[map 5 – Paradise Lost]
I thought the dog might belong to the jogger. And then the woman with the pram and child. It had deserted them and was running around me in wide circles barking, without menace. It was a bit-of-this-at-that dog. Maybe part-Staffie crossed with a Kelpie? It was crazy-friendly, running off on me as I walked, chasing garden sprinklers watering deep green manicured lawns. Just when I thought it had given up on our brief friendship, the dog ran back to me and nuzzled my crotch, affirming an instant loyalty.
I was walking from my motel into the Port Douglas commercial strip, a forty-five minute stroll, passing condos and apartment buildings – some a little worn out by backpackers and schoolies binges, others genuinely luxurious, secured behind walls of palm trees imported from commercial farms. The gardens are a deep green and require a good drink, not a problem in a part of the country that measures rain by the feet. While it might be unfair to describe Port Douglas as a theme park, it does feel un-real.
I had walked for around twenty minutes and had apologised to at least a dozen people, explaining, ‘I’m sorry, but it’s not my dog,’ each time my new friend jumped on a jogger or harassed a small kid with an ice-cream cone melting down one arm. I’m sure none of them believed me, as, after causing havoc and been shooed away, the dog would retreat to my side and look up at me with the eyes of a loyal companion.
I stopped at a high metal fence that ran for fifty metres beside the path. I could see the heads of palms trees on the other side, following the fence-line. I spotted a gap and climbed through the fence. The piece of land was infested with weeds overgrowing a series of murky canals running between the brick foundations of an unfinished apartment complex. The ruin was maybe less than ten years old – I couldn’t be sure – and across the road from the entrance to the beach. Position! Position! Position!, the marketplace would call it. I wondered if it was a grand scheme gone bust. Or worse, a project outdated before its opening date.
I left the ruin with the intention of following a bicycle path into town, until I reached a proverbial fork-in-the-road. Rather than following the bike-path, winding through more palm trees and apartments, dog veered to the left and I followed. We quickly found ourselves on a dirt track. We passed a yard holding several train carriages, badly in need of repair, a water treatment works, and an ancient hand-painted sign advertising yet another holiday paradise – although there was no paradise to be found except for the footings of a building that had long since departed.
On one side of the road were the remnants of human activity since gone. On the other a putrid muddy soup that would have once been wetland, now cut off from the sea by the reclaimed land (strange word, that) that more recent condos had been built on.
Dog and I ended our walk near the old wharf at the tip of Port Douglas. I realised we had shadowed the main road into town having never strayed more than 200 metres from it. And yet, we could have been in another world. In fact, we were in another world. One that may have existed as a ‘settlement’ for less than 50 years before being abandoned for new frontiers only 100 metres away (‘just a jump to the right’). Or in the case of the Paradise Lost I’d discovered with dog, in the blink of the speculator’s eye. We are a disposable society. Some of our rubbish we can pick up and recycle – tin cans, plastic bottles and newspapers. But land, it can only take so much of our stupidity.
Dog moved on from me once we hit Port Douglas. But not before giving me a final loving nudge in the crotch followed by a wet sticky lick of the back of my hand with a sandpaper tongue. He was a good dog. We parted on equal terms. If he’d been my dog and I thought myself clever, I’d call him Reciprocity.