Christine Leonard


I wish I could write a novel but whenever I put my mind to creating something from a blank page, that’s exactly what I’m left with. The stories that get my imagination zinging are of characters who dwell in my ancestral closet, like my great-grandmother who in 1932 built a one-room house on the beach and planted a mango tree from seed beside her open-air kitchen.
With a green thumb and an eye for business Annie Lewis bought several allotments in Horseshoe Bay, and an area that was to be called Airlie Beach. The blocks cost 20 pounds and Annie’s house site was where the Airlie Beach Hotel stands. Annie also bought the land that ran up Shingley Hill, land she farmed as an extensive market garden.
The dirt track running higgledy piggledy over permanent potholes between Airlie and Proserpine did its best to cause the ruination of the bus that brought mail and groceries to the settlers who lived in those parts. Apart from what she grew and watered with a tin bucket Annie was as handy with a gun as she was with a fishing line, and providing the weather was kind, scrub turkeys, fish, and oysters, were aplenty. My mother reminisced about the familiar sight of Grandma Lewis moving slowly along the steep contours, her figure bent over crops from morning to dark: each row shaped by calloused fingers, pick and shovel ever near. Of course, it didn’t end well and while we young ones don’t know the whole truth of it, this well-worn tale is tinged with melancholy.
Overlooking Airley Beach and fringed by real estate with panoramic views of the sea, is Lewis Street, a narrow ribbon of road that follows the curves of the hillside. I can’t help feeling that beneath the bitumen and bricks and mortar standing proud on soil that could feed a nation, Annie Lewis would know this spot, maybe once perfect for cucumbers and runner beans. Down by the water’s edge, an ancient mango tree, temporarily saved in the 1970s from bulldozers, that once shaded a concrete car park, has long gone, but the memory of it lives in the pages of short stories, hopefully a memoir.
Histories of places and the people who lived there are destined to become the bedrock of something else, and unearthing those stories is what keeps me writing.

Annie Lewis is pictured with granddaughter Marion Eaton nee Hallam.
Airlie Beach Queensland late 1940s. Photo from author’s family collection