It was the last conversation we were to have for a while. Like we had done many times before, I brought the finest $10 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon while she made dinner. It was a ritual too customary to ignore because for friends who saw each other so infrequently, we needed a routine to bring familiarity.
Earlier that month, she broke the news that she was going to move to Brisbane for a year before she set out for her kayaking trip along the Alaskan coast. She would go to Woodford Festival then be back to pack up for the drive down to Brisbane; a drive I was less envious off, particularly in that barely bearable blistering heat.
This was our the last meal together. She wanted to make an omelette but ended up making scrambled eggs after accidentally adding in sliced prosciutto. She is a vegetarian. I like mushrooms. She spilled red wine. I was wearing a white shirt. We laughed. That about summed up our friendship over the last three years.
She left with the rains lapping behind her, joining the masses of young guns moving to the big city. The best and brightest from our regions, all chambers loaded, chasing dreams in latte cups before it goes cold. Before her, there were several more people I knew who had left.
My network of friends became a few vague connections as I found myself contemplating my own desires to remain in the Far North. Sometimes a place is only as attractive as the people who are there. Sometimes…
I convinced myself that if I couldn’t find a reason to stay, it was imperative that I left.
A week or so after she left, I made a pact with myself to find a reason to stay. Somethings are just not that difficult to do. While a part of me had left, there was a part still connected to the spaces that had become familiar. I liked the tropics, and despite the occasional cyclone and hot summers, there was very little that would woo me into leaving. Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, even Adelaide would not be reason enough to go live there. I share the common sentiment that “I could go for a holiday, but I would never live there”.
Cairns was my city in a pocket, I have my cafes with sensational coffees, art and culture for my restless mind, and Rustys market to satisfy my connection to Papua New Guinean food. I can’t forget to the active lifestyle; touch footy; ultimate frisbee; mountain biking; triathlon clubs; cycling; rugby; soccer; cricket; hockey; metrogaine; rogaine; sailing; climbing; caving etc. You get the picture. There are a whole heap of activities to try here.
When you get too hot, the Tablelands offer reprieve from the heat with cool walks and swims and equally great food and coffee to rival Cairns. Plus alcohol, we cannot forget the alcohol. Breweries in Cairns and the world class Mount Uncle Distillery near Walkamin.
Work? Money? Yes, it’s here too, you just have to look for it if you really want it or even better, create your own employment. If you need expertise to help you, expertise is just a phone call and coffee date away.
Of course, I am under no illusion, Cairns is a small town and a very small one at that. If Facebook is anything to go by, sooner or later, you will have mutual friends with people who have been here for more then a year. Eventually you will end up meeting them.
This is where the conundrum lies too. A glass or two into the cheap bottle of red and we realised that Cairns was a town where you could become a big fish very soon, and if you were young and ambitious, it was not the right fit for you just yet. I figured this was why she was so eager to leave. She had to leave. Though she was a mentor to those around her, she was also taking up space that those around her could easily rise to. Her leaving would allow for a new group of young and passionate people to step up to fill her shoes.
The red wine spilled. We laughed. My white shirt wasn’t stained.
On my drive home, I realised that she had reached the peak of her potential in her current capacity so she needed to be challenged in a bigger environment. She was already a bright star in the universe of Cairns but she would burn out quickly if she stayed here any longer.
The question then became, how we got those shooting stars to return brighter?
Part 2: The Buildup