Port Douglas’ very special theatre Karnak

Karnak Playhouse and Rainforest Retreat


Ladies who do lunch


“It was rather selfish. Tony and I just missed the theatre. Why shouldn’t we have the best?” Why indeed. Diane Cilento is explaining why she built a very fine open air cinema here in the Whyanbeel Valley just outside Mossman.

“The water makes for fantastic acoustics,” she continues. “Better than the Opera House — they need my sound engineer. . . sorry, I stink of petrol!” I hadn’t really noticed, Diane, but I’ll take your word for it.

If there’s one thing this star has, it’s star quality. Totally self assured, interesting, entertaining and abolsutely not afraid of getting her hands dirty. Diane built the playhouse with then husband and playwright Anthony Shaffer in 1992 and it’s one of the gem surprises of the area. The previous night they had ecclectic musos “My Friend the Chocolate Cake” perform to a very intimate audience in beautiful surrounds. The Australian Opera is also on the bill as one of the travelling band of players to take to the Karnak stage.

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Diane puts on about one performance a month. But it wasn’t easy. “We had people throwing dead pigs on the driveaway,” she says, describing the ire of locals opposed to the development of the theatre. “It was outrageous.”

After regaling me and the two other scribes with stories of other stars, even alluding to a Christian Scientist with a bad case of constipation, Diane leaps up to answer the phone. I strike up a conversation with some of her friends, who are enjoying the rest of the wine and lunch.

Linda Jackson, renowned designer and fashionista, is sitting on my left. She now works on an assortment of projects and recently worked with the Kuku Yalanji Art Gallery at the Rainforest Walk centre. To my right, Margot Gordon is an internationally trained Shiatsu masseuse with clients in Europe and Australia — she makes regular trips to Japan to keep up her work with her mentor there. She’s fired up about the spa industry and has advice on how to pick a good one: “You HAVE to ask what training they’ve had. Do not let anyone touch you without having completed training. It will do you more harm than good.”

I have to run off to a book launch, so I make my farewells. They all wave cherily, happily pose for a photo and return to their merry lunch overlooking a stunning outdoor theatre in a rainforest. Lunch with the ladies . . . a nice way to spend any day.

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