Thursday, July 28, 2011
Well, I entered the Rudyard office, and no one one was there. I called out but nothing stirred.
But then someone emerged from the toilet in the back. A petite older gal wearing an official-looking cap that said "tickets" slowly ambled to the counter, and when I asked about catching the steamer to New Island, she informed me the boat was about to disembark! While I fumbled for my ticket she picked up an ancient phone on the ticket counter, which seemed to be a direct line to the dock, and asked if one more passenger could be fetched out. "Yes Indeed," she said into the phone, looking at the ticket I was waving at her, "I'll get him over there."
"Come with me," she ordered, leading me beyond the counter, through a long hallway, past the toilet, and out the back of the building. Awaiting us was a bicycle-taxi, complete with a two-person back seat, a luggage rack, and the Rudyard name on its awning-fringe. She took my bag, ordered me to sit and then she pedaled furiously to the dock - a fast trip since it was mostly downhill from the ticket office! There was also no traffic here - only an eerie silence and a solitary pedestrian enjoying the late afternoon sunlight. We rounded a corner and there was the Charles Ames - big and white with only a few rust stains on her gray-painted hull..
The dock was equally empty, but for a few people waiting to see the boat off. The steward was waiting for us so I gave the tickets gal a grateful tip, grabbed my bags and ran up the gangway just as a long, deep, resonating blast from the ship's horn announced our departure. The ropes were tossed free, the gangplank lowered, and we were under way...straight into the setting sun!
A quick snapshot of the Fremantle dock from the bicycle-taxi
Monday, July 25, 2011
I told everyone who mattered that I was leaving "on an assignment" for about a month (I really didn't know how long) and also had to make arrangements for my cats and the mail. No one I knew had heard of the island, but I decided I had to go there. The tickets, after all, were genuine!
After what felt like an endless series of flights, (Wisconsin to Chicago to San Francisco to Honolulu to Fiji to Melbourne to Perth) I finally arrived at the Perth-Fremantle airport.Outside the terminal, my heart fell when the cab driver had never heard of the Rudyard Steamship Company. It didn't show up on Mapquest either.
Margaret Mullen had explained to me when she sent my tickets that the only way to get to New Island from Australia was on the Rudyard Line. So we cruised Fremantle's docks and dockside back streets until I spotted this building...
"Stop" I said. He asked why and I said, "Because we're here - there it is." He looked all around at the old buildings and asked, "Are you sure?" and I said "Yes." and so he shook his head and said, "OK, you da boss!" and let me out. I didn't ask why he was so doubtful - maybe he just couldn't see what I saw.
The building looked deserted, as did the entire neighborhood - no one anywhere - so I tried the door...
Friday, July 15, 2011
The drawing that started it all.
After spending several years painting scenes of unknown coastlines, strange mountains, and isolated settlements, I received a letter one day in 1995 inviting me to create some paintings and drawings of an Indian Ocean island I didn't know about.
I grew up on the California coast of North America and became enchanted by the ocean's power, the beaches and the local coastal landscape that was quickly being built-over. I moved north to the Oregon coast, and then to Wisconsin in the vast continental midlands. No ocean, but a good place to raise our three daughters.
To keep my sanity, I made drawings and paintings of the beaches, towns and entire coastline-views of a thinly-populated place entirely from my head. One of these drawings found it's way to Australia, and eventually to the offices of the newly-formed Ministry of Trade of The Commonwealth of New Island.
Apparently The Minister of Trade's secretary, Margaret Mullen, spotted the drawing in her boyfriend's* living room and said, "That's my place out on the Western shore. I have a beach cottage there...and that's my daughter's cargo-trike! Where did this come from?" He could only mumble about his mum finding it in Putney.
Margaret found my name and address on the back of the drawing, and wrote to me with her question, which, of course, I couldn't answer in any logical sense! Along with my befuddled reply, I sent back several photos of other imagined places, all of which, it turned out, exactly resembled local beaches and towns on New Island! She showed these to her boss, the Hon. Wainwright Stevens, Minister of Trade, and they both agreed I might be the right candidate to help them advertise the island to attract tourism and foreign investment!
I soon received a long and compelling letter, sent by the Minister himself, asking me to visit New Island in order to provide images of the island for the Ministry. Mr Stevens explained the island's recent independence from Russia and his nation's goal to attract at least 100 foreign settlers by the year 2000. The Ministry needed a capable illustrator to visually tell the island's story. He explained that photography is a no-no on New Island - a long story having to do with the island's Russian-ruled past...
His letter included open-dated tickets to fly first-class to Western Australia and then board a Rudyard Line steamer from Fremantle, Western Australia to Victoria Harbor, New Island. Ms. Mullen will meet me at the dock. Wow!
I accepted, and herein begins my tale.