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An idyllic life adventure

by Jacqui Hensel

A mosquito-infested mangrove swamp is about as far away from the Sunshine Coast Hinterland as you can get. But it’s just one of the memories that have stayed with Judi Coey from her days sailing along the East Coast of Australia with her children in tow.

Following her husband’s life dream gave Judi Coey her greatest sailing adventure - so far anyway! The ride isn’t over as Judi looks to the future and sees maybe another boating escapade in her retirement.

“We were living and working in the coal mining towns of Moranbah, Dysart and Middlemount west of Mackay and living north of Mackay on weekends. Our kids Grey and Luci were in primary school and my husband Ken decided he wanted to build a boat. Which he did, even though he had never built anything other than a cutting board in his life.

“Four thousand hours later we both then decided we needed to give living on the boat a try. Then our backyard became the Whitsundays,” says Judi.

“The kids were doing distance education through Charters Towers before the internet made it so much easier, while I worked for a corporate optometrist and was able to locum up and down the East Coast of Queensland. We stayed in marinas in major towns where I worked. I had the best of both worlds: working in my field and keeping my family close,” Judi explains.

“Then I started feeling queasy with the lessons and I realised it wasn’t sea sickness but pregnancy! Our third child Amelia was on her way. We named her Milli for short,” Judi says with a smile.

“I wasn’t really that much of an adventurer. I studied in Brisbane at QUT and then I had a job up in Mackay which is where I met Ken. He was an optician too, until he sold his practices to build the boat. It is very much in his blood. He is a water person and loves his boats,” she says.

“When I was younger I would have never thought I would end up living on a boat let alone doing it with young children. It was a case of following Ken’s dream and he was so happy. I genuinely loved it too and have no regrets.

“It’s a really healthy lifestyle and the kids got to meet other kids from other boat families. There was one time when we were up at Lizard Island and there were so many kids that we made our own school with classes.

“Each family had a different age group on their boat. School would be quite early in the morning before it got too hot and then they would play on the beach, building aquariums with the crabs and the little fish,” Judi remembers fondly.

“I found it required a lot of economising on budget and space involving the weekly or fortnightly grocery shopping. We needed enough to get by but were limited with space and weight.

“We also gave a great deal of thought to managing our refuse as there is no council garbage service on a boat. We recycled a lot of things, but we were very thoughtful about what we purchased in the first place, especially around packaging.

“We didn’t want our waste going into the Great Barrier Reef.”

Judi used cloth nappies. “I used to wash them by hand, because what do you do with a dirty disposable nappy on a boat? There is no way to dispose of it. So the nappies used to hang out to dry on the boat,” she recalls.

“We also composted our food waste on the boat and those practices have stayed with me.”

The Whitsundays and Tropical North Coast are renowned for big storms and Judi and her family went through a few strong wind warnings and two cyclones. “They are so vivid. I remember feeling like you are right in the middle of it,” she remembers.

“We would hide the boat in the mangroves and tie it up in there. There were also lee sides of islands to sit out storms. It was a bit mozzie infested in the mangroves while waiting for a storm to build. That humid air just hangs on you. But the kids were fine. We would play cards and games to keep them occupied.

“The kids loved living on the boat. Grey, Luci and Milli are all grown up now and I am a grandma, but they often talk about things that happened during that time. They have really fond memories.”

When the kids reached eight and nine years old , Judi and Ken started looking for somewhere for them to go to school, make friends and play sports.

“The youngest one was getting a bit too mobile for the boat by this point! So we found ourselves looking around the Sunshine Coast Hinterland for a suitable place to have a little farm,” reminisces Judi.

“When we first moved into the rental house we had in Montville, I recall us standing in the kitchen and realising we had just spent the last three years living in a space the size of the kitchen. We knew that the bigger the kids got, the smaller our space felt,” Judi says with a laugh.

“We knew we wanted to raise our kids in a country town, especially as the teenage years loomed. They all worked at the local IGA supermarket and went to high school here.”

Judi is well known for her optometry business in Bunya Street opposite the Maleny State Primary School.

“My father and brother were both in the medical field, while my mother was a teacher. I knew I wanted to do something that would help other people.

“At the time I went to QUT there were only 25 graduates each year. So, there were a lot of good job opportunities in the field. Thirty-five years later and I still love it. We problem solve; help with health management and I have even found tumours - fortunately rarely” she explains.

Judi thinks that as optometry is now a five-year degree, anyone thinking about a career in a medical field should give it some consideration as there is so much opportunity to help people in their daily lives and make a difference in the community, as well as being a part of a healthcare community.

As for Ken, he is currently building a project at their property. “I think when he is finished, he might like to renovate another boat rather than build one from scratch. Which might mean I could go back to living on a boat when I retire,” Judi says with a twinkle in her eye.

With such fond memories of the Whitsundays, who could blame her for wanting to revisit that idyl.



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