I’d meant to book a motel in Bundaberg.

Driving from Brisbane and heading for Cairns a year or so ago we turned off the Bruce Highway at Childers to visit some relations in Bundaberg, planning to spend the night in a motel in the centre of the city. After waving goodbye to Con’s cousin I tapped the motel’s name into my phone. The sat nav directed us through the suburbs as I expected it to; but then it sent us north across the Burnett River.

I know the Bundaberg CBD is on the south bank of the river. Just as the CBDs are in those other two major Queensland river cities, Rockhampton and Mackay.

Putting on my glasses I had a closer look at the phone. Distance to the motel: 620 kilometres.

I’d accidentally booked a motel in Mackay.

All the Bundaberg motels had No Vacancy signs, and we ended up driving back to Childers for the night.

On another trip I booked a place in Gayndah when I meant to book one in Gin Gin. There are so many Colonial Motels, Country Comfort Motels, Seaview and Ocean View, Heritage and Midtown Motels across the country, it’s easy to get confused.

That Bundaberg motel mistake happened a few years ago, and last year we took a more leisurely trip north and decided to visit Bundaberg to stay for a few days. I booked a room in the Matilda Motel, making sure it was the one in Bundaberg, not the Matilda Motel in Winton or the one in Dubbo…

The fine old sugar town of Bundaberg is known for its ginger beer, but it’s Bundaberg Rum the town promotes itself by. Once a thriving port, it has some beautiful civic buildings, banks and hotels, and heritage listed bridges.

Burnett Bridge, Bundaberg, built in 1900, heritage listed Photo: en.wikipedia.org

We took in dinner and the Trivia Night at the Old Bundy Tavern, overlooking the river. This elegant brick hotel with its verandahs and stained glass windows was built in 1917 as the Hotel Bundaberg.

The Old Bundy Tavern, previously The Hotel Bundaberg

Best of all for me, as a fan of old infrastructure, is a wonderful 1902 brick water tower in East Bundaberg, heritage listed and still in use.

East Bundaberg water tower, still in use

Across the river in North Bundaberg are the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens, with the striking-looking Hinkler Museum celebrating Bert Hinkler, aviator, one of Bundy’s most famous sons.

Hinkler Museum, Bundaberg Botanic Gardens Photo: queensland.com

There’s a sugar industry museum in beautiful old Fairymead House; and you can take a ride on a cane train. I love a train ride.

All of Queensland’s old river port cities, Mackay, Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Maryborough and Brisbane itself, are built on flood plains. The Burnett River has a catchment area of some 33,000 square kilometres, including Gayndah and Monto, and it all flows down to Bundaberg. The city has been flooded many times. The worst happened in January 2013, and it was apocalyptic. The CBD flooded and an estimated 600 businesses were inundated, as well as many houses.

Bundaberg with the Burnett River in flood, January 29, 2013, as seen from space Photo: Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield

People living in North Bundaberg were told to leave their homes. Evacuation was mandatory, but many people said, “They don’t know what they’re talking about. North Bundaberg never floods.”

This flood was different, and higher, and in the end hundreds had to be rescued by helicopter.

Helicopter evacuation, Bundaberg 2013 Photo Fiona Sweetman, couriermail.com.au

In 2014, the year after the flood, we drove through Gayndah and visited the small museum there and heard how that same Burnett River flood ripped trees out of the riverbanks, filled the museum with mud and flowed through the shed full of prized old agricultural machinery. “Backpackers helped us clean up. We couldn’t have done it without them,” the museum staff told us.

Burnett River, Gayndah, in normal times. Height of bridge is an indication of flood heights here

Last year it was Maryborough’s turn to go under. Twice, within six weeks. These old regional river cities are beautiful, but beware the floods.

Mary River flood, Maryborough, 2022: second flood within six weeks Photo: good-news-fraser-coast.com

And take care when booking your motel.

Where the Bruce meets the Sea

The first glimpse of the sea is always exciting. Suddenly there it is, spread out blue in the sun, with light glinting off the wave crests.

I feel calmer and happier near the sea. Perhaps it’s the clean, salty breeze. Coastal air seems more charged with oxygen than inland air. Perhaps it’s the peaceful sleep that comes with the sound of the waves all night long.

We think of Queensland’s Bruce Highway, in its magnificent 1679 kilometres from Brisbane to Cairns, as a coastal highway. The irony of it is that in all that length there are only four spots where can you actually see the sea. And you have to earn those views.

First sight of the sea comes 840 kms up the Bruce from Brisbane: well into the Tropics, passing the beaches of Noosa and Rainbow Beach, of Hervey Bay and Yeppoon, without a glimpse.

After eight hours or so of hinterland driving to Rockhampton and another couple of hours through the beautiful but dry cattle country further north, suddenly, below a curving hillside, across the railway line that skirts the highway, the sea appears. On a narrow strip of land beside the water is the tiny fishing village of Clairview.

Less than a minute’s drive later, it’s gone, and the dry forested hills are back.

“That looked beautiful,” you say. “We must stop there some time!”

A few weeks ago when driving to Cairns, we did stop at Clairview, spending the night in a cabin at the peaceful BarraCrab Caravan Park.

BarraCrab Caravan Park Clairview Photo: thetimes.com.au

We ate fish and chips (neither barramundi nor crab was on the menu) with a beer at the casual licensed restaurant, looking across the coconut palm lined beach to the peaceful evening sky and sea, where people were strolling or fishing.

Evening at Clairview

Workers commute up and down the Bruce Highway all year round, often spending the night in motels and caravan parks, and here at Clairview a tradie was standing relaxed on the beach, looking at the water, work done for the day, in hi-vis and thongs with a Fourex Gold beer can in his pocket.

At Clairview, after work

We weren’t tempted to swim. Stingers and crocodiles are always a threat in these waters, and like all northern beaches in the shelter of the Great Barrier Reef, the waves are little more than ripples.

Onwards up the Bruce.

Three and a half hours north of Clairview, just south of Bowen and across the road from the Big Mango, you glimpse the sea again. The tide is out, revealing the roots of mangroves and millions of tiny mud dwelling creatures; but beyond them the water is bright blue. Looming to the east are the hazy purple hills of Gloucester Island and the Whitsundays.

Low tide, south of Bowen

Nearby, above the highway and looking out across Nelly Bay, is the Ocean View Motel, and it’s a pleasure to sit outside a unit there, under the frangipanis, and enjoy the evening view across the water to the lights of Bowen.

Bruce Highway where it meets the sea, south of Bowen, near the Big Mango Photo: petfriendly.com.au

This is one of the rare Bruce Highway motels with a view of the sea. You’ll need to drive north for another four hundred kilometres or so to find another.

An hour and a half north of Townsville comes the next ocean view. On a stretch of the these-days divided highway that crosses the Cardwell Range nineteen kilometres north of Ingham, you can glimpse the sea through roadside vegetation. For the full sea view, away from the fast-moving traffic, take the slip road at the top of the range and walk five minutes to Panjoo Hinchinbrook Lookout for a breathtaking outlook over the channel and Hinchinbrook Island (Munamudanamy) to the ocean.

View from Panjoo Lookout across Hinchinbrook Passage and Island (Munamudanamy)

The Banjin People are traditional owners of this large, undeveloped, beautiful island, which is part of the Girringun Indigenous Protected Area.

At Cardwell, thirty-eight kilometres north of Panjoo Lookout, the Bruce Highway at last spends time near the sea – the Coral Sea. Here, for over a kilometre, the highway follows the shoreline. A walkway leads past big old calophyllum inophyllum trees, otherwise known as ballnut trees, on the edge of the beach.

Protected since 1865, a Calyphyllum inophyllum at Cardwell

Governor Bowen, travelling in the ship “Platypus”, visited this area in 1865, only a year after the town was formed and the local Girringun people had been violently “dispersed” from their ancient lands. The Queensland Government wanted Cardwell for a port.

Governor Bowen was impressed by the calophyllum trees, hundreds of years old even then. Since 1866 they’ve been protected by law; and they weathered Cyclone Yasi better than most.

A postcard from c.1885 shows the dark-leaved calyphyllum trees, old even then, on the shoreline of Cardwell Photo: northqueenslandhistory.blogspot.com

In 2011, Cardwell was devastated by Yasi, with sand and water blown across the highway, the bitumen ripped up and houses destroyed; but now, eleven years, later, it has never looked better.

Girringun Bagu sculptures, based on the design of firesticks, by local artists Eileen Tep and Charlotte Beeron, stand enigmatically on the shoreline. They watch the tourists who stop here for the scenery, the information centre, playground, petrol and food.

Bagu sculptures at Cardwell

There are motels and pubs, the popular Yasi Bar, and a charging station for electric vehicles. And the calophyllum trees.

Best not go for a swim, though. Crocodiles and stingers are common here, so close to the mangroves and muddy water of Hinchinbrook Channel.

That’s it for sea views from the Bruce Highway.

Named in the 1940s after a North Queensland Labor politician and Minister for Works, Harry Bruce, this highway deserves a more romantic, evocative title. Many travellers have called it derogatory names over the years, one favourite being Goat Track. That’s unfair. This is a long road, covering difficult terrain in an extreme climate, with a comparatively small population to pay for it.

I’ve been travelling the Bruce for over fifty years, in drought and in flood. I’ve crossed the old Marlborough Stretch, been stopped at its one-way bridges, experienced flat tyres and breakdowns and dodgy motels. I’ve crawled around the hills south of Gympie, stuck behind caravans on the old narrow, curving road that has now been replaced by a motorway. I’ve suffered the bumps and potholes in the flood-prone roads around Bowen and Proserpine. But to me the Bruce Highway is a beautiful road, and I’ve seen great improvements to it over the years, making it far safer and more pleasant to drive on; and upgrades are happening all the time.

However, if it’s sea views you want, you’d be better to take the Captain Cook Highway from Cairns to Port Douglas.

Captain Cook Highway Photo: australiangeographic.com.au

There are many spectacular sea views to enjoy in Queensland; but you’ll have to leave the Bruce to find them.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/nov/03/blue-space-living-near-water-good-secret-of-happiness

Battling and building with nature: Alexandra Bridge, Rockhampton

We take things like bridges for granted, especially in the regions, but I find them interesting, especially the old ones. I took a photo of this railway bridge in Rockhampton, a month or so ago. Until I saw this blog post from Queensland Museum I didn’t know its name, and I’d never though of the engineering and effort that went into building it strong enough to withstand those terrifying Fitzroy River floods.

Alexandra Bridge, Rockhampton, July 2022

The Queensland Museum Network Blog

By Phil Manning, Senior Curator, Cultures & Histories

Needed to cross the river. Designed to survive the river. Built using the river. The rail bridge over the Fitzroy River reveals how the forces of nature were used to overcome the challenges of the environment itself.

The Alexandra Bridge was part of the Rockhampton Junction Railway. George Willcocks was the contractor for its construction.

The Alexandra Bridge consists of five spans. Three 100 feet (30.5m) spans, one on the south bank and two on the north bank. And two central spans, each 250 feet (76m) long. At the time of its construction, the Fitzroy Bridge comprised the fourth longest span used for an Australian bridge. Photographer: Henry Goode. Queensland Museum Network Collection

Designed for floods

Since its official opening on 6 November 1899 the Alexandra Bridge has withstood the forces of seven major flood events. This is a tribute to the…

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Mangrove Pencils

At the Cod Hole, where Eudlo Creek joins the Maroochy River, I watched the soldier crabs. Scuttling across the mudflats in their hundreds, dressed in smart blue-grey uniforms, the little round crabs would feel the vibrations of my footsteps and quickly screw themselves down into the mud and disappear. If I stood still for a few minutes they would start to twist themselves back into the daylight.

“Soldier crabs marching through mangrove aerial roots” commons.wikipedia.org

My dad had bought an old weatherboard beach house on the dead-end dirt road that has since become busy Bradman Avenue. We named the house Toad Hall.

“Toad Hall”, on the Maroochy River. I’m in the boat, on the left

It was just upstream from where the Sunshine Motorway now crosses Maroochy River. Bradman Avenue runs upstream from Picnic Point, along the south bank of the river and over the creek, past a dragon boat club and a tavern.

The old house held out against development for years, but it’s gone now, replaced by holiday apartments. There are still some mud flats along the creek, though. You can still scoop up a soldier crab to feel it tickling your palm, trying to dig its way out of sight.

Also on the mud flats and along the banks of the river were mangroves. I collected the mangrove seedling “pencils” and used them to draw in the wet sand at the river’s edge.

Mangrove seedlings – “pencils” wettropics.gov.au

I made patterns with the flower husks, like little octopuses, from which the pencils grew. Little green mangrove “books”, actually seed pods, washed up on the river’s edge too, along with sea grass fronds and scraps of pumice from ancient local volcanoes.

Mangrove seed pods – “books”

Only a few mangroves survive along this stretch of the river, but further upstream they still thrive across the sand and mud flats. Mangroves grow from New South Wales, right up the Queensland coast, round the Gulf of Carpentaria, across the top of Australia and throughout the tropics and sub-tropics globally, thriving in warm tidal rivers, estuaries and bays.

 In many parts of the state, like Raby Bay in Cleveland and Pelican Waters at Caloundra, mangrove forests have been destroyed to make way for canal developments; but if the people, cars, concrete and bitumen disappeared, they would soon come back and resume their ancient job of filtering the mud, protecting the shoreline and pouring oxygen into the atmosphere.

Mangroves in the Brisbane River, Southbank

Except for climate change.

Mangrove dieback in the Gulf of Carpentaria
by Lyndal Scobell, Cape York NRM

Over 7,000 hectares of coastal mangroves have died along 1000 km of coastline in the Gulf of Carpentaria. James Cook University’s Dr Norman Duke said the dieback was unprecedented, and followed a prolonged period of high temperatures and unseasonally dry conditions in the region.

Dr Duke, a world expert on mangroves, said the dieback was severe and widespread, affecting 9% of mangrove vegetation from just south of the Roper River in the Northern Territory to near Karumba in Queensland. https://cafnec.org.au/wildlife-issues/mangroves-wetlands/mangrove-dieback-in-the-gulf-of-carpentaria/

I was shocked to read about this environmental disaster in the Gulf.

It will have a huge impact on fish breeding and the birds and animals of the area; the prawns, hermit crabs, and millions of humble, vital creatures of the tidal mud. The land itself will be left unprotected from erosion and inundation. It’s difficult to comprehend the scale of the dieback – 1000kms of coastline altered, perhaps permanently. In this harsh environment, mangroves have been the stalwart protectors of the coastline forever. Back in 1861, they defeated the utmost efforts of Burke and Wills, who’d travelled all the way from Melbourne to reach the Gulf, but never made it through the mangroves to the sea. Now 7,000 hectares of them have succumbed to the effects of heat and drought.

There are still mangrove forests around Moreton Bay – seven species of them, reportedly, along the coast and the islands, and up the rivers, in spite of development and climate change.

Moreton Bay mangroves, Victoria Point

Our Lizzie has been a beach lover all her life. When she was little, we’d often visit the beaches of Maroochydore, or Townsville, or Etty Bay, making sandcastles and decorating them with shells and seaweed and pumice. We’d draw in the sand with mangrove pencils and make patterns with mangrove flowers. Lizzie is now an environmental engineer, and last month, during one of her regular scientific field trips to Stradbroke Island, she found a mangrove pencil on the sand.

She drew me a picture, and sent me the photo. That’s one to keep.

Sweet Potato

At lunch time, behind the school, Con and his mates used to dig up sweet potatoes.

“We gave the big ones to the nuns, but us kids would eat the small ones, raw. They were sweet and juicy.”

Con went to the Good Counsel Convent school in Innisfail, run by the Good Samaritan Sisters (the Good Sammies, as they were affectionately known.) The red volcanic soil of Innisfail is ideal for growing sweet potatoes, but they’ll grow happily anywhere in Queensland, if there’s warmth, soft soil and good rain. They’re a staple across the South Pacific. They flourished in Nambour, too: in my family’s backyard.

Our yard, on a then new sub-division on Mapleton Road, sloped down towards a farm with a bull paddock. The fence was flimsy. Once, when plumbers were working on our septic tank, they occupied their smoko time with teasing the bull. My mother watched out the bedroom window, expecting the bull to break through the fence at any moment and chase the plumbers up the slope. She was disappointed when it didn’t happen.

“I’d have liked to see them trying to run up that slope, catching their feet in the sweet potato vines,” she said.

In Con’s tropical Innisfail yard there were banana plants, papaws, mangoes, passionfruit vines and citrus trees. It’s still the same in the North.

Citrus growing by the beach, Tully Heads
Loaded mango tree outside the police station in Chillagoe, west of Cairns

Our garden in Nambour, a 1500 km drive south and officially in the sub-tropics, had bananas and papaws, too, and also loquats, guavas, rosella plants, a mulberry bush and a big mango tree, left over from farm days. Across the state, a group of fine old mango trees, Moreton Bay figs and hoop pines often indicates that a farmhouse once stood there.

Mango tree flourishing beside a derelict farmhouse, Babinda

In Nambour, we never got to eat our guavas, because we would forget about them until we could smell the fruit. By then, it was too late – they’d be full of fruit fly grubs.

There was a flourishing choko vine on our fence. I haven’t eaten chokos since Mum used to cook them, serving them in white sauce to give them some flavour.

In these days of supply chain problems, we should all have a choko vine along the fence, along with all the other fruits and veggies that grow so well in Queensland.

Bananas growing beside a West End house

Sadly, in old migrant suburbs like West End, because of high property values and the move towards denser housing, many fine backyard fruit and vegetable gardens are disappearing.

Papaws, West End

The Sunshine Coast hinterland north of Brisbane is perfect for growing tropical fruits and citrus in the backyard. In our Woodford yard, as well as an old mango tree there were macadamias, lemons, bananas, and a large custard apple tree of the bullock heart variety.

Looking from under our Woodford mango tree towards the custard apple tree. In the background are macadamias and bananas

Huge productive avocado trees grow almost wild in Maleny backyards.

Dragon fruit vines smother Brisbane gum trees and loaded passionfruit vines festoon suburban fences; but the biggest passionfruit vine I ever saw was growing over the toilet block in the yard of the Silkwood Hotel, north of Tully. It provided shade over people enjoying a drink in the beer garden, and masses of fruit; possibly nourished by the septic tank.

In the beer garden of the Silkwood Hotel, under that enormous passionfruit vine

We tend to take all this splendid bounty for granted, since it grows in spite of us and requires no care. Fruits that are rarities in cold climate countries are part of our everyday environment in much of Queensland, and visitors are amazed by them. When taking a drive around the Glasshouse Mountains with overseas visitors we stopped beside a pineapple farm with its neat rows of plants and young, green pineapples. Pines, as we used to call them. Our German friend looked at them in amazement. “So that’s how they grow!” he said.

“Mixed Farm with Sunflowers, Glasshouse Mountains”, painted by Anne Marie Graham

I feel the same amazement when I visit Europe and see apple trees in fruit, hanging over people’s garden walls, or when I look at photos of my granddaughter picking apples in her Opa’s Berlin garden.

Picking apples in a Berlin garden

In York, U.K., in my friend’s wintery garden there was an enormous pear tree. It had one yellow pear still hanging on it on, metres above the ground. I’d had no idea that pear trees grew so big, and that you could just grow them in your back yard.

That big Nambour mango tree is long gone now, making way for brick and concrete; and in the old bull paddock there is a sprawl of houses. I’d be willing to bet sweet potato vines are still flourishing somewhere nearby, though.

When I first had a meal at my future mother-in-law Min’s house in Innisfail she said, “Do you like sweet potato?”

I didn’t, but of course I said yes. From then on, it was always on the menu when we ate there.

Years later when we visited, Min, now elderly, looked exhausted.

“What have you been doing, Mum?” Con asked.

“Well, I didn’t have any sweet potato, and I know Rose loves it, so I walked into town to buy some,” she replied.

A kilometre each way in the tropical heat.

It wasn’t the right time to tell her the truth. That time never came.

Every now and then I buy sweet potatoes, in Min’s memory, and put them in the potato basket and forget about them. By the time I notice them again they have sprouted, so I throw them out in the garden to rot away and nourish the soil.

Thrown-out sweet potato that won’t die

They don’t rot, though; they keep growing until I trip over the vines.

Passionfruit vine growing over a telephone booth, Bingil Bay

The Mabo Decision 30 years on… the legacy lives on

A fine Queensland story. We lived in Townsville around the time the Mabo Native Title case began to be formulated, and one evening we had the experience of meeting Eddie Koiki Mabo, when he worked as groundsman at JCU.

The Queensland Museum Network Blog

By Leitha Assan, Senior Curator, Indigenous Cultures

From its inception in Townsville in 1981 to the High Court victory on 3 June 1992, 2022 marks 30 years since the historical landmark Mabo decision was handed down by the High Court of Australia.The High Court ruled that the Meriam people were entitled to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of their Islands, effectively recognising their Native Title. Native Title is the recognition by Australian law of Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people’s traditional laws and customs that are connected to lands and waters.

More than 100 years after European settlement, a group of Islanders – namely Reverend Dave Passi, Deacon Sam Passi Snr, James Rice, one Meriam woman, Celuia Mapo Salee and led by Eddie Koiki Mabo – won a landmark legal battle against the Queensland and Australian governments. They proved that Islanders are the customary owners of land on Mer, Waier…

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Breached! — The Eternal Traveller

Interesting times along Pumicestone Passage, as local blogger The Eternal Traveller tells us. Queensland’s shifting sand islands are always on the move.


Bribie Island, Queensland The calm waters of Pumicestone Passage separate the quiet coastal suburb of Golden Beach from the narrow strip of land just offshore that is Bribie Island. The island hugs the coast from the northern end of Brisbane to Caloundra, creating a barrier between the open ocean of Moreton Bay and Pumicestone Passage. […]

Breached! — The Eternal Traveller

My Life in Bugs

I’m walking through a forest of scribbly gums, eucalypts iconic in Australia because of the scribbles on their trunks that fascinate children and adults. May Gibbs used scribbly gums, among other iconic images, to illustrate the children’s classic, “Snugglepot and Cuddlepie”.

Scribbly gum in”Snugglepot and Cuddlepie Meet Mr Lizard”, May Gibbs

The scribbles are caused by the meandering path of the larvae of the scribbly gum moth through the bark of its host.

Scribbles on a scribbly gum, J C Trotter Memorial Park, Burbank

I’m not an entomologist or an arachnologist, but you can’t spend your life in Queensland, or indeed Australia, without coming in personal contact with insects and spiders.

I’ve been stung by bees and wasps, bitten by bull ants and green ants, had my blood sucked by leeches, ticks and march flies, and been irritated by mosquitoes, mites, fleas and cockroaches.

Mosquitoes like blood. As a child I slept under a mosquito net, and I’d put my finger against the net just to feel the sting, then squash the mozzie through the net. Mozzies carry Ross River fever. Con and our Lizzie have both had it and suffered for months with fatigue, fevers, and muscular aches and pains, missing weeks of work and feeling miserable.

Keeping the mozzies away

In Burketown we were plagued by flying ants. Nothing would stop them: they’d come under the doors and round the edges of the screens. We would turn off the lights, but they’d still get in.

Flying ants don’t bite; but under the house and out in the yard were nests of biting meat ants. Our little kids would wander on to a nest of meat ants and stand there howling to be rescued. Meat ant bites hurt like a burn.

Green ants are tasty. If you pinch them on the thorax and bite off the abdomen you get a burst of delicious lemon liquid. They can bite, if you annoy them, as we would when we shook down mandarines from Con’s mother’s fine Innisfail tree, full of green ants and their nests.

Green ant nest magneticislandtours.net.au

March flies are merciless. In a beautiful rainforest creek one summer, we stayed under water up to our chins and pulled our hats down low to avoid their bites. From Stradbroke Island to Fraser Island and all the way up the coast, at certain times of the year, march flies can ruin your day wherever you are. They’re slow and easy to swat; but unless your house has insect screens the floor will soon be littered with dead flies and you’ll have to get the vacuum cleaner out.

Locals of western Queensland ignore the little sticky flies that get into eyes, nose and mouth and settle in hundreds on shirts, but they drive me mad. My dad swallowed one once, at the church in Jandowae, in the middle of giving a sermon. Prince Charles once had the same problem, on a visit to Central Australia. Queensland doesn’t have a monopoly on annoying insects.

Handy Australian tool souvenirsaustralia.com

After a day of walking in the Bunya Mountains with my brothers, I found a tick high on my thigh and quite fat with my blood. The Bunyas are famous for ticks. My brother pulled it off for me, and I returned the favour the next morning when he found one on the back of his neck.

Another story about my dad: in going over our female dog Lassie for ticks, he was about to get his tweezers on to a pale, tick-looking lump on her belly when he noticed that she had two rows of identical lumps nearby. Poor Lassie nearly had a bad day.

I’ve been frightened of huntsman spiders since I was a child in Nambour. We used to call them tarantulas. Playing dress-ups one day, I had one leg in a pair of cowboy costume pants when a huntsman ran out of them and up my arm. My mother heard me screaming and came running.

“All that fuss over a tarantula!” she said, unsympathetically. “They won’t bite you!”

Huntsmen can grow almost as big as my hand, and they don’t stay in a web. They hide behind picture frames or under clothes on the floor, then run around the house at night, hunting cockroaches.

Huntsmen love to run around the house kidspot.com.au

One night I was woken by the feel of something running lightly across my face. I’m sure it was a huntsman. I’d rather have the cockroaches that disappear under the bench when I turn on the kitchen light, or crunch under my feet in the dark.

Redback spiders do have a dangerous bite. They don’t run around the house, though, like huntsmen. Redbacks hide away in cracks and dark places.

Redback spider biosciences.unimelb.edu.au

One Easter, leaving our house in Burketown for the holidays, I sprayed a can of strong insect killer around before closing the door. When we came back, dead redbacks were dangling in their webs from under our dining room table. We’d had our knees under that table every night for years.

It seems a redback can kill a huntsman many times its size:


Con tells me an insect story.

“A bee stung me when I was driving north over the Isis River bridge. It flew in the window, landed on my neck and stung me.

“The funny thing is, though – when we were driving back south, a couple of weeks later, it happened again. At the exact same spot – the Isis River bridge! Another bee flew in the window and stung me!”

“I don’t remember that. Sounds a bit unlikely to me.”

“Well, maybe it didn’t actually sting me the second time. But it flew in the window. The Isis River bridge, south of Childers.”

Perhaps there were beehives in the bush near the river. Beekeepers set out their hives near flowering eucalypts.

Native bees also exist, in their many varieties, throughout bushland and gardens, playing a vital role in fertilisation.

Native blue-banded bee pollinatorlink.org

Native bees don’t sting. My brother Mike Fox, local expert, gave me a native beehive in a paint can for my birthday one year. Sadly, it was soon ruined by an invasion of sawflies, a kind of fly or wasp.

Queensland has beautiful insects as well as annoying ones. Christmas beetles are rare now, but they were common in my childhood. We would hold them in our hands and enjoy the tickle of their claws.  

Christmas beetle brisbaneinsects.com

There are jewel bugs – beautiful but stinking when disturbed.

Jewel bugs abc.net.au

There are dragon flies; and there are some wonderful moths and butterflies, especially in the tropics.

Looking out from our Yarrabah FNQ verandah one morning, I saw something moving strangely on the ground. It was brown, as big as a bird, but fluttering like a butterfly. It turned out to be an astonishing tropical insect: a Hercules moth, the largest moth in the world. They commonly grown to 27cms in wingspan, and sometimes larger. I feel privileged to have seen one.

Hercules moth projectnoah.org

At Bingil Bay, near Mission Beach, I saw my first Cairns Birdwing butterfly – a gorgeous sight.

Cairns Birdwing butterfly tripadvisor.ca

Ulysses butterflies, sadly listed as endangered, flit like bright blue lights through the rainforests of Tully Gorge.

Ulysses butterfly brettacorp.org.au

At Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory, within Flecker Botanical Gardens in Cairns, they breed many varieties of Queensland butterflies. You can see them in all stages, from eggs to adult butterflies, among the gorgeous orchids and flowering plants. 

Looking at butterflies, Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory

In South Queensland, my favourite butterfly is the Evening Brown that I sometimes see at dusk, fluttering around close to the ground and blending in with the leaf litter on bushland tracks.

Evening Brown butterfly brisbaneinsects.com

Yesterday I finally worked out what has been eating my callistemon plants down to bare branches.

Sawfly larvae on my callistemon bush

Dozens of disgusting-looking, squirming grubs were grouped together among the poor, chewed leaves, waving their ugly heads.

Mike identified them as the larvae of sawflies.

“They won’t sting you,” he said.

“I don’t care. They’re ugly, they killed my bees, and now they’re killing my callistemons. I’m going to turn the hose on them, hard. Let the ants have them.”

So I did.

You can tell I’m not an entomologist.

Main picture: J C Trotter Memorial Park, Burbank

Relics of War

Beside the road to Carnarvon Gorge is a damaged aircraft wing mounted on steel pylons, next to a wing tip set into the ground.

D-C47 Air Crash Memorial, Carnarvon Gorge Road Photo: tripadvisor.com.au

Nearby, on 16 November 1943, this USAAF Dakota C-47 broke up in a severe storm and crashed. Five Americans and fourteen Australian soldiers died. This is their memorial.

There were many plane crashes across Queensland during the years of World War Two. Traces of crash sites, wartime airstrips, military bases and hospitals, radar stations, fortifications and ammunition dumps are located across the state, from Torres Strait to the New South Wales border. A Queensland government website lists the wartime sites: https://www.ww2places.qld.gov.au/place?id=1686  Some, like the memorial beside Carnarvon Gorge Road, have been cared for by dedicated locals. Others have become tourist attractions. Many are lost in the scrub.

1942 was a year of great anxiety for Australians, especially in the northern states.

The British fortress city of Singapore fell on 15 February 1942, a terrible shock to Australians. My father became a Prisoner of War. Two weeks later in Brisbane, my mother, in great distress, gave birth to her first baby, two months premature.

Now Russia has invaded Ukraine, and civilians and the military are preparing valiantly for what must come. Many have become refugees, and many have died. Unlike in Ukraine, tanks can’t drive across our borders. Troops can’t just march in. Nevertheless, in 1942, Queenslanders were frightened.

Trenches were dug in parks, school yards and house yards. There were air raid sirens and drills, and saltwater pipelines were laid through city streets for fire-fighting, and black-out warnings in place.

Con’s father, a sergeant, spent his wartime years driving army trucks across Cape York Peninsula, delivering fuel to military airfields and outposts.

Con as a wartime baby, with his father in uniform, in Innisfail

“There are old wartime airfields all over the Cape,” a pilot once told me, and as I was in a small plane over the Peninsula at the time, this gave me comfort. If we got into trouble, we would always find somewhere to land. We might have to chase cattle and kangaroos off the strip first.

Relics of Brisbane’s preparations for war can still be found across the city.

With my grandson Gus, I recently visited the remains of World War 2 Naval installation RAN No. 9 in the old suburb of Myrtletown, Pinkenba.

In 1943, from here near the mouth of the Brisbane River, an indicator loop was laid under the river and a Photo Electric beam installed to shine over it, to detect enemy craft. The concrete block house, once vital to the defence of Brisbane, still stands in long grass in the Myrtletown Reserve. Nearby information boards give details.

Control Building for the indicator loop (nearer window) and Photo Electric beam, Myrtletown Reserve

Among the mangroves on the riverbank nearby lie the remains of the SS Koopa, which also played its part. A small section of the hull tipped sideways above the mud at the mouth of Boggy Creek; a few sad, rusted steel parts.

Gus looks at the sad remains of SS Koopa

After Pearl Harbour was bombed, on 7 December 1941, the US “Pensacola” Convoy on its way to the Philippines was abruptly diverted to Brisbane, and on 23 December, nine large warships quietly dropped anchor in Moreton Bay.

No one knew, until the Koopa came down the river.

The SS Koopa was a much-loved excursion steamer that took passengers down the Bay to Redcliffe and Bribie Island, both before and after the War. My family took a trip on it when I was four. All I remember is a band playing on the wharf, an on-board kiosk down steep steps, and going to sleep under a seat.

SS Koopa in peacetime Photo: Yvonne Darcy peterlud.wordpress.com

To quote the book “The Battle of Brisbane”: The first Australian civilians to greet the Americans were in the SS Koopa… Joan Staines, an 18-year-old secretary, said: ‘We came out of the river and suddenly saw all these huge ships at anchor. My father said, “Cripes, it’s the bloody Yanks.”’[1]

Up to one million US servicemen would be stationed in Queensland during the next four years. In 1941 the population of the entire state was not much more than that. As Prime Minister John Curtin made clear at the time, it was the Americans, not the British, that we would be looking to for help in the Pacific War.

The SS Koopa was requisitioned from 1942 to 1945, stationed at Toorbul and in the Milne Bay area of PNG, before becoming a Moreton Bay excursion boat again. Eventually, she was brought here to Myrtletown and broken up. Those rusting scraps of steel are all that is left.

Brisbane’s Archerfield Airport was an important RAAF base, also used by the Dutch and British air forces and the USAAF.

Archerfield Airport “igloo” building today

Many of its WW2 buildings have been redeveloped for business, those fine old sheds and the “igloo” hangars with their curved roofs.

Wartime sheds and “igloo”, Archerfield Airport

One smaller igloo, now used by a mechanic, was a mess hall during the War. Another one nearby, almost derelict and used for storage, was once perhaps a dance hall or the Officers’ Club.

Just down the road from Archerfield Airport is an old quarry now filled with water. On one side, partly submerged, are concrete air raid shelters built during the war in case of air raids on the airfield. In 1992, some military aircraft and equipment, dumped here after the War, were salvaged from the water.

Partly-submerged air raid shelters, Beatty Rd, Archerfield

In 1942, bomb shelters were rapidly constructed in Brisbane, Townsville, Mackay, Cairns and coastal towns.

Air raid shelters in Ann St, Brisbane, 1942 Photo: State Library of Qld
Air raid shelter in a park in Babinda, FNQ. Now a public toilet

Many are still in use, converted to bus shelters, park shelters and public toilets. They are Queensland’s most common and visible relics of WW2.

Bomb shelter in Nundah, Brisbane, now a public toilet plus bus shelter

There was concern that Mount Isa might be a target, and in 1942 miners carved out a fully functioning underground hospital in the hills near the Base Hospital, complete with electricity, operating theatre, delivery room and wards.

Photo: Mt Isa Underground Hospital and Museum

Now, interested people can visit the Mount Isa Underground Hospital and Museum. https://undergroundhospital.com.au/hospital/

Photo: WW2 Secret Base

Charleville has a “WW2 Secret Base”, where over 3000 US soldiers were stationed, with B-17 bombers and P-40 fighters. A tag-along car tour takes visitors around the sights. https://book.bookeasy.com/agent/wwii-secret-base–tour/8305037/tours/wwii-secret-base/140066#/tours/140066

Newstead, Brisbane, is now gentrifying, but in the 1940s it was a place of warehouses and industry. In Stratton Street, Newstead, old wartime igloos have been redeveloped for entertainment purposes: The Triffid, a much-loved music venue https://thetriffid.com.au, and the upmarket Stratton Bar and Kitchen https://www.stratton.bar.

The iconic curved igloo roof is celebrated in The Triffid’s logo:

A few years ago, Con and I spent a night in a railway carriage at Possum Park, twenty kilometres north of Miles. During the War this was a top-secret RAAF munitions dump, situated, so it’s said, on the notorious Brisbane Line from which Australia would have been defended in the event of a Japanese invasion. 3CR RAAF Kowguran had its own railway branch line and a system of twenty underground concrete bunkers dug into a hill, reportedly storing up to 2500 tons of bombs and ammunition.

“Soldiers storing explosives at 3CR RAAF Kowguran during WW2. Note the ventilation shafts” Photo: ozatwar.com

Now surrounded by gardens, some of the bunkers and the troop train carriages have become tourist accommodation.

Con at the entrance to a WW2 explosives storage bunker, Possum Park

Much of Queensland’s wartime industry was located in the suburb of Rocklea, and many of the old sheds and factory buildings are still there, some derelict and some repurposed, many heritage listed. There were large munitions factories here, and at least one of them remains.

WW2 Munitions Factory, Assembly St, Rocklea

Recently it caught fire, and one end of the enormous building was burnt out. Gus and I, always curious about these things, went to have a look. We walked the 100-metre length of the old factory, past an overgrown bomb shelter, and stared, fascinated, through the chain-link fences and locked gates.

Overgrown bomb shelter, Rocklea

Huge steel beams had been twisted in the heat of the fire, and the roof had collapsed.

After the Munitions factory fire, Rocklea

“It would be great to fly a drone right through there,” said Gus. “We could get a look at what it was like inside.”

WW2 fort, Bribie Island Photo: visitbrisbane.com.au (Main photo: Fort complex, Magnetic Island – en.wikipedia.org)

WW2 coastal fortifications still stand on Bribie Island and Magnetic Island, attracting visitors.

As Gus and I have found, these old sites are fascinating. For amateur researchers there are plenty to explore.

In Queensland and Australia there were bombings, but the threatened invasions didn’t happen. These places were never the scenes of such appalling tragedies as are taking place right now in Ukraine, where the enemy can walk across the border at will.

We were lucky.

[1] “The Battle of Brisbane”, Peter A Thompson and Robert Macklin. 2000. ABC Books, Sydney. Page 31

How to preserve a flood-damaged item

So much damage, and more rain to come. This is timely advice from the Queensland Museum.

The Queensland Museum Network Blog

The recent weather event and flooding in Queensland and northern New South Wales has sadly destroyed many homes and the personal items they contain including photos, important documents and valuables. All hope is not lost, if you act quickly now you may have a chance of recovering some of this items. While for many the immediate focus will be cleaning out homes, there is a chance to recover some important items. Remember if there is an opportunity to freeze items such as images and photographs, that will give you time to work on them in the future.

Here are some tips from the team at Queensland Museum on how to preserve a flood-damaged item:

Safety is priority – if it’s flooded, forget it!

Only enter a flooded site when it is safe to do so. Wear protective equipment including closed-in shoes, gloves, face masks and safety glasses.

Set up a…

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