We travelled to Gladstone without incident and set about amusing the
caravan park with our reversing antics. We had to negotiate an inconvenient
tree which added a little challenge to the manoeuvre. Pam drove the
car and I directed. It took us about six attempts by which time all
the neighbours were quite unashamedly standing outside their caravans, watching.
They weren't so much astonished at our incompetence ('cos
pound to a penny they were no better) but because we weren't screaming
at each other by the end. I tried to shame them by calling,
a hat around afterwards - but they didn't go away. Pam received praise
for her reversing skill - she always does on these occasions. Someone
told her I was very patient; I'm not sure how to take that as I was
directing the operation and if it was a fiasco, it was all mine.
The town of Gladstone was named after William Ewart Gladstone, one-time prime minister of Britain. The area in which we camped was called Tannum Sands and was, yet again, close to the beach. The caravan park was infinitely nicer than the one at 1770 yet only two thirds the nightly fee.
When we ventured forth to explore our surroundings we were absolutely amazed at what we found. There was a park along the foreshore which was immaculate. There were free electric barbecues at intervals, all beautifully clean. They were numbered and the last one was B25 so presumably that's how many there were. And I repeat, they were FREE! Shaded picnic tables complemented the barbecues. A concrete footpath ran for miles, parallel to the beach, for walkers and cyclists. Toilets were provided at intervals - no expense had been spared. Palm trees grew along the lawns verging the Esplanade and, as in Maryborough, we found no evidence of graffiti or vandalism.
The walkway wended through trimmed grass and past shaded picnic tables, wheelie bins, many free electric barbecues and a children's playground. There were wood carved statues at intervals, the one shown above depicted a hanging 'flying fox' bat at the top and fish swimming among the mangrove roots lower down.
So where does the money for all this come from? It's only an assumption, but Gladstone has a lot of prosperous industry and these businesses must contribute to their host town. If so, this would be in direct contrast to Newcastle, a comparable port town in many ways, which we visited recently. Newcastle had been a 'company town' and anecdotal evidence suggests that when that industrial giant, B.H.P., was in residence, Newcastle looked dirty and run-down. When B.H.P. left, despite the job losses, the town turned itself around and is working hard to improve its image, renovating its historical buildings and developing a tourist industry.
Gladstone certainly wasn't at all neglected. We found the town centre clean and smart. Tourism centred on a mix of the various industries, the harbour and offshore islands, and the town's history. The safe harbour was first discovered by our old friend, Matthew Flinders, after James Cook had earlier sailed past it in the dark.
We booked a cruise around the harbour and offshore islands one morning followed by a tour organised by the Central Queensland Port Authority the same afternoon. The two and a half hour morning cruise was wonderful, the commentary given by the captain was both interesting and informative.
A large percentage of the commodities exported from Gladstone is coal - 45 million tonnes per year with the potential to increase that to 70 million tonnes. The coal first arrives from the different mines by rail and three trains may unload simultaneously, dropping fourteen thousand tonnes of coal per hour onto conveyor belts beneath the rails. The belts transport the coal to lifters which deposit it onto an overhead conveyor system which then drops it onto the appropriate stockpile.
If, like me, you thought that 'coal is coal', well, it isn't quite that simple. Gladstone handles forty different types of coal and the ship-loading equipment can select how much to take from each stockpile so that the customer can have exactly the blend required. Coal loads into two ships at once, almost as fast as the trains can dump it. We counted twenty three ships lying offshore waiting for cargo.
Once away from the loading docks the boat tour took us out into the large, natural harbour and around many little islands. Each had a story attached. Some were privately owned with people living on them. Others were uninhabited. One had had a resort built on it but the couple who had developed it got divorced and the resort fell into disrepair. Apparently we were unlucky not to see turtles and dolphins but the water was a bit choppy. We did see a dugong, or 'sea cow'. Well, we actually saw a sort of orange smudge under the water and our captain (pictured) assured us it was a dugong.
Oh, did I forget to mention that this was a coffee and cake cruise? The coffee was instant but the cake was disgustingly high in calories. Yummy!
I wish I could say that the afternoon tour was as interesting as the morning cruise - and it could have been. Unfortunately, after arriving late, our tour guide read the information to us from sheets of paper while somebody else drove the bus. She droned on in a monotone, stumbling over words and inserting pauses where none belonged. The narrative, already hard to follow because it was full of statistics, was almost incomprehensible. But there you are - can't win them all. And she did give us a questionnaire to complete in which we were asked to state our opinion of her tour. Bet she wishes she hadn't.
On another occasion we visited the Gladstone Botanical Gardens in the morning and the town's museum-cum-art gallery in the afternoon. It was a pleasant day if not a terribly exciting one. The highlight - for me anyway - was feeding some very pretty and very tame blue faced honey eaters in the al fresco café in the botanical gardens.
The caravan park's local beach was a favourite spot for 'surf kiting'. The kids - they were all teenage boys - would hang on to the control lines of the giant kites, slip their feet into boots attached to special surf boards, and skim out across the waves at astonishing speed. Then they would turn the kite and race back towards the shore, the better ones leaping from the water and performing acrobatic manoeuvres in the air.
As I walked home after the sun had set, the kites were still flying. So there you have it - Tannum Sands and Gladstone condensed into one week.
As I may have already mentioned, we had decided to abandon our whistle-stop tour of the Queensland coast and go straight up to Cairns where we hoped the weather would be warmer. We would fill in the gaps on our way back south later in the year. Gladstone to Cairns by road is something over 1,200 kilometres and we planned to do the trip in four reasonably easy stages, stopping overnight at 'freebies' - overnight camping areas where no charge is levied.
Pam and I travelled independently of Ross and Jan, just meeting up at each stopping place where we, naturally, celebrated 'happy hour'. Our first overnight stop was at a little coastal town called St. Lawrence. The council there had provided a small but very acceptable caravan park where travellers could stay for no charge. There was no need to uncouple the caravans as we intended to 'hit the road' early next morning. The four of us took a walk into the town but found the pub first and got no further. After a good sleep and breakfast we set off north on the second stage.
That afternoon we met up at a small, square park in a remote place called Guthalungra which consisted of little more than a service station and a few houses. On one side of the park ran the main Queensland north-south coastal road, the Bruce Highway. A side street off the Bruce Highway ran down a second side of the park. A third road ran around the remaining two sides of the park and this was the area designated for travellers to rest, parked on the street. Toilet facilities were provided at the petrol station which was on the opposite side of the park. They were less than enticing. The park itself was enclosed by a low log barrier - you could walk across it but there was no vehicle entry. Well, beggars can't be choosers so we spent the night listening to the trucks on the Bruce Highway a few metres away, and the big diesel freight trains roaring past on the railway that ran parallel to the road.
Our third night was spent in leafy Bushie Parker Park in the small town of Rollingstone where Pam and I had stayed previously. (The park is already described on Page 11 of this website.) On our first visit we had found the park without trouble. This time, however, we had that damned Alice to guide us . . . .
Alice knew a short cut. Just before Rollingstone she took us off the highway and down a narrow road, over a single lane bridge across a fast-flowing creek, then round a bend to an underpass beneath a railway. The underpass, with 2.4 metre height clearance, would have happily accepted the car but certainly not the caravan. So, there we were, completely blocking the road when other vehicles appeared from both directions.
At this point Pam descended from the car and, marching round to the front of our vehicle, took firm command of the situation. I had been slowly reversing the rig but Pam jabbed a finger at me and thrust an open palm forcefully in my direction. The signal left no room for doubt - I was to stop immediately. I stopped. Pam turned to the car which was waiting under the bridge facing us and pointed at the driver. She then signalled clearly and in a manner that brooked no argument, that he was to mount the grass and manoeuvre past us. He did. Fortunately the two cars waiting to cross the narrow bridge over the fast-flowing creek took fright, turned around and drove off to find an alternative route, leaving me to my embarrassment.
I reversed the caravan slowly back round the bend, across the narrow bridge over the fast-flowing creek and up the hill to the junction where I was able to turn around. We were worried that Ross and Jan might make the same mistake as they had the same GPS. However, they had reverted to the 'Mark One Jan Taylor' navigation system and arrived at the park without drama soon after we did. Jan has a wonderful sense of direction and - I suspect - resents her role being usurped by a cigarette packet sized box with a female voice. Even worse, theirs has an American female voice.
This picture has nothing to do with the text. It was emailed to me by my wicked grandson and was just too good not to use.
The highlight of our night at Rollingstone was the State of Origin rugby league clash - or was it rugby union? - between Queensland and New South Wales. Ross was very keen to watch the match but the park provided no power for his television.
Thus, having established our camp, the four of us set off through the grass, across the railway tracks, and towards some trees, in search of the local hostelry. This we duly found and confirmed, to Ross's delight, that the match would be shown on their large screen television. We celebrated with a drink or two and returned to camp, noting the route carefully as it would be dark when we returned.
The result of the match is now history; Queensland thrashed New South Wales
by thirty points to six. Most of the patrons at the pub were, natually,
supporting the Queensland team, the 'Maroons', and had turned up in
appropriate colours. The barman, however, was serving drinks in the
New South Wales blue strip. When the match had ended in a resounding
beating for his team he remarked,
Well, don't I look stupid?
The word 'maroon' is usually pronounced 'marone' in Australia. I even heard a newsreader correct herself after pronouncing it 'marune'. Where this pronunciation originated I don't know; I can think of no other word containing a double 'o' that is so pronounced.
Rollingstone was our final overnight stop and we were away early the next morning, anxious to settle down at the Cool Waters Caravan Park in Cairns, have good shower and a rest from the driving. On the journey we passed through Innisfail where, in March, the fury of Cyclone Larry had devastated the town and wiped out a complete banana crop. Three months on, the evidence of the force of the wind was still painfully apparent. Trees were stripped of foliage, many with broken limbs, others ripped from the ground. Many buildings had their roofs partially or completely missing and 'tarps' were still being used to keep the weather out until repairs could be effected.
Though the sugar crop had been flattened, being a tough, tropical grass it had quickly recovered and was already looking as if nothing had happened. The large-leafed banana trees, however, were just shredded. A whole row of tall palm trees were left with their leafy tops broken off and hanging upside down. Clearly the town is still desparately in need of help and will take years to recover.
We all arrived safely in Cairns and set up camp in the Cool Waters Caravan Park where we received a lovely warm welcome from proprietors, Dwayne and Susan. That evening we celebrated with a meal prepared by Pam and, of course, a few drinks.
Sadly the park had not escaped the attention of Cyclone Larry with many trees blown down or otherwise damaged. To add insult to injury, Cyclone Monica waited until Larry's damage had been cleared up then dumped torrential rain on the region which left the lower parts of the park under several feet of water. A tremendous effort had been put in and as a result - apart from a lot more sky being visible - we found the park very little different from when we had last stayed. The exception was the pool in the Freshwater Creek where we used to feed the fish and turtles. There we found several large trees lying in and across the creek, still to be removed. One was a giant fig tree. The fish were more plentiful than ever and a piece of bread thrown into the pool resulted in the water immediately 'boiling' as several fish fought for it. The turtles were there too, and much larger than we remembered them, though perhaps not quite so numerous. Somehow they had clung on through two raging torrents.
If you're heading for Cairns with a caravan or in a motor home you could do a lot worse than stay at Cool Waters. Click here to see More On Cool Waters.
We had spent so much time in Cairns last year - we devoted four or five pages to the region - that I was concerned that we might not find enough to hold your interest. But you must be the judge of that, Faithful Reader . . . are you still out there?
Eighteen months ago we left Perth on the west coast and travelled east across the continent. We explored the state of South Australia, all the way down to the south coast. We journeyed up through Australia's 'Red Centre' staying at Ayers Rock, Alice Springs and many other places on the way to Darwin in the Northern Territory. We crossed to Cairns in Far North Queensland. We took a cargo ship to the northernmost tip of the continent before hitching the caravan again and travelling south to Brisbane, taking an inland route. We spent Christmas in Brisbane with Ross and Jan Taylor. Moving on we visited the Country Music Festival at Tamworth on our way further south to Sydney where we met up with many old friends. Leaving Sydney we turned north again to spend Easter in Brisbane where Ross and Jan joined with us on our northward trek up the Queensland coast to Cairns and warmer weather.
During the eighteen months since leaving home we camped in sixty three different places and visited hundreds more. It's little wonder it's becoming difficult to recall some of them. We froze in Mount Gambier, we boiled in Alice, we dripped in Cairns, we were nearly blown off the Eyre Peninsula and we were pelted by hail in Ballina.
The caravan travelled 20,000 kilometres in that period, and the car 39,000 kilometres. We consumed 5,460 litres of diesel at a cost of $6,666. The most we paid for a litre of diesel was $1.60 and the cheapest was 98 cents, a price we'll never see again!
So what's left to do? We hardly scratched New South Wales, we haven't touched Victoria or the island state of Tasmania, and there's all the northern part of our own state of Western Australia still to see. Hey, we've hardly started.
Some months ago Pam had submitted a ghost story to a women's magazine which subsequently contacted her to say the story was to be published. They wanted so many details of her life that she began to wonder what was happening. Finally the day arrived when the magazine appeared in the shops. Pam was so excited that she left her cup of coffee to go cold on a café table while she sought out a newsagents and bought a copy. She hurried back and read the story out loud to us.
To say the magazine had used poetic licence with the story would be the understatement of the year - they had taken diabolical liberties with it! And, after requesting so many facts of Pam's life, they got many of them wrong. Fortunately Pam had been forewarned that this would happen so was prepared for it. Just having 'her' story published made her happy; the promise of a $400 cheque as well made her ecstatic. We teased her by asking for her autograph and suggesting that she did some 'book signings' in the newsagents' shops.
We have long realised that the best way to see a region is to book a conducted tour, preferably on a small bus. Pam - our tour director - found a promising one which took in the Atherton Tablelands. Initially it seemed an expensive option compared to visiting all the same places in our own transport. That is until all the entrance fees, midday meal, afternoon tea and fuel were totalled up and, most importantly, the professional knowledge of the driver was taken into account. So, eight o'clock one morning saw the four of us boarding a small bus at the caravan park entrance in miserable drizzly weather. Two passengers were already aboard and five more joined us in Cairns centre.
One of the first things our driver, Rolly, emphasised to us was that he refused to describe our destination as the 'Atherton Tablelands'. He would be referring to the area as the Cairns Highlands. Naturally we wanted to know the reason for such a strange assertion. Rolly was an expert on the history of the Atherton - sorry, Cairns Highlands - and it seems that the man, Atherton, after whom the town and district were officially named, was an outright monster. Instead of just riding into an Aborigine camp and shooting the inhabitants as they slept (like any decent person would), he would send the horses through first so that the Aborigines scattered into the bush. That way he could hunt them all down and then kill them. That was much more fun. (Sarcasm intended, offence not. Got to be so careful these days.)
I couldn't even tell you 1% of the information Rolly imparted, he scarcely stopped talking for the whole ten-hour day. We stopped for lunch at a rather strange café in the middle of nowhere, besides some rapids and a beautiful waterfall. The eating area was beneath a huge roof but open on three sides. Thus, as we ate a very nice lunch, we looked out on the scene shown below and listened to the water.
It seems that I must continue this tale on the next page as there is
no room left for pictures here. Please click the
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Footnote: This re-working of Page 26 was completed on 8 April 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.