Far North Queensland (FNQ) – Day 1.

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Arriving in Cairns the first thing I noticed was the hills, which kind of look like small mountains all around the region. They are quite dramatic and their shape adds to the sense that you are in a  tropical location. The kind of not-quite-mountains that you might see in a brochure for some beautiful South-East Asian location; a photo that includes the front of the boat you would be travelling on emerging from the lower part of the frame.

I expected it to be hotter but was pleasantly surprised to find the heat surprisingly pleasant. My car rental place did not exist at the airport but instead at the centre of town and Kevin, the guy driving the van there, told me that he was from Sydney himself and that he had come here on holiday last year and moved up in March. He liked it so much he stayed (more or less). He explained that there are far more varieties of bird species up here, and he liked that. Sydney only had cockatoos, magpies, crows, seagulls, ibis and African minahs. I think he meant the Indian minah though. He said the place was teeming with life and as we drove past the mangroves into town I had to agree with him. It was very green.

I hired a little Corolla. It is a nice little car although my only requirement was that it had one of those little USB ports because my iPhone runs out of juice very quickly and I planned to be snapping away like there’s no tomorrow. Fortunately it had one so I plugged my lousy phone in and was pleased to hear the scintillating sound of the recharge. Ding-dong. I then proceeded to the nearest newsagent to buy a map. I was planning a photo that would spread the map open on the bonnet of the car simultaneously displaying my planning process and my means of transport. You know, mapping and driving and road trips and stuff. However it quickly became apparent that none of the maps had enough detail to get me to any of the locations on the Cartonograph, and it seemed silly to buy a $12 map just for an Instragram post. So I politely left the newsagent and resolved to stick with the maps app on my phone. The Cartonograph is essentially what is driving this project anyway so it seemed silly to go all retrograde all of a sudden (I’d also planned to put one of those old filters on the photo of the map-bonnet too). Oh well.

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Next stop was the Cairns Regional Gallery. Cairns seems like one of those places that if you’re driving around you don’t really need to look at the map, you’ll just stumble across what you’re looking for. And sure enough it is. Although, what I thought was the Regional Gallery turned out to be the Library. Approaching it on foot with the sun shining from behind it the Library looked like a public institution that one might have encountered in a once thriving Havana. Not sure if the photo above illustrates this but it certainly felt that way. Despite it being the wrong building I thought I’d check it out anyway and asked at the counter whether they could point me in the right direction. It was a stone’s throw away. “And is there a museum?” Apparently not, or it’s closed for renovation, or it’s temporarily opened again, or relocated, or something. Anyway the mystery of the location of the Regional Gallery had been solved and it had a really nice cafe at the front and that sounded really nice. Really nice meant really expensive though and I opted for fish and chips diagonally opposite, which was much cheaper and had a view of the Gallery – in all its glory! Shame about the fish and chips though.  I admire a bit of word play, but the shop’s name should have sounded alarm bells. Frydays. Good taste applies to everything in the restaurant business; if you are repulsed by the name or decor of an establishment then it should come as no surprise to you that the food elicits the same reaction.

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Appropriately the Regional Gallery had two shows on that related to my own purpose for being in FNQ: CAPTURING FLORA: PASSION FOR THE EXOTICK, and SEARCHING FOR HELLS GATE: PERCY TREZISE, GOOBALATHALDIN DICK ROUGHSEY AND RAY CROOKE. Really enjoyed both. I’m a sucker for botanic specimen etchings – especially the ones of Eucalypts. There were a couple of really wonderful Ray Crooke paintings that stood out for me, quite different from his other work, and the Tezise and Goobalathaldin paintings had a naive or self-taught quality and were brilliantly composed re-imaginings of the Hells Gate passage in FNQ, a treacherous path forged during the gold rush in Cape York that had been all but lost. I would have taken some snaps but such documentation was a no-goer. You’ll just have to check it yo-self.

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So appropriately at CRG there was pictures about vegetable matter and there was three blokes looking for something. Like me and the fruit cartons! They knew what they were looking for though. Big difference. After that I went back to the car to plug in the i(needanewbattery)phone and make a couple of phone calls, as one does, and then proceeded Southwards to make Innisfail before sundown. It seemed like a good idea to try and see if there were some banana plantations en route before it got dark, but there seemed to be more sugar cane than anything else. The thing that I became focused on though was taking photos in the stunning light fading over the ridiculously beautiful agrarian landscape. It was so goddamn beautiful that it seemed to be improper for me to be doing anything but beholding it.

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Success in the fruit carton search came not far out of Innisfail. There was one of those roadside fruit barn things, which I was surprised there wasn’t more of actually. It appeared to be closed but on closer inspection revealed itself to be open. I was taken by a net of oranges and one of mandarins and made my acquaintance with the lady inside who appreciated that I thought her fruit stand smelled fruity. She was unfazed by my declaration that my true intention was to raid whatever fruit carton supply she had, and to my great surprise there were two that I had not encountered before, which I have pictured below. Promisingly the Broccardo’s Bananas one is located very close to the stall, so there is perhaps an opportunity to meet with the owner. Design-wise I think I prefer the Rocky Ponds box though. I think it’s the text. And perhaps because it says Rocky.

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After taking a few photos of a Robert Macpherson-esque sign alongside a tattered, bleaching Australian flag, I headed southwards again and entered Innisfail. Reaching for the phone-map I paused and instead applied the ‘small town rule’, and sure enough came across my motel in no time (chosen for its exterior rather than anything else). I think you will agree that it was a good choice.

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However the other guests are not the kind that I feel I will be mixing with over the next couple of evenings. I suspect they think the very same thing about me. The guys opposite were playing Enter Sandman, which is in itself not a bad thing (even though Metallica annoy the shit out me). However they played it on repeat while chain smoking and drinking large cans of pre-mixed spirits. Up to never-never laanndd!!  Thankfully a lights-out policy seems to have been called on the motel and everyone has retreated for the evening. Which is what I’m about to do. Tomorrow is a new day and the start of my hardcore fruit carton search. Cart-on!!

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