Bull Dust and Corrugations

The Lynd Junction and its roadhouse lie in the hard, dry Great Dividing Range country north-west of Charters Towers. North west from The Lynd, the Gregory Development Road is unsealed gravel, with corrugations, and bull dust.

It’s over forty years since I drove on a road with corrugations, and I’m actually enjoying it. I can feel the shudder of the corrugations through the steering wheel, and I remember the need to moderate my speed on banked corners to avoid juddering across the road and into the ditch. I watch out for bull dust holes.

We’re driving our Forester through the small towns of Einasleigh and Forsayth to visit Cobbold Gorge, eventually to end up back on the coast, visiting family. Finding different routes to Far North Queensland is a pleasant challenge.

The first time I drove on a corrugated gravel road, I was on the way to Camooweal, and it was not all fun.

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Camooweal abc.net.au

Camooweal is a small town on the Barkly Highway, just twelve kilometres from the Northern Territory border but within the Mount Isa City Council jurisdiction. The 188 kilometres of highway between the two is referred to locally as the world’s longest Main Street.

Last year, police were stopping vehicles here to make sure they weren’t bringing fireworks, legal in The Northern Territory, into Queensland, where they’re illegal for private use.

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Police check for fireworks, Camooweal mypolice.qld.gov.au

As part of the state’s corona virus measures, there’s currently a checkpoint at Camooweal, manned by police and army, stopping people from crossing into Queensland.

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Camooweal police and army checkpoint – corona virus Queensland Country Life

It was in 1973, having lived in the Gulf Country for just six months and unused to local driving conditions, that I drove to Camooweal from Burketown and experienced my first corrugations. There was no highway.

This was a seven-hour trip of 340 kilometres, north to south, entirely on dirt roads; partly smooth, well-graded gravel, but for much of the way consisting of corrugations and bull dust. The last ninety kilometres into Camooweal, known locally as the “short cut”, is still notorious today.

Corrugations are unpleasant to drive on, especially if you’re not used to it, or if you’re in the wrong kind of vehicle, such as our HR Holden.

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Corrugations – Cook Shire cook.qld.gov.au

There was also the bull dust. When vehicles drive these roads in the wet season, sometimes getting bogged, they leave deep ruts in the mud. These ruts dry out after the Wet and set like concrete. In the Dry, they fill with fine, dry dust, often making them invisible to the driver. Hitting those hard ruts at speed is nasty, and dangerous.

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Bull dust hole outbacktravelaustralia.com.au

You can also be bogged in bull dust beside the road – as I found out.

It was July, the middle of the dry season, and the Border School Sports were on, at Camooweal State School. School groups were coming from an area the size of Victoria – from Dajarra to Burketown, as well as tiny Northern Territory communities such as Lake Nash.

Con was the principal of Burketown school, and he and his assistant teacher and a group of parents were taking most of the school’s seventy-odd children to the Border Sports. Many of the kids travelled that rough road sitting on mattresses in the back of a truck – in my memory, a council tip truck. Between Burketown and Camooweal, the only oasis, apart from the occasional dirt track leading to a cattle station, was the Gregory Downs Hotel, 120 kilometres down the road.

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Matt next to our Holden, outside the Gregory Downs Hotel

I drove our car. With three-year-old Matt and seventeen-month-old Lizzie, and a grade one child from the school who suffered from epilepsy, I set off ahead of the truck. That way, if I came to grief, the people in the truck would be able to rescue me.

We must have stopped to eat along the way, but I don’t remember that. I just remember that somewhere down the road, and quite a long way ahead of the truck, I pulled off for a toilet stop and got bogged in bull dust.

I knew that when the truck came along and saw me bogged, I would be teased for getting stuck, so I determinedly set about pushing sticks and bark down in front of the wheels to provide some grip. Eventually I was able to easy the car out of the bull dust and back on to the road. I was proud of myself.

Unfortunately, it happened again, further down the road, and this time I couldn’t get out before the truck came along. And they laughed at me, of course, before towing me out of the bull dust bog.

By the time the long-suffering kids in the truck reached Camooweal, they were coated in dust. Parents who came with us cooked up saveloys for dinner, and the kids took the mattresses out of the truck and spread them on the floor of the classrooms to sleep.

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Children playing in the Camooweal State School sports field camoowealss.eq.edu.au

It was cold. These were coastal kids, not used to desert country in mid-winter. Next morning after their porridge breakfast they huddled together like brolgas in the cold as they lined up for the march past.

The sports went all day, and the Burketown kids did well. One more sleep, and we set off for home again. This time, to my relief, our convoy avoided the “short cut”.  We drove the first seventy kilometres on the Barkly Highway’s bitumen, before heading off on the dirt road north to Burketown.

By the time Con and I left Burketown we’d had lots more road adventures: breakdowns, a cattle strike, wet bogs, dry gullies, rough surfaces and bull dust. Of course, this is everyday life for the people of the West. They know these lonely roads better than I know the Bruce Highway. The roads have improved, though; and vehicles are more comfortable.

And these days, kids probably don’t go on school excursions in the back of council tip trucks.

Thursday Island

Beyond the reef
Where the sea is dark and cold,
My love has gone,
And our dreams grow old.
There’ll be no tears,
There’ll be no regretting.
Will she remember me,
Will she forget?
I’ll send a thousand flow’rs
When the trade winds blow….

 

My mother Pat got her motorbike licence on Thursday Island. The bike was a 50cc Honda step-through she’d bought for getting around the island. Thursday Island is only 3.5 square kilometres in area but is sometimes very hot and humid – not comfortable for walking.

Nervous about the test and delighted that she’d passed it, Mum got back on the bike, started it while it was in gear, lurched forward into a ditch, broke her wrist, and never rode it again. That story became part of our family mythology.

Mum was an artist, and wherever she and Dad went, on T.I. and on the other islands of the Torres Strait, she revelled in the colours of sea and sky and island life.

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“Island Girl”, Pat Fox

My husband Con had been a teacher on Thursday Island, too, and he’s never grown tired of talking about the place: the amazing blue of the sea; turtle feasts; sharks under the wharf; the thrilling harmony of the singing in church. It seems music is life in the Torres Strait. Con talks about children who sing like angels and love to laugh, about the expressive Torres Strait Creole, or pidgin English as it was known; and he’s described the island itself to me.

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Con with his class at old fortifications on Green Hill, Thursday Island. 1964

Thursday Island (Waiben to the locals, or “place of no water”) is the administrative centre for the Torres Strait Islands. Many of them are idyllic coral islands, with lush greenery, coconut palms, golden beaches and reefs; but T.I. is like a dry, rocky extension of the mainland. All the same, because of its lack of reefs Thursday Island became the port and main town for the Strait.

The Torres Strait links the Arafura Sea and the Coral Sea; the Indian Ocean and the Pacific; and its islands are Queensland’s most northerly communities – some within eyesight of Papua New Guinea.

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Torres Strait Islands Torres Strait Regional Authority

Torres Strait people mix local Melanesian culture with Malay, Japanese, Papua New Guinea, Chinese, Aboriginal and European influences. Visitors come from far away: scientists, media personalities, adventurous travellers, celebrities looking for something unique.

My parents lived on Thursday Island for three years in the mid-1970s, and Mum loved it, in spite of the isolation, cyclones and hot, wet summers. She wrote about it to her god-daughter Nadine, in Sydney – a world away in culture and lifestyle.

“I’m writing this early in the morning in bed. I can’t see much point in getting up, as it is teeming with rain – just pouring straight down. It’s the monsoon, and our back yard is one huge expanse of water. Everything is green outside, and many shades of grey inside, with a fine covering of mildew all over the walls, our shoes etc. Our clothes smell like mushrooms.

“From April to December there is almost no rain; then the south-easterly Trade Winds stop, the wind moves to the north west and the monsoon season begins. For nine months it is dry and brown and dusty, but when the Wet starts, everything starts to grow and the whole place becomes wonderfully green.

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My mother Pat Fox (in yellow headscarf) with a group of Torres Strait locals, 1970s

“We’ve just come back from a fortnight at St Paul’s Community on Moa Island, about thirty miles north of here. Where we stayed, the ceiling is made of beautifully plaited bamboo strips with huge unsawn logs across it and holding up the walls. There are full-length louvre windows, and mats plaited from coconut palm leaves covering the floor. Coloured glass floats in rope covers hang from the ceiling beams, and draped on the walls are old fishing nets with brightly coloured shells hanging in them.

“There are coconut palms everywhere. Every now and then there is a great “thump” and down comes a coconut. I don’t understand how people aren’t killed by them. The trees are so high and the nuts so big!”

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“Thursday Island Harbour”, Ray Crooke

Established artists have painted the beauty and colour of the Torres Strait Islands.

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“Waiting, Thursday Island”, John Rigby

There is also a great blossoming of local artists, working in paints, sculpture and distinctive black and white lino prints, depicting the history and culture, pearl diving, dugongs, turtles, and above all the life of the sea, the weather, and the islands.

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“Helmet: Au Karem ra Araigi le (Deep Sea Divers)”, lino print, Ellarose Savage. Torres Strait Islands Regional Council
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“Model Canoe Racing”, by Segar Passi, an artist who uses paintings to depict different cloud formations – predictors of weather. Cairns Art Gallery

Men from Torres Strait are famed as railway fettlers. They helped build the railways throughout Australia. Their descendants live all over the country, and many Islanders still move to the mainland for education and work; but a longing for the life of turtles and palm trees, the sea and fishing, of family feasts and singing and traditional dancing is always with them, it seems. Neil Murray wrote the iconic “My Island Home” for the Warrumpi Band, about living in Central Australia and longing for the islands of the Northern Territory; but in the version sung by Christine Anu it’s a city girl longing for the Torres Strait:

I close my eyes and I’m standing
In a boat on the sea again
And I’m holding that long
Turtle spear
And I feel I’m close now
To where it must be

My island home is a-waitin’ for me

Con still likes to sing the sentimental favourites, such as “Old T.I.”:

Old TI, my beautiful home,
That’s the place where I was born;
Where the moon and stars that shine
Make me longing for home.
Old TI, my beautiful home.
Take me across the sea,
Over the deep blue sea,
Darling, won’t you take me,
Back to my home TI.

He tells me that there were four pubs on Thursday Island when he was there – the Royal, the Grand, the Federal, and the Torres Straits. He swears that at any time, day or night, there would be someone in one of those pubs singing “Beyond the Reef”.

Someday I know

She’ll come back again to me.

Till then my heart will be

Beyond the reef…

The Grand Hotel, Thursday Island. Voice to be Heard, A. 1974
The Grand Hotel (since burned down and rebuilt), Thursday Island National Film and Sound Archive

When the world has gone back to as close to normal as it ever will after COVID -19, and we can travel again, I want to go to Thursday Island. To get there, you can drive up to the tip of Cape York in a 4WD, then catch a ferry. Lots of hard, dry cattle country, crocodiles-infested rivers and corrugated roads, but exciting and interesting.

Perhaps fly from Cairns, over the beautiful Great Barrier Reef, land at nearby Horn Island and take a ferry. Boats are everything in the Strait.

I think it would be more romantic to take the MV “Trinity Bay”, the passenger carrying cargo boat sailing every week from Cairns, up through the reef and the islands.

Back to the place my family has never forgotten.

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Thursday Island Peddells Ferries

Exploring Wildlife of Mt Gravatt

Nice Brisbane wildlife story from Mt Gravatt Environment Group.

Mount Gravatt Environment Group

By: Michael Fox

I’m lucky to be able to get my exercise exploring the wildlife of Mt Gravatt Conservation Reserve.

Squirrel Gliders Petaurus norfolcensis are good at staying home even if they are not into social isolation. Glider families typically occupy a number of different nest boxes going out at night and sleeping during the day.

White Tangle ~ Callopistria maillardi - Fox Gully Bushcare - 24 Mar 2020 White Tangle moth caterpillar

Butterfly and moth caterpillars are typically selective feeders able to digest only a very limited range of plant species.

So I was interested to find the White Tangle moth caterpillar Callopistria maillardi which feeds on ferns like the invasive garden escapee: Fishbone Fern Nephrolepis cordifolia.

Transverse Moth - Xanthodes transversa - caterpillar 2 - 29 Mar 2020 Transverse Moth caterpillar

Moths often have to most interesting and colourful caterpillars like this Transverse Moth Xanthodes transversacaterpillar I found feeding on the Native Hibiscus Hibiscus heterophyllus planted by a National Tree Day team.

Erebus Moth - Erebus terminitincta - 11 April 2020Erebus Moth

There are some impressive adult moths Erebus…

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Drunks on a Train

 

The Inlander to Mount Isa is not running: service is suspended because of the coronavirus. It’s the same for The Spirit of the Outback, the Westlander, Kuranda Scenic Railway and the Gulflander.

Reduced services on the Spirit of Queensland to Cairns, and Tilt Trains to Rockhampton and Bundaberg.

As I have no current train stories available, I’ve asked Con for an old one. He tells me it’s all true.

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Mount Isa country

Con’s Inlander story

When I was eighteen, Mum and I caught the Inlander from Townsville to Mount Isa: a 24 hour trip.

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Con aged 18

We booked sleepers, but Queensland Railways decreed that a man could not share a sleeping compartment with a woman unless they were married; not even mother and son. Each second-class compartment consisted of three single berths, so Mum would share a compartment with two other women at one end of our carriage, and I was to share with two men at the other.

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The old Townsville Railway Station Pic: Dept of the Environment and Science

At the fine old Townsville Railway Station, we boarded our train early and I sat alone in my compartment, wondering what my travelling companions would be like. Just as I was resigning myself to a solitary journey, I saw a stocky male figure walking along the platform, lugging a suitcase.

“It must be heavy,” I thought. “He’s staggering under its weight. No, he’s drunk. Oh Lord – he’s coming into this carriage.”

Like a homing pigeon he wobbled into my compartment. He frowned at me with eyes like boiled lollies. “I’m Frank,” he slurred. Accent not Australian – something European. I later found out it was Hungarian.

We exchanged hellos, while his beery breath and his sweat fought hard to dominate the air-conditioning. He told me he worked as a miner in The Isa. In those days, lots of new arrivals went to Mount Isa for work.

A commotion in the doorway heralded the arrival of two more blokes, dressed like stockmen or drovers – broad-brimmed hats, checked shirts, boots – lugging battered leather carry-alls. Steve and Steve, they told us.  They’d been at Magnetic Island and were on their way back to their droving base the other side of Dajarra.

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“Group of stockmen enjoying smoko, ca. 1960” Robin Smith photo, SLQ

There were three sleeping berths and four of us. The taller Steve told us when they went to buy tickets, only one berth was available. They bought it, plus a ticket for a second-class sitter.

“One of us will sleep on the floor here, if you blokes don’t mind.”

I didn’t mind. Frank grunted, and the Steves took this for agreement. Steve and Steve had also had a few beers before boarding the train, and this had made them noisy and cheerful, in contrast to Frank whose drinking had made him surly and argumentative.

The train pulled out of Townsville and before we got to Stuart, only a few miles out of town, there was an argument. Steve and Steve wanted everyone to be happy. Frank seemed to enjoy being gloomy, and when the Steves produced bottles of warm beer to share around, Frank said he wanted to go to sleep. He climbed up on the top bunk and lay there, staring unsmilingly at the roof.

In those days, sing-a-longs were more common than they are now; and so we started to sing to pass the time. The Steves sang along enthusiastically, banging on their swags to keep the beat.

We sang Waltzing Matilda, Click Go the Shears, Red River Valley, and Santa Lucia. Frank recognized this last one and climbed down from his bunk to join in. He drank some warm beer, and during a break in the music he told us of songs his mob would play and sing out in the bush in Hungary, and how beautiful the stars were out there, away from the smoke and lights of the city.

“It must be like the skies at night out in the West,” said a Steve. Frank told us that the skies in Hungary were the same as Australian skies, but upside down, like all the skies north of the Equator. The younger Steve couldn’t get hold of this concept. Frank patiently explained it, but Young Steve furrowed his brow and thought hard, still confused.

Big Steve suggested that on their next cattle drive, young Steve might stand on his head and look up at the sky full of stars that way, to give him an idea of how the sky in Hungary might appear.

Steve the Elder and I went along to try to buy some beer from the dining car. The lady in charge told us that she would not sell us any alcohol because a) consumption of alcohol was permissible only in the dining car, and it was now closed; and b) we had obviously been drinking already and were not sober enough to purchase more. Steve became agitated, questioning the lady’s parentage and her morals. I apologised and took him back to our home on the range.

“What about another song, Con?”

After the song, Frank gave out cigarettes and lit them for us. Steve the Elder squinted through the smoke at him and said with sincerity, “You might be a wog, mate, but as far as Steve and I are concerned, you’re fair dinkum.”

Frank clasped his hand in a fierce grip. “We are now true friends,” he proclaimed.

“That is so beautiful,” sobbed young Steve, “I think I’m going to cry.”

All four of us were singing “We’ll Meet Again”, holding each other’s hands and with tears in our eyes, when the conductor hammered on the door. He was accompanied by the lady from the dining car. “That’s them!” she snapped, “and that one (indicating Steve) has a foul mouth.”

The conductor told us that we weren’t allowed to drink in our compartment and to watch our language.

When the train stopped at Charters Towers, Frank got off and went to the Railway Refreshment Room, returning with a large paper bag containing half a dozen bottles of Abbott’s Lager. He’d also bought more cigarettes in case we ran short.

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Taking the precaution of closing the door and pulling down the window blind, we continued our journey with songs, smokes, and warm Abbott’s beer.

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Just after midnight, when I was standing up with a bottle of beer in one hand and a smoke in the other, belting out Stand Up and Fight with passion, we were interrupted by a knock at the door. Fearing the worst, we attempted to hide the empty bottles, spilling beer over the floor.

I opened the door, and there was Mum.

“Connie, you haven’t got your ‘jamas on yet.”

She looked at the three drunks sprawled around the tiny sleeper compartment and commented that we looked to be having a good time but shouldn’t stay up too late or we’d be tired in the morning. She gave me a good night kiss and left.

Frank insisted that young Steve take his sleeping berth while he himself camped on the floor. Young Steve became emotional again, declaring us to be mates for life as he scrambled up to the top berth.

At 8 a.m. we pulled into Hughenden. Frank bounced up from the floor, charged out of the compartment, and walked briskly along the platform to the small Refreshment Room.

“If he comes back with more beer I’ll faint,” moaned Steve the Elder. He didn’t. He came back with more smokes. We couldn’t face them either.

I went off to have breakfast with Mum. She asked if I’d slept well, and I told her the rhythm of the train had lulled me to sleep as soon as I lay down.

Back in our compartment, we were all subdued, even Frank. The long day wore on, as we talked vaguely and slept. Arriving at The Isa in the late afternoon, we shook hands and wished one another good luck.

I never saw the Steves again, but I caught a glimpse of Frank in the street a few days later. He gave a friendly wave but didn’t stop.

Perhaps it was just as well. But for one night, despite an awkward beginning, we four – the drovers, the miner and the young schoolteacher – had a train trip to remember.

Drunks on a train – it still happens, and not just in Queensland. On an AMTRAK train in the USA a few years ago, we heard an announcement over the public address system, warning everyone that drunks would be put off the train. “Remember: Bud does not make you weiser!”

Queensland trains are more sophisticated now, and seat-back screens provide entertainment for those long, long journeys. There are no sleeping compartments or dining cars any more, and Railway Refreshment Rooms have all but disappeared. Smoking would probably have you put off the train.

I wouldn’t want to travel on a train full of drunks; but I doubt if travellers today will have such good stories to tell their families in years to come.

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21st Century Inlander

Contagion in the Wool Sacks

Empty wool sacks were stacked high in the huge, corrugated iron wool shed, returned from wool stores in the city and ready to be refilled next shearing season. When their father, Fred, took the kids with him on a visit to the shed they would play on the piled wool sacks, jump on them, hide under them, put them over their heads.

Fred was the manager of Tara sheep station, outside Barcaldine. It was 1929, and his second child, my mother Pat, was nine years old.

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Bottle tree and canvas water bag, Tara homestead, 2000

Wool prices were strong. Later that year, Wall Street would crash and the Great Depression would loom. Life would change suddenly for millions world-wide; but for now, Fred’s four children enjoyed a fine and privileged childhood, with a big homestead and garden, dogs and ponies, peacocks, a billy goat cart, fresh meat, milk, vegetables and fruit produced on the station, and the occasional visit to town, a few kilometres away.

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Pat on her pony, in front of the old Tara homestead c.1929

 

Living on a sheep station in central western Queensland, where the air is dry, populations are small and distances are huge, the children were healthy, rarely suffering so much as a common cold.

Then Pat caught diphtheria.

Before effective and widespread vaccination, this was a dreaded disease, especially among children. According to Queensland Health,

With respiratory diphtheria a person can experience a sore throat, fever, enlarged lymph nodes and swelling of the soft tissues on both sides of the neck sometimes referred to as a ‘bull neck’. Within two or three days a membrane (a white or grey film) forms over the throat and tonsils that can make it difficult for the person to swallow and breathe.[1]

This is a bacterial disease, and that grey film is toxic.

There were vaccines, but they could be problematic. In 1928, there had been a tragic occurrence in Bundaberg when a batch of the diphtheria vaccination had become contaminated, and twelve children died.

Dangerously ill, Pat was admitted to the isolation ward of Barcaldine’s Victoria Hospital, along with three other infected children.

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Barcaldine Hospital, c. 1930

One evening she or one of the other children reached a crisis, and Dr James Cook, who had been the hospital superintendent since 1898[2], was called urgently to the isolation ward. According to the local newspaper: …in going across to the isolation ward in the dark about 8 p.m. the doctor fell over a form or some other obstacle and sustained a severe wrench or dislocation to his hip. The Doctor is now an inmate of the hospital.[3]

Dr Cook was months in hospital in Brisbane and never returned to work.

As Pat recovered, the family could only wave to her from outside the hospital fence. Her mother sent baskets of fruit and vegetables to the hospital from the Tara gardens. In time she was well enough to go home, but her heart muscle had been strained.

In 1976, and because her heart had weakened by her childhood diphtheria, Pat died of a heart attack, aged just fifty-six.

The isolation wing at Barcaldine’s Victoria Hospital had been built in 1921, after the Spanish Influenza viral epidemic swept the world.

In mid-1919, ten years before Pat had her battle with diphtheria, the ‘flu had come to Barcaldine. Her grandfather Frank, manager of the Queensland National Bank in Barcaldine, caught it, along with his wife and son. Frank died. According to the family story, Frank was already ill with kidney disease – a “pre-existing condition”, in our current language. Pat’s father Fred, Frank’s son-in-law, wrote to his brother about the death.

…he died about 11.15 on Wednesday night, and from what I can understand, just previous to dying he suffered great agony. I believe the cause of death was heart failure as at the latter end only half of his heart was working.

A report in Barcaldine’s newspaper, The Western Champion, seems familiar today, as we again face a world-wide epidemic.[4]

A proclamation was issued by the Government on Friday, ordering that, from the 30th of May and until the 31st of July next or such later date as may be prescribed every Church, Sunday school, school, or college, place of public amusement or resort, theatre, hall, dancing room, gymnasium, or other place or premises where people regularly or occasionally congregate for worship, education, meeting, amusement, entertainment, dancing, physical culture, or athletics shall be closed to the public.

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Women wearing surgical masks during influenza epidemic, Brisbane 1919 “Influenza pandemic”, nma.gov.au

In Barcaldine alone there were over one hundred sufferers. Anyone with symptoms was told to report to Dr Cook, and if deemed to have the ‘flu they were put into isolation in their own homes or in the isolation hospital established in the Shire Hall. Patients were urged to strictly obey the doctor’s orders.

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Barcaldine Shire Hall State Library of Queensland

The Queensland public were reassured that the epidemic would run its course and if they followed instructions the effects would be minimised.

All so familiar to us now, a century later. The media of communication have changed, though, and this week on the Barcaldine Regional Council’s Facebook page, C.E.O. Steven Boxall has been speaking via YouTube about washing hands and safe distances, local closures, and new procedures at the airport.

Typhoid fever, scarlet fever, measles, diphtheria, the plague, polio, tuberculosis, influenza: Australia has had to cope with many epidemics, and quarantine stations were set up in every state to prevent both the arrival of diseases in the country and their spread.

This year’s COVID-19 epidemic is another in a long line. Who knows what it will bring in its wake?

They never found out how Pat caught diphtheria, out on that isolated property. Perhaps it was a visiting carrier. Throat swabs of suspected carriers were carried out frequently.

However, according to the Queensland Health website, while the disease is known to be spread in “respiratory droplets or direct contact with respiratory secretions or infected exudate of infected person or carrier”, it can also be spread through “contact with articles soiled with discharges from lesions of infected people.”[5]

According to the family, it was in the wool sacks.

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Shearing stations, Tara station woolshed, 2000

[1] http://conditions.health.qld.gov.au/HealthCondition/condition/14/33/40/diphtheria

 

[2] https://barcaldine-peopleplacesthings.org/government-services/victoria-hospital/

[3] The Western Champion, 18 May 1929.

[4] The Western Champion, 7 June 1919

[5] https://www.health.qld.gov.au/cdcg/index/diphtheria

Gympie

gympie gazebo
Gympie park. queensland.com

Big Ben, Eiffel Tower, Tower Bridge, the Great Pyramid of Giza: between Nambour and Gympie, nestled in a wide bend of the road and standing out of the long grass, there was once a group of these metre-high “Famous Sights”. As we passed on the highway I would look out for them, huddled there incongruously in the paddock.

Someone’s hopes and energies went into casting the concrete, welding the steel, painting the details. Like other would-be tourist attractions along the highways – a life-sized dinosaur at Palmwoods, concrete teepees near Slacks Creek, a Big Pineapple beside a Gympie service station – the Famous Sights are long gone now.

Instead of winding up and over the way it used to, with traffic backed up behind slow caravans and farm trucks on the steep curves and blind corners, the modern highway to Gympie cuts through these beautiful, productive green hills north of Nambour, typical of southern Queensland’s coastal hinterland.

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“Nambour Country”, John Rigby Caboolture Art Gallery

The Famous Sights are bypassed; or maybe the new motorway was built over the top of them. Perhaps a bulldozer crushed them under its tracks – an apocalyptic sight worthy of a movie.

 

“It’s easier to get to Gympie these days,” Con says. “Not like when we came in the Galloping Ghost.”

In the late 1960s, when we were engaged, Con and I drove to Gympie for a weekend Apex Conference at which he was to make a speech. We went in Con’s car, the Galloping Ghost, a 1956 Austen A90, the first car he’d ever owned.

We’d arranged to stay with Con’s elderly Uncle Jack. Jack ushered me to his sister’s bedroom, where I was to sleep. Holy pictures adorned the walls and the old-fashioned dresser.

After the Saturday evening event, it seemed tame to just go back to Uncle Jack’s place.

“Let’s go down to Rainbow Beach,” said Con. “It’s only an hour’s drive.”

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Rainbow Beach. Surf Club towards the bottom left. gympie.qld.com.au

We parked in the dark near the surf club, looking out over the sea, and went for a walk on the beach in the moonlight. There was some cuddling, then Con started the Ghost to drive back to Gympie.

That’s when we discovered that we had parked in sand, blown up into the club’s carpark. We were bogged to the axles, with no way of extricating ourselves. We spent the night in the car, and at daybreak Con, still wearing his suit, pounded on the door of the surf club. Two sleepy lifesavers came out, grumbling, and pushed us out of the sand.

Uncle Jack looked at us with silent disapproval when we sheepishly got back to his place, still in our party clothes.

Gympie, with its history and its heritage buildings, reminds me of other gold-mining towns I’ve visited. Although not as grand as Ballarat and Bendigo, it has charm; and it is promoted as “the town that saved Queensland”. Until gold was discovered here in 1867, Queensland, with its long distances, small population and agricultural economy, was broke. Gympie gold made all the difference. Railways were built to open up the inland, and impressive government offices arose in Brisbane, including the massive Treasury Building, now the Treasury Casino.

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At the Gympie Gold Mining and Historical Museum

People who live and work in modern Gympie don’t have it easy. Unemployment rates are high, and every summer, it seems, the Mary River floods the lower parts of town, and business people have to hose mud out of their premises.

A few years ago, we revisited Gympie to go to the races. The O’Brien Cup, in fact. There are lots of Irish in Gympie. Irish communities everywhere, even fifth and sixth generation Australians like these, love horseracing, and they love to celebrate their Irish background.

gympie irish craic

The night before the races we drove two hours from Brisbane after work, checked into a motel, and then wondered where to go for dinner. That’s a common issue for travellers in country towns. And there is a common solution.

“The R.S.L. Club has a Courtesy Bus,” said the motel manager. “I’ll give them a ring. What time would you like to be picked up?”

Locals know where to find good places to eat, but clubs are easier for a tired newcomer, with guaranteed cheap food and cold drinks, and no need to book ahead; and these days it’s not just Fisherman’s Basket or Roast of the Day, eaten to the sound of the pokies.

And there’s always a Courtesy Bus.

That evening in Gympie, the R.S.L. bus picked us up from the motel and delivered us soberly to the Club, in Mary Street, with its old pub buildings and Federation-era facades. An elegant 1880s building has on one corner of its roof the figure of a kangaroo holding the Australian coat of arms, and on the other, an emu.

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Gympie buildings. flickr.com

 

We had a typical club dinner and listened to a duo playing old songs, then went out to catch the bus home.

This ride was more interesting. Everyone was cheerful and relaxed, and there was singing, laughter and craic all through the dark suburbs of Gympie, people dropped off at their front doors, yells of “Ta mate!” as they left the bus. Irish all the way.

As a young man, Con’s father came to Gympie in the 1920s, cutting timber. An old photo shows him grinning at the camera, arms folded, sitting on an upturned packing crate on a railway station platform. In the background logs are stacked ready for the mill, and beyond is the scrub.

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Old Con at Amamoor Station, 1920s

He and his two friends are wearing work boots, long pants and braces, crisp white shirts with the sleeves rolled up, their hair slicked down. They’re probably waiting for the train to town – to Gympie. The sign on the station building says “Amamoor”.

Nowadays Amamoor, twenty kilometres south of Gympie, is famous as the home of the Gympie Music Muster, one of Australia’s biggest Country Music festivals, held on the banks of Amamoor Creek, surrounded by the hills that produced the timber that Con’s dad helped to fell.

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Drone footage of the Gympie Music Muster. gympietimes.com.au

A couple of years ago we turned off the Bruce Highway to search for the site of the photo. The tall timbers have disappeared; but the small station building seems unchanged after nearly a century, and the sign still says “Amamoor”.

For many of us travelling up the Bruce, Gympie is just a place to get through with the minimum of hold-up, and usually all we see is the busy highway. But like every town along the way, there’s more to it than service stations and speed zones.

If you should drive down to Rainbow Beach in the dark, though, be careful where you park.

Oxley’s Brisbane

John Oxley’s name is scattered all over Brisbane: suburb, station and school, a creek, roads, streets, avenues, crescents and lanes; parks, businesses and the State Library of Queensland’s historical research collection, the John Oxley Library.

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Rare portrait of John Oxley Archive, State Library of New South Wales

As Surveyor General of New South Wales, which extended to the tip of Cape York, John Oxley sailed north from Sydney in 1823 to find a site for a new penal settlement. It was on this trip that he explored and named the Brisbane River. The local Turrbal people called it Maiwar.

I’ve visited some of the sites where Oxley came ashore.

Where Mount Ommaney Creek flows into the Brisbane River there is a fruit bat colony. The bats shriek and squabble, even in the middle of the day, when they’re supposed to be sleeping. A walking track follows the curves of the hill through bushland above the river. Feral deer live here, and the trees wear knitted jumpers to protect their bark.

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Trees wearing jumpers on Mount Ommaney

John Oxley and his crew rowed upstream in a whaleboat to Mount Ommaney and beyond. By the entrance to the walking track, a plaque has been placed to mark the spot where he came ashore and climbed to the top of the hill to take bearings.

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Plaque at Mount Ommaney

Just fourteen kilometres as the crow flies from the CBD, Mount Ommaney is fifty kilometres by river, and further still from where Oxley had moored his cutter Mermaid, at the southern end of Pumicestone Passage at Bribie Island: “within 150 yards of the shore, in the very place where Captain Flinders had anchored twenty-two years before…”[1]

Oxley also named the Bremer River, Mermaid Reach, Seventeen Mile Rocks, Breakfast Creek, and Canoe Creek, now known as Oxley Creek.

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Where Oxley Creek meets the river, at Graceville

The following year he was back again, coming up-river with botanist Alan Cunningham and others to find a site for the convict settlement that would be more suitable than Redcliffe, where it had first been established. They camped at Mount Ommaney for the night, probably down by the creek which these days flows through the plush fairways of the McLeod Country Golf Club.

On their way back down river, Oxley and his group landed along the Toowong/Milton Reach looking for a good water source, a necessity for settlement. Coming ashore near the mouth of Western Creek and following it upstream, they found water “in abundance and of excellent quality, being at this season a chain of ponds watering a fine valley.”[2]

Matthew Condon, in his book “Brisbane”, has awakened my interest in Oxley’s chain of ponds, and following his path I go looking for it.[3]

Western Creek, in Oxley’s time a beautiful place, forested and rich in resources, now empties into the river through a concrete drain near the remains of the floating restaurant once known as “Oxley’s on the River”, which was ruined in the 2011 floods. On the river walkway, a display panel describes Oxley and his exploration of the creek; and further along Coronation Drive is a large granite boulder with a plaque that reads,

On 28 September 1824, Lieutenant John Oxley, Surveyor-General of New South Wales, landed hereabouts to obtain fresh water from a nearby stream declaring it to be “by no means an ineligible station for a first settlement up the river”.

I cross under Coronation Avenue beside the concrete drain, which flows out from under the John Oxley Centre office complex. Beyond the building I find it again, before it disappears under the road and the railway bridge to emerge again in Milton Park, then vanish under Frew Park. This was once the home of Milton Tennis Courts.  Now it has shady trees, a playground and barbecues. A nostalgic bronze sculpture of children catching yabbies shows where the creek used to flow.

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“Yabbies”, Milton. Flood warning sign in the background

Across the road, in front of Milton State School, is low-lying Gregory Park, once known as Red Jacket Swamp. The creeks and swamps when Oxley came this way were rich with mud crabs, fish, wild ducks, waterlilies and reeds, used by the large and settled Indigenous population[4].

The creek still flows under these lowlands, and the river seeks it out every flood time. Brown water surges up through the parks and into the shops and homes of Baroona Road and Nash Street, Rosalie, and the television news shows people carrying furniture and possessions through the flood waters to higher ground.

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Western Creek floods, Rosalie, January 2011

 

At North Quay, several hundred metres down-river from the mouth of Western Creek, is another stone memorial, dating from the 1920s, claiming to mark the spot where Oxley came ashore looking for water, and, according to the wording of the plaque, “discovered the site of this city.”

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North Quay plaque

To look at the memorial, I walk up from the river path to the busy road leading to the CBD and Riverside Expressway. In 1825 the penal colony was permanently established on this high ground, along what became William Street, down towards the convict-tended food gardens that were to become the City Botanic Gardens.

Soon the local Indigenous population’s hunting and ceremonial grounds would be lost and ruined. The creeks and lagoons would disappear under the developing city.

Now, the massive Queens Wharf development is rising next to 1 William Street, the Queensland Government’s hulking “Tower of Power”, where the old settlement sprawled with its barracks, commandant’s house, cottages and church.

At Redcliffe there’s a handsome monument, above the low red cliffs, commemorating both Oxley and Matthew Flinders; and at Bribie Island, on the shore of Pumicestone Passage, looking out to where both Flinders and Oxley moored their ships, the Bribie Island Seaside Museum gives details of their journeys.

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Pumicestone Passage, Bribie Island, near where Oxley and Flinders both moored their ships. Glasshouse Mountains in the background

His arduous journeys of exploration damaged John Oxley’s health. He was so ill after the second Brisbane River trip he could hardly walk, and four years later, aged forty-two, he died, in financial hardship, at his property outside Sydney.

Often these “explorers” were motivated by grants of money and land, and Oxley was eager for both; but ever since primary school, when we traced their expeditions on maps of Australia using coloured dots and dashes, I’ve wondered at their fortitude.

As an adult, I’ve also pondered on the disasters that followed for the locals in these lands, whose people had lived in and managed them for millennia.

[1] From the account of J. Uniacke, who came with Oxley’s first expedition to the area, on the Mermaid. Uniacke’s full account is printed in “Discovery of the Brisbane River, 1823 – Oxley, Uniacke and Pamphlet – 175 Years in Retrospect”, Marc Serge Rivière (1998) Royal Historical Society of Queensland, Brisbane. Page 70

[2] Angus Veitch has posted details of Western Creek, John Oxley and the chain of ponds, including quotes from Oxley’s journal, on his interesting 2018 web page,  http://www.oncewasacreek.org/

[3] “Brisbane”, Matthew Condon (2010) University of New South Wales Press Ltd, Sydney.

[4] “Aboriginal Campsites of Greater Brisbane”, Dr Ray Kerkhove. Boolarong Press, Salisbury: 2015. Pages 129-131

Cuddling in Magdalena

H.Q. 27 Aust. Inf. Bde.,

Malaya.    18 Dec 41

Remember how Magdalena used always to lead us to the riverbank at Kangaroo Point, whenever we went out at night in the faraway days before we were married?

We were very very much in love even then, weren’t we? We must have been, to go on like we did. Every time we went home, we made up our minds we would NOT go there again – but we always did.

Fortunately, “Magdalena the Second” – my army motorbike – has not developed any such bad habits…

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Dad and Mum sitting together on Magdalena, with Dad’s brother, at Alexandra Headland. Dad’s army cap on the roof.

My dad was twenty-three when he wrote this letter to my mum. War with Japan had been declared and the army in Malaya was at battle stations. Less than two months later, the defending troops would be forced back upon Singapore. With its surrender, Dad, with around 80,000 British and Australian troops trapped on the island, would become a prisoner of war.

With Dad overseas, Mum was living back home with her parents, at Annerley in Brisbane. She was twenty-one. They’d known each other for a year, been married for six months and apart from each other for four, since my father’s embarkation. My mother was pregnant; her baby would be born, premature, two weeks after the fall of Singapore. He would be three and a half years old before they saw each other again.

The Magdalena mentioned in Dad’s letter was his second-hand two-door Ford Tudor. Black, I think, but I’ve got only old photos to go on.

When they’d started courting, Dad was a lieutenant, “C” Company, 2/26 Battalion Australian Infantry Forces. He was based at the new army camp at Redbank, south-west of Brisbane. The 2/26th was raised in Queensland in late 1939, with most of its enrolment made up of men from southern Queensland and Northern New South Wales.

Dad was born in Nambour. Mum was a country girl from Barcaldine. She’d lived with her family in Landsborough before they moved to Brisbane, and it was on the Sunshine Coast, through mutual friends, that she’d met Dad.

Mum had a job at the Carlton Theatrette, in Queen Street. In the evening Dad would drive in from Redbank, pick her up from work in Magdalena, and take her home. They’d drive up Queen Street and across the Victoria Bridge to head out to Annerley. Via the Kangaroo Point cliffs.

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View from Kangaroo Point Cliffs 1950 State Library of Queensland

I doubt if they ever went far past first base, as the saying is. They were a conscientious young couple. I like to think of them there, in each other’s arms, whenever I take a stroll along the clifftops at Kangaroo Point.

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View from Kangaroo Point Cliffs today visitbrisbane.com.au

Dad’s battalion was sent to Bathurst for training, and when he came back to Brisbane on a short leave they went parking again in Magdalena, on Coronation Drive for a change. With the engagement ring already in his pocket, he asked Mum to marry him.

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Married at St Mary’s Kangaroo Point

Should they marry, with Dad destined to embark for overseas very soon, perhaps never to return? My mother’s parents had faced the same choice in 1915, in the First World War; and they’d made the same decision.

Dad and Mum were married at Kangaroo Point, in the old stone church of Saint Mary. I go there sometimes, to the quiet garden at the back of the church, to look at a plaque placed there by the family in their memory.

For the duration of the war, Magdalena sat up on blocks under the family beach house at Alexandra Headland. Petrol rationing meant that running an extra car was not feasible. I don’t know what happened to her in the end, because when Dad came home and he and Mum moved back to Nambour, they bought a cute little Morris soft-top runabout.

New life, new car.

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Dad and Mum, with her sister and mother and the Morris, Auchenflower, late 1940s

 

Cairns

I’m walking along the Cairns Esplanade, past the hospital. It’s a classic tropical scene with coconut palms, figs trees and lush plantings. The tide is out, and beyond a narrow strip of sand, mud stretches two hundred metres out to the waterline. Sea birds stalk on their long legs and webbed feet, pecking for worms and crabs. A blue sky is reflected in patterns of mud and water, and the calm sea behind gleams like pewter, right across Trinity Bay to the forests of the Yarrabah Range.

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Trinity Bay, Cairns, from the Esplanade

Opposite the hospital, a man in a yellow work vest stops me. “There’s a helicopter coming in,” he says. “It won’t take long, but we need to keep people away from the helipad for a few minutes.”

I stand with other walkers and watch. I hadn’t noticed before, but there is a helipad set into the broad grassy parkland across the road from the hospital buildings. “That’s strange,” I say to the man in the yellow vest. “Usually hospital helipads are on the roof of the hospital.”

“They can’t do that here,” he replies. “It’s too close to the flight path from the airport.”

Guards have stopped cyclists on the bike track, too. Across the road, in the hospital entrance, another uniformed man, wearing earmuffs, waits beside a wheeled stretcher. I hear a helicopter coming in from the west, and soon it lowers itself on to the helipad. It’s a large Queensland Government Air rescue helicopter.

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The Queensland Government Air Rescue Helicopter ready to evacuate a patient from a remote property to Cairns Hospital

Crew in navy blue uniforms climb out of the helicopter as the traffic is stopped and the stretcher is brought across the road from the hospital. A middle-aged man in a high-vis work shirt and straggly goatee beard is loaded on, sitting propped up as he is wheeled back to the hospital.

The helicopter takes off, the men in yellow vests disappear, and we all continue our walking, jogging or cycling along the Esplanade as if nothing had happened.

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Jogger passing Cairns Hospital helicopter pad

Cairns Hospital services a huge geographical area, most of it wild and sparsely populated. Patients are transported here from as far away as Croydon, over five hundred kilometres to the west, from Thursday Island, eight hundred kilometres to the north, and even further. From here, patients requiring the most complex care are transferred to Brisbane, eighteen hundred kilometres south. The hospital can provide up to five hundred beds, making it a major regional facility. And its windows offer a view of palm trees and the Coral Sea.

I’ve been a patient here myself. Years ago, Con and I lived at Yarrabah Aboriginal Community, as it was known then, a forty-five-minute drive from Cairns. I’d worked hard one day hacking at the guinea grass and weeds that grew along the creek running by our house, and went to bed as usual that evening; but by next morning I was unconscious, and Con drove me urgently to the emergency department here at Cairns. At four o’clock that afternoon I woke up in the Intensive Care ward, startled by the sight in the next bed of a man wrapped completely in plaster and bandages, his limbs in hoists. He’d been in a plane crash.

While I’d been unconscious, I’d had an encephalogram and a lumbar puncture. The doctors concluded that I’d been bitten by some unknown tropical insect and had had a nasty response.

For the following twelve months I suffered debilitating attacks of vertigo, and it still troubles me from time to time. In North Queensland, it’s not just obvious things like crocodile attacks and jellyfish stings that can hurt you.

Con is a North Queenslander by birth. A tropical plant, as I tell him. He was born in Innisfail, an hour’s drive south of Cairns.

“Did you come to Cairns much when you were a kid?” I ask him.

“Sometimes. We’d come up here in the old man’s Ford ute, to rugby league games.”

“I didn’t know your dad was involved with rugby league.”

“Yes, he was president of Innisfail Rugby League Club for a while. League was strong there.”

Rugby league is strong everywhere in Queensland, but in regional areas there’s a special enthusiasm. In Townsville, in recent mayoral elections, an informal vote had an extra name pencilled on to the voting slip, with a “1” in the box and next to it, “Johnathan Thurston”, then star of the North Queensland Cowboys.

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Ballot paper, Townsville mayoral elections
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Johnathan Thurston, North Queensland Cowboys

Cairns has always been a lively place, both busy regional centre and tourist hotspot, the best-known place to come if you want to visit the Great Barrier Reef. As an American woman said to me at Uluru, “I went to Cairns first, then here. The Reef and the Rock – that’s all I want to see in Australia. I’m off home now.”

We’ve stayed in many parts of Cairns over the years, but the north-western stretch of the Esplanade (the ‘Nade to locals) is my favourite – beyond the tourist restaurants and biggest hotels, across the road from the seaside parklands and within walking distance of the centre of town. Towards Trinity Inlet and the cruise boat terminals is the spectacular swimming lagoon, built to relieve the frustrations of locals and tourists who find themselves beside the sea on a hot day, but unable to swim in it because of the mud – and the crocodiles.

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Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

The tropical plantings along Shield Street and Abbott Street are lush and beautiful, and it’s a treat to wander through Rusty’s Bazaar markets, with its tropical produce and hippy vibe; but I avoid the cheerless souvenir shops selling nothing made in Cairns, or even in Australia.

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Rusty’s Bazaar

More interesting are the renowned Cairns Botanic Gardens at Edge Hill, the Tanks Arts Centre now occupying the old fuel tanks tucked in behind the hill during the war, and Centenary Lakes, with its boardwalks and walking tracks and a wonderful, wild Nature Playground.

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Tanks Arts Centre

Joe, like his father, is a tropical plant, born in Townsville and just ten days old when we moved to Yarrabah. I’ll never forget the day we first drove over the range and down the steep descent into the town, stopping at the lookout to admire the view over Mission Bay to Fitzroy Island. The Yarrabah Range is covered in rainforest. It is beautiful, and the road is steep. Here and there beside the road are large stones, known as handbrakes, which can be used to put behind the wheels of your car if you break down halfway up the hill. Occasionally a cassowary strolls out of the forest and across the road.

In Yarrabah, we lived in a Queensland government residence, with a view out to sea, the steep, forested hillside behind us, and the sound of a waterfall close by. It was a tropical paradise; although for the local people life was, and is, often hard. I would drive to Cairns once a fortnight, to do the banking and grocery shopping, and I always took little Joe with me, to visit Rusty’s Bazaar and eat icecream on the Esplanade. Now Joe lives in the north, and he takes his own children to Cairns, to play in the waterpark and watch the birds on the mudflats.

It’s amazing what a pull this place has, with its brooding greenery and humid tropical air, its rain-forested hillsides and calm sea. If you were born a local, or even spend a few years here, it has the atmosphere of home.

I can recommend the hospital, too.

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Boardwalk, Centenary Lakes, Cairns

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