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In and around emu park

On leaving Cape Hillsborough we had fully intended to travel to a resort town with the unlikely name of Yeppoon. The town is on the Capricorn Coast, so-named because the Tropic of Capricorn runs right through the area. Bet you never guessed that, did you? Anyway, at the eleventh hour we changed our destination to Emu Park, having been influenced by an enthusiastic recommendation from a fellow camper. Emu Park, a few kilometres south of Yeppoon, certainly didn't disappoint. We were still in the tropics but only just - our next move south will take us out.

The 430 km road trip down the coast was a struggle for our poor old donkey which had to battle a brisk headwind all the way, the caravan being about as streamlined as a block of flats. The Bruce Highway was busy so to avoid creating a hold-up we asked the Pajero to work very hard. Much of the way the auto transmission couldn't get into top gear and the engine was drinking diesel. But . . . we made it.

Sea

The Bell Park Caravan Park was adjacent to the beach but the view was blocked by a wall of shrubbery. We were lucky however, the manager (Jim Waterman) gave us a site which afforded a glimpse of the Coral Sea between the vegetation.

The view the washer-up had from our caravan window.

Emu Park was only a small community. The 'commercial centre', if so it could be called, was compact, clean and nicely laid out. From the caravan we could walk to anywhere in the town within a few minutes. On our first foray we found a very unusual monument dedicated to one of our great heroes, James Cook. As you'll doubtless remember, dear Reader, Lieutenant James Cook was pottering around these parts in 1770 in His Majesty's Barque, Endeavour. He discovered and named Keppel Bay and the Keppel Group of islands in May of that year. You can just make one out in the photo above.

Singing Ship

Two hundred years later, in May 1970, the Singing Ship monument was erected in his honour - and about time too. Jim named the bay and islands after his boss, Rear Admiral Keppel. Not a bad career move; Lieutenant Jim was promoted to Captain Jim when he returned to England.

But back to the Singing Ship monument. It was situated on top of a low hill overlooking the town centre in one direction and the beach in another. It had the appearance of a mast with a white sail, but why don't I show you a picture of it?

The Singing Ship. (We didn't know the bloke on the seat
but left him in the picture to give scale to the monument.)

The sail was made of concrete but the mast consisted of several sections of hollow plastic tubing of decreasing diameter. They were not slotted together so, as the wind blew over the open ends, each tube sounded a different note. In addition, the three rigging cables were made from hollow aluminium tubing with rows of holes drilled through them. These, too, resonated in the wind. The result was a discordant moaning which rose and fell with the wind. If my description makes the noise sound awful, let me tell you it beats the hell out of a lot of modern 'music'.

Not far from the Singing Ship we came across a nice hostelry known as the Pine Beach Hotel. The last thing on earth I wanted to do on that hot afternoon was go and drink cold beer but Pam was adamant. I can't let her go to these places alone - somebody has to get her home again - so much against my better judgement, that's where we ended up, consuming the demon drink. And if, like us, you really don't want to sit in a pub and watch the same greyhound race on three different screens simultaneously, or play Keno, or study the odds at some obscure race meeting, you could always look out of the window. The view was certainly worth looking at.

View from pub

A wine with a view. A rum with a view would have been a better caption.

The caravan park encouraged Happy Hour and during the first one we attended we heard about a character called King O'Malley. We'd never heard of him before but he seemed worth researching, so next day saw us in the local historical museum. There was a lot of information about O'Malley and much of it contradictory.

King O'Malley

O'Malley was born on the U.S./Canadian border in 1858, though on which side of that border is open to conjecture. It was suspected that he was an American but he later claimed he'd been born a Canadian and was thus a British subject and eligible to stand for political office.

King O'Malley's early years are vague but one thing is clear; when he was thirty years of age he was suffering from tuberculosis of the lungs - consumption it was called then - and his prognosis was not good. He was told that his only chance of survival was to travel to Rockhampton in Australia where the climate would be good for his lungs. King boarded a ship and travelled to Port Alma (forty kilometres south of Emu Park) and with him he brought a lead-lined coffin - there's nothing like being prepared! In Port Alma he persuaded two fishermen to ferry him up the coast and they dropped him on the beach at Emu Park. By this time he was so sick and weak that he didn't have the strength to do other than crawl into a shallow cave where he was eventually found by an Aborigine called Coowonga.

Rocky Point

Coowonga moved O'Malley to a log and bark shelter and fed him on a diet of oysters, kangaroo meat, Burdekin plums and fish.

Rocky Point where O'Malley was found in a cave by Coowonga. Erosion has since brought the cliff down, burying the cave.

Over a period of two years Coowonga nursed O'Malley back to health. According to the documentation, O'Malley attributed his life to Emu Park.

Ungrateful bastard! If I was Coowonga I'd have been seriously pissed off to hear him say that! When O'Malley was well, the two of them walked to Rockhampton and parted company. What happened to the coffin isn't explained.

O'Malley Monument


Outside the Emu Park Historical Museum was a monument
honouring King O'Malley. It would make a nice barbecue.

Coowonga must have done a fair job of curing O'Malley's consumption because O'Malley walked 4,400 km to Adelaide where he obtained employment as an insurance salesman and began preaching Christianity and temperance. In 1896 he was elected to the South Australian House of Assembly where he opposed the wealthy landowners. Not surprisingly he was tipped out of his seat at the following election and he moved to Tasmania. Two years later he was elected to the Federal Parliament as one of five Tasmanian members where he joined the Labor Caucus. In fact, the American spelling of Labor is attributed to King O'Malley who persuaded the party that Labor was 'a more modern spelling'.

King O'Malley served until 1917, twice as Minister for Home Affairs. He is attributed with being a driving force in the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank and in selecting the site of Australia's future capital city, Canberra, where he was later responsible for imposing a ban on alcohol. O'Malley also had a major input into the beginning of the transcontinental railway from Melbourne to Perth. He went on to live until he was either 95 or 99, depending which document you believe.

Spire

So there you have it, King O'Malley. We can forgive him for being a Yank I suppose, possibly for being a 'pollie', perhaps even for corrupting our language with American misspelling. But for being a teetotaller and preaching temperance we can not and WILL NOT forgive him.

The Tropic of Capricorn

Rockhampton, or 'Rocky' as it is called, sits astride the Tropic of Capricorn and much is made of this fact. A Tourist Information Centre called 'The Spire' was built right on this imaginary line so, just for fun, we went for a look. Outside the building was a spire and several large signs all referring to the Tropic of Capricorn. On the base of the spire was a plaque, part of which is shown in the picture below.

Tropic sign







The Spire and Information Centre,
supposedly on the Tropic of Capricorn.

Before leaving the car in front of the building I checked our GPS co-ordinates. Alice, our GPS, was showing 4 metre accuracy and giving a latitude reading of 23° 23' 59.3" South. Compare that with the latitude embossed on the plaque and you'll see quite a discrepancy. Either our GPS was woefully wrong or this whole Capricorn Spire and Tourist Centre was six and a half kilometres further north than it claimed to be!

I wandered into the building with my camera around my neck, tourist written all over me. The male attendant beamed as he came around his counter and asked if he could help. I said I'd be delighted if he would, and explained the problem. He looked just a trifle put out. It transpired that the whole Tourist Information Centre complex used to be on a different site which really was on the tropic but it had been moved to its present location some time ago. So all your advertising is misleading, is it? I asked. He was prepared for this one. Nowhere does it state how wide the Tropic of Capricorn line is, he told me. A smart answer, even if it is a 'cop out'.

Just in case anyone is wondering what exactly this Tropic of Capricorn is, it's an imaginary line around the world similar to the equator. In the southern hemisphere's summer the sun appears to move south until it is directly above the Tropic of Capricorn. In the northern hemisphere's summer the sun appears to move north until it is directly above the Tropic of Cancer, another imaginary line around the northern hemisphere.

Pam was keen to take a look at Saint Joseph's Cathedral - we seemed to have passed it several times as we drifted around Rocky. It was a nicely proportioned building, just over a hundred years old and in beautiful condition. We went inside and were very impressed by the stained glass windows. I popped up the steps to the choir stall to see if I could get a good photo looking down over the nave towards the altar but the contrast between the light from the window and the darker interior was too great. We both noticed the quantity of cobwebs and dust in the place. Even God can't get good help these days.

St Joseph's Cathedral

While in Rocky we visited St. Joseph's Cathedral which was completed in 1899 and
hasn't been dusted since. The stained glass windows were very impressive.

The Archer Park Station and Steam Tram Museum

While on the subject of Rockhampton I just have to mention the Archer Park Station and Steam Tram Museum. With regard to exhibits it wasn't especially remarkable but when it came to the friendliness of the staff and the wonderful sound system it was out on its own. The staff were so helpful - nothing was too much trouble for them. I had asked about a cam system on the steam tram operated by opposing wedges. The assistant didn't know the answer so referred me to another man. He, too, was stumped but went and researched through books and leaflets until I was feeling quite embarrassed for taking up so much of his time. He couldn't find the information in the end but made up for it by giving me a personal tour of the steam tram. Pam and I were offered - and accepted - a complimentary cup of tea.

Cameraman

The whole station area was peppered with speakers from smaller ones along the roof to huge 'woofers' on the ground. One of their uses was to reproduce the sound of a heavy steam locomotive passing through the station hauling freight wagons. If I closed my eyes it was hard to believe there was nothing really there. The engine could be heard approaching from the left, entering the station with a deep rumble which vibrated the building accompanied by the 'woosh woosh' from the funnel and hiss of steam. It seemed to pass right by me and exit to the right as the sound of rolling stock clattered past after it.

On the platform were statues of passengers - a soldier saying goodbye to his girl, a family going to the seaside for the day, a dog staring at a cage full of chickens, a ticket collector and so on.

This figure was taking a photograph of his family.
I thought the figures were pretty damn good.

Visitors to the museum started at one end of the platform and walked slowly to the other. You could hear the conversations of the 'passengers' as you walked past them as well as all the other station noises. The sound system was designed to follow you along the length of the platform and it was excellent. Even a signal man in his box talked to you. The station master was on the phone in his office trying to trace some chickens which had been unloaded at the wrong station. He was so realistic that when he rang off you waited for him to replace the receiver.

The Archer Park Station had been a fully operational station in years gone by. It was initially used for local traffic but later a line to Brisbane was established for coastal expresses. The trains became too long for the platform and that was the beginning of the end. The nearby Stanley Street Station was extended and eventually took over Archer Park's role. Once again, only short local trains stopped at Archer Park and in 1970 it was finally closed. Rockhampton City Council requested the site for a museum and in 1990 Queensland Rail agreed. Today the steam tram is fired up every Sunday and carries passengers back and forth along the short length of track which extends from either end of the platform.


Train Wreck


Posted up at the station was the photograph on the left. It depicts a French passenger train driven by an experienced driver. His train was running late and he was travelling fast in an attempt to catch up time.

The train entered the terminal station very fast and the driver applied the Westinghouse brakes. The brakes did not respond. The guard was too busy catching up with his paperwork to notice the situation until it was too late to apply the brakes from his end.

The locomotive demolished the buffers, hurtled across a concourse and burst through the wall of the building, tumbling down to the street where it narrowly missed a passing tram. Nobody on the train was killed though many were injured. The only fatality was a woman selling newspapers in the street.

The caption on the poster read:
Oh Shit

The Koorana Crocodile Farm

Home to over three thousand crocodiles, the Koorana farm breeds these prehistoric monsters primarily for the beautiful, supple skins on their bellies. The skin of saltwater crocodiles is in great demand by such fashion leaders as Hermes, Gucci and Prada. It is the best and most durable leather in the world and Koorana can't produce enough of it.

The tour began with a talk about these awesome and fascinating creatures before proceeding outside to watch our guide, Annette, feed those of them that were hungry. Being cold-blooded, crocodiles burn very little energy and are capable of slowing their metabolism until their heart rate is down to two or three beats per minute when at rest. They can go a whole year without eating, thus not all the animals offered food were terribly interested. Annette dangled great slabs of meat over the fence to entice them out of the water and those that responded were rewarded. There was a notice on the fence with the following warning:

ANYBODY THROWING RUBBISH OR
OTHER OBJECTS INTO THE POOLS
WILL BE ASKED TO RETRIEVE THEM

Mr Stumpy

Meet Mr. Stumpy. There are times when a wire fence is very comforting! Mr. Stumpy had lost a front foot in a fight. His wife, Mrs. Stumpy, had got a trifle too pushy with a male croc who bit off two feet of her tail - then swallowed it to reinforce his message.

When crocs are injured they have remarkable powers of recovery. The croc immediately shuts down the blood supply to the injured part until it heals. It also produces a very strong antibiotic to prevent infection - essential given the swampy environment in which they live. Abilities such as these explain why these animals, alive during the time of the dinosaurs, remain almost unchanged to the present. The only threat to them comes from humans.

Croc numbers began to fall drastically when they were hunted for their skins. They were also killed just because humans feared them. If a croc takes a human it is frequently hunted down and killed. A croc, like a shark, is a very efficient eating machine; it doesn't kill for fun, only for survival or if its territory is invaded. Hunting it down because it has taken a human for food is about as logical as hunting down a car that has knocked somebody over, then putting it in a crusher. Legislation was introduced to protect crocodiles in the wild and today skins are obtained from crocodiles specially grown for the purpose in farms such as Koorana.

Koorana staff are sometimes called upon to remove a crocodile that's in an area inhabited by humans. When they catch it and take it back to the farm, they remove the third-from-the-front horny spine from its tail. These horny protrusions are called scutellates or 'scutes' and the absence of this one marks the crocodile as one that has been taken from the wild; by law it cannot be killed and neither can any of its first batch of young. The purpose of this is to increase the gene pool of captive crocs.

Missing spine


There are several rows of 'scutes' running down a croc's back - see the picture higher up. They reduce to a double row towards the tail, then to a single row along the tail. On the left you can see the last two doubles. The third single scute has been cut off, marking this animal as protected; it came from the wild.

In a small sugar town further north, the workers had got into the habit of swimming in a local dam to cool off after the day's work. The farmer was worried sick - he had seen a croc in his dam but the workers wouldn't believe him and kept swimming every evening. In desperation the farmer called the Koorana staff to remove the croc. It turned into quite a task - this was one large animal. Eventually they pulled it from the water and secured it. Due to its size they decided to transport it to the crocodile farm by rail. The whole town turned out to watch this huge reptile being loaded onto the train. Apparently it was very easy to spot, from the looks on their faces, those in the crowd that had been swimming in that dam!

Crocodiles mate underwater in early summer and if conditions are favourable the females will lay between 35 and 53 eggs. If conditions are not favourable, however, these amazing mothers have the ability to re-absorb the eggs into their bodies instead of laying them. This may happen, for example, if there has not been enough rain. A croc's nest consists of a large mound of earth and rotting vegetation which they assemble close to water.

Croc's egg mound


An old crocodile's nest with the broken shells scattered around.

The female lays her eggs and buries them in the mound. She will then remain on guard around the nest for three months until they hatch when she will gently pick up the babies in her mouth and carry them to water. Once there, they are capable of feeding themselves. If some of the young are too weak to hatch by themselves, the mother will gently crack the shell between her immensely powerful jaws.

In the crocodile farm the nests are 'robbed' when the female has finished laying. The staff member who draws the short straw climbs over the fence when the mother isn't looking and collects the buried eggs in a bucket. Several other staff members stand guard from behind the safety of the fence and make jokes. Well, I expect they do - and the one stealing the eggs probably has a change of underwear handy. After the eggs have been collected, the mother crocodile continues to guard the empty nest until the three month incubation period has expired. She is programmed by her hormones to do this, just as hormones tell her when it's time to mate.

The eggs are taken to a temperature-controlled incubator where they remain until they hatch. Incubating them in a controlled environment increases the success rate of the hatchlings to around 85% as opposed to a mere 2% in the wild. Amazingly the temperature in the incubator determines the ratio of male to female hatchlings. If is maintained at precisely 32.5° Centigrade, 80% of the hatchlings will be male. If the temperature varies by as little as 1° either way, the ratio will reverse and only 20% will be males. The farm wants as many males as possible because males grow faster, and with fewer problems, to the 2 - 2.5 metre length where they are commercially viable. Or, put another way, large enough to be killed. Nothing on the carcases is wasted; the belly skins are sold for their leather, the tail tips for souvenirs on key rings, etc., the feet and skulls are made into soup in Asia and the genitals are considered aphrodisiacs in some countries. Then, of course, there's the meat.

We didn't get to see the incubators or the nursery where the babies are reared, but we were allowed to hold a young croc which had its jaws firmly taped shut.

Pam holding croc

"I'm glad you think this is funny. Care to try it again in five years?"

That was the end of the tour and it was lunch time. The farm had its own licensed restaurant so we stayed and had our revenge on all the crocs that had eaten humans - we ate crocodile kebabs. The meat was rather chewy and tasted quite bland. We decided that the nearest comparison might be veal. It wasn't unpleasant, though neither of us would go out of our way to eat crocodile again.

The picture below has nothing to do with crocs other than it was taken in the crocodile farm.

Smart birds build their nests around the crocodile pools because they know they will be safe from tree-climbing snakes and lizards.


Bird



Right: I couldn't resist including this lucky shot. These Bar-breasted Honey Eaters were building a nest on the end of a dangling branch. The second bird is hard to see - it blends with the nest.

Finally on crocodiles, we heard some popular myths dispelled:

That's it on crocodiles for now.
Mount Morgan Mine

A tour of the old Mount Morgan Gold Mine was highly recommended to us. During a hundred years of mining a whole mountain had been removed leaving a hole over a thousand feet deep in the ground. In the process 225 tonnes of gold, 50 tonnes of silver and 360,000 tonnes of copper were removed making the Morgan brothers and their business partners very rich. The mine closed in 1981 but as technology improves the old tailings may be reworked. The black and white photo below shows the mine pit as it was in 1971. Remember, this 'hole' had once been a mountain as high as the pit is deep!

Morgan B/W


Mount Morgan Open Cut Gold Mine in 1971. Circled is a giant dump truck travelling down for a fresh load of ore.

Unfortunately much of the deeply-buried rock contained sulphides. When broken up it reacted with oxygen in the air and dissolved in rainwater to form sulphuric acid which leached into the ground. This would perhaps not have been apparent until the vegetation lower down the hill began to die. Then the River Dee, flowing through the valley adjacent to the mine, became polluted and all the rich riverside vegetation died.

When the cause was discovered, bores were sunk all around the contaminated area and the water pumped up into the disused pit which is now a lake. From the lake the acid water is continually recirculated through a plant which adds lime to neutralise the acid, then returns it to the lake. Acidity and alkalinity are quoted in pH levels where a pH level of 7 is neutral. From 7 to 14 is increasingly alkaline. From 7 down to 1 is increasingly acid. The water in the lake has a pH level of around 2.6 which is very acidic. After it has been treated it is returned to the lake with a much improved pH level of around 6 but it's going to be a long job as the acid water from the bores around the site is constantly being added. The areas with highest acidity are given priority.

Morgan colour

The Mount Morgan pit as it looked in late 2006.

You want to know exactly what a pH level is? Well, the pH number is numerically equal to the negative logarithm of the concentration of the hydrogen ion in gram atoms per litre. And serves you jolly well right for asking.

At the time of our tour the River Dee was well on its way to recovery with ample vegetation growing along its banks. The treated water (on its way back into the lake) is still not suitable for drinking but some plants and fish can now tolerate it. Tests are being carried out with different types of vegetation to see which will best tolerate acid soil.

Also mined on the same site was clay used for making bricks. One hundred and twenty years ago this claystone was discovered close to the pit and large tunnels were cut into the mountain to extract it. On the roof of the main tunnel there are footprints from the some of the earliest dinosaurs. Do the names 'Theropod' or 'Ornithopod' mean anything to you? There was a lengthy and complex reason for the footprints being on the roof which did not include dinosaurs walking upside down like flies. However, the footprints were authenticated by experts in the 1950s and have now been photographed by us for you. The light was poor and a flash would have been counter-productive but my new camera worked like a gem. This camera is all my birthday and Christmas presents rolled into one until fifty years after my death.

Footprints

Circled are two three-toed dinosaur footprints. There were many more, some on this picture.

Not only were dinosaurs footprints on the roof of the cave, but in a nearby passage there were colonies of bats. For safety reasons we couldn't go into that section so we couldn't see them, but we could certainly smell them! There was much more to the tour of the mine than is included here - this is the condensed version. I'm sure you don't really want to see lots of pictures of rusty steam shovels, old sheds and slag heaps.

Heike


Heike Steinberger, our tour guide. When it came to the town or the mine she holds every
name, date, depth, height, weight - you name it - in her phenomenal memory.

What might be of interest is that two of the original investors in the Mount Morgan Gold Mine went on to succeed in other areas using the wealth the mine generated. William Knox D'Arcy, a solicitor, moved to England. In 1900 he financed an exploration venture in Persia which discovered oil, but not until it had nearly bankrupted old Bill. However, he hit the jackpot at the eleventh hour and again amassed a huge fortune. His company was renamed British Petroleum in 1954.

Another original investor, Walter Hall, died in 1911 leaving several million pounds to his widow, Eliza. She donated a million pounds to establish a medical research institute in Melbourne which began operation in 1915. The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research is now one of the most prestigious in the world.

Just a thought by cynical old me; did any of these astronomically rich investors in the Mount Morgan Mine ever pay towards the ongoing cost of repairing the environment? Or do the good old taxpayers pick up that bill?

It was an enjoyable day out that was sadly marred by a tragic accident on the approach road to Mount Morgan. A nineteen year old motorcyclist collided head on with a truck even as we toured the mine. He died instantly. The road was still closed hours later when we left town, all traffic being directed down a dirt track that bypassed the scene.

And so ends another page of our adventures around Australia.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 34 was completed on 17 April 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.