Page 24

Hervey Bay and Fraser Island

Hervey Bay

Moon at Hervey Bay

A full moon rising through the palms at Hervey Bay.

Hervey Bay isn't a town, it's an area consisting of several small towns around the bay itself. The whole is administered by the Hervey Bay City Council and if you don't understand that - neither do I.

However, when we went for our morning walks along the beach, all the people were friendly and wished us good morning. So, you see, it wasn't us out of step at Mooloolaba, it was them.

The weather was quite unsettled for the first week of our stay, though most of the rain fell at night - which is a great idea!

Every morning we were woken by about ten million lorikeets screeching in a tree a few metres away from our 'van. At dusk, as we sipped a glass or two of red, we watched hundreds of flying foxes pass overhead. These Fruit Bats have wingspans of almost a metre. You expect bats to flit around, swooping and zooming after insects. Not these bats; they looked quite sinister as they flapped silently overhead in an easterly direction like something out of Brahms Stoker's Dracula. I tried to count them one night but got to a hundred so quickly that I gave up. I estimated that there were at least a thousand. They must return before dawn but we never saw them.

One of the main reasons for going to Hervey Bay was to take part in a three-day safari to Fraser Island with Ross and Jan Taylor. You know Ross and Jan, don't you Dear Reader? They're the friends we met in the Northern Territory and who invited us to spend both Christmas and Easter at their place in Jimboomba. We're travelling up the Queensland coast with them now so you'll hear a lot more about them.
A Little Background On Fraser Island.

Let me tell you about Fraser Island. I imagined it would be a long way off the coast but at its southern end it's only 1,300 metres from Inskip Point on the mainland. This would explain why, in 1770, good old Captain Cook got it wrong and named it the Great Sandy Peninsula. It wasn't until 1822, when a ship sailed between the island and the mainland, that it was renamed the Great Sandy Island. Then, in 1836, a Captain James Fraser was shipwrecked a few hundred kilometres north of the island. He, his wife and the ship's first and second mate eventually washed up on the island. Captain Fraser soon collected an Aboriginal spear in his back and died on the island, as did the two ship's mates. Mrs. Eliza Fraser, however, survived long enough to get away the following year with help from an escaped convict. Unfortunately in those days she wasn't greeted by the commercial TV stations and women's magazines, all waving open chequebooks. Still, she told her story over and over, and - so it is said - each time it became more exaggerated. She died in Melbourne in 1858 after being knocked down by a horse tram. The same year, the island's name was changed to Fraser's Island in honour of her hubby, the dear departed Captain Jim. The name was later shortened to just Fraser Island and remains so today.

Fraser Island is the world's largest sand island covering around 1,850 square kilometres. As it's almost all sand you might think that there would be little vegetation, however you would be very wrong, Dear Reader. Most of the island is covered in forest varying from sparse coastal bushland to dense rainforest. The timber industry logged the island from 1863 to 1991 but did so selectively and we saw little evidence of their presence. In 1992 the island was listed as a World Heritage site. Now it is a sanctuary for over 300 species of animal and 325 types of bird. The waters around the island are home to turtles, dolphins, dugongs and humpback whales.

Our Three-Day Safari On Fraser Island

We were collected from our caravan park at 7:45 one morning by a very robust-looking vehicle. It had a powerful diesel engine and four-wheel-drive transmission. It seated sixteen passengers, most of which were already aboard. The four of us settled comfortably onto the back seat. If only we'd known, Dear Reader, if only we'd known.

Our driver, Greg, was to be our tour guide, cook, adviser and (almost) mother for the next three days as well as our driver. He was very witty and not the slightest bit averse to 'taking the Mick' out of us.

Bus and Barge

Left: The 4x4 bus seen here in the forest.                  Right: Another bus reversing from the beach onto the barge.

Greg drove us down to the boat harbour where two newly-weds joined us to make up the full complement of thirteen. We left the bus and boarded a very ungainly barge, our bus reversing up the loading ramp after us. The voyage to the island took fifty five minutes at the point where we crossed. We landed bow-first on a smooth beach called Moon Point and the bow ramp was lowered. By then we'd already re-boarded the bus which drove down the ramp onto the beach. Greg engaged a low gear and charged straight up the soft sand and into the bush.

This was when we discovered that there were two ways of getting about the island; either around it on the smooth beach or across it on very rough sand tracks through the forest. And rough they were! We were soon bouncing along, foliage brushing the sides of the bus. We four on the back seat discovered that we were right over the rear wheels and if that bus had any rear springs, it disguised the fact well! It was like riding a mad, bucking bull. The bus would bounce us into the air then, while we were still descending, the seat met us on its way up again with a spine jarring jolt. Frequently the whole bus would roll violently from side to side. Watching the heads of those in front was quite amusing for back seat passengers.


Left: The tents we slept in formed a semi-circle around the smokers table.
Right: Each tent had a wooden floor. Ours had a comfortable double bed.

Dingo Warning Sign

That evening Greg took us to our camp which, despite all his kidding about us having to erect tents and clear out poisonous spiders and snakes, was all ready and waiting for us. There was also a communal mess and Greg set about preparing our evening meal which came with red and white wine and beer. He worked a fifteen hour day for six consecutive days, then had eight days off.

Our tents were very sturdy with polished wooden floors and, would you believe, a comfortable double bed? The only drawback was the distance to the toilet in the middle of the dark night. Greg had warned us about the dangers of dingoes entering the camp and we had heard them howling nearby. Consequently, whenever SWMBO wanted to 'go to the loo', HWMO had to escort her. Men are so lucky, every tree is a urinal; it says so on my T-shirt.

The dingoes on Fraser Island are the purest strain of this wild dog species remaining in Australia and many signs around the camp and the island highlighted the threat from them. Personally, I believe that the warnings were overdone and these creatures are much maligned. It is certainly true that dingoes have killed one or two children over the years, but then so have pet dogs. And like shark and crocodile attacks, they occur when we invade their territory. We saw a few dingoes while on the island and they were far more wary of us than we were of them.

These lean, gangly dogs are ginger-brown in colour with white markings; strangely they never bark. However they have a most mournful, wolf-like howl that sends shivers down your spine at night.


Left: A beautiful dingo we saw on the beach.                   Right: Proof that dingoes can't read.

One long straight beach was called 'Seventy Five Mile Beach'. It is eighty two miles long. If there's any logic in that, I can't see it. However, this was a most interesting beach in that it is not only a beach but a gazetted highway with all the usual road rules applying. It has a speed limit of 80 km/hour and there was plenty of traffic when we were there because a Toyota fishing competition was about to start with 1,500 contestants plus all their friends. There were fishermen with rods in the shallow water on one side of the beach, fishermen's tents and camper vans set up on the other side, and vehicles whizzing back and forth on the sand. But wait, that isn't all. The same beach was an airstrip with two aircraft taking off and landing on that same stretch of sand. So, a beach, a highway and an airstrip, all in one.

Plane and buses on beach

Above left: An aircraft looking well out of its element at the water's edge - and the sky was that colour.
Above right: Four wheel drive tour buses parked on the beach near the freshwater Eli Creek.

Black and White Picture of Shipwreck

To add further interest to the beach there is the rusting carcase of a large cruise ship, the Maheno, partially buried in the sand. Only about one third of the ship's length is now visible and more than half of the hull is below the sand.

Left: The Maheno soon after she was driven ashore in 1935.

We obtained this picture by, shall we say, less than ethical means. We came across it a week after the safari, framed and for sale, in a market. Naturally the market stallholder wouldn't have been too pleased to let me copy it, so my good friend Ross drew his attention while I photographed the picture. For you, Dear Reader, nothing is too much trouble.

But back to the story of the Maheno. Built in Scotland in 1905, the ship was a 400 foot luxury passenger steamship. For nine years she pampered the wealthy from Australia and New Zealand as she crisscrossed the Tasman Sea, breaking the Sydney to Wellington speed record in the process.

During WW I she was refitted and put to work as a hospital ship. Later, hostilities over, she was restored to her former glory and sailed between New Zealand and England. However, improved internal combustion technology overtook the steam driven Maheno and she was sold to a Japanese company for scrap. In 1935, while being towed past Fraser Island in bad weather, the towline parted and she was driven ashore. All attempts to refloat her failed so there she remained.

If the Maheno thought she could rest in peace she was mistaken. When the Second World War broke out she became a training target. She was bombed from the air, shelled from the sea and blown up by commandoes on the ground, yet she's still there.

Ship Wreck

Over 100 years old, all that remains of the Maheno.

Her rusting steel is now so jagged that it has been deemed unsafe for visitors to climb over her and signs prohibit entry to the hulk. However, she still attracts plenty of attention.

One of the more interesting features on Fraser Island is called a 'sand blow'. Usually the vegetation binds the surface sand and acts as a wind break. Where there's a gap in the vegetation the wind blows the fine sand into large dunes. As time passes, sand blows off the top of the dunes, building up on its leeward side. More sand is blown up the slope on the windward side, replacing what had been lost. Eventually that, too, is blown off. The result is that, over many years, the dune 'rolls' across the island, burying all before it. When the sand blow enters a valley with a creek, it creates a dam (or barrage) and a 'barrage lake' forms.

Barrage Lake

Lake Wabby was formed when the 'sand blow' shown in the picture, migrating left to right,
blocked the path of a creek. As time passes the lake itself will disappear as the sand advances.
Picture: Ross Taylor

To give the picture some scale, the small dots on the sand slope near the lake are four or five of our party. If you have really good eyes you might be able to detect Pam and I sitting on the sand, waiting for Ross and Jan to return from the lookout from where they took this photo. But I won't believe you. The PH level of the water is too low for many species to live in it, but we did see several tadpoles swimming. Our guide, Greg, only had to ask one question to identify the tadpoles: "Are they jet black?" When the reply was yes, he told us they were the young of the dreaded cane toad. These critters are spreading everywhere.

While walking through the forest Greg pointed out some wiggly engravings in the surface of a tree trunk. Because they looked like a child's scribble, this particular eucalypt has acquired the nickname of 'Scribble Gum'. The marks are, in fact, made by insects boring under bark which has since been shed.

Scribble on Trees

Scribble left by insects.                                                       Scribble left by idiots.

A section of Seventy Five Mile Beach is called Cathedral Beach because some of the sand formations are said to resemble European cathedrals. Not far north of the Maheno shipwreck is a sand formation known as 'The Coloured Sand' where the sand colour varies from white through various shade of orange. The cause is strong easterly winds blowing beach sand containing minerals, iron, oxides and clay onto the foredunes. I know this because the leaflet says so.

Coloured sand

The Coloured Sands on the east-facing coast of Fraser Island.

At the northern end of Seventy Five Mile Beach there is a large rock outcrop with the name of Indian Head, and close by is a rock enclosure on the shore called Champagne Pool. Somehow the Indian Head rock is thought to have been responsible for the formation of the sand island but I have to confess I lost concentration when Greg was telling us how the sand was carried by ocean currents from some river mouth somewhere else and finished up as Fraser Island. So just accept it, O.K?

Champagne Pool was so named because the breakers hit the surrounding rock wall and white foam surges into Champagne Pool, so much air being trapped in the water that it gave bathers the tingle that champagne might give if you could afford to bathe in it - which I can't and wouldn't if I could. In fact, I was too chicken to bathe in Champagne Pool, the weather being a little inclement.

Champagne Pool

Bathers in Champagne Pool proving: (a) they are braver than we are, and (b) that the earth is round.

I could go on and on about Fraser Island, Dear Reader, but I sense you've had enough. So I'll leave you with some pictures because I like them so I'm sure, as you are as discerning as me, you will too.


An almost monochromatic image of a man fishing.


A laughing kookaburra patiently waiting for scraps near our lunch stop.


Sun, cloud and water. Taken from the barge on the return trip.

Yellow Robin

An Eastern Yellow Robin. We saw several on Fraser Island.


A not uncommon rainforest scene. This strangler fig has killed the host tree around which
it grew. The host rotted away leaving the fig to support itself - and serve it jolly well right.

Well, that's it for Fraser Island, Folks. Hope you enjoyed this small selection of the pictures we took. We certainly won't forget the experience in a hurry.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 24 was completed on 01 April 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.