I’m not really someone who gets excited about meeting anyone famous, but this wasn’t just anyone, this was Robert Jesse, acknowledged by those well-regarded folk over at The National Geographic, Robert Jesse, local commentator on both the Cyclone Yasi aftermath and the subsequent Prince William 2011 trip to Cardwell in Queensland, Australia.
Buying a pie in Cardwell had been one of the few things that me and my travelling crew wanted to do as we road tripped the Queensland coast up to the Eclipse 2012 festival. But, alas, on the journey north it was not meant to be. We had driven slowly through Cardwell, eyes scouting the main strip, but nothing. No pie van. No pie man.
We settled for a sub-standard snack alternative (although this harsh judgment can possibly be attributed to the discovery that my wallet was lying in Townsville service station toilets some 180km away).
This southwards return journey, however, delivered. Perseverance paid off. Here we were, parked under a tree and the Jesse’s Pies van was but five strides away.
‘Even the locals eat them!’ advertised the reputability of the cuisine, and I thought: if it’s good enough for the locals, it’s definitely good enough for three somewhat bedraggled travellers.
As you might expect, Robert Jesse himself was far more interesting than the actual pies.
‘I’m known now’, he said, ‘I’m famous’. He dishes up a pie for each of us. Warm. Amply filled.
He asks what we’re doing, where we’re from, where we’re going. He’s happy to have his photo taken for the blog, all part of the fame game, I guess.
‘When do you think it will be up there?’ he asks as I write down my blog address. I wonder if he’s keeping track of his publicity, keeping a scrapbook for future grandkids. Local legend.
We talk about travelling and he asks about my journeying around the world and mock shudders when I talk about my sailing trip across the Pacific.
‘I travel in Cardwell’, he says, ‘I was born in Ingham’. To put things into context, Cardwell is a tropical coastal town in northeastern Queensland and has a population of 1,250. Ingham is all of 52km away, a little further south.
‘So you keep it local?’I ask. Silly question. Maybe.
‘Oh, I’ve been to Fiji’, he adds, ‘and once I visited Townsville and I was cold’. I can’t tell if he’s actually being serious but he goes on to tell me that he gets all the travel stimulation he needs from people passing through Cardwell, stopping to buy his pies. The world comes to him, see? He feels, he tells me, completely connected to the world, and totally content in his town.
‘It’s like I said in the National Geographic’, said Robert, ‘about this place being a postcard place’. I look around and think about the drive through and I keep my opinions quiet: I’m not blown away by the town. But then, as Robert goes on to tell us, Yasi has a lot to answer for and the post-cyclone clear up is evidently still in motion. Plus, today is a bit grey. Sunshine would undoubtedly put a different slant on things.
It’s nearly 14:00 and Robert tells us he’ll soon be packing up and leaving for the day. He doesn’t want the local pub to think he might be stealing their customers. I can’t imagine it being a problem, and I’m sure people – like us – come to town specifically for the pies and not the pub; but his intentions are solid, rooted in caring for the Cardwell community.
We drive on southwards and pick up my erstwhile wallet from Townsville Woolworths Caltex, thanking Don King for keeping it in his care this past week. The money, unsurprisingly, is missing, something which Don takes very seriously. For the next ten minutes we scour through CCTV tapes and it is with some relief that we discover it is not one of his staff members next into the toilets. He is clearly relieved.
I am, however, clearly a bit peeved about the loss, but I try to be level. $80 may be a lot of money for a budgeting traveller but it’s also a lot of money for someone who feels the need to steal it from fuel station facilities. I like to imagine it was put to good use, maybe to buy nappies, or fruit and veg (my imagination has often served me well).
And then back in the car; turn to the west, hot sun baking the three of us into a tired slump as the air conditioning cuts out, again. We drive on along single lanes behind three carriage road trains, passed cows shading under a single billboard in the middle of nowhere roadside. Ominous skies split their guts with gusto as we arrive into a deserted Charters Towers and we use the heavy rain as an excuse to check in to a local caravan park.
The rain, of course, stops barely a moment after we settle into our one-room house, but by then it’s too late to back out. We’ve paid up. Let’s suffer this punishment of curt landlords and a roof over our head, of a jacuzzi spa, of television movies and an equipped kitchen, of crisp, dust-free sheets and comfy beds. Ah, what a difficult life.
- Cardwell’s world famous pies (abc.net.au)
- Prince charming Cardwell (au.news.yahoo.com)
- Post-Yasi pie man weathers the storm (news.com.au)
- Queensland Roadtrip Day 1: The issue of not being on time (travelola.org)
- Queensland Roadtrip Day 2: Fluid definitions of friendliness (travelola.org)
- Queensland Roadtrip Day 3: The need to budget for health whilst travelling (travelola.org)
- Queensland Roadtrip Day 4: Going big (travelola.org)
- Queensland Roadtrip Day 5: And the heat and beat build (travelola.org)
- Art, consciousness and a whole lot of doof at Eclipse 2012 festival (travelola.org)
- Total solar eclipse: the power of the universe puts things into perspective (travelola.org)
- Queensland Roadtrip Day 6: Forty minutes, maybe, at Mossman Gorge (travelola.org)