Sunday, 28 September 2008

The last dance

The last night at the old Cairns Yacht Club last Saturday was momentous. Wendy Richardson, the organiser behind PADYC's campaign to protect and save the historic Cairns waterfront building reflects.

Around four hundred people gathered to see it out; many were very sad and frustrated at being told it cannot stay where it is, at least as a heritage tourism site. Basil had danced across the floorboards for over 66 years – he met his wife there too. Others were tourists, there for the first time.

The moon was up, slipping between clouds, its silver reflection on the water. Ocean Spirit cruised back and forth with its big mainsail aloft and its dinner cruise guests laughing; children played on the moonlit beach below where earlier fire dancers had performed.

The outline of the mountains and Trinity Inlet were faintly visible past the silhouette of a clump of palm trees swaying gently in the balmy air.

It was easy to imagine the American servicemen who reputedly claimed the verandah as their domain during the dances in WW2, kicking back with a cigarette or two out there, while the Aussies whirled their dance partners round the floor or downed a few drinks at the bar between sad stories of lost mates or yarns of their larrikin ways.

Back in the present, the dancers stomped and twisted their way through the musical memories of the decades oblivious to a single figure standing at midnight by the softly lapping water, staring past the abandoned piles of the old wharf. His desperation to keep this memory in his mind forever was palpable. His anguish was shared.

The loss of this site and building is a travesty; to quote the Queensland Heritage Council Chairman, Prof John Brannock in the Cairns Post in May 2003 ‘the demolition of the Cairns Yacht Club would be a terrible loss to the city and would reduce the social and cultural value of its waterfront irreparably.

Mysteriously, John Brannock changed his mind by December 2003 and, using his casting vote, caused the building to be lost forever to this city. But he was not alone in a campaign to rid the waterfront of this building and all that it represents. In fact he was probably just a pawn.

Many questions remain unanswered. PADYC will not rest until we have them.

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