A shadow skimmed across the blue water below us as we followed the coastline south. The dark shape seemed somehow inconsistent with the sleek white body and outstretched wings from which it was created, yet still I knew what it was, and more importantly, that it was taking us to our ultimate destination.
It was mid-morning, with the sun high above us, though yet to reach its zenith. Looking down from my window seat, on the western side of the 36 seat Dash 8 aircraft which serviced this route, I could easily follow our path as our shadow travelled across water or land. The familiar coastline below us weaved back and forth, with either the sparkling blue waters of the Pacific or the lush green of the landscape being beneath us, while we followed a straight course into Macquarie Harbour.
I soon found myself lost in my fond memories of the time I had spent in this neck of the woods. Happy times, sad times, family and friends, all of which would stay dear to me forever, no matter where it would be that I ended up in life.
A short time later I was startled from my reverie by the crackling of a loudspeaker somewhere above me, when the pilot announced that we would soon be preparing to land. We were getting close now and I knew that I would soon be able to see from above the town where I had once lived.
It was at this thought that the butterflies in my stomach seemed to come to life, churning up a mixture of emotions. After five years I was excited to be coming back to the first place that I had ever really been able to call home, yet at the same time I was also filled with a certain trepidation; unsure about just what would face me when I knocked on that door. I had nothing to fear, of course, it was just that sense of the unknown, of what — and who — might have changed that was starting to gnaw away at me.
As I watched the coastline below me, the two colours of the earth separated only by a thin line of sand or a rugged cliff, I saw the land veer westward, opening up a vast expanse of blue water; Thompson Bay. Letting my eyes wander along that thin line of golden sand, the barrier between land and water, I eventually came to a headland that I knew all too well. I quickly scanned ahead and beyond that there was another headland, on which sat an old white lighthouse, over which I knew we would soon be flying. Between the two headlands lay the hidden beach; a beach on which I had spent many wonderful days — and nights — and on which I couldn’t wait to walk barefooted once more, or feel those cool waters on my bare skin.
I quickly looked inland from there and soon found my real target, the white house that had been my home. It wouldn’t be long now, I knew, before I would be knocking on that door once more.
As we continued to fly south we soon passed directly over the lighthouse, then over Thompsonville, the town I had quickly grown to love. It was one of those places that for part of the year seemed lost in time, but during summer became a hive of activity, with visitors from all over flocking back to the place year after year to enjoy the sun, the surf, and just perhaps a short trip back in time.
There ahead of me were all the places I knew. The lake, on which sail boats and paddle boats were often seen. And there was Scott’s caravan park. At the thought of seeing Scott and Justin again I smiled to myself. They were a fantastic couple of guys, whom I loved dearly and I could hardly wait to see, but even so that would have to be tomorrow.
Then I spotted the hospital, perched upon a hill on the southern side of the lake. Then there was the marina and the fishing co-op, and before I knew it we had passed the town by.
I craned my neck, trying to take in as much as I could, but all I could do was watch as the town faded away, before then slumping back into my seat.
‘You know the place, then?’ the guy sitting next to me asked.
I had chatted to him earlier, shortly after we had left Brisbane, and he had seemed like a nice enough guy. I put him at about ten years or so older than I was, which would have made him something between thirty-five and forty.
‘Yeah,’ I replied. ‘I lived there for a while.’
‘Ahhh … a homecoming then?’
‘Yeah, something like that,’ I offered.
‘They tell me it has changed. The place has been overrun by hippies and alternative lifestyle types these last few years. Me, I’m not into that sort of stuff, but still it could be worth the trip out there to check it out. Some of those hippie sheilas can be a bit of all right, if you catch my drift,’ giving me a wink and a nudge with his elbow as he said so. ‘All them poofs are a bit of a worry though.’
‘Sounds intriguing,’ I said, while suddenly having a desire to want to change seats.
Just then the seatbelt light came on and a bell or chime sounded, before the captain then asked us to fasten our seat belts. Somewhere onboard we heard the sound of hydraulics operating the flaps, then the plane seemed to change direction. Shortly after that the captain told us we were on our final approach to Macquarie Harbour and we heard a change in the sound of the engines as they started to throttle back.
‘Nearly there now,’ the guy next to me said. I looked down at his hands and saw him gripping the arm rests for all he was worth, his knuckles showing white.
‘You’re not a nervous flier, are you?’ I asked him.
The look on his face told me everything I needed to know.
‘They say that it’s usually only during the take-off and landings when most accidents occur, but I wouldn’t be too worried. These planes and this airline have one of the best records going around … but still, you just never know when your number’s up, do you?’
His expression was priceless. I was hoping that about now he was wishing that he could change seats.
Turning away from him I looked back out the window and watched the water flash by below us. We were approaching the airport from the sea, but I could see land ahead of us. As I watched I could tell that we were losing altitude, with the waves below us starting to come up to greet us. I could see their white caps breaking and the rows of waves streaming in toward the shoreline, just as we were also now doing.
The plane’s engines throttled back some more and suddenly the shoreline was right there in front of us, as down, down, down we went.
I risked a quick glance at my companion and saw that he was indeed struggling. His eyes were closed and he was hanging on to those arm rests for all he was worth. I couldn’t help but smile, but quickly turned away once more, lest he might see me taking pleasure from his discomfort.
When we eventually touched down I could see that the runway had been built jutting out into the ocean; a long, narrow, finger of rock, concrete and asphalt. On either side of us there were vast stretches of water, one side leading away to a heavy shipping area, while to the north it appeared that new residential estates were going up.
After what seemed an eternity we eventually came to a stop on the runway and it wasn’t until then that my companion opened his eyes.
‘Good news! We made it!’ I said to him as the captain opened up the throttle and turned the plane toward the terminal.
* * *
When I finally was able to retrieve my carry bag from the luggage carousel I made a hasty retreat from the terminal and emerged outside to a hot January afternoon, teeming with people enjoying last of the school holidays.
A row of taxis stood waiting for emerging passengers, and I thought briefly about taking one, but for some reason I chose against it, preferring instead to do it the old-fashioned way.
The driver of the first taxi in the queue, who was leaning against the mud guard of his white station wagon, straightened himself up and looked pleased as I approached him, but when I walked straight past him he slumped back down again. My eyes were focused instead on the bus parked at the end of the line of cabs. That was the old way, and that was what I wanted to do today; you know, just for old times’ sake.
The sign at the front of the bus read ‘City’ so I climbed aboard.
‘How long until you head in?’ I asked the driver as I handed over a few coins to pay for my journey.
‘Only about five minutes,’ he replied. I nodded, then found myself an empty seat, which wasn’t hard to do. I knew I would have to change buses at the main depot at the Tourist Centre in the middle of town, then after that I would be on the way home.
Yeah, that had a nice ring to it, I thought, as I pulled my iPad from my bag and flicked onto my e-reader program for the current downloaded novel I was reading.
My, my, how times certainly had changed in the past ten years.
Right on time the driver started the engine, then let it idle for a minute or so as the last of the passengers climbed on board. Before long he closed the door and we pulled out onto the roadway, travelling just a short distance before stopping for traffic on the main drag into town, then eventually turning out onto that road and heading into the heart of Macquarie Harbour.
Around me people chatted endlessly, with holidays and weather being the main topics, along with a few remarks about the upcoming Australia Day celebrations being thrown in for good measure.
It was a time for celebration and that was what I intended to do also.
Unable to concentrate on my reading I switched off my device and thrust it back into my carry-all on the seat beside me, then sat back and looked out the window. Things looked like they had changed in the five years since I had last been through here, with new housing estates, along with a large industrial estate going up.
In the middle of town too I could see change, with a new, large, multi-story shopping centre now standing where once there had been a row of old shops, if I wasn’t mistaken.
It wasn’t long before the bus came to a stop outside the local Tourist Centre and one by one the dozen or so passenger alighted.
I headed inside to look for a bus timetable, which I soon found attached to a noticeboard. The next bus for the run out to Thompsonville would depart in about an hour, which gave me plenty of time for a coffee and a sandwich in the adjacent cafe, so after paying for my ticket I took myself off in that direction. Presently I placed an order at the counter and purchased a local newspaper, then finding myself a seat near the window, where I could read quietly, while also engage in one of my favourite pastimes; that of watching the world go by.
After reading the newspaper for a few minutes, starting with the sports pages at the back (which for some reason I have always done), my order arrived, so I folded the paper and placed it on my table.
While I took my first sip of cappuccino I glanced around the cafe and saw two young women, who looked to be of about university student age, looking my way and whispering to themselves.
I smiled at them, then turned to my attention to the sandwich on the plate in front of me, knowing full well that I had just been recognised. It didn’t happen that often, but still, often enough that I knew it was bound to happen sooner or later on this trip, having come back here to the places I had apparently immortalised with the words I had written.
When I finally finished my sandwich and coffee a few minutes later I glanced back at the girls. They were still staring at me and whispering to each other. One of them gave the other a nudge with her elbow, as if to say go on, but the second girl simply shook her head.
I smiled to myself, thinking that if I’d have had a dollar for every time I had seen this particular scene play out I probably wouldn’t ever have to work again.
Eventually the first girl got up from her seat and dragged her companion to her feet as well, before the pair of them came toward me.
‘Errr … excuse me. I’m sorry to bother you, but you’re him, aren’t you?’ the first girl nervously asked.
‘Yeah, sorry, I mean, you’re the writer; Tony Scott, aren’t you?’ while at the same time pulling a rather tattered copy of my almost five year old debut novel, Shifting Sands, from the bag hanging from her shoulder and holding it for me to see.
‘Well, I guess my secret’s out then,’ I said, smiling. ‘So much for slipping into town unnoticed.’
‘Oh my god. I knew it was you!’ she exclaimed. ‘I’ve loved this book from the first time I read it. I’m only reading it for about the hundredth time.’
‘That’s very kind of you,’ I replied.
‘Would you mind … ummm …’
‘No, of course not,’ I answered, as I reached for the book, then pulled my favourite pen from by pocket. ‘Who do I make it out to?’
‘Cressida,’ the girl answered.
‘That’s a lovely name,’ I said. ‘I haven’t heard that one in quite a while.’
‘What can I say! My father was a fan of George Johnston,’ she sighed.
‘Ahhh … My Brother Jack and Clean Straw For Nothing. I’m a fan of his too. Have you read them?’
‘Yes. I had no choice really. Jack was a fantastic book; an all-time classic and an all-time favourite of mine actually. The other one, not so much …’
‘That seems to be the general consensus,’ I laughed. ‘Did you read the third one in the series?’
‘Actually, no. I think I managed to escape before I had to read it.’
‘Same here, kind of. I wanted to, but I guess I’ve just never managed to get my hands on a copy. One day perhaps.’
As I signed her book for her I noticed a bus pull in to the depot, with the sign at the front saying, ‘Thompsonville’.
‘Is that your bus?’ the second girl asked.
‘Actually, yes,’ I answered. ‘Just taking a trip home the old-fashioned way.’
‘Could we have a photo before you go? No one will believe this when we tell them.’
‘Oh, I think they will,’ I said. ‘But yes, of course.’
Looking around she soon spotted a young couple at a nearby table and quickly asked the boy if they would mind taking a photo for them using her phone. With that organised and a photo obtained they thanked me profusely and we said our goodbyes, before I collected my belongings, then started for the door.
‘Is he famous or something?’ I heard the photographer ask as I went on my way. I didn’t hear the reply, but as I climbed onto the bus I couldn’t help but smile as I started to think about just how my life had turned out.