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  1. Guest

    The Outback Eyrie Of Nick

    THE OUTBACK EYRIE OF NICK By Desmond Zwar The isolated bush eyrie of Nick Marshall, lanky son of Bryan Marshall who was twice winner of the English Grand national and jockey to the Queen Mother, is finally discovered at the end of a swaying, body-jolting 4WD safari into the Australian jungle. On a clearing surrounded by great white gums, Oxford-born Nick and Irish-born botanist wife, Lizzie, have put up 10 motel-style cabins under huge mango trees, and a lodge that is a cross between a Samoan meeting house and a Tahitian home on poles. Nick found their 70 acres of wilderness after he had "bummed all over the world." Always too tall to follow in his famous father's stirrups, he has been a horsebreaker, wanderer, stablehand and mechanic, camping on lonely Australian beaches, living in tarpaulin humpies with his brother, searching for a meaning to life. When he and Lizzie saw a newspaper advertisement for land at the very tip of Cape York Peninsula, they believed they had found their Shangri-la. 'When we got there, we saw lush rainforest with a stream tinkling down rocks. All that was there were two garden sheds and an abandoned fowl house. We bought it.' This morning their rustic Mungumby Lodge hosts Italians in designer track-suits lounging in huge cane armchairs and sofas, sipping breakfast coffee. British businessmen thumb through the latest issue of The Economist, which Nick has flown in. Tourists, rich enough to make the world their oyster, say they have rarely experienced peace and tranquillity like this remote hideaway. Later, they listen over pre-dinner drinks to the story of Nick's journey to his final paradise, where he met and befriended people who, like him, had taken an alternative path to life. 'I was camping at Cedar Bay' (notorious later for a recent raid by police looking for smuggled drugs) 'when this large man, completely covered in grey matter burst out of the bushes. It was Michael "Tarzan" Fomenko, a man of legendary strength, who had once single-handedly lifted an aircraft that had overturned on the beach. He wore only underpants and his body was covered with pig-fat and ashes to keep the mosquitoes off. 'He spoke to me in a well-educated voice, and was pleasant. But he backed off when I questioned him too deeply. He told me he lived by killing wild pigs with a knife. 'I then met - and liked - Cedar Bay Bill Evans, a socialist ex-Lithgow miner who had taken part in the notorious New South Wales union riots and would quote the Communist Manifesto to you. He was then well over 80 and had lived there for years. 'My brother and I met and admired people who had gone into the bush and set up communes; moving into a land that was harsh and uninviting, to scratch out a living. There were hard-working "doers" who grew marvellous fruit from orchards and exotic trees. We met a fellow who had brought 70 former trotting horses hundreds of miles north. He'd been given them and didn't want to leave them behind uncared for.' When the Marshalls bought their land, they discovered a Matilda tank that had been fitted with a bulldozer blade some 35 years before so a pioneer could clear his land. It had overturned and toppled into a jungle crevasse where it lies rusting today, a stop for Nick's tourists exploring tumbling waterfalls, clambering over river stones worn smooth over the centuries, stopping to stare at great 700-year-old trees festooned with bush orchids in blazing oranges and blues. Further away, as far as the eye can see, valleys stretch below and rivers run to the sea. Nick will take you on one of them to sight fat crocodiles basking on sand-banks in the sun, ready with the death-roll should a clumsy tourist offer himself as a meal.... When Lizzie and Nick had nailed the last piece of timber and the Lodge and its neat cabins was ready for guests, Nick opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate. On his way from the kitchen he tripped, broke all the glasses, but saved the wine. 'Not a good beginning,' laughs the tall, wiry host/roustabout/mechanic. Having invested their savings and borrowed heavily, they wondered if people would really want to make such a journey to stay with them, driving past the sinister Black Mountain, with its masses of broken volcanic rock, over rough roads that jolt the body and the baggage. It meant flying in to Cooktown then taking a light aircraft to nearby Helenvale; or being picked up at Cooktown airport by Nick in his four-wheel drive vehicle. But they did come, marvelling at the cuisine Lizzie had learned at Ballymaloe Cooking School, relaxing in the cool of the rainforest outside the large lounge with its pandanus ceilings and open windows, hearing only the sounds of a rushing creek and the call of birds ringing through the jungle. Travellers accustomed to marble foyers and five-star luxury found a new experience as they became part of a family of six who warmly embraced their guests and could be heard reading bed-time stories to their children. 'When I was four years old and my father was training horses, he taught me to be a "people person",' says Nick. 'To answer the phone in a friendly way, to pour a gin-and-tonic for his guests. Father always said: "It's easy enough to train horses; but it's the owners you must train if you are going to succeed. Racing is a people business." 'Lizzie and I believe that's what tourism should be.' As remote as it is, the Marshalls refuse to let distance influence the quality of wines that have to be shipped from 1,000 miles south, or beef that must be air-freighted from the nearest wholesale butcher. They were hardly established when the recession struck and tourism suddenly slowed to a trickle. While other ventures fell into receivership, they survived. 'Now we know we will never look back,' smiles Lizzie who recently had twins Katherine and Tessa, company for Patrick, 7, and Ben, 5. 'We know that what we have is very different from anything else in this part of the world. We are lucky, aren't we?'