Breaking into Clive Palmer’s Resort
Clive Palmer won’t notice her fake fur stole or my five-and-dime scuffed leather shoes, but break-ins are more fun when you feel sexy.
We park 500m from the entrance, hidden from the street lamps. With hands gripping the wheel and bent elbows stretching my brown leather jacket I lean over to Willow and our drunken mouths kiss out our anxiety. This is our first date, first pool jump and first time entering Palmer’s Coolum Resort.
The moon is high and bright as we stroll down the sweeping road that takes us towards reception. The click clack of Willow’s heels echo uninterruptedly through the golf course – a lonely sound among the extinct.
We pass Jeff, the 10m life-sized Tyrannosaurus Rex, who towers in silence over the first-hole’s tee. I tell Willow how Jeff was erected months before the 2012 PGA tournament along with sixty colourful billboards promoting Palmer’s Titanic 2 and Motor Museum. The PGA organisers complained, arguing that sponsors paid large amounts to advertise during the event and that it was unfair to allow him to advertise for free. Palmer offered for them to cancel the PGA, though rather than disrupting an event in preparation for close to a year and existing for 11, they conceded, promising to abandon plans for future tournaments. This suited Palmer fine. It cost local businesses millions. It makes Willow giggle and pull me close.
“A scene where there is a fat man present isn’t tragic, it’s comic,” said Orwell.
Nearing reception, we prepare our stories for the concierge, or security, or Clive Palmer.
“Yes, we are guests staying at room 204, we have had a lovely night out and are looking to head back to the villa for a night cap,” – Willow recites in her swanky British accent. She tucks her hand through my arm to affect the casual steeze we imagine comes naturally to hotel guests. We pass by the wide glass-doors that lead into the reception. The vast yellow-lit room is full of chairs and desks, rows of computers turned off or on sleep, tables with lamps and neatly arranged books, pot-plants standing tall and stoic – all silent, motionless and empty. An eerie sense of relief creeps over us.
A large metal map displays the location of the nine pools that scatter the resort. Pool six, the closest distance from the ‘you are here’ spot, is a couple of walkways away. We pass apartment buildings, restaurants, benches, day spas, golf carts, all of which are dark and lifeless and unaffected by our presence. There must be thousands of made beds with perfectly folded sheets, full toilet rolls, cold TVs, and showers with neatly arranged tiny soaps and shampoos and conditioners all waiting, waiting, waiting for the guests that will never arrive. When we reach the pool guarded by yellow construction tape, it is empty – apart from a few rain puddles.
The next checkpoint map directs us to pool two. Willow presses her warm body against mine as we walk through the darkness. A mother possum with a baby clinging to her back pauses in the middle of the pathway, gauges our threat and then crawls up a tree. We pass another dinosaur, a massive crocodile, sitting in the middle of where I suppose a garden formerly sat. It is monstrous and uncomfortable and I can’t help but imagine the ghost of the flowerbed. When we reach pool two we find it empty with bricks stretching a dirty blue tarp across its surface.
On our way to pool four we pass the huge restaurant where Palmer held a Christmas Eve banquet for hundreds of Sunshine Coast’s disadvantaged and homeless. Here, my mother and I, adorned in vibrant Clive Palmer volunteer shirts, hurried from table to table, collecting plates – most still full of chicken, roast vegetables, puddings and pastries and mince pies, prawns, steaks, turkey meat and salads – to empty into the bin so that the guests could retrieve clean plates to waste more food onto. Clive Palmer and his family sat and ate and wasted amid the deprived. In his closing speech Palmer proclaimed, “Love, family, friends, that is all you need – the rest is an illusion.”
All pools are either empty, being renovated, full of murky rain water or non-existent, except for the one next to the main plaza which we were avoiding for fear of detection. Of the six restaurants in the plaza, only one is open, with a single staff member milling back and forth. He circles round the empty tables, closed umbrellas and leaning chairs. Maybe he misses his 650 colleagues who would laugh at his jokes, heckle one another, spit in his food and taunt him behind his back, or maybe he likes the solitude, the peace, enjoys time with himself.
We sneak round the lonely man and his empty chairs and find the village square pool, full and maintained. We retrieve our swimming clothes from Willow’s bag and change with backs turned – both too timid to expose unseen naked parts. The pool is much colder than we expect and we pull into each other, entangling heads, arms and legs. A mechanical cougar or pterodactyl disrupts the soft splashing of our bodies and breathless conversation with a sharp growl that repeats every few minutes.
A man in a black uniform opens the gate on the far side of the giant pool. We whisper our escape plan and both decide that shameless honesty is our only way out. Each step he draws closer increases our unease. When he reaches us we exchange smiles and hellos and he simply informs us that he will lock the gate after we leave.
Because the pool is unheated, we grow bored and horny. We climb out, skip changing into our formal gear and head straight for the car wet and undressed. As we walk through the silent emptiness, past the vacant reception, through the pathways and extinction, I can’t help but wonder how this mining tycoon, obviously a business genius, can allow one of his multi-million dollar assets to be so thoroughly degraded. How one of Australia’s richest brains sincerely believes that a roaring dinosaur is a perfect background to a sport reserved for the most gentlemanly of gentlemen. How – if not a purposeful running down for purposes unknown (new casino is the talk around town) – half a million a year of loses seems economical to even the wealthiest of men. How a farce as plainly superficial as his ‘jolly fat-man’ parody has fooled us all into believing that he is some dumb, harmless oaf. And then I also wonder – what will Willow look like naked?
Cover by Pete Evans