I never expected to have so many significant memories at a hotel. And why would I? We stayed in one once, maybe twice a year tops. Hotels weren’t something I was familiar with until I reached my teens, and that was perfectly okay with me. The thought of a holiday alone was enough to send me stir crazy.
When we started visiting Cairns on a regular basis (June/July school holidays every year) we would always stay at the Colonial Club. I can’t remember why my parents picked it, other than it had decent rooms for a decent price and had plenty of parking.
There were multiple pools, a restaurant, a poolside bar, a maze of covered walkways and tropical gardens. Getting lost between the pool and our room was such a common occurrence that I stopped worrying entirely when it happened. I knew that I’d eventually find a map, realise I was on the opposite side of the premises, and begin my journey again.
We stayed there for two nights maximum. Enough to enjoy the breakfast buffet and hours in the chlorine. I was fascinated by it all. The gardens, the danishes, the high ceilings. But most of all – the people. Travellers from every recognisable country to a child – England, America, Ireland, Canada, China, Japan, New Zealand. The languages, the accents, the conversations – the soundtrack to every visit.
I, like most girls my age, fantasised about meeting someone there. The textbook definition of a PG holiday romance. Nothing crazy, just a coincidental encounter at the pool followed by hours of conversation, perhaps a sweet kiss, and an exchange of email addresses. You can blame all the Mary Kate and Ashley movies for that smooth storyline.
In all of my holiday-related visits, nothing ever happened – but why should it? I saw Cairns as this amusement park of beautiful and interesting boys, but upon closer inspection the rides weren’t even functioning. As in, they made no effort whatsoever to speak to me.
I didn’t let it bother me, it was just a fantasy after all. I repurposed the ideas into stories and diary entries and let my imagination run far beyond the fences of the grounds. So a holiday romance wouldn’t be on the cards whilst I was thirteen? So what? I had plenty of years – and cute outfits – ahead of me to worry about that.
Fast forward to several years later. I resumed frequent visits in years between teenage and adulthood, where paychecks where spent on booze and Sundays were for hangovers. Many of my friends still lived back home, but would fly out for TAFE blocks for their apprenticeships. They would stay for four, five, six weeks at a time and it would be glorious.
On the weekends, Cairns became our playground. I conveniently lived a short drive up the road, so spent most of my days and nights off in their hotel rooms, watching movies, cooking meals, ordering in, predrinking, getting glam, stumbling back with a pack of Maccas nuggets in hand.
We would have long, interesting conversations, peppered with advice on Tinder messaging and giving shit to each other for everything under the sun. We were all single, employed and at the beginning of our twenties. We went out in a group and came home in twos or threes, depending on who brought home who that night. Beds were shared, futons constantly in use.
Things were exciting. Easy. Simple. Our best mates were only a text message away.
Then there came the boys. Yes, all of my friends staying there were boys, but they were mates. I’m talking real boys.
I had been out of my first relationship for a few months when he came to stay. We’d had a fling in high school when he first visited town (yes, visited. But that’s a story for another time) and then he awkwardly got the job he was in town to apply for and we were suddenly in the same friendship circle.
It was fine. I was over him (I was not over him). He was hideously indifferent and unattainable, and seeing him in the flesh, as adults, staying only a room away, only made me want him more.
He of course, had other plans. We shared a bed one evening, but barely grazed hands. He was maddeningly quiet, and didn’t want to discuss any of the questions I posed. I was relatively certain he had a crush on a girl in the other room, who happened to be in a relationship with one of his good friends.
I made a fool out of myself pursuing him, but the boys were nice about it and didn’t tease me like the usually would. We agreed that it just wasn’t going to happen, so I let it go. Problem solved.
Then he came. My best friend – at least I think he was. We’d always had a weird friendship, but that was mainly because I never knew where I stood with him. I loved him, but he didn’t like me back. Or did he? We were never in the same place, both single, long enough to ask.
I was so excited when he arrived. A full month of getting to hang out, as adults, with all the high school bullshit behind us. He was staying in the room next door to my friend who had already been there for a while, so we often flitted back and forth between the two abodes.
I remember being really upset one day. I can’t recall what prompted it, but I know I begged him to see me. He said he was studying (he wasn’t). He reluctantly agreed for me to come round after work and we sat near the pool as he smoked cigarettes (a habit I wasn’t used to in the slightest). It was hard for me to explain to him what was going on, I know that much. He was frosty at first, but then we ended up speaking for hours, until he retreated to actually go and study.
Things were better after that. We hung out a lot more. He showed me new music and shows he’d grown fond of in my absence. We stayed up late listening to interviews and talking about big things in the dark.
There was one perfect day. We had gone out the night previously, and came home before sunrise together quite trashed. We fell asleep in his room and slept until noon. We both awoke feeling seedy as hell, with an intense craving for chips, cheese and gravy.
We drove to the Esplanade and found one of the only restaurants serving hot food at 3pm on a Saturday. We asked the waitress for the dish especially, and laughed about how annoying we were. Afterward, we lay on the grass near the water, heads on laps, discussing life and all of its uncertainties. It was a beautiful afternoon – sunny, but not hot, and we lazed around until we could start drinking again.
Though these events and periods may seem unaligned – they all ended back at the same place. The Colonial Club. A hotel I haven’t stayed at in years. Visiting now, it seems smaller, less impressive than the hotel of my youth. Although it’s gardens are still flourishing, the magic is gone, replaced with lingering nostalgia and shimmering memories.