echoes could be heard as far as the Gold Coast and Rockhampton. A few weeks later the news spread that Coolum had slain his opponent. The brave giant had fallen on his own tribal lands. Near Yandina you can still see the hapless body of the suitor. It has petrified into a mountain- Mt Dinderry. The fallen warrior’s tribe of giants were convinced that Coolum had broken the rules of a fair contest. Raging, the men of the tribe gathered their weapons and courage to carry out a raid of revenge against Coolum.
The battle was short and fierce. The enraged tribe of Dinderry threw Coolum’s head far out to sea where you can still see it as a large coral reef. His body was left to petrify where it fell. It is still there – Mt Coolum. Having heard the news that both her suitors had been slain, Maroochy was overcome by a giant wave of grief and regret. She was convinced that she could never find such handsome and brave suitors again and would be left a spinster for the rest of her life. That possibility shook the young giantess enormously for she was only 80 years of age.
Giant sized streams of tears flowed powerfully down her beautiful face and onto the ground. Thus was born our mighty Maroochy River. It has remained a total secret where Maroochy lies in her grief. We just know that she still cries often and when she does we get rainstorms here. There’s no point in being scared that the Maroochy River will dry out like many other rivers in Australia. Those who have good information about these matters know that the giantess Maroochy’s grief is only just beginning. It is so despite the fact that the same sources say that the crying started at least thirty thousand years ago, said Jalmari finishing his story about the origins of the Sunshine Coast rain.
© Raili Tanska