Somewhere only we know: Alligator Creek

Madeline Ward wasn't scared off by the eels.

When I was little, I split my time between two houses: my Mum’s, in the suburbs of Townsville, and my Dad’s, a small mango farm on the outskirts of town. I loved going to Dad’s house—a two bedroom donga—because the farm had horses and a ride-on mower. And it was close to Alligator Creek.

I used to spend my weekends wandering around the farm, weaving through mango trees. A distant family member told me that there were wallaby ghosts lurking in the dams on the property, so I never strayed beyond the front paddocks and the sheds where we kept the farm animals. We had a seemingly limitless supply of animals, which gave me heaps of playground cred, and insight into the goriness of birth and death. Sometimes, family would come over to help us kill and eat the pigs and chickens. I remember finding a feather on a roast chicken, once, and telling Mum that we’d eaten Plucky. Mum, with her hippie inclinations, was horrified; I liked Plucky, in life and in death.

In the tropical heat, we’d go down to a popular swimming hole called Alligator Creek. It wasn’t the nicest creek in North Queensland. For one thing, it has an unnerving amount of eels. I wanted to go snorkeling to look for lost jewellery, but I also wanted to pretend that the eels didn’t exist. The beach was made of gravel, just dumped there with no explanation from the local council. It had dangerous jumps and rapids, and a propensity to flash flood in the wet season, which means that it claimed a lot of lives over the years.

This never deterred us, though, or any of the locals we knew. I was always more worried about losing a toe to an eel than losing my life to the rapids. I used to go swimming with my Dad and stepmother, until something dark snapped inside my stepmother, and everything got messy.

Alligator Creek is one of the few places in Townsville that hasn’t been the site of a major family drama, and that’s probably why I’m so fond of it.

After Dad moved to the suburbs, I went to the creek with my Mum and sisters during the school holidays. Going back at the creek felt like returning to the earlier, sunnier days of my childhood. On the way home I’d ask Mum to drive past the farm to see what it looked like now—something I still do, eleven years after we moved away.

A while ago, my boyfriend and I drove from Sydney to Townsville, so I could show him where I grew up. We spent a very hungover day at the creek, hanging out with my younger brothers and doing our best not to vomit.

It was fucking delightful.