On 27 May 2019, Kym Purcell’s schedule was thrown into disarray. Usually a Monday morning would follow a strict routine of breakfast and housework followed by a trip to the gym. But today, the 52-year-old retiree was in for a surprise.
Her husband, Terry, 54, told her to get ready as he was taking her out for coffee. However, when the doorbell rang at 08:45, she was greeted by a luxury car that whisked them to the airport where a helicopter was waiting to take them to Heron Island, a coral cay 72km off the coast of Queensland, to fulfil a lifetime dream. There, she would head 15m under the water onto Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
I met Kym later that day on Heron Island, where I, too, was heading underwater. She told me that she has lived her entire life in Gladstone, a small Australian port city that’s a topographical oxymoron: it’s dominated by and physically scarred by the mining industry, yet is also the jumping-off point for some of the most beautiful parts of the southern Great Barrier Reef. (Terry said, prosaically, “There’s a lot of places you can live that are probably prettier, but there’s not too many places you can live, where you can earn money, that are this pretty.”)
The ocean plays a pivotal role in life here, from opportunities for recreational fun to commercial fishing to coal exportation, and Terry is a prolific diver who has been exploring the reef since he was seven years old. He got his diving certification at Heron Island, and the couple have regularly returned here on holiday with their two children – most recently just a couple of years ago – where Terry would once again dive among the staghorn coral and eagle rays in the pristine ocean waters.
But Kym said that she had to either snorkel or sit by the pool: she has a medical condition that means she is not able to scuba dive. Instead, over 33 years of marriage, she has had to listen to Terry tell her about the vibrant living universe he visits deep underwater.