Page 27

Our Second Visit To Cairns.

Our tour of the 'Cairns Highlands' continues . . .

Hello again. Did the 'link' carry you over from Page 26 all right? Clever, isn't it?

After lunch we drove to the Millaa Millaa falls which was just one of several spectacular falls we saw that day. Millaa was derived from the Aboriginal name for 'vine'. We learned from one source that if an Aboriginal word is repeated it means the word is plural.

Digressing for a moment, our guide told us that a repeated word gives emphasis, perhaps replacing the word 'very'. For example, in north eastern Queensland there is a stinging tree, the leaves of which are covered in rigid, stinging hairs. The Aboriginal word for 'painful' is 'gympie' so 'gympie gympie' means agonisingly painful.

Gympie gympie poisenous tree

Left: A 'gympie gympie' in captivity, enclosed in a glass case and separated from the public by a steel gate.

By all accounts, a sting from one of these small trees is to be avoided at all costs. The pain typically lasts for months with no known medical remedy. Our guide recounted a story of somebody who used one of the leaves as toilet paper! It doesn't bear thinking about. I hope it's just an urban myth. It sounds like one.

But back to our narrative where we'd just arrived at the Millaa Millaa Water Fall which is one of the most photographed waterfalls in Queensland, and a picture of which I just happen to have.

Millaa Millaa water fall

Is that not a beautiful sight? And down there in the red jacket is Jan . . . now I'm in BIG trouble!

On with the tour. Last time we were in Cairns we photographed the famous Curtain Fig. That attraction was included on our tour itinerary but there's no point in me describing it again, or showing another picture. It's on Page 13 if you'd like to see it, along with another attraction, the Cathedral Fig.

Just as our party was leaving the tree we bumped into a local naturalist, Alan Gillanders. He asked if we would like to see a very rare Green Ringtailed Possum. Of course, we all did and Alan brought a telescope on a tripod from his car. He set it up on the board-walk and we were all able to get a good look at the possum which was trying to sleep in a nearby tree. We had all walked past without noticing it. Even Ross, who has the most incredible eyesight (for an old bloke) missed this one.

By using full optical and digital zoom with my camera I managed to get a half decent picture of the little critter.


All curled up with its tail over its nose, wishing we'd all just go away.

I showed Alan the picture on the camera display and he asked me if I would send him a copy which, of course, I did. In return he sent me copies of his newsletter which he publishes under the auspices of his business, Alan's Wildlife Tours. It transpired that Alan lives at Yungaburra which was right in the path of Cyclone Larry and he experienced the event first hand. I found his account of the day of Cyclone Larry so fascinating that - with his permission - I have reproduced the first part of it in our Special Items section under the title, Cyclone Larry.

Just imagine: The wind increasing to gale force at seven o'clock in the morning. Reaching an incredible 290 km/hr velocity . . . lifting off roofs . . . tearing down trees . . . stripping bare those that remained . . . then - to quote Alan - by 11:45 the winds were light and birds and butterflies were everywhere.

Since, mercifully, nobody was killed, the media concentrated on the damage in dollar terms - wrecked buildings, the devastated banana crop, etc. Alan takes a completely different perspective and I hope you'll find it as refreshing as we did. Click here to read it. If you're a nature enthusiast you'll find it doubly interesting.

But I'm off track again. I was describing our tour.

On our first Cairns visit we called at Lake Barrine but were not awfully impressed as there was nobody to 'tell us the story'. This time we learned that the lake, which is over 200 feet deep, fills the crater of an extinct volcano. There are no streams running into it, it relies entirely on rainwater and is surrounded by the most lush rainforest. Part of our tour included a trip around the lake on a small boat. Rolly kept calling it a 'cruise ship' which put me in mind of the Diamond Princess and Oriana that we'd seen docked at Circular Quay in Sydney. We had a lady to drive this boat and commentate on what we were seeing. She took us slowly around the perimeter of the lake - the water was deep right up to the bank - and she showed us eels and turtles in the water. She explained how the lake had formed and showed us damage to the trees from the recent cyclone. Twice she took the bow right into the reeds and showed us pythons curled up asleep. So naturally I took a pic for you . . .


Does this thing have a head or a tail? We saw three pythons, none of which even twitched.

Now surely a reputable tour guide would never plant rubber snakes, just to liven up the tour? There was an easy way to find out, but . . . old Ross wouldn't jump off the boat and poke it.

And that ends my disjointed description of our tour of the Cairns Highlands - or Atherton Tablelands - take your pick.

In Memoriam.

Back in 1835, long before even I was born, Sir Charles Darwin sailed his ship Beagle to an archipelago on the equator to collect specimens to support his now-famous Theory of Evolution. One of those specimens was a five-year-old Giant Galapagos Tortoise. Later, after a visit to England, the tortoise came to Australia where he lived for almost a century in the Brisbane Botanical Gardens. He was christened Harry after the garden's curator, Harry Oakman.

When the Botanical Gardens Zoo closed in 1952, Harry moved to Fleay's Fauna Sanctuary where it was discovered, at the tender age of 122 years, that Harry was, in fact, a girl. I hope the poor thing was offered counselling, though I doubt if that 'growth industry' had been invented back then. A terrible thought - suppose the Botanical Gardens had found 'Harry' a female companion and expected 'him' to, well . . . you know. As it was, Harriet - as she became known - never met one of her own species after leaving the Galapagos Islands.

In 1987 Harriet moved to the Australian Zoo where she was treasured by the Zoo's owner, Steve Irwin the famous crocodile hunter, and his staff.


R.I.P. Harriet. 1830 - 2006

On Tuesday, 9th May 2006 Harriet was visited by no less notable persons than Pam, Jan, Ross and myself. It was rather difficult to tell whether Harriet was impressed or not. A 176-year-old tortoise who spent most of her life as a boy learns to hide her emotions. However, I feel that she was.

It was with great sorrow that we learned of Harriet's death on 23rd June 2006 at the Australian Zoo. Farewell, Harriet.

Two Lakes and a Tree.

'Twas a few days after our boat trip around Lake Barrine that the four of us returned to walk the lake's perimeter - though not before we indulged in Devonshire tea in the lake's excellent café. Ross and Jan are great walkers and Pam and I get shamed into going along with them when all our instincts urge us to vegetate. Anyway, we went and were glad that we had. The path around the lake, which is very flat and easy, is five kilometres long.

Much of the way we walked in twilight beneath the dense rainforest canopy. Occasionally there would be a break in the canopy where a giant tree had been felled by Cyclone Larry and you could almost feel the vegetation luxuriating in the unexpected light that reached the forest floor. At the same time, several young trees, grasping this long-awaited opportunity, were growing as fast as they could to claim the light before a neighbour could beat them to it and close off the opening.


Occasionally we'd come to a place where the cyclone had dropped a large tree across the footpath.
Where that had occurred the rangers had cut a slice from the trunk to re-open the path.

On the boat trip around the lake we had been assured that there were no creeks feeding Lake Barrine, it was replenished by rainwater only. This we confirmed. There was just one creek flowing beneath a little bridge but the water was leaving the lake, adjusting the level after the recent rains.

On the 'cruise' you'll remember that we were shown three large pythons coiled on the reeds, a photo of one being higher up on this page. I have to admit that these were on my mind as we plodded through the forest. Where were they now, and how many more were there? But we saw not a single reptile, nor any other animal for that matter - not even a turtle in the lake. It is inconceivable that there were no creatures there. Many would be nocturnal and others would have been watching us. All we heard were birds, and not even very many of them.

The vegetation, however, was fascinating and largely made up for the lack of animal sightings.


Top Left: This strangler fig left a gap for us to glimpse its doomed host tree (the darker wood).

Top Right: Could Ross be a little nervous as he glances up at this huge, leaning tree? Not our Ross!

Lower Left: Bumpy Satinash, one of the rainforest trees which flower and fruit on the trunk.

Lower Right: The fruit of the Mountain Pandan, one of the best 'bush tucker' fruits. Inside each spiked pod is a jelly containing the seeds. It tastes like pineapple and apricot - really yummy.*

*Yet again I am indebted to naturalist Alan Gillanders for identification of these plants.

Leaving Lake Barrine, we travelled to see the ancient Gadgarra Red Cedar tree. It would probably have been alive when Christopher Columbus was arriving in the Americas, and when Leonardo da Vinci was painting The Last Supper. But guess what? That cedar had stood proudly for five hundred long years, growing to a massive one hundred and sixty feet in height to tower over the rest of the forest. Then, 103 days before we arrived, that damned cyclone just snapped it off near its base. Isn't that a bitch?

Anciet Cedar

Jan, standing besides the stump of the Red Cedar, gives some idea of its girth.
It fell away from the camera and to the left. It is just visible in the picture.

The value of the Red Cedar timber is immense, but retrieving the trunk without inflicting more damage on the rainforest would probably be impossible. After due deliberation the authorities decided the tree will be left to rot away, returning the nutrients to the forest floor.

Having taken the picture above I went down for a closer look (not having noticed the sign forbidding that). As I turned from the stump I saw six faces watching me from the observation platform . . .

Viewing Platform

In the centre are Ross and Pam - the others are strangers. Camera-shy Jan is hiding behind Ross
who clearly has no such inhibitions.

We climbed back up the hillside to the car and moved on to nearby Lake Eacham which also had a track around its perimeter. There we found much more severe cyclone damage. In places the forest canopy was almost nonexistent with trees either fallen or missing their crowns. Those still standing were stripped of foliage. The forest will recover but it will take time. Conversely, on other sections of the three kilometre walk, the forest had escaped any damage so it was not all gloom and doom.



Before leaving the area we called at the delightful little town of Yungaburra (where naturalist Alan Gillanders lives, remember?) The town's name is derived from a word in the Yidinyji language meaning a place of enquiring or questioning. We all loved Yungaburra and spent some time wandering around.

Two things stuck in my mind (there isn't room for more). The first was the Peterson Creek where we spread out along the bank and waited - in vain - to see a platypus. In the creek were the remains of an old bridge, only the wooden stumps now remaining. A nearby sign told us it was built in the 1910s to provide road access to the larger town of Atherton. The sign also said The bridge was destroyed by fire or flood in the mid-sixties. Fire or flood? It appears that, after only forty years, some history of the town has faded. It is terribly sad that so much of Australia's relatively short history has already been lost. On our travels we have come across so many - too many - similar instances.

The second item I found fascinating was a high stone wall adjacent to Yungaburra's community hall. It is known as the The Insurance Wall (see picture). The plaque next to the wall tells visitors the wall's name . . . but no more! On enquiring at the Yungaburra information centre (right next door) I was given an explanation that seemed . . . well, call me cynical, but a little far-fetched, so I again found myself imposing on the good nature of Alan Gillanders. Alan explains: The fire insurance wall was built between the community hall - which was then a picture theatre - and the pub because both had a habit of burning down. The construction was ordered by the insurance company. It was designed as a heat sink to stop damage by radiant energy. There was another building beside the wall which is no longer there . . . I believe it was the single women's quarters. Thanks once again, Alan.

Pizza Evenings at Cool Waters

Pizza evenings were organised to coincide with a fortnightly free concert by a lovely lady called Carole who sings like an angel.


Carole, who sang for us while we enjoyed good company and heapsa pizza.

The Devonshire tea mornings and pizza evenings quickly became a problem for Pam, Jan, Ross and I who all have a constant battle with our weight.

Dwayne and Susan

Both the Devonshire teas and the pizza were delicious and both were provided in such large quantities that I, for one, felt obliged to keep eating as long as there was anything left. Yes, I know I lack willpower but when it comes to these two favourites, willpower deserts me.

Dwayne and Susan Crowe, our hosts. Two of the best.

The culprits at least partly responsible for our weight problem can be seen in the picture on the right. Dwayne and Susan, smiling as always, organised these events for their guests. When they took the park over about two and a half years ago it was very run down, so in addition to the multitude of tasks involved with managing a place like Cool Waters they are constantly making improvements. Just to challenge them further the weather threw in a couple of cyclones, one which brought down many trees and the other flooded the lower area including the camp kitchen. How they constantly stay cheerful is a mystery to me. They work from sunrise to well after sunset, seven days a week and bring up their two little girls. They make a point of remembering all their guests' names and nothing is ever too much trouble for them.

Cyclone damage

Cool Waters after Cyclone Larry. The devastation that faced Dwayne and Susan.

No sooner was the mess cleared than Cyclone Monica flooded the park.

The Red Arrow Track.

We decided on the Red Arrow Track because the Blue arrow Track was closed (and possibly beyond our capabilities). Susan recommended these walks which just goes to prove that behind that sweet innocent smile lies a wicked mind! Both walks started next to the Flecker Botanical Gardens and the Red Arrow Track is the easy one.

Easy? Says who? It is so steep that in many places steps have been laid to assist the walker; three hundred and thirty leg-killing steps. However, for Ross and I the climb was worth it because the walk culminated at a lookout platform high above Cairns Airport. The ladies did not appear quite so overjoyed but, hey, that's women.

Not only did we enjoy great views of the airliners landing, taking off and climbing out . . .


. . . but also a very good view over Cairns city to the mountains beyond.


What we didn't know, as we climbed the track that day, was that a mere sixty metres from us, in dense bush, was a decomposed body hanging from a tree. That nasty surprise was discovered by a council worker two days later.

Well, that is all I can fit on this page - any more and you'd have grown old waiting for all the pictures to download. So . . . click below for Page 28.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 27 was completed on 8 April 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.