Opinion: A young round view from out of town

Friday February 6 2015, 10:45am


It’s always a risk when you ask the younger generation to give you their opinion of something with a heritage and reputation that they, naturally, because of their age, have no knowledge of nor take into consideration when offering their view. 

We (Newsport) asked 18-year-old Sydneysider Oscar Davis who came up to stay with his grandmother Louise Donohoe SC, (who manages to run a barrister’s practice from Port Douglas), to give us a personal opinion of Port Douglas from his experience. 

The resulting piece below contains a focus and purity that may shock you, may make you nod in agreement and may even disturb you.  

In any case it should be thrown into the mix when future plans for the town are being made because of its honesty.

Let us know what you think in the comments below.


By Oscar Davis 

Port Douglas is a town of circles. 

Roundabouts, bicycle wheels, the gentle arc of a ceiling fan. Dots on a Yalanji artist’s canvas, rusted links in the basketball court's chain nets, wet and dry seasons chasing each other like a dog its tail. The circle cycle has tangibly rubbed off on Port Douglas’ locals too, a demographic characterised by its collective faith in the inevitable circle of life. 

I arrived here on December 1st, having recently finished high school, with the intention of finding a few months’ work at a hotel or tourist spot while staying with my grandparents.

I handed in my thread-bare, ludicrously padded resumé (one of my qualifications was “familiar with Microsoft Word”, another “strong intercultural skills”) to dozens of businesses only to receive the same resigned reception from almost every one of them. Port is dead right now, they said with a knowing smile, and will only be resuscitated towards the end of December.

We’ll take your resume but blah blah …. by this point I’d usually tuned out, trying to suss out the state of the hotel’s pool visible over the receptionist’s shoulder. There were dozens in the crystal clear water frolicking about with pool noodles and lurid rashie-vests, defending against from the threat of melanomas.

Port Douglas isn’t dead, I thought bitterly, it’s my resumé.  They’ve seen through it, cold accusing pupils stripping me naked to reveal a prospective employee whose sole experience in the working world consisted of shovelling manure and taking six hours to destroy someone’s lawn with a whipper snipper (a signature service of mine).

The truth, however, was that while Port Douglas wasn’t dead, it certainly wasn’t alive. Not yet. 

When Port eventually does regenerate a pulse, though, it happens rapidly. 

It transforms from a forgettable gland to a throbbing, palpitating organ. 

It swallows tourists by the coach load with pockets, suitcases and/or fistfuls of cash and eases them out the other end in a state of contented bliss, with a dreamy look plastered on their faces and a fierce tan to boot. 

Port is a little pricey, even by the standards of other towns dominated by their respective tourism industries, but no-one’s complaining.

In fact, most can’t get enough. 

The Port Douglas narrative is one of helpless addiction. They touch down assuming, naively, without a thought as to how they will resist the palms and roadside coconuts and beaming tanned locals. It is a common story to hear that visitors find themselves returning the next school holidays, or next high season or extending their visas and enrolling at JCU or holding their kids Bar Mitzvah here and flying up the whole synagogue because, hey, Port's a hell of a town. 

The beauty of Port’s relative isolation, geographically speaking, is that everyone who’s here WANTS to be here. There is a sense of purpose in Port Douglas’ purposelessness. Time passes slower, the days a little longer if you lose focus or want them to be. The saturation of sunlight, the hordes of bats silhouetted against a yawning ochre sky, the ripe mangos strewn along the roadside, they all contribute to a feeling of plenty. 

Port’s not perfect though, not by any means. Heat and humidity and the mosquitoes which probably spawn in Satan’s colon are both undeniable flaws. No-one contests that these exist, and yet no-one is particularly bothered by them. They are merely the price of paradise, the fine print to an otherwise ideal contract. They're a rallying point on all sides of the local economy, tourists and locals alike finding solidarity in the hiss of a Bushman's can of mosquito whoop-ass.

I did find work eventually, as a dish-hand at a popular Italian restaurant in town. Under heavy Italian, French and German accents I could detect in my co-workers -- backpackers for the most part -- a quiet satisfaction with their situation. Everyone asks how each other likes it up here even though everyone already knows the answer.

Maybe it's the wildlife. Wildlife is a term with far too loose connotations, occasionally straying into the domain of zoos and stables. In Port Douglas the wildlife is quite literally wild and puts to shame anyone who'd once thought themselves a little adventurous or even Grylls-y for having a pet snake. Sunbirds flit from branch to branch like golden bullets.  Ancient crocodiles slither off the banks of the estuary to some ancient task. Albino geckoes eye you off just out of broom-handle range.  Even the universally despised, scum of the earth cane toads deserve a mention, whose mere presence provokes a variety of murderous intentions even among the most mild of men. 

If one extends the parameters of discussion to the general area then cassowaries, green sea turtles, Maori wrasse, Ulysses butterflies, bottle-nose dolphins, black-tipped reef sharks, moray eels, black necked storks, ospreys, pythons and the iconic green tree frog join the party, many of which I’ve seen in the wild while up here. Port Douglas’ pristine ecological condition is unarguably its greatest asset -- the tourists certainly aren’t here for the sugar cane even though farming is a huge industry up here.

The sustainability of Port Douglas’ economy is therefore inextricably linked with its environment. 

I've visited my grandparents here before in years past but never have I enjoyed it as much as I did when I was sharing it with someone I came to love. My girlfriend came up for around 20 days in January and never has life seemed so rich, so gravid with pure, no T&Cs happiness.   But at the same time there's a mundane, watered down magic to Port Douglas, a faint force under its surface. Relaxation runs in the water supply. 

Indeed Port Douglas is a town of circles, and just along the curve I can see young lovers and pensioners in rashies or covered in factor 50 appreciating this, knocking back some cocktails at the pool bar. Isn’t it your round?