A few weeks ago, Martin traveled up to Beaudesert, to check in with our filmmaking team in residence and to lend a hand with one of their community engagement programs. When he returned to Big Stories HQ last week, he had quite the tale to tell: a tale of a lovely lady named Donna, her caravan, and an isolated property in the middle of the rainforest. Turns out, in the search of some big Beaudesert stories, Martin lived one.
Sam Ryan, one of our fantastic filmmakers and facilitators, also currently completing her Masters at the University of Queensland, was the first to come up with the idea to bring a story-telling space to the Beaudesert Show. As a major event on the community calendar, the Show would provide a great opportunity to reach as many people as possible. To drum up interest in the Big Stories project, the space would have to be something interesting, unique and inviting.
As luck would have it, Sam already had something in mind (which also had the added bonus of being completely portable): a caravan! The caravan would be open to the public – people were welcome to come inside to read and listen to other people’s stories, as well as recording their own to share with others.
Luck, it seems, was on our side, as we also happened to know someone in the area with a beautiful classic caravan. Donna, a generous and (as we soon discovered) forgiving woman, was the proud owner of a 1960s caravan which she had lovingly restored over the past six months. Donna agreed to lend us her pride and joy, and we were absolutely over the moon about it – everything was falling into place for a wonderfully productive Beaudesert Show.
Martin and Sam hitched the caravan, named Skippy, to the back of the Big Stories ute: an enormous beast of a vehicle, which had been altered for use in the mining areas, and now sported a number of unusual features including a recessed towbar, which brought Skippy closer the vehicle than usual.
When Sam confessed she was too nervous to drive the ute with precious Skippy on the rear, Martin bravely took up the keys. And for the most part, everything went smoothly: Skippy was a hit with the locals! But it all came to a crashing halt (literally). In what Martin describes as a ‘soft’ U-turn on the highway, the back of the ute pierced right through Skippy’s plywood body.
How do you jackknife going forward? How is that physically possible?!
Despite his adamant stance that the damage was actually physically impossible in the circumstances, Martin had to call Donna and tell her that her darling Skippy had been wounded in the line of duty. His face falls as he recalls how her voice fell when he told her the news. She wasn’t angry, just disappointed.
Martin assured her that Big Stories would fix poor Skippy no matter the cost. But Donna didn’t know anyone that could carry out the specialised repairs needed to restore Skippy to his former glory. She had restored him herself, but that work was mainly superficial – she had no idea how to repair such a large puncture. But the Big Stories team know how small towns work, so they called someone, who called someone else, who called someone else, who just happened to know a man just outside of town who builds and repairs caravans.
And that’s how Martin and Sam found themselves driving 41km to Tamborine in the middle of the night, punctured caravan in tow, determination etched onto their faces. Driving through the rainforest, they stumbled upon the property. Vehicles and spare parts were scattered across a large clearing, with a large 1970s homestead sitting impossibly in the centre of this grassy island scarified from the surrounding trees.
It was if aliens had just dropped this house in the middle of the rainforest. It was eerie: arriving in the middle of the night, we had no idea who this guys was, we had been told that he could fix the caravan, so we went. It wasn’t till we got there, with this huge eerie house, that we were like. ‘Oh, we could die here.’
But the thought of Donna’s disappointment was greater than the fear of death, and Martin and Sam ventured forth to find the caravan repair man. A man emerged from the house, and introduced himself as Robert. Martin explained the situation to him and, taking one look at the caravan, he proclaimed
Oh, you’ve f—ed it. This is going to cost you some money.
But he laughed when he saw the panic on their faces.
Do you want a fast job or good job?
He was going to help them; Martin was visibly relieved and told him to do whatever was necessary. Robert got to work right away, finding the spare parts he needed, tinkering away with adjustments to make them match Skippy’s unique décor. It became a family affair as his grown sons emerged to lend their father a hand. ‘Poppa,’ they would call ‘how much plywood do we need?’ They were a well-oiled machine, Martin and Sam watched in awe as they crafted plywood slats to fit and polished up a 1960s vent that plugged the puncture wound perfectly. It was beautiful, perhaps even better than before (Donna didn’t quite agree).
Skippy was saved, Martin and Sam were over the moon. Robert’s handiwork was incredible. This was definitely going to cost them: the quality was top-notch, and would no doubt have a price tag to match. But when Robert approached them, calculating the cost of a late-night caravan repair on a perfectly restored 1960s model, he just smiled and asked for just $200 to cover materials. Martin and Sam went from being gobsmacked by his generosity to being very embarrassed as they searched their wallets to find only $100 in various notes; to being even more gobsmacked by his generosity as he said that would be fine, took the $100 and waved them on their way.
Donna was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the handiwork, and while she’s still a little disappointed by the damage, she has forgiven us for the incident. It was certainly quite the adventure, though one Martin is not eager to repeat. But it illustrates something that we have encountered time and time again in our work with regional communities across Australia and the Pacific region: the wonderful generosity and community spirit of the locals. Wherever we go, we always find people willing to lend a hand, share their skills, and help continue the work that we do.
Big Stories was founded for these people, to provide a platform for sharing your stories, but it is only because of you, and your generous spirits, that we can continue to do the work that we love.
Beaudesert Big Stories is launching on the 7th of November, see here for more details.