I’d meant to book a motel in Bundaberg.
Driving from Brisbane and heading for Cairns a year or so ago we turned off the Bruce Highway at Childers to visit some relations in Bundaberg, planning to spend the night in a motel in the centre of the city. After waving goodbye to Con’s cousin I tapped the motel’s name into my phone. The sat nav directed us through the suburbs as I expected it to; but then it sent us north across the Burnett River.
I know the Bundaberg CBD is on the south bank of the river. Just as the CBDs are in those other two major Queensland river cities, Rockhampton and Mackay.
Putting on my glasses I had a closer look at the phone. Distance to the motel: 620 kilometres.
I’d accidentally booked a motel in Mackay.
All the Bundaberg motels had No Vacancy signs, and we ended up driving back to Childers for the night.
On another trip I booked a place in Gayndah when I meant to book one in Gin Gin. There are so many Colonial Motels, Country Comfort Motels, Seaview and Ocean View, Heritage and Midtown Motels across the country, it’s easy to get confused.
That Bundaberg motel mistake happened a few years ago, and last year we took a more leisurely trip north and decided to visit Bundaberg to stay for a few days. I booked a room in the Matilda Motel, making sure it was the one in Bundaberg, not the Matilda Motel in Winton or the one in Dubbo…
The fine old sugar town of Bundaberg is known for its ginger beer, but it’s Bundaberg Rum the town promotes itself by. Once a thriving port, it has some beautiful civic buildings, banks and hotels, and heritage listed bridges.
We took in dinner and the Trivia Night at the Old Bundy Tavern, overlooking the river. This elegant brick hotel with its verandahs and stained glass windows was built in 1917 as the Hotel Bundaberg.
Best of all for me, as a fan of old infrastructure, is a wonderful 1902 brick water tower in East Bundaberg, heritage listed and still in use.
Across the river in North Bundaberg are the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens, with the striking-looking Hinkler Museum celebrating Bert Hinkler, aviator, one of Bundy’s most famous sons.
There’s a sugar industry museum in beautiful old Fairymead House; and you can take a ride on a cane train. I love a train ride.
All of Queensland’s old river port cities, Mackay, Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Maryborough and Brisbane itself, are built on flood plains. The Burnett River has a catchment area of some 33,000 square kilometres, including Gayndah and Monto, and it all flows down to Bundaberg. The city has been flooded many times. The worst happened in January 2013, and it was apocalyptic. The CBD flooded and an estimated 600 businesses were inundated, as well as many houses.
People living in North Bundaberg were told to leave their homes. Evacuation was mandatory, but many people said, “They don’t know what they’re talking about. North Bundaberg never floods.”
This flood was different, and higher, and in the end hundreds had to be rescued by helicopter.
In 2014, the year after the flood, we drove through Gayndah and visited the small museum there and heard how that same Burnett River flood ripped trees out of the riverbanks, filled the museum with mud and flowed through the shed full of prized old agricultural machinery. “Backpackers helped us clean up. We couldn’t have done it without them,” the museum staff told us.
Last year it was Maryborough’s turn to go under. Twice, within six weeks. These old regional river cities are beautiful, but beware the floods.
And take care when booking your motel.