They will not quickly forget the night the waters rose to greet them, sinking the front wheels of their home, sending them clambering out the back and hurtling their trailer out to sea.
Two weeks ago the 73-year-old couple (above) was relaxing once again at one of their loved holiday spots: Cape Range on stunning Ningaloo Reef.
They had camped for three weeks at a few spots along the national park in the pop-top camper van they have holidayed in for five months of the last seven years. Along with others relaxing at the popular Lakeside camp they had been warned heavy rainfall had been predicted.
About 30mm of rain fell on the Thursday and as it eased the Britishers sniffed a bit. If Aussies called that heavy rain, they needed to pop over to England.
About 5am the next morning the storm slammed into the sand and sea. Rain teemed, thunder cracked and lightning lit up paradise tossed. The sea surged in and swirled on to the steps of the Jacksons’ camper.
It subsided as darkness fell.
“We thought worst was over,” said Stuart in the Yorkshire twang that drops the odd “a” and “the'' and puts a “were” where there should be a “was”.
“We climbed inside and started playing cards.”
Somewhere between 250mm and 400mm had fallen in the hills behind them. It hurtled down, built up in the lake and ripped through the campsites. Vehicles had been moved twice to higher ground but that was not enough.
As the couple calmly played their cards, some sixth sense caused Stuart to turn around. He dropped his kings and aces as he saw water lapping into the camper. Shirley grabbed passports and valuables.
The front suddenly lurched down as sand was torn from beneath the wheels. The Jacksons clambered out the back in the dark and found themselves in fast-flowing water up to their hips.
The 6x4 trailer they had bought in January disappeared, swept somewhere out on the fabled reef. With it went most of their belongings, including Stuart’s shoes and boots, tools down to the last screwdriver, diesel, fuel, water and a carton of beer.
After a night milling high on the sand dunes with other bedraggled campers, the wreckage was examined in the morning light. The Jacksons’ camper was relatively intact but wouldn’t start. The camp hosts emerged from their caravan where they had been trapped after a lazyboy chair wedged against the door.
“We were towed out of the park but stuck for three more days because the rest of the road was blocked,” said Shirley. “The rangers brought us bread and water every day.”
Some of the Cape Range camp sites on Ningaloo, including Lakeside, are unlikely to open again and will be used only as day sites.
We met the Jacksons trying to dry out at the Oasis Caravan Park in Carnarvon, another one of their favourite spots in Australia. They seemed philosophical.
“Our daughter back home kept warning us something would happen when we wander around for months,” said Shirley. They had assured her there was no need to send money or fly out to be by their side.
They are not sure if they will keep coming out to Australia, however.
“Our first trip were not great,” said Shirley. “We were in Perth and found it odd that there were no people around in the housing areas in day. We later realised Australians go to work earlier and trickle in and out of the houses. They stay inside too because of the sun and the flies.”
On their second trip Shirley and Stuart discovered the beaches. “I were gobsmacked,’ said Shirley. The white sand, clear turquoise waters and lack of people convinced them to come back for the English winters, prowling from Esperance to Cape Range.
“We live in a seaside town in Yorkshire but the water’s grey and you can’t see your feet,” said Shirley. “And when the weather’s nice everyone heads down to crowd every bit of beach.”
The beaches might not be enough to pull them back again. It’s not that they have been frightened off with the flood experience. It’s Stuart’s crook back; the flies seemed worst this time; they will have to start putting together a lot of new camping equipment if they can’t get insurance.
And then there’s the skyrocketing cost of living in Australia as prices rise to match high incomes.
Shirley is staggered by the prices rises she has seen in eight years. Some goods now are three times what she pays in England.
“You can feel here that the bubble’s going to burst soon.”
She muses that Australia seems to be 10 years behind England in handling its affairs.
“The immigration mistakes, the corruption and the dishonesty in politics. We’ve been through all that. He (Prime Minister David Cameron) is trying to fix it but there’s a long way to go. You would think Australia would learn from our mistakes.”
We sighed and headed north as they prepared to head south and fly home, maybe for the last time.