On our first day we set off for Moreton Island and Tangalooma where dolphins are fed by hand. Our ferry left at 8.30am and returned at 3.30pm, and we were warned by the surly skipper not to be late as the ferry wouldn’t wait for anyone. What a day! Warm air, warm sun, blue sky, clear water and a long sandy beach.

One of the boys wanted to know where the girl in the TV ad was. “WE’RE here,” he announced. “Where the bloody hell are you?” Sorry, no beautiful girl in bikini this time.

We walked along the golden sand past the rusty Tangalooma wrecks then did the usual wonderful holiday activities of sunbathing, swimming, reading magazines, snorkelling and watching the blue sea for any sign of dolphins. We stood in line with other tourists to book father and son on the snorkelling tour. The organiser assured us we would definitely catch our ferry on time.

“I’ll personally see to it that we get you there,” our fellow Kiwi promised us. I went down to the beach with the other son to observe the crab ball patterns. Tiny blue crabs use their claws to absorb nutrients from the sand, then roll the leftovers into absolutely even-shaped tiny marbles and scatter them in patterns over the sand. It has to be seen to be believed. All too soon it was time to walk the beach back to catch the ferry.

The older son and I trudged back, stopping occasionally to photograph the crab ball patterns. To our horror we heard the sound of the ferry’s siren so we started running and waving. I hoped someone would notice me desperately waving my NZ backpacker hat.

Kerry was half-crying as he realised the ferry was leaving without us. “don’t worry,” I assured him. “Dad will be on that ferry and he will stop it for us.” At the same time, our other son – all flippered and rubbersuited – was being told, “Don’t worry Sheldon, Mum will be on that ferry and she will stop it for us.”

%TNT Magazine% queensland diving sea

As the snorkelling instructor had promised to return them to the ferry on time a mobile was produced, a fast speedboat commissioned and history was made. I, to my amazement from the shore, saw the huge ferry pause out near the Tangalooma wrecks. Maybe the skipper had noticed me after all. 

Then I heard a voice shouting. It was Sheldon calling for me to get into the speedboat that he and his father were in, on their way out to the big ferry. Kerry and I scrambled in. The boat raced out to the ferry but it was already on the turn, back to shore.

”Sides too steep to get you lot on,” shouted the skipper. We watched as the ferry made a huge circle, backing up so the ramps could be lowered to the shore again. We clambered aboard, aware that most of the passengers had seen our plight. “Hurry it up, will ya,” the skipper snarled. “I told you not to be late, we never ever come back for anyone. First time in history!”

We clambered up the ramps and hung our heads as 300 pairs of eyes seemed to turn in our direction. The speedboat roared back to the diving group at the wrecks. We found a seat. I gingerly removed my hat with “New Zealand” on it and had the brilliant idea of replacing it with one of the boys’ hats, marked “australia” and with corks bobbing off it to cover my red face.

Several passengers smiled, some even laughed but others took exception and glared at me. As we disembarked we asked the ticket officer if she could book a taxi for us. “Look, I’ll do better than that, I’ll get you a free ride,” she said. “Just sit over there and wait.”

To a mixture of delight and horror we saw a huge car pull up… being driven by the straw-haired skipper. We sat like quiet mice in the back of his car. One of our boys in the front seat saved the day by asking questions like, “Why isn’t Waltzing Matilda the national anthem?” And “What is the life expectancy of dolphins?”

The skipper was flummoxed. As we got out I tentatively thanked him and asked did he live near the railway station? “No, I live right over the other side of town” he retorted before roaring off into the night.


Photos: Getty