Crocodile Watch

Rollingstone Creek is deep and clear, with a sandy bottom. The water is blessedly cool on this tropical summer’s morning.

My sister-in-law Margaret is sitting on a folding chair in the shade, watching for crocodiles.

This swimming hole, so innocent-looking, is a few hundred metres upstream from an estuary where crocs are known to lurk. We wallow in the shallows, close to the bank, and Margaret watches the water.

It’s mid-January, and hot. So hot. That’s why we’re risking the crocodiles.

Balgal Beach, where we’re staying, is a quiet spot north of Townsville. Like the other Queensland beaches sheltered by the Great Barrier Reef, it has no surf. Not many people swim at northern beaches in summer, in spite of the heat and the picture postcard beauty of places like Balgal, Bingil Bay and Etty Bay. From October to March, stinger nets are set up on popular beaches. Swimming outside of them you risk being killed by a box jellyfish.

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Occasionally the television news shows a crocodile in one of the stinger nets, making people a little nervous – especially tourists. No much fazes the hardy locals.

The quiet northern beach towns are ideal for early-morning walks, fishing, bird watching, or a peaceful retirement; and in the caravan park at Balgal Beach contented campers and caravaners with interstate number plates sit reading in the shade of the trees.

Perhaps they’ll buy fish and chips for dinner and eat looking out over the water towards Palm Island, while gangs of red-tailed black cockatoos screech and quarrel in the fig trees above.

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There are many gorgeous swimming spots in North Queensland, year-round, where even in July daytime temperatures rarely drop below twenty-five degrees. They’re in creeks running through rainforest, tumbling over granite boulders and falling into clear pools. Famous places like The Boulders at Babinda, or hidden creeks only locals know about. You just have to find a spot above the range of the crocodiles.

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North of Tully there’s a swimming hole called Alligator’s Nest, at the junction of two clear creeks, in spite of its name beyond the reach of crocs. It was a cool and drizzling July day when we went there, and the creek was deserted. I had no swimmers, but I went in anyway, in my skin. It was a perfect swim.

I’ve enjoyed many perfect swims. One was at Wineglass Bay, on the Freycinet Peninsula in Tasmania. Con and I climbed the steep track to the famous look-out spot, then down the other side to the bay. It took us an hour and a half, and when we came out of the scrub on to the beach, the only sign of human life was a yacht moored in a little hook of the bay, off to the south. The clear water looked wonderfully inviting. Again, I went in in my skin. It was cold –  but perfect.

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The clear pools and red gorges of Karijini National Park, in Western Australia’s iron ore country, have many perfect swimming spots, although they’re much too popular for skinny dipping; but the place I love the most, even more than the creeks of North Queensland, is Greens Pool, on the southern coast of WA.

Greens Pool is a wide stretch of calm water sheltered from the Southern Ocean by a string of granite boulders. Other boulders, the famous Elephant Rocks, stand in a group in the middle of the Pool, bigger than elephants, and you can leap off them into the deep, clear, salty water. Breakers send up spray over the protective rocks beyond the Pool. The water is cold, but the initial shock is soon forgotten in the pleasure of it all.

In South Queensland, the water is warm. I remember a perfect day in the surf at Alexandra Headland, when I was twelve. The waves were smooth, no dumpers, a gorgeous green. I lay on my back, and each wave lifted me gently to its crest then glided me down the other side. The sun shone through the water, dappling the sand below.

Across the road from my childhood holiday house at Maroochydore was a small beach we kids considered our own, with a jetty at one end. At high tide, the river would reach up close under the jetty, and my brothers and I would bomb-dive off it with delight.

I grew up on beaches. I love the water.

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That day in Rollingstone Creek, though, it was a comfort to have Margaret watching for crocs.

Photos: Bingil Bay; Balgal Beach; a North Qld creek; Weano Gorge, Karajini NP; Alexandra Headlands.

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