In December 2010 I took a trip to the tip of the Universe and nearly fell over the edge. I was visiting Port Douglas in Far North Queensland. The last time I was there, it was the early 1980s and Port Douglas was just a quaint fishing village. Outsiders hadn't discovered it yet. On returning 30 years later, I discovered a thriving tourist destination. My disappointment didn't last long though. Buoyed by the warmth and open friendliness of the locals, walking along Four Mile Beach and venturing further afield into the Daintree Rainforest, the accumulated stresses of 2010 rapidly dissipated.
I fled to FNQ for some R and R, feeling the need to spend time in a warmer climate close to nature. I was even considering moving there permanently, but that would mean leaving family, including five grandchildren. My friend Lucas suggested "looking for signs" while I was away to help gain clarity about what decision to make.
The most consistent sign I received lay in the exquisite joy I felt just being "at one" with nature, walking along a breathtaking beachscape and absorbing the energy of one of the oldest rainforests in the world. I knew that "excitement" was a valid sign I was on the right track and the idea of living permanently in Port Douglas really excited me.
Lucas's advice reminded me of a conversation I'd shared with my friend Dawson back in 1988. We were sitting under a cottonwood tree in Sedona Arizona, at the foot of towering red rock canyons. Dawson was gently shaking a gourd rattle filled with dried corn and pebbles. We'd been talking about knowing if you were on your right soul path.
"The secret to remaining on track in life is to be 'awake', to be on the lookout for signs letting you know that you're on the right path. And to be open to guidance. Read the signs along the way - interpret them correctly - and be willing to receive what you get. The receiving is challenging, because what you receive may not be what you imagined. Everyone wants eagle medicine, but you might get a stinkbug. And you may miss your opportunity because you're looking upward for the eagle. Ask. Pay attention. Then it's up to you. If you pay attention and look for the signs, you'll awaken on your path."
I firmly believed the thrill I felt at the idea of living so close to a rainforest and tropical beach was the sign my soul was utilising to attract my attention: 'Shift to Port Douglas and you'll be happy.' But what about my kids? My grandchildren? They all live in Melbourne. I'd be so far away from them all. I had two weeks to make my decision.
So I decided I'd take any more signs that came my way very seriously. Didn't matter how cryptic they might be, or how seemingly insignificant. I'd dig deep and unearth their hidden meanings.
But once I set my plan in place, signs started appearing from left, right and centre. (I remember reading once, that when man begins to make plans, God starts laughing. He must have seen me coming and decided He was way overdue for a good belly laugh.)
It started immediately. On a day trip to Cooktown, our little group stopped for lunch at an outback pub. As I stepped off the mini bus, I was immediately faced with a sign, hand painted in large bold letters on a slab of wood: This is Not the Last Frontier. Keep Your Guns and Knives Outside Or the Regulars Will Eat You. So I put my Glock and machete back inside the bus before proceeding.
No seriously, I found myself, like Daniel, literally walking into The Lion's Den, for that was the name of the pub. Once inside, I was surrounded by four walls, every inch covered with graffiti signs overwhelming an official sign placed by hotel management which read Do Not Write Anything Anywhere On The Pub Without Asking First At The Bar.
Following our tour leader into a second room, walls also covered from top to toe with graffiti signs, our group sat at a rustic table. Intending to purchase a soda water, I ventured towards the bar, where every available space on both walls and ceiling were covered with even more signs. One of them threatened Keep Your Dogs Outta The Bar and I'll Keep My Bullets Outta Your Dog. Signed: GOD I was at once comforted by the reminder that "God is everywhere" but at the same time disturbed by the thought that it didn't sound like the same God I'd come to know and trust. Hurriedly, I gave my order to the bar attendant, noticing that the words that came out of my mouth had translated a "glass of soda" to a "glass of house wine".
I had come here on the deliberate lookout for signs from God and the Universe and found myself surrounded by thousands of them. (Be careful what you ask for. Yeah, I know.)
After a hearty lunch, we drove deep into the Daintree Forest, surrounded by trees thousands of years old, gnarled vines, exotic flowers and flocks of multi coloured parrots. When we came to a creek, we were informed by a sign that the waters were inhabited by crocodiles. The driver suggested we take the opportunity to use our cameras before he drove the 4WD mini bus through the shallow creek. Overawed by the sheer majesty of this awesome jungle, I wandered to the left and came across yet another sign at the water's edge. DEATH MAY VARY. PROCEED WITH CAUTION. Intrigued, I asked our tour leader what varieties of death were available in such a remote area of the forest. She shook her head in annoyance: "The original word was 'depth'. Some galah changed the P to an A."
After we crossed the creek, the bus pulled up at an enormous sign beside the road where the driver suggested another photo opportunity. Erected by the Queensland government, it read Welcome to Wujal Wujal. Possession of alcohol is banned. Heavy penalties apply. * Fines up to $75,000. *18 months imprisonment. *Confiscation of vehicle.
Everyone had a bit of a giggle. Except for the elderly lady sitting next to me who had become increasingly more friendly as our bus journey progressed. Especially after swigging from what she said was her cough medicine bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag that she kept in her backpack. She paled considerably and refused to get out of the bus.
Back in Port Douglas, I walked along the shore of Four Mile Beach twice a day, the sunrises giving me reassuring signs that the sun always rises; the sunsets reminding me of my mother's wise words, "Never let the sun go down on your wrath." Okay, I seemed to be getting lots of good advice.
One day, I discovered at the far end of Four Mile Beach, a sign carved in a hunk of grey stone embedded in the ground. Here lies the local member of parliament. He's not dead yet. But he sure can lie. R.I.P. In trying to decipher what might be the Universe's hidden personal message to me, all I could come up with was that you didn't have to be dead and buried to rest in peace. I was happy with that. Though I don't think it was the message directed at the hapless member of parliament.
Not only did I love every moment of my holiday in tropical Port Douglas, my health improved dramatically and I couldn't stop smiling at strangers. To live there permanently would be like taking up residence in Heaven.
In the plane on the way home, I figured that, as a result of my final decoding of all the signs I encountered, I should put my house in Melbourne on the market immediately and book a removalist van.
But when I arrived home, a little sign awaited me, hanging on my front door. I recognised the handwriting of one of my grandchildren: Welcome Home Gog Gog. I love you. When are we going to the Scienceworks museum again?
Sometimes we don't have to work too hard in interpreting the signs we encounter on our soul's journey. I decided to go with the last sign I received on my two week Search for Truth. Life isn't meant to be complicated. Well, I don't think so anyway.