Page 17

Townsville, Magnetic Island then on to Emerald


And so the day finally came when we left Cairns for Townsville. We had loved our two months at the Cool Waters Holiday Park so much that we decided to devote a special page to it. This page is really intended for fellow Nomads who may soon be heading to Cairns. After all, when you find a jewel, why keep it a secret? To visit that page from here you just need to click on Cool Waters or you can find it in the Peripheral Items section of the Index.

Two days after arriving in Townsville we booked ourselves onto a Town Tour. Our guide informed us that Townsville was named in 1864 after a Captain Robert Towns, a man who didn't even like the place! What's more, Captain Towns was a slave trader at a time when slavery had been outlawed in the U.K. and the Civil War was being fought over the issue in America.

Cotton imports to England from America had dried up and wool was sought as an alternative. Australia couldn't supply enough but the land west of Townsville was ideal sheep country. The east coast was only sparsely settled this far north so, to open it up, a lot of labour was need to build roads and clear land. Labour was scarce at that time, so Captain Towns sailed off east in his ship and collected some 'volunteers' from the Melanesian Islands. The slaves were later employed to clear land for the sugar plantations further north.

Townsville from Castle Hill

Townsville from the summit of Castle Hill with Magnetic Island in the background.
The town doesn't really curve as it appears here. The distortion is caused by butting together five separate photos.

Captain Towns is buried in Sydney but the memorial from his grave was transferred to Townsville and now stands on top of Castle Hill which overlooks the town and surrounding area. Where did Castle Hill get its name? Our guide didn't know. There certainly had never been a castle there. During World War II, however, the Yanks wanted to blow up Castle Hill and use the granite to build a causeway across to Magnetic Island! While ensconced in Townsville they took over whole streets, giving the residents thirty six hours to move out. They haven't changed, have they?

The day after our Town Tour we booked a tour of Magnetic Island.
Magnetic Island

Question: Where did Magnetic Island, known locally as 'Maggie', get its name? Answer: When good old Captain James Cook was sailing past the island in 1770 in his converted Whitby collier - yes, the famous Endeavour was originally a coal carrier - his compass developed a bad case of the jitters. Captain Jim could only conclude that the cause was a magnetic disturbance from the island. He was subsequently proved wrong, however, and one theory is that the Endeavour was in close proximity to an iron ore reef at the time. Despite that, the name Magnetic Island remains. So there, dear Reader, you have it.

Mag Island

Left: Townsville and Magnetic Island from Castle Hill          Right: Castle Hill and Townsville from Magnetic Island.

We took the ferry across to Maggie and were collected by our tour guide outside the island's brand new ferry terminal. The first thing we learned was that the building of the terminal had taken eighteen years, with successive companies going broke. The Queensland Government finally took over and even before they completed the terminal, the developers moved in and started pouring concrete for apartment blocks, hotels, shops, a marina, etc. in the proximity. To our guide the word 'developer' is synonymous with 'All the Evils of Hell'. The day the developers arrived, the island changed forever. They, the developers, advertised some blocks of land near the new marina for $650,000 and $700,000. Everybody laughed at such a ridiculous price. The blocks sold.

To commence the tour our guide took us to the bay where the ferries had previously docked alongside a jetty. All the little businesses that had serviced that terminal had died overnight when the new terminal opened. Every building was for sale but nobody wanted to buy. It looked forlorn and empty.

All the new buildings were limited to three stories in height but the developers (hiss!) were getting around that by terracing buildings up the mountainside. Our guide pointed to several scars running down the slopes where cyclonic rains had, in the past, undermined boulders at the top, precipitating rock slides. He prophesied that it would happen again, sooner or later, and some of these new developments would be the recipients of the odd million tons of granite on their roofs.

Having exhausted his spleen on the developers, he took us to see a mother koala and her baby. Unfortunately he could only find Dad who was a charmless fellow, so we went on to feed a colony of wallabies which were far more appealing.

Koala and Wallaby

Left: I'm an indolent koala and I'm trying to sleep.                    Right: I'm a cute wallaby with my lunch on my nose.

From our guide we next heard of the problems caused by 'stingers' which are jellyfish. They fall into two categories. The first is the Chironex Box Jellyfish, the sting of which may easily prove fatal. If I may quote from the brochure: Stings from Chironex Box Jellyfish have been recorded predominantly in coastal areas. Not so many in the mountains and deserts, then?

The second species, the Irukandji, is smaller and nearly impossible to see in the water. A sting from one of these only causes a minor sensation and you may even be unaware that you've been stung . . . until about half an hour later, that is. You'll suddenly develop severe muscular pain, headache, vomiting, sweating and possibly dangerously high blood pressure which could be fatal. Anyone for a swim?

Both these little pets rock up around November and hang around until May. Some beaches have areas of water enclosed by nets which keep out the Box Jellyfish but the Irukandji can still get through. They are a major nuisance . . . but as nothing compared to developers.


Left: Mrs Bucket in happy mode.                                       Right: As she's more usually seen.

At Cockle Bay our guide told us of another of the island's charms, the sand flies. The sting of these tiny blighters causes itching which drives you crazy. In this particular bay, which is partially bordered by mangroves, the sand flies are so bad that you can't stay outside after four o'clock in the afternoon.

He pointed out a nearby tin shed which had been internally lined so it could be used as a house. After a cyclone the whole area behind the beach is often flooded, including that 'house'. Yet, since the developers (hiss!) had forced up land prices, that shed on its flood-prone bit of land, complete with sand flies, had sold for a cool $1,250,000. I wonder what the vendor thinks of the developers?

So, Magnetic Island is a granite outcrop in a cyclone-prone region which is infested with sand flies, surrounded by deadly jellyfish for six months of every year, stinking hot much of the time, predisposed to rock slides . . . yet real estate prices are rocketing. We read in the local paper that Michael Edgely, a wealthy entertainment promoter, has recently bought a plot of land on the island, and John Farnham, a successful pop star, is also interested.

Palm Island

Also just off the coast of Townsville is a much larger island, Palm Island. We didn't visit it and from what we were told, wouldn't want to. Some time ago it had been handed over to salt water tribes of Aborigines. Later, some well-meaning but totally stupid politician decided that the squalor in which a tribe of desert Aborigines was living was a disgrace, so he had them taken to Palm Island.

Desert tribes and salt water tribes hate one another with a venom. The result was total anarchy on the island - and still is. Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, after visiting Palm Island, described it as the most violent place on earth outside of a war zone. White workers that are contracted to work on the island have to return to the police compound by four o'clock in the afternoon and remain locked down all night for their own protection. They almost have a job for life as construction carried out during the day is demolished overnight.

The main problem on Palm Island is the 'grog'. The only alcohol sold is beer and that is dispensed directly into the purchasers own container. There are no bottles or cans. We asked why the alcohol supply wasn't stopped. It had been tried, we were told. The Aborigines just switched to such alternatives as aviation fuel and the fluid out of a Gestetner machine. So many died that the experiment was quickly discontinued.

Two laws are in force on Palm Island, that of the Aborigines and that of the white man. A tribesman having been found out committing an offence has three choices: Escape to the mainland and hope the tribal law enforcers don't follow him there, submit to Aboriginal justice or submit to the white man's justice. Of the latter, most would opt for the white man's justice. Despite that, murders are common. Nobody has any idea of the population of the island as the registration of births and deaths is impossible.

There's currently a severe water shortage on Palm Island and even talk of having to evacuate it if rain doesn't come soon. Evacuate to where, for God's sake? Anyone want that lot for neighbours? The reason for the water shortage on such a high rainfall island appears to be that the Aborigines responsible for water collection and storage have just neglected their jobs.

We were amazed by this story - we'd never heard of this situation before. What was the Government doing about it? The answer seems to be 'nothing' - they just throw money at the problem and hope it will go away. As politicians are wont to do.

The Strand

More of Townsville and . . . Macca

One day we had a good walk around the centre of the town. It's a very nice town and we especially liked a street called The Strand which has parks and the riverfront on one side and a high rock face with a waterfall on the other.

The Strand.

This cliff resulted from granite being removed to build a breakwater. What a beautiful job of landscaping has been carried out. The parks contain huge fig trees giving plenty of shade. We wondered why memorials to the dead of past wars were so numerous and so nicely presented. Perhaps it's because Townsville is a barracks town. From almost everywhere in the city centre, Castle Hill dominates the skyline.

We came across some extraordinary sculptures, the first being two bronze chairs . . .

His and Hers. What do you reckon? We think they're great!

We came across two more fascinatingly different sculptures on Flinders Street East. They are called 'The Anthills'. Many Townsville people, black and white, young and old, had contributed items which represent the human presence in our urban environment. The items were arranged on full sized clay patterns of the Anthills. From those patterns, silicone rubber moulds were taken and wax copies made from the moulds. Then, using the 'lost-wax foundry method' - whatever that is - the wax images were transformed into solid cast aluminium.


            Above left: One of the Anthills.                                      Above right: A close up of part of the Anthill.

How many familiar items can you spot? A cricket pad, a rat trap, a bottle, a bottle opener, a kerosene lamp, a syringe . . .

We'd previously heard on the radio that Macca (Ian McNamara of the ABC's Sunday morning programme, Australia All Over) was to be in Townsville for a book launch promotion. We quite like his show so we went along to have a 'sticky' - as they say. Besides, it was a good excuse to get into a cool, air-conditioned shop after all our walking around Townsville. We were a bit


surprised to find that Macca was not as young as we'd thought. People were queuing to have copies of his book, Why I Live Where I Live, personally signed, but since we had decided not to buy it we took some photos and slipped away to find a coffee shop.

Macca, chatting as he signs a copy of his book.

The temperature in Townsville was not excessive in early November but the humidity was high and sometimes sleeping was difficult. We had spent much longer in Cairns than intended - we had planned to be further south as summer approached. Another incentive to move on was the location of the caravan park that we'd chosen. It was very close to the airport, a railway and a busy main road - a lot of noise. Yet there was still so much to see in Townsville.

We talked it over and decided we would move south on an inland route (lower humidity) and return up the Queensland coast next winter, returning to Townsville and Cairns and, hopefully, go back up to Cape York by road, returning by sea. Well, that's the plan. What will actually transpire is anyone's guess.

And so it came to pass that one Sunday morning found us leaving Townsville at seven o'clock, bound for Charters Towers (for breakfast) and Emerald, a journey of 665 kilometres. A neighbour had asked which way we planned to go. On hearing, 'the inland route', she shuddered and proclaimed we were mad. Narrow roads with approaching road trains was the reason. Well, she was partly right, but there was only one single carriageway stretch, albeit a long one. There were oncoming road trains too but, if you accept that you just have to slow to a crawl and move well off the bitumen, they are not a problem. The road trains stay in the centre of the sealed section and thus don't kick up dust and stones as they pass. It's only if you force them to put all their left wheels onto the gravel that they drown you in dust and shower you with grit and stones. By and large, the roads were so quiet that we drove for hours without seeing more than a handful of vehicles.

Ten hours after leaving Townsville we rolled into Emerald and dropped off our passenger, a hitch-hiker I had picked up on impulse at Charters Towers.

Our chosen caravan park was about twenty kilometres out of town on the edge of Lake Haraboon. The name means where the black ducks fly, presumably derived from an Aboriginal dialect. The Fairbairn Dam, built in 1972, created the lake. The glossy brochure invited us to imagine a lake so enormous, Sydney Harbour would fit into it three times. Whether that's surface area or water volume isn't clear; either way it's BIG. During our visit, Lake Haraboon was down to 26% of its total capacity but that still represents two years water supply for the town and to irrigate the crops.

We had heard on the news about the plight of the citrus farmers in this part of Queensland where citrus canker has resulted in every single citrus tree being uprooted and burned. This little town, Emerald, relies heavily on its citrus industry and has been devastated by the outbreak. It will be eighteen months before the growers can replant, and another four years before the new trees will begin to bear fruit. Fortunately these farmers also grow grapes, the picking seasons of the two fruits alternating. Cotton is also grown in the area. Even so, the region has been seriously affected.

The name, Emerald, is not derived from a gemstone but from Emerald Downs Hill, a lush 'emerald green' property just north of the town. The tourist literature tries to make Emerald sound fascinating but after the harsh beauty of Central Australia, the great variety of the Northern Territory and the lush rain forests, mountains and beaches of Far North Queensland, it could not help but seem a little tame.

In a park adjacent to the new Visitor Centre we found a huge reproduction of Van Gogh's Sunflower on an easel twenty five metres high. The Visitor Centre is apparently the first straw bale local government building in Queensland. The reproduction is the world's biggest and is positioned at the end of a Mosaic Pathway depicting 100 years of Emerald's history. All text in quotes is taken from the Emerald Shire Visitors Guide.


A huge reproduction of Van Gogh's Sunflower painting.

On our last day in Emerald we intended to visit the Gemfields. The Visitor's Guide would have you close to orgasm with excitement at the prospect. Unfortunately, just as we were about to leave, the caravan park staff knocked on our door and informed us that all the park roadways were about to be 'bitumised' and offered us some old curtains to protect our 'home' in case a stray gust of wind should blow some of the black gunge all over it. Thoroughly concerned, we asked if we had time to move the 'van. No, definitely not, was the response. So we waited. And we waited. And nine hours later, when it got dark and the adjacent road still hadn't been surfaced . . . well, it was too late to go. Still, it had been a real stinker of a day, the temperature reaching forty degrees, so we were probably better off in the air conditioned caravan anyway. And Pam's ankle was hurting after she twisted it in Townsville. And I never wanted to go in the first place.

Next morning we were up at five o'clock and on the road by seven, lest we get trapped again. Our destination can be found on the next page.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 17 was completed on 20 March 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.

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