Living in the Whitsundays part 1, Hamilton Island

Just before Christmas in 2002, I was called up for a job from someone on Hamilton Island in the tropical north. I was wanted to work in a kitchen as a kitchen hand where I did not know how long the job would be for. I had assumed that it would be something like a permanent job. I had a case officer with an employment agency that worked on the island and the mainland. The employment guy never said if it was a permanent position or I could be let go at any time. Actually the only excitement I got from him was that I had a job. I was happy to be on the journey that would get me a job and fully employed at the time. I was there from the 18th of December, 2002 to the 5th of January in 2003. I luckily kept the record of my time there on my resume. The dates will give a timeline into what the experiences I had while working on Hamilton Island though I do not hold a grudge at all. The story from that time is going to be in two parts as that is just a bit too long. Part one is on the island and the second part is while on the mainland. This was a time well before I was experienced in anything at all in traveling on my own and I was learning my feet so to speak though several other trips would be the defining moments on how I learnt to travel.

To put the whole event and how I ended up working in the Whitsundays in the first place. I was offered a group interview through my local employment agency for the opportunity to get a job on one of the islands. I thought it would be a good opportunity to leave the Tweed area as I had not found a job at all since I had left school even though I did not have the experience that employers were after. I had the interview and it was all good and they were happy. At the time we had only just moved into the Tweed from Hastings Point where we were closer to the public transport. They told me I would get a phone call asking me to work there. I thought it would be the case officers ringing to ask me and just before Christmas I got a phone call from a Chinese bloke I could not understand. It was lucky that the next person to call me was the case officer on Hamilton Island telling me about the job.

The trip to the island would be my first real trip away on my own with only support really being myself. None of us had any idea what we really needed other than clothes and that was what we packed including several other small bags too. There were around four bags all up with one main one and three smaller bags one that included the toiletries. I have learnt about packing since those days, but I flew off to Hamilton Island from the Gold Coast thinking I would send my computer up once I had settled down. Even the case officer thought I would be on the island long term. I met the restaurant manager and I found I would be the dish washer or as others would call it, the dish pig. The restaurant was a Chinese restaurant and I was to start that night if memory serves me right and then over the next couple of days I would be having orientation with the other new workers. I could be wrong that I did start the same day I flew in or it was the next night, but I did meet the new boss the day that I flew in and we did have a chat. I had been sent to sort out my new gear too, which I collected a uniform and shoes.

My case officer told me that he would pick me up that night and take me to work since I was staying on one side of the island, which was around 1km from where my workplace was. I rang him before it was time to leave and there was no answer so I ended up walking down to where the restaurant was located on the water front. I arrived within 5 mins of when I started so did not have a rest before I began working. I was shown all the stuff that I had to do including a quick rundown of the chemicals and the basics on how to use the dishwasher. It didn’t help that I was told several times to hurry up during the night and I did work. Though what I never expected was to be left on my own afterwards to clean the kitchen. I never realised how messy it actually became and the fact I had not cleaned it before. My case officer had appeared during this time and showed me what to do though he had told me the reason he never answered his phone was that he fell asleep and forgot. I never told him this was unacceptable. In the camp the other experienced people told me that I was actually the boss of that section and the chefs had to listen to me in regards to the cleaning. I have no idea if this was true at all.

I did the orientation and learnt what the rules to the island actually including not being able to swim in the guest pools. There was also pretty much the customer service side of working in hospitality. I did meet some people who were on the other side of the island where the golf course is located and that were where I was until they moved to better accommodation. The work in the kitchen was difficult and I did find drinking soft drink in a hot environment was not a very good idea and one time while it was quiet I took a break that I got told to come back. I was getting help from the apprentice chef I think he was an I did once stand up to the Maori chef who was having a go at me since I could not go any faster when the dishes were in the dishwasher doing its job and had to wait for that. During this time Christmas had gone and the kitchen hand who had been employed came back from holidays though I think they gave up trying to get me to peel some onions as I was not very good at that job. I have sometimes wondered if I was only the relief person over the Christmas holidays for the kitchen hand. I had never asked the question, but I knew something was up when the case officer had been barred from the kitchen from helping me as supposedly he had kitchen experience and could show me.

In between the work there were some issues that I had been working on although they were not something I was too worried about. I was just sorting everything out that I needed to. Both the case officer and I went for a look through one of the apartment style buildings for staff members and sound somewhere I liked as the place we were staying was a bit far from everything else and was either a walk or a short taxi ride. The food situation was not that good as there were no real facilities in the current location to cook meals so had to eat out, which was not that cheap every night though the eatery was only open on Christmas Day for dinner and I had a cake. Wandering into the centre of the island was pretty nice and a great walk. It was hot during the time I was there as it was the middle of summer in a tropical type area. I did ask my case officer if I had to let Centrelink know about me being employed and he told me not to worry about it at all. I knew that I had to let them know, but getting to the mainland was difficult other than by ferry. I did have one trip to the mainland especially when I wanted to get a book or two. I was able to get the ferry over and the bus into Airlie beach and found it to be a nice area though pretty soon in the future I would be living close by though that is an entirely different story.

As part of the Island culture I was allowed to go on a reef trip for free as part of a promotional deal that was to do with employees. The point was for people to go on the tour and tell the tourists what it was like. It was more about going snorkelling with the fish and having a look at the fish through a glass panel in the floating pontoon thing. Another adventure type thing was the golf cart ride through the island. Hamilton Island may not seem that big, but when you drive around the island following the roads you soon find that it would be. I just had to learn at the airport to drive to the left and not the right. One very eventful day I had planned was to go fishing on my own as I wanted to see what I could catch for a couple of hours. That never happened as several others wanted to join and they were not wanting to fish. There were two boats and we broke the rules by going into an area that we were not allowed on a hire boat though we did that anyway. It was during that time that I lost my phone when water came into the boat. I learnt that water doesn’t like phones and I never knew it had passed on until much later. We did end up on another island and the boat that the others were using couldn’t be started. We were a little late in getting back to the island and none of us being mechanics I was trying to tow the boat back to the island very slowly by using the anchor on the canopy. Along came one of the boat hire men in their speed boat and they fixed the problem getting the other boat started. We were in trouble once the boats came back and the security was there demanding money for a late fee. I ended up paying while the others never paid me back though I thought I would be paid back, but several of the people were actually really late for work by around 2 hours. I never got to catch any fish that day and not sure what the security guard would have done if no one paid the late fee.

In case you were wondering about the phone. I was able to get one shipped from home by my parents and while it was an express post it took a day extra for the phone to arrive and I was happy when it did as the only thing that survived was the simcard and I was able to place it into someone elses phone to make calls. That was a life saver and would you believe that since then I have had the same phone number and it is now 2015. The brick Nokia were really great phones at the time even if they did not have internet.

After the New Year I got a message for the boss wanting to see me and I went to visit him without the case officer who I think was somewhere else at the time. In front of the head waiter I was told by the chef that I was no longer needed and good luck. I had figured something like this would happen several days before and I took a walk back to the accommodation though I stopped for a beer first. After telling the case officer about the problem I heard from him that the reason I was let go was that I was too clean and too slow. I did not really get that reason and I had asked around with some other people about if there were other jobs and I was chatting to two cleaners who were drunk. After telling me they will see and I was asked that the information was worth something. My reply was that it was worth my friendship. I was then laughed at and told I was a smart ass. When they were sober they did say sorry for their actions and it turned out there was no job offers. One of the rules was that I was to leave once my employment had been terminated. I had returned my work clothes and the boots too. The case officer told me that I could stay over the weekend and I stated the rules to him and that I was going anyway as I would be charged for staying there. He didn’t think that would happen, but I had organised a cabin in the local caravan park near Airlie Beach and I was told then by an upset case officer that I would be picked up on Monday to be taken to a place he knew I could stay. I liked the island though I was happy to be off and I moved into the cabin for the weekend. This was well before I had known about hostels even though one of the guys on the island recommended a hostel.

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