Australia has over 2,000 species of solitary native bees of which twelve have been identified within Mt Gravatt Conservation Reserve. My first introduction to these special locals was wondering about the green insect flying past while we were having coffee outside. A video captured this female Leafcutter Bee flying into the back of the cat’s scratching post with pieces of leaf rolled between her legs to make a nest for her eggs. Solitary native bees do not form colonies and make honey.
The initial aim of the Pollinator Link® project was to create wildlife links between urban bushland with Water, Food and Shelter in backyards, balcony gardens, schoolyards, etc. Pollinator Link® team is proactively increasing invertebrate diversity with the Guardian Bee Home project and promoting the importance of Plant Local to Feed Local.
“I hate Brisbane. It’s nothing but traffic, traffic lights, bitumen, powerlines and car yards. Everyone’s in a rush. It’s ugly. It’s impersonal. In the country, everyone knows everyone else. I can’t wait to get back home.”
That’s what people from Queensland’s farms and regional towns sometimes say, after a reluctant and fleeting visit. They’re right about the ugly side of the city; but that’s not the whole story. Brisbane is a beautiful place, once you turn off those main roads with their frantic traffic.
It’s a city of hills and creeks and gullies. David Malouf wrote, “Brisbane is hilly. Walk two hundred metres in almost any direction outside the central city and you get a view – a new view. It is all gullies and sudden vistas.”
The hills can be a challenge. David Malouf also wrote, “Brisbane is a city that tires the legs and demands a certain sort of breath.”
It’s because of its terrain that Brisbane has so much green space. The creeks and river rise up in heavy rain and flood the banks, and debris across parks and walkways marks just how far the water came up. You can’t build houses on these flood plains. Instead there are sports fields, playgrounds, plantings, fig trees, bushland and pathways.
Scattered along the pathways and suburban streets are cute little street libraries and honesty boxes of home-made jams and pickles.
You can go from the top of Mount Coot-tha to the river, and even to Moreton Bay, on walking tracks or cycle paths along the creeks. Without leaving the city, you can find an octopus on the sand at Redcliffe or explore the mangroves at Wynnum.
Some quiet suburban streets and cul de sacs are secret heavens. I walk down them on a typically beautiful Brisbane day, and think, “People here must feel smug – they’ve found a perfect place to live.” Down every gully there is a green and peaceful park, often lovingly nurtured and developed by a local Bush Care group, and in many, a flourishing community vegetable garden.
Almost anything will grow in a Brisbane backyard, from avocado trees to cacti, and there are mango trees and bananas, lemon and lime trees and hedges of rosemary.
In the occasional yard there is nothing growing but grass, which must take dedicated mowing over years on the part of the owners, in a climate where wattles and eucalypts, African tulips and coral trees, cassias and camphor laurels will grow without encouragement on any empty piece of land.
There are quirky sights in the suburbs, such as on an otherwise boring, 1960s block of flats in West End, where a creative solution to clothes drying has full-sized rotary clothes hoists, as normally seen in back yards, planted on each balcony.
There are gardens with old-fashioned flower beds, charming letterboxes and quaint creatures among the plants.
There is a collection of old engines in a sprawling Sunnybank yard.
There’s a skeleton guarding a rooftop not far from Greenslopes Hospital.
Last year, in that strange time of lockdowns and isolation, Con and I went exploring on foot, and we saw the suburbs of Brisbane in more detail than ever before.
There are trees flowering all year round, but they are most spectacular in Spring: jacarandas, silky oaks, flame trees and poinsettia, and the natives: sterculia, huge spreading tallow woods and gums.
I’ve begun a new Pandemic project: to collect all the colours of frangipani. They grow easily from a broken-off piece, left to dry in a dark place. Carrying a plastic bag to stop the sticky sap dripping, and seeking low branches hanging over front fences, I now have acquired pieces of red, yellow, apricot and deep pink-flowering trees. I’ll plant them in a row in a new stretch of garden beside the house. They’ll be a reminder of a challenging time, when I found comfort in walking the suburbs of a beautiful city.
We were slow to put up a Christmas tree that year. Matt, seven years old, got anxious. Maybe we weren’t going to have a tree? He couldn’t bear the thought.
At the time we were living in Yarrabah Aboriginal Community, in a house was just a hundred metres from the edge of the Coral Sea, at the bottom of a steep hillside covered in tropical forest. Following the coconut palm-lined beach, a dirt track led around to the Point, a popular fishing spot.
Matt went under the house and found the old blockbuster, heavier and blunter than an axe and nearly as big as he was. He dragged the blockbuster down the dirt road past our house and out along Point Road to a spot where casuarina pines were growing; then he set about chopping one down.
Half an hour later, Matt arrived back at our front door, accompanied by a local man who had been walking along the track with his family on the way back from fishing. He had been amused to find little Mattie trying to chop down a tree twice as tall as he was, and kindly chopped it down for him. Then he brought Matt, the blockbuster and the tree home to our house.
It was a surprise to me, because I thought Matt had been playing under the house the whole time.
We always have some kind of Christmas tree. If we’re away from home I’ll find something green to hang a few baubles on and put presents under. An artificial plant in a holiday apartment at Maroochydore (holiday apartments always have some kind of artificial greenery, it seems), shrubs outside our cabin the year we spent Christmas in a caravan park at Dorrigo, N.S.W.
One year I found a dead tree branch, sprayed it white, planted it in a basket full of rocks and hung tinsel and decorations on it. I felt smug about my creativeness, but my kids weren’t impressed. Kids have their standards about what a Christmas tree should look like.
Living in Woodford, west of Caboolture and not far from the sprawling Caribbean pine plantations of the Glasshouse Mountains area, before Christmas we would drive down a dirt track in the pine forest until we found a suitable-sized tree, one that had seeded beside the track. Those exotic species sprout everywhere, even in people’s roof guttering and plant pots.
We would chop the tree down and bring it home for a Christmas tree. The kids didn’t like that much, either – Caribbean pines smell good, but they’re not lush and thick, and they don’t have a traditional Christmas tree shape.
Eventually I got tired of chopping down trees, and to the scorn and outrage of the family, I bought a plastic one. We’ve now been using that same plastic tree for thirty years and three generations.
Sometimes in Queensland we have a fairly mild Christmas, as we did in Brisbane in 2020: 28C and cloudy. Occasionally we get a wet Christmas. It’s safest, though, wherever you are in the state, to plan for heat. That Christmas evening in Dorrigo we ate under a fine, cool mist; but we arrived back in Brisbane a couple of days later to find that candles we’d left on the sideboard had melted and drooped in the heat.
One memorable 25 December in Jandowae, on the Northern Darling Downs, when I was a teenager, the temperature must have been in the mid-40s. My mother was trying to cook a traditional Christmas roast dinner in our wood-burning stove, but it wasn’t drawing properly and she couldn’t get the oven hot enough. My brother climbed on to the corrugated iron roof in the blazing sunshine to try and unblock the chimney. The whole kitchen was like an oven. The plastic tea towel rack melted and sagged and the tea towels slid off on to the floor.
Mum cooked a hot roast dinner every Christmas, roast veges and all, then a hot Christmas pudding. That year in Jandowae she said, “Never again.” It was cold meats and salads from then on; but she still did the pudding.
The further you go from the coast in Queensland, the hotter it’s likely to be – well into the 40s in such places as Quilpie and Thargomindah; but usually it’s a dry heat. The coastal hinterland can deliver something special: high temperatures plus humidity. That’s what we got one year at Rosevale, south west of Ipswich.
It was the Christmas of 1972, and Con and I had a full house. Family camped in the field next door, devoured by mosquitoes every night; and the back yard toilet had to be emptied more often than usual.
That was Con’s regular job. He would dig a hole in the paddock beyond the back fence and bury the contents of the toilet pan. On Christmas Eve he conscripted my brother John to help him (the same one who’d gotten on the roof on a previous Christmas to clear the chimney – a useful bloke).
The pan was full almost to the brim. “Tread carefully”, Con warned him as they carried it across the yard, one on either handle. “We don’t want it to spill.”
“I was never more sure-footed in my life,” said John.
On Christmas Day, desperate from the heat, we pumped up the kids’ little inflatable pool next to the tank stand and all got in it, under the hose: three generations squeezed in together.
That Christmas Day was reportedly Brisbane’s hottest on record: 39C. As the hinterland is regularly hotter in summer by several degrees, Rosevale would have reached 42C at least.
At the State Library of Queensland, a year or so ago, there was a display of old photos of Queenslanders doing typical Queenslander things. Among them, to my delight, was a photo of a Beaudesert family on that same Christmas Day in 1972, trying to keep cool the same way we were at Rosevale, just an hour’s drive away.
These days as a family we’re spoilt at Christmas, with a cold lunch of ham and salads, fans and air-conditioning, and even indoor, flushing toilets.
We still have an inflatable back-yard pool, though – and the old plastic Christmas Tree. Some traditions should never die.
I stood by the side of the road, watching Con as he sucked petrol through a plastic tube. He’d done it before, so he knew when the moment came to stop sucking and put his thumb over the end of the tube to stop any air from getting in, then quickly push the tube into the car’s petrol tank.
He was syphoning from a five-gallon petrol can balanced on the boot of the car, with another one in reserve.
When he was fifteen, Con’s older brother Jim had taught told him how to go about it, in their father’s Shell depot in Innisfail.
“You have to judge it just right. If it doesn’t work the first time and you have to do it again, you’ll end up with a mouthful of petrol.”
He did end up with a mouthful of petrol, the first time he tried it. Jim took him next door to the “Goondi Hill” and bought him a beer.
“That’s only one thing that’ll get rid of the taste of petrol. Beer. Get into it.”
The petrol tank of our second-hand Holden sedan didn’t hold enough to get us the 476 kilometres from Burketown to Julia Creek. We’d drive south from Burketown on the gravel road and take a left-hand turn at Augustus Downs, past Talawanta Station, to meet the bitumen at Donor’s Hill, on the Normanton road. From there the road would take us southeast to Julia Creek. In all that distance there was no roadhouse or petrol station: just a few tracks disappearing off into the bush to cattle stations.
Gulf of Carpentaria cattle stations are vast places, famous in the north west: Armraynald, Floraville, Augustus Downs, Talawanta, Donor’s Hill. It’s these stations, often over a thousand square kilometres in area, that appear on the road map, rather than towns or localities. The stations are small towns in themselves, with the big homestead, staff accommodation, stores, sheds, workshops, yards, trucks and machinery and an airstrip with the inevitable windsock flying. On the roof of the largest shed, the name of the station is painted in large block letters to guide the Flying Doctor and the other planes and helicopters that are so vital to life out here.
Sometimes the planes buzz the homestead to let the staff know that they need to drive out and chase cattle off the landing strip.
In our day, Lawn Hill station, further west, kept a full-time pilot, with his own cottage. To locals, this is nothing unusual; but to outsiders like us, extraordinary.
The people in the Gulf were generous with their assistance and their time when we came to grief on these rough and isolated roads. We were twice rescued by local passers-by. Once, it happened on the road north of Julia Creek. Con had been given a ride down from Burketown at the end of the wet season to pick up our car, which we’d left in the Julia Creek school yard. On his way home, up the Normanton road, the car stopped and refused to start again.
Luckily, along came a couple of blokes, father and son, who towed the Holden to their fencing camp, off the road in the bush.
“Where are you heading, mate?” asked the father.
“Burketown”, said Con.
“Well, you’d better camp out here with us,” said the father. “We’ll cook you a couple of steaks over the fire.”
“Well, I wouldn’t mind a trip to Burketown,” said the son. “We’ll drive you home, have a few drinks at the pub and spend the night there.”
They covered our car with leafy branches to keep it out of sight and drove Con home: almost two hundred kilometres. A few days later, the local mechanic drove out in his truck to collect the car and bring it to Burketown for repair.
The following year, when on the way east after the Wet season, we got bogged at the Talawanta waterhole, west of Donor’s Hill Station. We tried to dig ourselves out of the mud, but couldn’t manage it. We needed help. With two little kids in the car, we had no choice but to wait for someone to come along.
After an hour or so, a couple of stockmen appeared in a Holden ute, avoiding the bog, and they tried to tow us out. The tow rope broke. They offered to drive Con the thirty-odd kilometres to Donor’s Hill to get help. It was late in the afternoon, and watching them disappear down the dusty road, I realised the kids and I might be in for a long, lonely wait.
A few metres off the road, in the edge of the bush, I swept a patch of earth clear of leaf litter and branches and spread out a blanket for little Matt and Lizzie to play on. I gave them some toys from the car and something to eat. In the far west, no one travels without water and basic food supplies. Before dark fell, I lit a fire and put a billy on for tea.
It was fun, setting up that little camp, soon with no light but for a torch and the firelight. Eventually, headlights appeared to the West, and a Toyota, seeing our bogged car and the light of the campfire, pulled up. Two men got out, and I watched a little nervously as they approached.
I’d met one of them in Burketown – the representative of a Stock and Station agency. I told them I’d be okay by myself until Con came back with help, but they stayed to keep me company. They had some prawns, and a cold carton of VB beer, so we had a little picnic together, and I was grateful.
Con, meanwhile, had been dropped off at Donor’s Hill, and waited for the manager to come in from working with the cattle. The manager wanted his dinner, but instead he and his wife, people we’d never met and certainly had no claim on, brought Con back in their 4WD to pull us out of the bog.
This happened years ago. These days, the road from Burketown to Julia Creek and Cloncurry is more direct, going south past Nardoo and missing Donors’ Hill. Halfway to Julia Creek, where the modern-day Wills Developmental Road crosses the Burke Developmental Road leading north to Normanton, you can buy petrol, and even a hot meal, at the Burke and Wills Roadhouse.
But life can still be brutal out here. Both Donor’s Hill Station and Burke and Wills Junction lie within the western section of the Flinders River catchment; and in January 2019, record rainfall caused the river to flood across its wide, flat plains. It rained for a week, and the cattle that didn’t drown had nowhere to go.
Across that vast catchment, an estimated 500,000 cattle died of drowning, exposure and starvation, with station people unable to get out to save them. After the waters went down, the stink of rotting carcasses was appalling, flies and other insects swarmed, and the station people worked through it all in the heat, burying their animals in huge pits while grieving for prize herds.
We lived in the Gulf for only three years, but we came away with an appreciation for the generosity and toughness of the people who live and work there that will never leave us.
And if we lived there now, we wouldn’t attempt those muddy, post-wet-season roads in a Holden sedan. We’d drive a big, powerful, air-conditioned four-wheel drive.
In commemoration of Steve Irwin Day (November 15), Queensland Museum reflects on the species they’ve named in honour of the Wildlife Warriors. From a striking new species of snail, to a discovery of miniscule arachnid proportions, we’re admiring the Irwin legacy and the creatures they inspire.
At a Snail’s Pace
2009 sparked the start of the Irwin tribute, as a new species and genus of snail came into detection. Determined as a rare breed of tree snail, Queensland Museum honorary and snail whisperer, Dr John Stanisic, sited the unexpected location of the gastropod.
“So far it has only been found in three locations, all on the summits of high mountains in far north Queensland and at altitudes above 1,000 metres, which is quite unusual for Australian land snails”
Dr John Stanisic, 2009
The snail itself presented a distinguished colour scheme of creamy yellow, orange-brown and chocolate, creating an overall khaki…
Well, not actually in the house. I was born in the hospital down the road.
The doctor who’d delivered me dropped in on Dad on his way home. They were old army comrades, so the doctor walked straight into the house, into the bedroom and shook Dad awake.
“You have a baby daughter,” he told him.
“That’s good,” said Dad, and went straight back to sleep.
Dad was an excellent sleeper.
Ours was a post-war weatherboard house, almost ground-level at the front and on high stumps at the back. For the first year or so the timber was oiled brown, because there was a paint shortage post-war. My earliest memories are of that house, and I love that simple wooden style still, with the elegance of its horizontal lines of overlapping boards, layered to keep the rain out. No fretwork or iron lace, just some battens, perhaps, or geometrical woodwork trims. It’s how they built through the depression, wartime and post-war years.
As a teenager, my mother lived in Landsborough, in a late nineteenth century timber house. It’s still there, beside the road to Maleny. It has verandahs round three sides, pretty timber fretwork on the many verandah posts, a fancy front door, French doors on to the verandah, and a separate kitchen out the back.
In the vandalistic years of the 1960s and 1970s I mourned for these charming houses as Brisbane bulldozers knocked them down to be replaced by brick six-pack blocks of flats or pretentious mansions.
Now they are valued, for their charm and for their timber. Irreplaceable hardwoods from Queensland forests.
There are mid-twentieth century weatherboard houses by the thousands across Brisbane and the regions, and they have proved their durability.
They sprawl across the outer-inner suburbs (or is it inner-outer?) such as Kedron, Holland Park, Moorooka and Tarragindi. Many of them are simple housing commission houses, now valued for their location and for their solid timber construction. In the old streets of Holland Park the street plantings of the period, jacarandas and poinsettias, are now gnarled, shady and beautiful; and young families build cubby houses in huge backyard mango trees.
My Dad’s family lived in a 1920s-30s weatherboard beauty in Nambour, with gables, timber arches and a handsome staircase.
It was sold for removal, years ago. That’s another feature of timber houses: they can be cut up, loaded on a truck, moved to another town and put back together again. I’m always amused when driving through Burpengary at the sight of all the houses perched up on blocks there, ready for sale, just like items in a shop. Many of these houses come from the rapidly developing suburbs of Brisbane, and they’re often moved to subdivisions in nearby regional areas. A tricky business, always undertaken at night when the roads are quiet.
In Woodford, the old school house we’d been living in was sold for removal, to make way for a new administration block for the school.
Many grand, two-storied, verandahed country hotels were built of timber, because there was so much hardwood available in Queensland forests early last century. Now it would be impossibly expensive, and the hardwood would probably be imported from Papua New Guinea or Indonesia’s threatened forests.
In Killarney, on the south-eastern Darling Downs, Killarney Hotel is proof of the durability of hardwoods. I spent a couple of nights in that fine old weatherboard building, several years ago, and heard from the publican about all the times that the Condamine River, only a couple of hundred metres behind the hotel, has risen up and flooded it. And yet it stands, still providing beer and beds.
I like the charming timber public buildings in the regions, such as the spectacular Surat Shire Hall, built in 1929; the School of Arts, Mount Morgan, built in 1924 and setting up for early voting when we visited; Ravenswood Courthouse, a tropical-style government building dating from 1884 and now a museum; quaint Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Theodore, dedicated in 1934, that I spotted on a recent road trip down the Leichhardt Highway; the pretty Emerald Railway Station, dating from 1900.
With the distances involved and cost of transport, with economic stress and the problem of termites, in some parts of the state, especially in the tropics, other building materials have been used in preference to timber. Concrete is popular in the north, and so is fibro; and earlier last century, corrugated iron. I’m pleased I haven’t had to spend a summer in a house made of corrugated iron.
Starting with the Nambour house where I was born, I’ve lived in twelve timber houses, including six school residences dating from the early 1900s to the late 1970s. I now live in a mid-1970s house of brick and weatherboard, so I haven’t gone all that far from my origins.
There won’t be many more of these Queensland hardwood houses built.
Perhaps we should all plant eucalypts in our back yards. In a hundred years’ time, they’ll be worth their enormous weight in gold.
Rural Spain and rural Queensland – both sadly in a cycle of loss of population, loss of services and therefore more loss of population. Greater mechanisation and fewer jobs. Pleasant towns with empty shops and under-utilised public buildings.A blog from an Australian wanting to build a house in the Spanish countryside.
The Spanish seem to think so. Google “depopulation rural Spain” and there’s a lot to read. It may have been happening since Franco’s time, when an industrialization drive got people moving to the city. 388 more words
Years ago, when we were driving back from Cairns on the inland roads, I saw off to the east, across flat plains, a row of interesting mountain peaks.
They reminded me of the volcanic plugs that make up the Glasshouse Mountains that I’ve known all my life, and I thought how interesting it would be to get a closer look at them.
We drove on, heading for the Carnarvon Ranges, and by the time we’d arrived home in Brisbane I’d forgotten where I’d seen those distant peaks.
That is why last year, driving home to Brisbane once again and wanting to get off the busy Bruce Highway, we headed inland down the Boyne River Valley, through Many Peaks, on a short cut to meet the Burnett Highway at Monto. Over the years I’d heard of Many Peaks. This must be where I could get close to those mysterious mountains.
We’d discovered that Many Peaks, a tiny town with a population of less than one hundred, has an old pub, and we planned to stop there for lunch.
We left the Bruce Highway at Calliope, south of Rockhampton, for the Dawson Highway heading west to Biloela, then paused at the turn-off to Many Peaks and Monto and had a think. It was raining, and we knew the road was partly gravel.
Going via Biloela would be 195 kilometres and boring. Via Many Peaks, 137 kilometres and interesting. We turned off.
This turned out to be mountainous, forested country, with the road following the Boyne River Valley: no plains, and no volcanic plugs to be seen. The paddocks were wet, and brown from drought, and there had been fires through,
And the pub was shut that day.
There were loaded timber trucks on the muddy road, and they gave no ground for our Subaru.
One section of the road, sealed but narrow, goes up the side of a mountain. If we’d met a semi-trailer on its way down, loaded with timber, we would have had nowhere to go but over the edge. When we reached the top and a section of wider road, there was just such a truck lurking around the corner.
In bed that night in a Monto Caravan Park cabin, still thinking about that frightening mountain road, I suddenly realised that the timber trucks would have been in contact by UHF radio. That semi-trailer was waiting, probably impatiently, for our Subaru to make it up the hill before it started down the narrow stretch. We hadn’t been in danger at all.
We never did get to have a counter lunch at the Many Peaks Hotel; and I believe it has since closed down for good.
I’ve since discovered that the intriguing volcanic peaks I was looking for are actually part of the Peak Range National Park, off the Peak Downs Highway, deep in coal mining country south-west of Mackay – a long way north of the Boyne Valley. Next week I’m finally going to take a closer look at them.
We’ve booked an apartment in Palm Cove, north of Cairns, to spend time with the family. With recent COVID-19 cases popping up in South East Queensland, nobody can predict what the next couple of weeks will bring; but we’re planning to go anyway.
We’ll take face masks, but I doubt if we’ll wear them. Considering that fewer than one person in a hundred is wearing a mask in Brisbane, they won’t be a feature in the regions, so far almost untouched by the virus. Locals may well regard face masks as a typical southerners’ fad.
We won’t be in a hurry, not like those driving for work. In the regions, it’s all about work, and on the western roads tradies’ utes and mining company vehicles will fly past us at 120kms per hour.
Peak Range National Park is 280 kilometres south-west of Mackay via the Peak Downs Highway, and 944 kilometres north-west of Brisbane. We’ll travel via Gympie, Kilkivan, and the Burnett Highway, then west to Emerald on the Capricorn Highway and north to Clermont, deep into coal mining country.
Next day, driving up the Peak Downs Highway towards Mackay, we’ll pass the Peaks I’ve been looking for.
Closest to the road, I’ve read, is Wolfgang Peak – notorious for bats in its caves and many large spiders.
There are Mounts Castor and Pollux and half a dozen others, including the flat-topped Lord’s Table. In 1845, Ludwig Leichhardt’s expedition passed through here and gave them names – although I’m sure they already had names, and stories, many thousands of years old.
This national park is undeveloped, and only keen climbers attempt the peaks. I won’t get to meet the spiders and the bats; but I’m looking forward to walking in from the highway and getting as close as I can to Wolfgang Peak.
They say there are big, scary mining trucks on these roads, but after run-ins with those big, scary timber trucks on our last trip, we’ll know how to stay out of their way. I hope.
P.S. We took our road trip north, and had a great trip, with no confrontation with heavy vehicles.
I found the Peak Range, a spectacular sight from both the Dawson and Peak Downs Highways. According to an information board, the peak closest to the road is not in fact Wolfgang Peak, at least not to locals. It’s Wolfang Peak. That’s a better name for it, because a wolf’s fang is what it looks like.
A Canadian poet came to Brisbane for a poetry festival. She wanted to know what sounds are unique to this place. I began to think about the familiar, iconic sounds of Brisbane.
Many are bird calls.
There is the familiar “whoop, whoop, whoop” of a pheasant coucal calling from a gully; the sound of the common koel, the “storm bird” that visits South East Queensland every summer and calls endlessly for a mate – “ko-el, ko-el, ko-el…”; the musical tweets and burbles of the red-eyed figbird.
This is a city of creeks and parks, bushland, and many varieties of fig trees, both native and exotic; and wherever there are fig trees, there are figbirds, noisily getting on with their lives.
There is another Brisbane sound familiar to many of us: the distinctive “c’thunk, c’thunk, c’thunk” of cars crossing the expansion joints of the Story Bridge. According to writer Simon Cleary in his 2008 novel “The Comfort of Figs”, it’s more of a “thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump” sound. Due to resurfacing in the last few years the sound has changed; but anyone who has spent time on or under the iconic bridge will remember it.
I know the sound well, because I’ve climbed the Story Bridge.
A student at the time, I was in a bushwalking club, and although it was illegal, climbing the bridge was an annual club tradition.
We went up at night, inside the steep, angled box girders leading to the northern shoulder of the bridge. It was quite easy and safe, funnelling up inside the steel girder and round the elbow. The scary part was climbing out of the girder and crawling, in the dark, up a narrow, unprotected, two-metre-long ladder over the void. The ladder leads to a trapdoor on to the walkway that runs along the top of the bridge superstructure.
Once we were on the walkway, all we needed was a head for heights.
We went from one tower of the bridge to the other, upstream and downstream sides, high above the traffic and the city lights. It was exhilarating.
By the time we got back to the trapdoor and the narrow ladder back down into the girders, my legs were rubbery, and the ladder was even more frightening.
A couple of weeks later, some of us did it again, just for the heck of it.
Last week I walked across the bridge with Con. He (having heard about it many times) asked me where we went up, and I showed him, and pointed out the tiny ladder high above.
The lower ends of those girders, where they meet the bridge deck, are enclosed with steel mesh now. If I climbed the bridge again, and I’d like to, I’d pay for the safe, supervised and tethered experience, entering by an enclosed stairway where the southern slope meets the decking.
In “The Comfort of Figs”, Cleary describes, vividly and in detail, the construction of the Story Bridge; and the book, of course, is also about fig trees.
Many of the sprawling, shady fig trees so plentiful in Brisbane’s parks are weeping figs, an Asian variety. There are fewer of the enormous, iconic Moreton Bay figs, tall and wide with great buttress roots reaching out around them. Ironically, considering the name, they are more popular in the parks of the southern states. I’ve seen them in Warrnambool and even in Adelaide.
Next to a motel at Swan Hill in north-west Victoria, there’s a Moreton Bay fig tree claimed to be the biggest in the southern hemisphere, and known as the Burke and Wills tree. It was planted in 1860, when Burke and Wills camped nearby on their hopeless expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Stressed by drought, it has been heavily pruned to help it survive. I think it would be happier growing back here where it belongs.
Brisbane’s McCaskie Park, in Blamey Street, Kelvin Grove, is a fig tree arboretum, I’ve discovered. Many are weeping figs, exotic trees from Asia, matching the row of magnificent specimens along Kelvin Grove Road.
There is also an old Moreton Bay fig, with typical huge buttress roots and thick, sprawling branches, some of which have been lopped. In 1996, this tree was under threat of destruction because of planned road works nearby. In spite of its size, and because of lobbying by the local community, it was transplanted to its present spot.
Moreton Bay fig trees can be identified by their leaves – larger than other fig leaves, green on top and brown underneath. A fine example grows in a place of honour in the City Botanic Gardens, facing Old Government House. Planted in the 1800s, it is listed by the National Trust for its beauty and its historical significance.
Robbie, the young man whose search for his father’s story forms the heart of “The Comfort of Figs”, loves Moreton Bay fig trees. Propagating them under his house, he takes a kind of comfort in using them subversively. Robbie works for Parks and Gardens, but also has a mission of his own: to plant Moreton Bay figs in camphor laurel trees.
My grandparents once lived on Laurel Avenue, Chelmer – a street famous for its fine old camphor laurels.
They are majestic trees, but invasive. Listed among the top ten weed species of South East Queensland, these exotics aggressively populate bushland areas and gardens, replacing blue gums and other koala food trees, and their seeds are toxic to birds.
Camphor laurels grow all along Brisbane’s Bulimba Creek, and while they are attractive trees and create lovely shady spots along the creek, only a few paper barks and gum trees manage to survive amongst them.
There are also camphor laurels all over the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales.
“My grandfather planted most of them,” says Con, with a touch of pride, plus a large slice of exaggeration. His grandfather owned a dairy farm outside Mullumbimby, and planted the camphor laurels for shade and for their timber. They thrived like cane toads. There are so many now that removal would be impossible, and would leave the countryside bare.
Early every morning, before starting work, Robbie drives to Laurel Avenue, Chelmer. He chooses a camphor laurel and parks under it, climbs on top of his car and plants a little Moreton Bay fig tree in a fork of the tree, hoping it will grow and send its roots down to the ground below.
These are strangler figs that can engulf whole trees and anything else that stands in their path, then grow into mighty trees themselves. Who knows? This might be a way to solve the camphor laurel problem.
I could have told the visiting poet of many iconic Brisbane sounds. Fruit bats squalling in a mango tree. City Cats growling up the river. Hail stones on an iron roof. The chattering of rainbow lorikeets settling down for the night in a eucalyptus tree.
She may have been confused, though, if I’d mentioned the Story Bridge. We know it was named after J.D. Story, a prominent Queensland public servant, and think nothing of it, but to a stranger it must seem odd.
“Story Bridge? These people must really enjoy a quality narrative…”
Not every place in the world can grow a Moreton Bay fig tree.
And Brisbane is the only city with an enormous bridge honouring our love of a good yarn.
Queensland has been thought of by southerners as a frontier sort of state with a beautiful but challenging climate; a place to go to for work, pleasure or adventure. Now, Queensland’s southern border crossings are swamped with people trying to get into the state to avoid COVID-19.
Until this year, the border had not closed since 1919, during the Spanish flu pandemic; but this winter, Queensland is like toilet paper was several months ago in the supermarkets: some people will lie, argue, go to enormous trouble and make fools of themselves to get it.
At one o’clock tomorrow morning, the border will, to quote the premier, “snap shut”.
The border crossings across the state have checkpoints manned with local and out-of-town police and defence force personnel. Lots of great stories will come out of these checkpoints when the crisis is over. Tiny towns along the border rivers won’t have had so many people in them for years, if ever. Barringun, on the border south of Cunnamulla on the Mitchell Highway, had a population of seven at the last census. Further east, Hebel, south of Dirranbandi on the Castlereagh Highway, has less than a hundred people. Mungindi, on the Carnarvon Highway south of Saint George and split by the border, has less than a thousand. They all have border checkpoints.
Today, according to ABC Western Queensland’s Facebook page, Queensland Police are warning that quarantine accommodation in these small towns may well be overwhelmed, and therefore border crossings closed completely. They’re recommending that travellers cross at the larger towns, further east.
Along the border west of the coastal ranges, only Goondiwindi, on the junction of the Cunningham and Newell Highways, has more than a thousand people – 6,355 at the 2016 census.
This morning, driving through cold rain, my brother Mike returned from New South Wales through Goondiwindi, ahead of tonight’s border closure. After one a.m. tomorrow the only way into Queensland (except for special permit holders, freight transports, essential workers and locals of border towns) will be through Brisbane Airport. Mike joined the queue and waited just thirty minutes to enter Queensland, a much shorter time than many are experiencing, especially at Gold Coast border crossings.
West of the Gold Coast and Border Ranges, the checkpoints are on the few main highways. Many smaller crossings right along the border are closed to through traffic already. Others, including streets in small towns, are blocked completely.
Wallangarra, on the New England Highway, once a railway town with an army camp and a meatworks, now has fewer than four hundred people; but currently it has a busy border checkpoint. Jennings, its twin town across the border in New South Wales, has a population of less than 300. Minor streets connecting the towns are closed with concrete blocks.
This will be a cold night at the Wallangarra checkpoint. The temperature will go down to single figures early tomorrow morning, with rain.
The Queensland railway ends at Wallangarra, with the border line painted across the station platform.
This line was once was the only rail connection between Brisbane and Sydney, and at Wallangarra every passenger and item of goods had to be detrained and moved across the platform to another train for the New South Wales Great Northern Line, now defunct, because the railway gauges are different. New South Wales tracks are Standard Gauge – four feet eight and a half inches (1435mm) apart, while Queensland uses narrow gauge: three feet six inches (1067mm). Now interstate trains on the North Coast Line use the standard gauge all the way from Sydney to Brisbane.
Except when a pandemic closes the borders, and the trains stop.
East of Wallangarra, the next border highway checkpoint is on the Mount Lindesay Highway, near Mount Lindesay.
It will be just as cold there, early tomorrow morning, when the border shuts. I admire the people who’ve manned the border checkpoints, day and night, in all weathers, since Queensland first closed its borders in March. They deserve our respect and thanks. They’ve been patient and alert; and while most road users have been polite, some have been abusive.
And, because so many of us, north and south, need to travel for work, and love to travel for pleasure, I hope all of this disruption will one day be a distant memory.
And may good angels send the rain
On desert stretches sandy
And when the summer comes again
God grant ’twill bring us Andy.
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