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4 January, 2021

A life filled with adventure

Cairns local Jeanette McInnes has lived quite the exciting life, and it has inspired her to write a trilogy of novels about her experiences.

By Tanya Murphy

Cairns novelist and world traveller Jeanette McInnes with two Maasai in Kenya.

Originally from France, Jeanette McInnes found herself on her own with no family or support at age 17, but was determined not to let this misfortune stop her pursuing her dreams.

After being homeless for a while and working as a cleaner and babysitter, she saved enough money to hitch-hike to the University of Madrid to study Linguistics.

Since then, the speaker of eight languages has travelled across every continent except Antarctica, and has worked as a translator and interpreter, teacher, nurse, scuba diving instructor, customs officer, pilot, and Chinese linguist for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to name just a few things.

She survived being knocked to the ground by a rhinoceros in Nepal, learned aikido and karate in Japan, visited remote stone-age tribes and stayed with cannibals in long-houses in Sumatra, hiked to Everest base camp, hitch-hiked through Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan and was mistaken for a serial killer by the French police.

These and many more true anecdotes are packed into her self-published novel trilogy, ‘Midnight at 6am [The Chronicles of M Morris],’ available on eBook or paperback from Amazon.

The book fictionalises her life experiences as anecdotes which are told to the protagonists, Monty and Millie, two 17-year-olds who meet in Cairns in the 1970s and spend the next few years inching their way from rags to riches with no family, money or support.

“Writing an autobiography seemed like a daunting task. I felt that writing fiction, albeit with true anecdotes, would be a far more enjoyable enterprise,” said Ms McInnes.

“That's why I wrote Midnight at 6AM in this manner, including my own experiences and those of a few people who wanted me to write their memoirs of the Second World War and post-war experiences.”

Ms McInnes said she also wanted to share what it was like to travel in the 1970s before mass tourism.

“I was one of very few Western visitors who ventured into these remote places and for the most part I travelled alone, or occasionally with another traveller. So I was a bit of a novelty in the remote places, and locals were more than happy to take the time to take me in and show me the remarkable aspects of their way of life.

“These days you can book a package tour, so people are still going the same places as I, but they miss out on having fascinating interactions with locals, staying in their homes, and being given the privilege of learning about the more remarkable, bizarre elements of their culture.”

Ms McInnes migrated to Australia in 1979 and to Cairns in 1996 where she worked as a scuba diving instructor for Down Under Dive and taught languages in schools.

The title of the novel comes from a dive site near the Yongala Shipwreck, called ‘Midnight.’

At age 67 there’s scant sign of slowing down for Ms McInnes. Since retiring, Ms McInnes has made more than 40 bungy jumps at Smithfield, off Auckland Harbour Bridge and at Sentosa, Singapore, and earlier this year she travelled to Noosa to fulfil a lifelong dream to learn to surf.

She said her philosophy in life was “Life's short. Have fun and be kind. Life is such a wonderful gift that we are given.”

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