Their home is serious open plan behind the iconic, isolated Croc Tent, struggling to stay white as crimson dust creeps up its skirts against a jungle green backdrop. A roof, no walls and a couple of containers are home to Jaxson, 2, and 8-month-old Benji.
Four years ago in Brisbane Dale (above) worked with childhood behavioural problems and Lee-Ann was a scientist with Sullivan Nicolaides.
“We wanted to get jobs where we could be at home with our children when we had them,” said Dale. “Lee-Ann’s parents had been running this for five years and were thinking of selling up. We decided to buy in and move here.”
Jaxson and Benji were born in Brisbane – in the quiet wet season when the only tourists are those who come by barge or plane to brave the summer swelter. Dale is proud his boys are growing up as country children and loves being able to share every day of their childhood.
Like many others at the Cape, he is a keen pig hunter and he is tickled little Jaxson is taking a keen interest in the slain pigs that come home to the Croc Tent.
Each winter tourist season Dale and Lee-Ann move an assortment of Cape York souvenirs and a couple of thousand T-shirts emblazoned with “I did the Telegraph Track” and “I made it to the Tip”.
In the summer swelter they have about six weeks off to manage the resort on nearby Arundel Island while the manager there takes a break.
The Croc Tent has been a feature of the north since 1984, when it was started on the Wenlock River. Four years later it moved to the fork in the rainforest road north of Bamaga. Early owners slept in swags under tarped lean-tos.
The Croc Tent became the Mears family home because about 10 years ago Lee-Ann’s mother woke up in Cairns and said to her husband “Let’s go for a walk.” Terry Webb worked in wildlife conservation so he wasn’t too aghast when wife Davida, a nurse, suggested walking from Coen to the Tip, a stroll of almost 500 km.
They flew to Coen and walked unassisted with swags and gear. They dropped in at the Croc Tent and found the current owners were planning to sell up. As they walked to the Tip, Terry and Davida talked it over. By the time they returned to the tent they had decided to chuck in their jobs and buy the Croc Tent.
Dale has become passionate about having quality Australian-made T-shirts in the Croc Tent in the five years since he became a full-time souvenir seller. He tells of one customer who came in a while back complaining his shirt was worn out. He had been wearing it continually for 13 years.
Our travelling companions Ross and Heather looked amused. Heather nudged Ross. He confessed. He was at the Cape 16 years ago and Heather had just persuaded him to throw out the thin, holey “I made it to the Tip” shirt he bought in 1997.
It was sentimental value, protested Ross as he bought his new “Made it to the Tip” shirt. Dale assured him it would probably last him another 16 years.