“Bowen Arrow. That’s a good name for a motel!”
As Con drives, I’m looking online for a place to spend the night. Bowen will be a convenient place to break our trip.
In 1963, on a road trip with my family, we put up Dad’s old army tent in a caravan park in Bowen. It was a depressing spot, squeezed up against a fence, down by the wharf.
Bowen the Beautiful – No Place More So! said the tourist brochure.
“Oh really?” we scoffed.
I’ve since taken a closer look at Bowen. Queens Beach is indeed beautiful, and Horseshoe Bay is one of the sweetest spots in the country.
I like the way the coconut palms here wear upside-down skirts to stop the coconuts from falling on people’s heads.
I like to walk around Mullers Lagoon and stand under the shady umbrella of the biggest fig tree I’ve ever seen.
Herbert Street, which sweeps grandly down the hill to the harbor, was named after Queensland’s first premier, and Bowen itself after Sir George Bowen, the first governor. This was North Queensland’s first port and first major settlement, retaining its stature until Townsville was developed, two hundred kilometres to the north. It still has a feeling of the important centre it was intended to be.
Bowen has had time in the spotlight. We last visited in 2007 while scenes of Baz Luhrmann’s epic movie Australia were being filmed here, with Bowen’s harbour standing in for Darwin Harbour, and the Grand View Hotel, since lavishly renovated, made over as a bombed-out ruin.
Bowen also boomed with the mining boom, and perhaps is now suffering, as Mackay is, from the consequent bust.
I’m fussy about motels. Con and I have stayed at some dodgy ones over the years. An old-style air-conditioner in the corner roars all night, too far from the bed for us to feel the cool air it may or may not be producing. The bed is hard, the sheets are short, and the bedspread is a multi-patterned affair, designed to hide stains.
The room is never quite dark. There are tiny lights on smoke detectors, air-conditioner, clock, television and microwave. Security lights peek through the curtains where they don’t meet properly no matter how hard you yank them together; headlights flash across the ceiling as people arrive late or leave early.
The milk in the small, noisy fridge is the long-life variety, and the freezer section isn’t cold enough to actually freeze anything.
Everything reeks of that scented cleaning product found only in motels.
Things have improved a great deal in recent times, and very few motels have all of the above. These days, road workers, railway workers and tradies stay in country motels. It’s common to see loaded utes and work boots outside rooms, with a bloke in a high-visibility shirt having a beer next door. These hard-working people want a good night’s sleep. Now there is always hot water in motel showers. The television works, the air-conditioning is efficient, the beds reasonably comfortable.
The bedspreads haven’t changed, though.
Up to a third of travelling time is spent in accommodation, so it should be a pleasurable experience. Location, security, comfort and affordability are essential, but atmosphere, charm and hospitality also rank high with me.
I don’t mean a Bed and Breakfast place packed with crocheted doilies, potpourri and milk churns painted with roses. A friend told me about a B&B where the bed was decorated with boy and girl rag dolls, leaning against the ubiquitous stack of ornate pillows and cushions. When she and her partner came back from dinner, the covers had been turned down and the boy and girl dolls were cuddled up together in bed.
Not really my style.
Here in Bowen, on a previous trip, we stayed in one of the best motels I’ve ever come across, for hospitality, amenities and comfort: the Bluewater Harbour Motel. We won’t stay there tonight, because it’s off the highway and we’re in a hurry.
In the end, I decide on the Ocean View. I’ve noticed this place over the years, positioned above the highway south of town, next to the Big Mango, with an outlook over the sea and the islands. According to the online description, it also provides dinner.
We check in in the late afternoon, and eat our simple meal on the verandah, looking past a flowering frangipani at the lights of Bowen across the bay.
This is not exactly the Bowen Hilton, but it is comfortable, the situation is beautiful, and it turns out that the manager was best man at Con’s niece’s wedding. In North Queensland, that’s the way of things. Everyone is connected.
It’s all good. But next time we come, I want to have a shot at the Bowen Arrow.