Close to death in paradise….


Once again, not so much a rant but a reminisce that I hope you will permit me in advancing old age.

Spending some days on Straddie – aka North Stradbroke Island – and our rented abode overlooks the Point Lookout pub and Cylinder Beach, the scenes of much fun and happy misadventures in my late teens and early 20s – and the scene of my near-death a bit later on in the early 80s.

I guess there are not too many Aussies who don’t have a story of a near-drowning experience somewhere around this bloody big island of Oz.

A foot caught momentarily under an underwater snag in a freshwater stream or lake; a roiling surf bringing you back in shore but holding you under in its deadly grip until just you thought you were done for and your lungs were about to burst, only then to but let you up as some form of a bad practical joke.

Sometime in those early 80s, I went over to Straddie for a day trip with arguably Australia’s most hated man; Dick Shearman, one of Australia’s great education sector industrial warriors, was also there!

Whom I’m talking about was Bill Hartley, socialist Labor warrior and Victorian ALP branch secretary for many years. Yes, that “Baghdad” Bill Hartley, who was savaged by many for his radical actions, including a plan by Labor to get the Iraqi government to pay for the Whitlam election campaign in 1975. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

Why I know he remained very controversial  in the early 80s was simply by watching the reactions of people who spotted him as we wandered about and had lunch at the old Point Lookout pub; men instinctively protecting their women folk; dogs scurrying away into the shadows.

I didn’t know a lot about Bill other than his connections with Iraq and it may be true that he visited the Middle East country as many times as George Christensen, the Member for Manila, travelled to the Philippines,

After lunch that day, we wandered down to Cylinder Beach for a swim. Bill, I imagine, would have been about 50 and didn’t appear to be in top physical fitness.

Shearman I knew was a pretty good swimmer, so in we went, a nice surf up. What could go wrong?

In the twinkling of an eye, I was a fair way up the southern end of the beach near the headland; the other two well out of hearing range, staying closer to the pub.

A bloke who could run around suburbs for hours but who was a very average swimmer was in real trouble.

It’s amazing how quickly the panic and the fatigue set in under such circumstances and I went under a few times. My shouts went unnoticed and when I went down for that traditional third and last time, a pinkie barely touched the sand and gave me fresh hope.

I finally spluttered my way to shore and thought how fortunate I was to be back in the presence of Australia’s most hated man. And Dick Shearman.

Don Gordon-Brown.