A funny tern

29 Oct

This was my first swim ‘surfari,’ although it wasn’t my first trip to Heron Island.

They don’t promote it as a place to go off the rails, but I did.  The chestnut, ground dwelling, birds with an anxious demeanour are charming.  At least they were until one of them forgot that it was supposed to be carnivorous and executed some sort of guerrilla raid on the smiths chip that I was about to swallow one evening.  In the Philippines buff-banded rails are known as Tikling.  Now I know why.

Twitcher or not, you just can’t ignore the birds on Heron.  I was sitting quietly inside the bar 7 years ago with my Murdoch hack of a former boyfriend when a mutton bird landed on the seat between us as if it was simply making a late, flustered entrance to the editor’s meeting.

Gulls eye up the bar snacks with ‘mine, mine, mine’ (like in Nemo), looking like it’s on a playback loop in their brains.  Brains bigger, the resort staff told us, than those of the Black Noddies (scientific name, anous minutus – small brain – so they said).  These ubiquitous (a mere 70,000 of ‘em a year) birds seem hell bent on being brown bread.  They either set a collision course with you or sit steadfastly across the narrow pathways, sunbaking and asking for it.  Funny terns, indeed.

And there was plenty of other wild life, starting with some of those salty superheroes that I’ve yarned about before.  Mrs Sparkle was there (thanks for looking out for me Mrs S) and so was Moose (born Craig, changed his name by deed poll – when asked why, said ‘unlike a horse was already taken’?!).  Tim the Turtle Man won everyone’s hearts, the Murwillumbah Brass Monkeys (go and join them on 25 Nov if you’d like to try the ‘Killer’ swims) were the life and soul, and the Swimbeciles were there, as well as 3 former Olympians.  Even the resident entertainers, Tony King and Kris Ralph (‘Beautifully Mad’ by their own admission), have an Australian Songwriters Association Award for a song entitled “She kept on swimming”.  I felt at home, especially because (and I’m not saying that swimmers are Neanderthal), my shoulders seemed to be in proportion to those of the other guests.

Some of the swimmers were already well acquainted with the Olympians but we weren’t.  We have since learned that Graeme Brewer (former Clovelly Cherub and then Tamarama Sea Urchin) won a bronze medal in the 200m freestyle at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.  He also won consecutive Australian junior ironman championships in 1976 and 1977, a silver medal in the 200m freestyle in the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Canada and one of each colour in the three relays.   He ran an open swim clinic at Heron which was awesome even for those back of the pack ordinary (as Paul Ellercamp would call us fondly) mugs like Gill an’ me.

According to Wikipedia (check it out Judy because the Wikipedia folk seem a little confused about whether back or breaststroke is your thing), Judy Playfair, our second Heron Olympian, was an Australian breaststroke swimmer of the 1960s, who won a silver medal in the 4x100m medley relay at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.  She was only 15.  Now she has grown up a bit and came 3rd in Fine Ocean Swimmers in 2011 and second in 2012 Cole Classic in her age category – beaten by a fellow Olympian!  She’s also been honoured with a plaque by the City of Canterbury.

And then there was Neil Brooks who sympathetically swam the last part of the 3km on Sundee with Gill.  Neil won gold in the 4 x100m medly relay in the 1980 Moscow Olympics so he’s much too quick to be swimming alongside Gill.  But, maybe Neil had a bit of a bromance with Gill because of his follicle challenges.  Neil is partly famous for being a member of the so-called Mean Machine at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane who won gold in the 4 × 100 m freestyle relay after collectively shaving their heads for the race.  Graham Brewer’s hair obviously grew back but maybe Neil’s didn’t.  I don’t know.  Hard to know if he knew about Gill’s follicles because we were, of course, all wearing hats.  Even though Gill was wearing the wrong hat because, as it turned out, he had to wear a silicon one after (much to the writer and Moose’s horror on the Fridee) we discovered that Gill has a massive latex allergy.  We found that out, reader, when Gill did the course tour on Fridee in his Barrier Reef Hat – there wasn’t something else going on with Moose, Gill and me and latex on Fridee.

Anyway, moving on, I have an affinity with Neil.  Born in England (one point in common), Brooks emigrated to Australia as a toddler and started swimming lessons after nearly drowning in a childhood accident (happens to me most weekends during summer Neil), and Neil an’ me were the only people that I heard of to get ravished by sea lice on the Barrier Reef swim (I can understand them mistaking him for a fish but ME…?).  Btw, Neil, a QLD bird (a real one, not a rail or a noddy) in my office swears by canesten cream for sea lice?).  I should have asked Tracey, Heron’s lovely nurse, also born in England, who faced a baptism of fire having arrived at her post on the island, 3 days before the swim.  But we were all fine Tracey – thanks for your support!

Anyway, the lice were probably hanging out with the dinoflagellates or diatoms (ssh, don’t mention the brown stuff), commonly known as ‘algae’.  Marine phytoplankton.  Apparently, the most nutrient rich superfood on the planet, major source of oxygen and elixir for chronic disease.  Small fish including krill eat it.  Manta food to the Heron Island locals.  Where the brown stuff goes, the manta soon follow.   As well as, on this occasion, ugly mugs like us.

When I first visited Heron, I asked the staff to share their most perplexing anecdote.  One of them said they were once asked by a visitor ‘does the water go all the way round this island?’.  Well, just over 100 Os.c punters can confirm, yes, it does, because we have swam in it – all the way around.

And it was an awesome experience.  Swimming over cowtail stingrails and the scarily prehistoric looking rhinobatos typus (giant shovel-nosed ray).  I even heard of one laydee on the 3km who swam with a turtle, which is hardly surprising as I saw heaps diving and snorkelling.

Some punters complained that their EPO was wearing off when we had to wait 20 minutes for the tide on Sundee.  They were joking of course.  Both swims were brilliantly organised and embraced by all, from the 3km winning Carly Brewer to those inthe 1km doing their first swim such as Jo and Sam from the Northern Beaches and the 3km back of the pack performer Marcelo Costantini.  Thanks to Heron and oceanswims.com.  Just like the funny terns, we reckon we’ll be back next year.

5 Responses to “A funny tern”

  1. Liz October 29, 2012 at 11:06 am #

    More photos please!! Well done you guys…so impressed:)

    • lizziecantoo November 4, 2012 at 8:42 am #

      I tried Liz but wordpress and my luddite technological skills have combined to defeat me! I will email you instead. x

  2. moose October 30, 2012 at 12:20 am #

    Actually I said I was called Moose because ‘HUNG like a horse was taken’… clearly, having seen me in speedo’s you altered the quote accordingly.

    The third Olympian was Neil Rogers, Australian team captain at Montreal and dual Commonwealth Gold medalist.

    Neil Brooks is now living in Arizona, Neil Rogers on the other hand is a ‘colourful Bondi identity’.

    Glad you had fun, and yes I was horrified to see Gill’s mug look like he had been stock buy a pack of bees.

    Best, Moose

    • lizziecantoo October 30, 2012 at 12:44 am #

      OMG Moose, thanks for correcting me (about Neil – not about how you are hung – though I should apologise profusely to both you and Neil).

  3. moose October 30, 2012 at 5:20 am #

    No problem, Neil gets that ALL the time.

    The same can be said of me being caught out on over stating said ‘hungness’.

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