Made [pronounced: ‘Mah-Day’] spent thousands of hours on boats in Bali before falling in love with an Aussie girl and following her home to Australia.
Sadly, all that time on the water in Indonesia turned out to mean little to Australian authorities. Disappointed, but taking this news in his characteristically wonderful relaxed stride, Made started studying for his ‘tickets’ and logging his sea time on tourist boats in Cairns all over again from scratch.
I first met Made in the mid 1990s. We met at about the same time Made was aiming to take to the water again in Cairns. By one of those crazy coincidences, when we first met, I realised that I happened to know his then girlfriend’s family back in South Australia.
Often together with another Australian-Indonesian couple, Jacqui and Kardek, we all used to catch up at each other’s houses for mouthwatering, mostly Indonesian, home cooked dinners. The fragrances and flavours of these meals still leave me in awe to this day. Being a lazy culinary batchelor at the time might have had much to do with it as well.
Then this month, after perhaps more than 5 years since we last met during a previous Cairns visit, I was surprised to be reunited with Made again.
Another old Cairns friend Bret Chadwick and I decided to relive our past and take a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef, and so on the day before we were set to go out, we took a walk down to the wharf to watch the “our old boat” return to its berth.
Standing high on the wharf, we were keen to see if we could recognise any familiar faces on board. Leaning over the railing I felt the whole moment tinged with nostalgia as a stream of idealised memories of sailing, bikinis, champagne, unashamed flirtation, tanned bodies, and tranquil dives returned to me. Then came memories of the long nights of drinking and dancing, many with more than a few of us still in our distinctive blue and white striped uniforms having come directly from the boat.
As the mooring lines were being thrown from the bow faces came into view. My gaze followed the crew as they went about their orderly tasks in preparation for coming alongside. Looking down from the rails, I fell into reverie again, this time recalling the weariness of this hour of the day and fragments the crew’s usual banter about plans for the coming night.
Who would be going to the pub? Who would be taking her? What where so and so’s chances?
It was carefree living I wanted to tell myself, knowing full well that there was also days of rough wet weather, passenger sea sickness, diving difficulties, jellyfish stings, sunburn, plenty of deck polishing and endless plates to clear after our guest had emptied the onboard buffets.
Most of the crew though rarely worked on board these day cruise boats for more than two years. Many drifted off overseas to bigger boats, bigger money and more advanced sailing. As a young cruise liaison officer I think I lasted 18 months. And on my final day I will never forget the ritual I was put through by the rest of the crew to mark my departure.
Doused in slops from the galley and smeared with vegemite, fat and who knows what else, I left the boat for the last time knowing I would be missed. It was the kind of fun loving send off I too had participated in for others numerous times, but had strangely never prepared to have happen to me.
Now over some 15 years later, standing alongside Bret, a former Dive Instructor and Japanese speaker, I caught a glimpse of myself peering into the working lives of crew standing where we once stood. And with this I was gripped by the fleeting sense of time folding full circle.
And then there on the deck a familiar smile caught my eye. It was Made.
After more than ten years service he, the one who I had vividedly recalled starting his seatime right from the beginning again, stood on deck as one of the most loyal and knowledgeable crew.
He had proved what he wanted to have acknowledged years ago, that he was at home on the sea.
[Made works aboard Ocean Spirit Cruises]