FNQ Day 3 – Up to the tablelands.

DSC_0768 Day 3 of the trip was a little more relax-a-tron than previous days. Claire was arriving from Sydney and we were checking into our hotel room at after midday in Cairns meaning that our day on the road would be a lot shorter. I packed up my things in the Moondarra Motel and bade farewell to Jim, the softly spoken but friendly motel proprietor. As I left I realised that there was a family (or some collection of humans) that had been sitting outside their motel room for the entirety of my stay. Unlike the other guests at the motel they had a table to sit at while the congregation grew and shrunk. I was curious to know: had they taken their holidays at the Moondarra? I like motels but the thought of hanging out in one for longer than is absolutely necessary is, quite frankly, an odd thought. DSC_0781I got back on the road headed north to Cairns to meet Claire. I’d budgeted less than hour for the trip and realised about half way that this was unrealistic. It seemed to go much quicker on the way down when I was first encountering the landscape and the light was amazing; it must have given me a false sense of distance and time. The drive back up was in a different type of light. It was brighter and there was more contrast, and everything appeared to have a slight blue filter over it. Going back the other way one sees the landscape anew and this time it seemed like the kind of obligatory, romantic, landscape imagery that features in bad road movies. It was drop dead gorgeous, in other words. The road cuts through plains of flat agricultural land flanked by sharply rising mountains making it an amazing valley-like environment to move through at speed. DSC_0769 Or not. There were several instances where I had to wait in a roadwork queue (an effen queue in FNQ. Boom-tish). I collected Claire from the airport at about 9:30AM and we headed back into town. Claire had to rise at just after 4:30AM to get to the airport for a 6AM flight, and she was already quite tired when we got into Cairns, but she was battling through. We headed to a fruit market in downtown Cairns called Rusty’s. Rather than in most markets where the setting is quite drab and lifeless, this one had put a bit of effort into painting the concrete columns making the marketplace awash with colour. I managed to procure one box-lid that had not previously been in the collection, but that was all. There were a couple of others there that I didn’t have but it seemed improper to just thieve them off the box like I might have done in Woolies or Coles. We located a coffee shop called Caffiend, got some takeaways and headed to the local library to hang out in the garden. We used the library’s wi-fi, and drank our fiendish coffees, which despite the cafe’s name were quite nice. DSC_0773 I looked at the Cartonograph on the laptop to see if there were any farms up around Mareeba way that might be worth calling. My hopes weren’t high as it was Saturday on a long weekend and most farmers would be off, or at least probably not near the packing shed. I got hold of Dennis Howe however, of Howe farming (how could I resist?). Howe Farming is just outside Mareeba and Dennis said he was around and would be up for meeting us.

Mareeba is located on the tablelands on the other side of the mountains, which isn’t a bad drive. You get really high very quickly and the bends are all fairly gradual so you can do it at pace, but there are very few points at which, at least as a driver, you can tell exactly how high you are getting. The occasional glimpses through the trees give some idea and there is a lookout near the top, but we decided to wait until the return part of the journey to stop there. En route to Mareeba after the climb there was several things that I wanted to stop and take a photo of but Claire had taken the opportunity to sleep so I wasn’t going to stir her. We planned to make this drive tomorrow anyway and we could snap away then. I saw a couple of dead kangaroos on the side of the road. One was brown and the other was albino. I’d only ever seen one albino kangaroo before, years ago at Lake Mungo. It was amazing to see this bright white thing leaping across the landscape among a bunch of other brownies. Seeing this crumpled heap however, was slightly distressing as its wounds were clearly visible against it whiteness. Claire said she was glad not to have seen it, and in the end I wondered if I had at all, as on the return journey I tried to find it but couldn’t. The ghostly carcass had vanished. DSC_0789 We stopped for lunch in Mareeba at a little Italian cafe called Piazza and had burgers and fries. It was  quite nice. We had hoped to have a pizza as they had a lovely wood fired oven but they were preparing it for the evening trade and flames were bursting forth from it. Pizza was probably not an option. While we sat and ate I looked across the street and at the awnings of the shops opposite. One shop was called Hair Port, a hairdresser that had listed turbans as one of its specialities. I figured it was safe to assume there was some Indian heritage in the area, something I hadn’t been aware of. I was only aware of the Italians. Later we would discover that there had been all sorts of different ethnicities in the region. Above the awnings there were several buildings that made reference to the area’s agricultural past as the tobacco capital of Australia. Signs like the Tobacco Leaf Marketing Board were fading in the sun. Our contact in Dimbulah, Ivo Klarich (who William Yang put me in touch with and who we would meet the following day) was once a tobacco farmer before the industry yielded to international competition; the price of labour in Australia could not compete with countries like Brazil. DSC_0808 We set forth from Mareeba knowing roughly that the turnoff for Howe Farming was somewhere near Walkamin. However we drove back and forth past Walkamin several times before taking a closer look at the map to figure out the error in our judgement. I have learnt that rather than figure something out for yourself and risking frustration it is always easier to ask someone, especially for something like directions. I wished I heeded my own advice because I was cursing and swearing by the time we actually figured out that the road we needed to turn down was called one name at one end and another at the other. We eventually arrived at the farm of Dennis Howe and phoned him near the packing shed. This was easily the biggest packing shed that we had encountered. We parked near what looked like the office and Dennis came out and greeted us in bare feet – something that I’d learned by this stage was common in FNQ. Dennis is a tall guy with a slow and casual stride. He told us that he was about 30 before he started wearing shoes, and it was out of requirement and with reluctance. We talked about the project briefly and he seemed into it, as he had thought about the fruit carton when they were initially designing it, and its purpose and what it meant to him. DSC_0841 The Howe Farming Carton is a landscape with a few banana trees on it and a series of hills in the background with sun emerging from behind them. I asked him about it and he said that it is a depiction of the area in which the farm is set and that they came up with the design and gave instructions to the box company as to what they were after. I like the carton. So much so that I realised as I was looking at it that I had done a drawing of it before; it is a small graphite on black paper about 75mm². I drew it around the same time I was about to write a Cartonographer blog entry about landscapes as they appear on the fruit carton, and how industry uses minimal gestural strokes in order to provide the simplest accurate depiction.

I knew that there was more than one colour of the Howe Farming carton – I had the pink – but I had no idea that there were 5 (green, black, blue and red are the others). We got all of them for the Cartonography collection, and asked Dennis to pose with the pink one, although he was adamant that it was purple. The caption on the carton says Bananas with Altitude, which is a nice play on words, but Dennis explained that there was more to it: there is a market overseas that will pay more for bananas that are grown at altitude because they are said to be sweeter. Up on the plains they are 500 metres above sea level. Most of the banana plantations are down nearer the coast. Rainfall down there is more regular, whereas Dennis has to irrigate his crops, the water for which comes from the Tinnaroo Dam. DSC_0809 Bananas represent the biggest part of Howe Farming’s production, but they have also diversified into such things as avocados, blueberries and coffee. I had no idea that we even grew coffee here in Australia until we went to FNQ but it is everywhere up on the tablelands. Part of the bargain for getting Dennis to pose for the photograph was that we would take some blueberries to a lady called Mary down on the road who was selling them. He took us around to this enormous cool room and gave us a tray. “Take a couple for yourselves too,” Dennis instructed, and looking at Claire’s belly he asked, “and dare I ask or are you just fat?” We all laughed. “No, we are expecting two”, Claire replied. “Well take as many as you need then,” Dennis told her as we headed off.DSC_0812 Dennis was a character and the kind person that you could listen to for hours talking about the things that he does. Mary, our delivery recipient down by the road was no different. Unlike the other fruits that are just left with an honesty box, the blueberries were valuable items that required an attendant. Mary was that person. As long as she had her quilt to keep her warm – and it was cool in the shade with the wind blowing across the plains – she was happy. Plenty of people were rolling up to buy the little punnets so she had no shortage of company either. We asked her about the coffee plantations adjacent and she said we should go over to them and put the coffee berry in our mouths and chew the husk off to taste the sweet fluid around the bean. It was delicious indeed. We also sampled some of the blueberries. I’m not usually a fan but these were outstanding. It was no surprise that people kept rolling up to buy them. DSC_0819 It was time to go back to Cairns and as dusk was setting in the drive was pleasant with the sun behind us. We descended the mountain and went back to the hotel, parked the car, and decided to walk into town along the water. It was absolutely beautiful, not so much for the view (that was quite amazing), but for the people walking, jogging, picnicking, and doing other things as the sun faded into dark. It was sensory; it smelt good, it looked good, it sounded and felt good. It had been a damn good day.

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