Rah and I rise early to start cooking breakfast for everyone. We whip up creamy scrambled eggs with an extra-large dose of parsley and a fresh tomato and baby pepper mushroom sauce on toast. We all sit down to the big family breakfast and it is here, during an extended period of silence directly proportionate to the early morning hunger, that Herb suggests we accompany Marie and himself to their Sunday morning church service.
Now I know both Rah and Brogan well enough to understand what is going through their heads right now, and I’m almost certain it isn’t too dissimilar to my train of thought. I’m not all-that fond of being pressured into things I would normally not be a part of for one reason or another and, although I certainly do not cast the blanket of judgement over those who benefit from such pursuits, attending church on Sunday morning does not appeal to me in the slightest. The stern and expecting look painted across Herb’s face is almost enough to make me agree to attendance, though coupled with their sheer generosity and willingness to welcome us into their home I’m pushed across the line. We finish breakfast and then head into town.
The church service is held every Sunday morning in the confines of a small hall, tucked neatly behind the top-end camping store on the main drag just across from the bakery. All eyes are pointed our way as our three motorbikes roll in and park alongside each other. The few who are scattered in the car park chatting stop to smile and say hello as we walk past and enter the hall through the open glass sliding doors.
The first thing I notice as I enter the crowded room is the loud hum of fifteen separate conversations projecting from every which way, rolled into one unrecognisable stream of banter. The polished wooden floorboards and bare brick walls seem to amplify and then echo every word that is spoken.
We get caught up chatting to a middle-aged couple of their recent travels to Zimbabwe and Cape York. We’re bombarded with pictures of all the must-see places to explore during our proposed travels north from here. One place in particular catches my eye; a long rock ledge only two metres high, with crystal clear water spilling over the edge and into a waist-deep pool over a white sandy bottom. Like icing on a cake, the array of tropical palms kissing the water’s edge instils a sense of oasis deep within. “Wait, can you go back a photo? What is that place called? It looks heavenly!” A lapse in concentration of my surroundings causes that last bit to slip out, though no one seems to notice. “That would be Fruit Bat Falls, just a short way east of the PDR. You must check it out!”
Before I know it, we’re standing in perfectly straight lines and everyone around us is singing joyously at the top of their lungs. Am I the only person in this room who doesn’t know the words to these songs? After ten-whole minutes of trying to decipher the choruses – though mainly pretending to sing – we sit down and the talking begins. Rick is devoted to the church. He appears to be in his mid-to-late forties, greying ever-so-slightly, and is confidently projecting his (for lack of a better word) concepts onto the blank canvases sitting before him.
He covers such topics as ‘Good & God’ – a concept where which we, as living, breathing individuals, are faced with the ability to make one of two decisions; the first a good decision which benefits us personally, and the second a God decision which benefits the majority and affects the way in which we are perceived by God himself. He then goes on to talk about humanity, and how as a whole we’re ‘throwing it all away’ simply by making only good decisions instead of God decisions. He performs a complete three-sixty and talks of how we should leave the decision-making up to God rather than continue to make good decisions. At this stage I’m beginning to feel confused – not in what he is saying rather in his projection of contradictory concepts upon his audience. A quick glance around the room reveals synonymous confusion, though their confusion is concealed by a blank smile not unlike that of a rosy-cheeked strung puppet; eyes wide and glazed, intently staring beyond the subject rather than at it.
Rick then continues to bring humanity down; ridiculing (you guessed it) good decisions that have been made in the past to benefit oneself rather than the church as a whole. In his example he focuses on the University systems, which he makes very clear were originally funded by the church to educate society of God and our purpose in life, and how many decisions were made to steer the educational material away from the Lord and focus on more profitable material. He states that the tutors and lecturers are ‘traitors’ for not teaching and preaching the word of the Lord given that they were originally funded by the church to do so. A little part of me dies at this point. Although I agree with Rick to a certain degree that corruption and a hunger for money is a major issue in our education system, I certainly to not approve of his methods in conveying his points.
This is like no other service I’ve been to. There’s a little voice in the back of my mind repeating the word ‘cult’ like a broken record. Another look around the room at the blank faces and I sense individual weakness, deep unhappiness, and that distinct product a lack of self-worth yields. These people are desperately seeking to resolve questions only they can answer themselves. Yet they are looking to Rick? Somewhere in between belittling circumcised males (yes, that actually happened) and warning the people of his church to refrain from relationships with non-believers, the word that has been tapping tolerantly on the back door of my mind slips out under the exhalation of my breath; “A cult?” I turn to Rah to gauge the volume of my statement and, although she feels my gaze she remains facing forward, perhaps too afraid to draw any attention to the disbelief which we’re both so obviously dealing with.
After the service we head back to Herb and Marie’s abode, pack a day-bag and make a break for it. We ride south for Trevethan Falls, about a half-hour ride from Cooktown if you know where you’re going. Unfortunately we don’t, and so the journey relying solely on small, camouflaged signs strung up on trees ends about sixty minutes later. I don’t mind spending the extra half an hour exploring the dusty gravel roads that the state forest has to offer, without the weight of my luggage slowing me down! We park the motorbikes next to a couple of raised four-wheel drive Utes with dog cages on the back, and make our way along the narrow track toward the sound of falling water.
Hours pass-by as we soak up the sun and explore the cascading, private pools on offer – all the while chatting about the morning been and gone – until eventually we’re the only ones still enjoying this hidden gem.
Feeling infinitely more calm and collected we make our way back to the motorbikes, where Brogs borrows my GoPro to shoot some wide-open-throttle footage of the exhilarating ride back to the highway. Rah and I make our way back at a rather modest pace, if for nothing else other than to truly absorb our surroundings; the endless fields of yellowing, straw-like wild grass, the tall and impossibly straight gum trees, and the flashes of brightly coloured birds that cut through the landscape in a blink of an eye.
Helmet-cam courtesy of B-man!
We head back to our temporary home via the bottle shop. What better way to stay calm and collected than a few ice-cold beers whilst the sun passes the mid-way point. We spend the early afternoon helping around the yard, before Herb disappears into town with Rah for a beer at The Sovereign Hotel. I find this very peculiar – partially because I can’t bring myself to fully trust this man though mostly because, of what I do know about his character, this scenario smells of the dark, dangerous and somewhat-less-spoken side of the Australian outback. The last thing I want is for Rah to go missing in Cooktown.
Upon their return I learn that the mysterious trip to town was in aid of potential work. Again there are two main reasons that this scenario doesn’t sit well; the first being that Rah never made any reference to wanting work, and the second being that when they got there Rah wasn’t actually introduced to anybody. They simply went to the pub and had a drink.
Not being one to get caught up in ideas that have little-to-no proven substance, I get-to chopping more wood for the bush kitchen; focusing solely on each strike of the axe as I strive to improve my aim. Every swing begins with the rudimentary tool above my head, which I bring down progressively to the face of the block standing proud upon the old tree stump. There is something immensely satisfying when it comes to splitting a log clean in two with a single blow!
Herb and Marie decide to invite us to their favourite place in the greater-Cooktown area; a small slice of coastline that goes by the name of Quarantine Bay. They mount the Virago with Chloe in-arms, Rah grabs Bronson and then jumps on the back of The DR, and Brogan fires the XR up before we ease out onto the road for Quarantine Bay.
We roll down the steep hill to the pebbly beach and park the motorbikes up next to one another before dismounting and stripping down to our swimmers; a truly bizarre sight for those looking-on from across the bay I’m sure. I wait for Herb to wade deep into the water before I even consider going within a crocodiles striking distance of the dark salty ocean. I try to make a mental map of the closest river outlet to determine whether it is indeed worth risking my life for the pleasure of a cool afternoon swim. I’m not sure what gave it away, but Herb yells “You coming in or what? No crocs in here!” as he floats on his back with that same grin painted across his weathered face. I shallow-dive in to find the water isn’t the slightest bit refreshing. In fact, it’s warm like a freshly run bath, and so incredibly salty that I simultaneously discover a hundred small cuts on my body from working the yard over the last couple of days. I breach the surface just in time to hear Herb follow up with “Except for the five metre salty that is often seen around the bay!” before laughing an unrelenting and pure-evil cackle that echoes through my paralysed mind and makes the hair stand up on my arms.
The swim is short-lived when we discover that Chloe has in fact done a runner. The dense tropical flora and arsenal of dangerously spiked palms makes following the distant yelps near-impossible. After fifteen minutes of searching the area, I catch a glimpse of the little rascal as she takes off after a small rabbit! I eventually chase her back down to the motorbikes and we’re soon on our way back to Herb and Marie’s abode. We ride into the very last of the afternoon sun; dropping down into cold darkness with each dip in the rolling road.
Today really does feel as though it has been many days rolled into one, jam-packed with mixed feelings of Cooktown and our hospitable hosts. I get the impression that Cooktown is a rather intricate make-up of personalities, as though the people who choose to call it home all have an interesting story to tell of how they actually winded up here, distanced from the majority of Australia in their own corner of the world. We devour a late dinner and finish off the cold beers before retreating to the swag for a much-needed dose of shut-eye.