Chris met the three of us at Brisbane airport and ferried us back to his new house in his dependable, pie-warmer-equipped Forester. We said hello to Leyla and their new daughter Scarlet, and I was amazed once again how natural it is to say hi to these guys even though we often don’t see each other from one year to the next. (This, surely, is a either product of a deeply held friendship — of an indelible connection on some intrinsic emotional level — or evidence of supreme shallowness on my part. Show your working.) Scarlet was amazing, looking for all the world like a miniature person in a toddler’s body. Had we not been subject to a mandatory crash-course in adult/child interaction back in Melbourne, we might have been startled by the sudden yells she periodically emitted when our collective attention began drifting away, but as it was we were all pretty much unfazed. We played, gurned away at her and gently pushed phones, netbooks and other electronic sundries beyond her reach.

The first couple of days were a gentle introduction to Chris & Leyla’s new house and the local neighbourhood of Everton Park. We climbed (comically and ill-advisedly) onto the roof to inspect Chris’ beloved solar panels; we walked down to the local creek to see a colony of shrouded, sleeping fruit bats hanging in their hundreds from trees on its banks; we drove to the local drive-through “bottle-o” and bought a “slab” of “beer”; we played cards and drank the aforementioned beer on the deck at the back of the house and gazed out over the leafy Brisbane suburbs.

Chris took Friday off work to take Doug, Davis and I for a day out to Moreton Island, a sand island a few tens of kilometres north-each of Brisbane. We caught a catamaran ferry over in the morning and came ashore at Tangalooma, an ’80s vintage holiday resort built on the site of the old Tangalooma Whaling Station. The only reminder of this gory history is the ‘flensing deck’ a concrete platform onto which whales were hauled for dismemberment, and which appeared to have been repurposed as a rain shelter for ping-pong tables. I wonder how many holidaymakers knocking a table tennis ball back and forth ever consider the slither and slap of blubber and viscera which would have rained upon them fifty years ago?

We walked further down the beach to rent a small metal dinghy along with some fins, snorkels and masks. A couple of miles down the coast were a series of ships which had been deliberately scuttled to form an artificial reef and we puttered off towards them with Captain Dave at the helm. From a physics point of view, our stubby little boat had a surfeit of rotational inertia and an unfortunately cylindrical hull section; from a physical point of view it teetered on the verge of capsizing all the time.

Move to the other side of the boat? Almost capsize.

Move the tiller? Almost capsize.

Twist the throttle on the feeble 4hp outboard? Almost capsize.

And so we pitched, bobbed and rolled the short distance to the wrecks like drunken sailors, finally flinging the anchor into the sea and coming to a more or less steady-state halt. One by one Doug, Chris and I leapt into the blue water — the boat threatening to turtle itself each time — pulled on our fins and masks and swam off towards the group of rusting hulks.

Snorkelling is, if anything, more difficult than scuba diving. When you have thirty feet of ocean above your head you make damn sure to keep your mouth clamped around the regulator, and with a ready supply of compressed air available to purge it or to clear your mask, any errant seawater is quickly dispensed with. With a snorkel, on the other hand, the natural reaction to an ingress of seawater — inhale briefly so you can blow it back out — only makes things worse. Not only that, but the simple act of looking to one side can plunge the tip of the snorkel underwater, and again, your next breath is more of a briny swallow. My progress was punctuated with great heaving gasps for air.

Even in broad daylight on a spring day, the wrecks were an eerie prospect. They sat at oblique angles, half exposed and half submerged with rusty spars and ledges jutting out here and there, and as we swam around them we could peer through hatchless openings into the silty darkness of their holds. I kept expecting some fanged aquatic beast to shoot out and rip us limb from limb. As it was, the marine life was plentiful but harmless: shoals of little fish darted around below us and kept out of our way as we occasionally dived down for a closer look.

We swam back to the dinghy (necessitating, of course, a large amount of pratting about in order to keep it right side up as we clambered in one by one) and returned it after a short jaunt back down the coast. We floundered around inexpertly as we beached, refloated and finally anchored it more or less where we picked it up.

The day brightened had up since we arrived and with some time left before the ferry departed for the mainland, we sat in the sun at a beachside picnic table, sank a few beers and talked bollocks until it was time to go. We sat up on the deck of the ferry for the return trip and I spread out contentedly on the plastic bench: my limbs were heavy from a welcome bit of exercise; my head was fuzzy from the sun and the beer, and my hair was thick with salt. Australia: actually quite good.