17/10/2012 - 10:42

As ever, Rotto caught between then and now

17/10/2012 - 10:42


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Now more than ever, holidaymakers can have a whale of a time on Rotto.

As ever, Rotto caught between then and now

Now more than ever, holidaymakers can have a whale of a time on Rotto.

MANY of this column’s most-avid readers will be aware that this time of year involves a regular trip to the magical holiday destination of Rottnest Island, and that I will write a column on my observations.

They never seem to tire of the ‘customer feedback’ the column provides Rotto’s management and the state government, both of which know the island is a sensitive subject.

Overall, the island’s management has got it more right than wrong, especially in recent years with a general upgrade of accommodation to include a few modern luxuries such as flywire, kitchen utensils, linen and a microwave.

Even the staffing malaise the island has suffered from appears close to being vanquished. Most of the hospitality venues were up to scratch – at least in my view or those of mates who frequented them more often than I did. The island still lacks that much-talked-about upmarket venue but I can’t blame the state for not trying. One day it will happen.

It might not have been clever to concurrently close the tennis courts at both Geordie Bay and Kingston during the school holidays. Not only was the sound of machinery a little unwelcome as the courts behind us were being dug up, but the facility at Bathurst clearly struggled to cope with the needs of wannabe Pat Rafters and Samantha Stosurs. 

Every year I embark on a resuscitation of my tennis career during the week at Rotto, so it was disappointing to miss those epic sporting struggles that result from the coincidence of long-lost prowess and ample court availability.

By way of replacement – on one day, at least – we did venture out to sea in search of whales in a fast boat, which, unfortunately, was missing one of its three engines, so it was a bit slower than usual. I am not a speed freak, so I was able to contain my disappointment. 

Regrettably, the whales were not keen to expose themselves beyond a gentle bit of surfacing, but I still found the trip worthwhile after a close up of the seals at Cathedral Rocks. I am not usually into that kind of tourist adventure, but thought the experience was positive and made the most of what the island had to offer. Let’s face it, boat operators can’t make whales jump out of the water.

Anyway, we had already found plenty of whale activity visible from our front porch at Fays Bay. While most of it was distant, we were treated to some impressive breaches that were close enough to see clearly. Although Rottnest management cannot claim credit for the return of whales, it is bonus material for a holiday island that already has a lot of features.

One noticeable change in terms of the island’s other temporary residents was the high number of single parents at this usually family-oriented time.

 I found a higher proportion of friends and acquaintances, both male and female, who found it necessary this year to miss all or part of the family holiday due to work commitments. This is hardly a scientific study, but I did wonder if the current financial uncertainty had led to more people being restrained about their holidaying than usual. I’d invite feedback on this from readers because it is useful economic information to have, even by way of anecdote.

Way back machine

THE last hour on Rottnest did cause me to think a bit abstractly, perhaps the last gasp of holiday brain as it attempts to power up for the return to the mainland.

I was specifically prompted by the profile of the Rottnest Express ferry as it swung into its berth. We take the 25-minute trip to Rottnest for granted these days, but I recall coming over on the Temeraire II, which used to take an hour and half. There was also the Islander, from recollection, which took an additional hour to make the journey.

Admittedly the ferry tickets seemed, relatively speaking, much cheaper in the days of those longer voyages; but what value is speed when you face the threat of seasickness? I know of many people who couldn’t bare the trip to Rottnest until the faster ferries started clipping the travel time by a significant margin.

I was also struck by how much the ferry had been changed by technology, yet the destination would be largely unchanged (apart from the microwaves) since the 1970s. Many people rail against modernity – especially at Rotto – but technology often seamlessly evolves in some parts of the world while other parts stand still. The island remains a sanctuary from much that is modern, but I rarely hear nostalgia for the longer version of the journey over.

On holidays I read a book by Australian author John Birmingham, best known for his novel He Died With A Felafel In Has Hand, a story about misspent youth and student housing disasters. Somehow he has moved on to science fiction and I readily absorbed Designated Targets, an adrenalin-fuelled tale of a future multinational naval fleet suddenly emerging in the middle of World War II and accidently changing the course of history.

I enjoy occasional rummages into science fiction like this because it requires the use of imagination (suspension of belief, if you prefer) more than most other genres. While admittedly the time travel back into history concept is nothing new, in this case it was a great reminder that technology advances we use and the staggering efficiencies we gain from them are often take for granted.

Sometimes those gains are less than staggering in the course of human history. For instance, is carving a few minutes off the trip to a holiday destination really worth the engineering know-how that it took to make that happen? Of course it isn’t. The naval design techniques, fluid dynamics testing, the creation of new materials and the evolution of more powerful engines occurred for more important reasons but, ultimately, the benefits accrue to less vital interests – like getting you to where you want to be faster, so you can be on holidays sooner.

• mark.pownall@wabn.com.au


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