Next stop Mackay

After my day on GKI, I drove north the following morning from Rockhampton to Mackay, where I was booked into another motel.There is 300km of nothing much between Rocky and Sarina, which sits on the edge of Mackay canefield belt. At Sarina I detoured inland through the canefields then up in the ranges to Eungella Chalet. I stopped here the last time I did this run but it was raining. Though the clouds threatened again today, it cleared by the time I got to the top of the range and enjoyed a great view down to the valley below as I had lunch in the Chalet.


After a short walk in the local National Park, I drove the 70km down below and into Mackay. After checking in, I drove across the Pioneer River and up through Mackay’s northern beach suburbs until I hit Slade Point. It was yet another spot named by  Captain James Cook in 1770 after Sir Thomas Slade, Surveyor to the Navy 1755-71. This is the view north to Dolphin’s Head.mackay2

I expected to see some heavy industry around here as the home of two coal ports at Hay Point (seen in the left of the image below) and Dalrymple Bay, but I was more surprised to find a 73 hectare reserve, Slade Point Reserve. I went for a long walk in the Reserve, first hugging the shore with good views from Lamberts Lookout and then inland through the dunes.mackay3

As afternoon turned to evening I drove south back to town, detouring through Mackay Marina which glistened in the late sunshine.mackay4

The following day I had to get to Airlie Beach which was less than two hours away. So there was time for a detour back to Cape Hillsborough National Park. Again, this was another spot I visited last time but its beauty demands repeat visits. The beach was empty on a cloudy morning and I came too late to see the kangaroos feeding at dawn.mackay5

Unlike last time the tide was out so I was able to the full walk circuit of the Cape by walking along the rocks before finding the path up the hill. At low tide Wedge Island is linked to the mainland via a causeway but signs recommend you only head out there on a falling tide and I didn’t want to take the risk of being stranded out there for six hours. I was content to admire the view of the island from one of the lookouts on the Andrews Point 5.2km walk.mackay6

This is the view from the south of the Cape at Turtle Point looking south across Shoal Point to Belmunda.mackay7

The walk affords many gorgeous views of the beaches below at Cape Hillsborough. I’m back in the vicinity at New Year’s Eve and looking forward to checking out the other walks at this beautiful place.mackay8

Back to GKI

One of the highlights of my last trip down the Queensland coast was my first visit to Great Keppel Island so I was keen to get back there. Staying in Rockhampton, I bought a $45 return ticket from the Rosslyn Bay Harbour terminal the day before and arrived 45 minutes before the 9.30am ferry departure. gki1

It’s an easy 30 minutes across Keppel Bay from the mainland to GKI. Sometimes you can see dolphins (and possibly whales had I been a month or two earlier) but all we had for company was a policeman on a jetski who kept up with our fast ferry all the way to the island. Perhaps he wanted to book us for speeding. Not sure what he was up to as I didn’t see him again after I got off the boat.gki2

I made a number of mistakes the last time I went to the island including going without a map (I couldn’t access the internet to get Google Maps). This time I went prepared and also wore runners rather than sandals as I knew the track got rugged. But like the last time I took the only road away from the beach and like the last time I quickly saw some of the island’s many wild goats. The goats are a pest, introduced to the island as a food source. But now there are over 600 of them causing erosion problems as their hard hooves damage the soil and the grass.gki3

Again like the last time I headed towards the first lookout with its views down to the beach where the ferry lands and across to the Capricorn Coast on the mainland. But the last time I turned around here not knowing what was ahead. This time I continued.gki4

I was keen to climb up to the highest point on the island at Mount Wyndham. It’s a tough but enjoyable walk with great views to most parts of the island. The track becomes a little undefined after the summit and you need to carefully watch your step to avoid getting lost.gki6

Along the way were glimpses down to Consadine Beach and the Banksia Track. My plan was to return that way, in what would be at least a two hour return walk.gki5

But first I wanted to check out a beach on the southern side of the island. Beautiful and deserted Clam Bay was my destination, a little slice of heaven I had all to myself. But I was horrified to later read about plans for a private resort and golf course which would totally transform this side of the island, and not, I believe, for the better. I understand the need for jobs but this looks hideous and I’m sure most of Clam Bay’s pristine beauty would be lost. I’m enjoying it for now.gki8.JPG

On the way back to the resort side of the island I pass the Great Keppel Island Homestead also known as the Leeke Homestead. This timber and corrugated iron residence was built 1922-24 and was the home of Lizzie Leeke (formerly O’Neill) who lived on the island from 1922 until 1945. She originally moved to Great Keppel from Gladstone with her husband Michael O’Neill and they depastured sheep on the island from 1918 when they purchased the pastoral lease on the island. The island had been occupied by Europeans for over 50 years prior. In 1867 prominent Central Queensland squatter, Robert Ross “prepared” the island as a cattle property by driving 84 indigenous people into a cave and murdering them. gki9.JPG

All that walking built up a thirst. Luckily right along the beach (or rather, precariously perched on a dune above the beach) is the Hideaway, GKI’s relaxed bar, cafe and restaurant. I timed my run nicely for lunch and a cool beer which went down well.gki10

Afterwards, I traipsed back down the main beach, passing the boarded up old GKI resort. “GKI = 1500 jobs” says a placard on the building. The old resort, which was a famous party spot in the 1980s, has been closed for eight years and developer Tower Holdings, headed up by CEO Terry Agnew, plans to build a large resort, with hundreds of villas, apartments, a marina, a golf course and an airstrip. Locals have mixed feelings, some wanting the employment, others believing it will ruin the island. I like it just as it is. Maybe demolish the old resort and have a smaller scale eco-friendly resort in its place.gki11

But I had another important choice to make on my walk. Where to go next… Long Beach or Monkey Beach? gki15

I decided to take in both and there is a short cut between the two. First to beautifully deserted Long Beach for a swim in pristine waters with only the seabirds for company.gki12

Then on to Monkey Beach which had a bit more traffic out on the bay. Here the ferry (seen right of picture) which I took to get here stops with its full day-trip tourists for a spot of snorkeling. I was content to wade in the shallower waters before returning to the main beach to catch that same ferry back to the mainland in the late afternoon.gki14

Lastly between Long and Monkey beaches is this Aboriginal shell midden. All the islands in Keppel Bay were once hilltops on an extended coastal plain before the sea levels rose 10,000 years ago. Archeological evidence shows humans have occupied the island for the last 5000 years so they were either here beforehand or used watercraft from the mainland. The oldest artefacts found in this midden are a “mere” 300 years old but it was still used at the time of European invasion in the 1860s. Local stones such as quartzite, snadstone and rhyolite were used to make the artefacts found on the site as well as shellfish. Fish and plant food would also have been eaten but do not survive as well as stones and shells.gki13


Noosa to Capricorn Coast

After my day in Noosa, it was up early for the six hour drive to Rockhampton and the Capricorn Coast. In the past I would done this drive straight up the Bruce Hwy but after checking out Google Maps I decided on a slight detour that was actually a short cut. That meant diverting west after Gympie to the Wide Bay highway and north via Woolooga and Biggenden and picking up the highway again between Childers and Gin Gin. First stop was the Rusty Ute cafe in Woolooga. Its owners were rock and roll fans and the cafe is laid out with musical paraphernalia and even a small stage. I asked the owners about it and they said they wanted to attract musicians to play there on weekends. Did I know of any, they asked. I didn’t, but if you are keen on a country gig in lovely surrounds 40km north-west of Gympie, the Rusty Ute would love to hear from you.rocky1

Then it was on past some pretty country and very little traffic (with a short gravel road section) near Biggenden. The photo below is of the granite outcrop of Mount Walsh which has its own National Park.rocky2

I arrived in Rockhampton around lunchtime, checked into a motel and then drove another 40km to Yeppoon, the biggest town on the Capricorn Coast. Yeppoon has a relaxed and confident air about it. Hard to believe the town suffered considerable damage less than two years ago in Tropical Cyclone Marcia.rocky3

Directly behind the main street is Yeppoon beach which stretches for 1.4km from the low intertidal rocks at Spring Head south to the mouth of Ross Creek, where there is a small breakwater. Erosion has plagued the beach and it is backed by a seawall. High tide goes all the way to the seawall. The beach is protected from waves by the Keppel Island group, and waves average only half a metre. This view below stretches south to the Keppel Island ferry at Rosslyn Bay Harbour. But that is tomorrow’s fun.


After lunch in Yeppoon I head south along the tourist drive to Bluff Point. Starting from the beach there is an enjoyable 2.5km walk that goes over Bluff Point with great views along the way.


This view is from the top of Bluff Point looking north to Rosslyn Bay. Further north still is Byfield National Park behind Yeppoon where smoke from a bushfire can be seen.


This view from Bluff Point is to the south to Mulambin Beach, Mulambin Creek and another bushfire this time near the Flat Top Ranges near the Fitzroy River estuary.  I drove back to Rockhampton hoping to enjoy the view from the top of Mount Archer which dominates the town. Frustratingly the road to the summit was closed to repair damage from TC Marcia. rocky7

Brisbane to Noosa

After a couple of weeks in Brisbane, I had a week to get back to Mount Isa and meandered my way up the coast. I didn’t go far on the first day – just a leisurely 150km to Noosa. First stop was the lookout at White Horse Mountain, named for the wild brumbies that used to roam the area. The lookout is just off the Bruce Highway about 20km north of Caboolture. The track to the lookout is a steep 700m walk from the carpark but offers fantastic views in every direction, south to Brisbane, east to Bribie Island and the coast, north to the Sunshine Coast and (shown below), west to the beautiful Glasshouse Mountains. James Cook so named the mountains as he sailed north in 1770 because their shape reminded him of the huge glass furnaces (glasshouses) in his native Yorkshire.


Next stop was a detour to Buderim, the one part of the Sunshine Coast on the commanding heights of Buderim Mountain. Buderim is the Kabi Kabi word for hairpin honeysuckle which grew abundantly here. There are terrific views here 180m below to the coast at Mooloolaba.noosa2

At Buderim there was an important stop at Vandy’s Garage. I didn’t need any mechanical repairs or fuel, which is just as well as Vandy’s has long since stopped being a Garage. Today it is home to a cool coffee shop and the beverage there went down well.noosa3

Replenished it was on to my digs for the night, a motel in Noosaville. The motel was only a block or two from the Noosa River and I wasted no time in soaking in the relaxing sights and having lunch by the foreshore. The river begins in the Great Sandy National Park and winds its way south to fill up Lake Cootharaba then Lake Cooroibah, and onto Tewantin before emptying into the Pacific at Noosa Heads. Noosa Heads is exclusive but Noosaville has a more accessible charm and a lovely esplanade along the river.noosa4

After lunch I walked the 3km or so to Noosa Heads passing many channels of the river. Stand up paddles were everywhere as were pricey-looking apartments and even pricier boats.noosa5

After a short mingling with the plutocrats on Hastings Street, I headed on east towards Noosa National Park, passing the busy Noosa Main Beach looking out on the North Shore. The rare north-facing beach makes it one of the Pacific coast’s safest and it is too far south to be infested by nasty marine stingers.noosa6

The National Park begins another 2km to the east. The track to the headlands is beautiful with fantastic views to hidden coves along the way. Though it has been a National Park since 1939 it almost succumbed to a pro-development lobby in 1962.  The Park provides an important refuge for native wildlife including the koala, glossy black-cockatoo, ground parrot and wallum froglet. This photo was taken at Dolphin Point looking towards Tea Tree Bay.


I walked to the end of the track to the headlands at Hell’s Gates then trampled south to the beautiful surf beach at Alexandria Bay. The Bay is famous as a nudist beach though it is illegal and police charge people for “offending“. There was just one older gentleman displaying his baubles as I walked down (and I steadfastly remained legally decent) but clad or not, it is a beautiful place to, ahem, hang out.  I walked back to town via the almost empty Alexandria Bay and Tanglewood Tracks to end what was another delightful day in that paradise some folk call Queensland.noosa8

Mount Isa to Brisbane via Winton

Earlier this month I took two days to drive to Brisbane from Mount Isa. I started late on the first day so only drove five hours to Winton before doing the big leg of 1400km on the second day. Distances are enormous in Queensland. This road sign is just south of Cloncurry – and I had already travelled 130km from Mount Isa before hitting this sign. The sign is on the start of the Landsborough Highway heading south before linking up with the Warrego Hwy at Morven and then on to Brisbane.


The clouds gathered as I drove south into the flat agricultural country of McKinlay Shire. It’s about 350km from Cloncurry to Winton and there are only two tiny settlements along the way at McKinlay and Kynuna.nov2

I landed in Winton late afternoon. Banjo Patterson wrote Australia’s unofficial national anthem Waltzing Matilda (and it is far more enjoyable listening than the strident and pompous dirge that is the official anthem) in 1895 while staying at a station near Winton. This monument to Patterson and his song is outside what used to be the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton which burned down on June 18, 2015 (my birthday as it happens, though I was far from the scene at the time). Winton Shire Council have plans to rebuild the centre at a cost of $20 million.


But the most iconic building in Winton is the North Gregory Hotel. This is the fourth building on this site and like the Waltzing Matilda Centre fire has played a big part in its history. The first North Gregory Hotel opened in 1879 and it hosted the first live performance of Waltzing Matilda in 1895. The building was demolished in 1900 but the second building was destroyed by fire in 1915. The third one was also lost to fire in 1946 and the current building was erected in art deco style in 1955 by the Council which instructed management to run the hotel “on first class lines”.nov9

The main street has other imposing buildings such as the heritage-listed Corfield and Fitzmaurice building. This general store was opened in 1878 serving the local population until 1987. It is now partly the home of Combo Crafts selling homemade arts and crafts while the remainder of the building is a museum promoting Winton’s dinosaur heritage.nov12

I drove around 20km out of town to have a quick look at the bleak but compelling Bladensburg National Park. The park has flat-topped mesas and plateaus, residual sandstone ranges, vast grassland plains and river flats but you need a 4WD (which I didn’t have) to explore its more interesting sections.


I did drive down the River Gum Route and saw the intriguing “Cragg’s Grave”. Richard Cragg was a mail contractor who died on December 30, 1888, aged 46. The cause of his death is unknown, although it is believed he was accidently poisoned. Cragg came to Winton from Manchester in England, with his wife and seven children. Some of his descendants still live in the Winton area.nov8

I came back to town in time for beer o’clock and sampled a beverage at the brightly decorated Tattersalls Hotel which was home to a handful of patrons watching the cricket on TV.nov5

The following morning it was up on the road early, around 5am, before first light as I had 1400km and a likely 14-15 hour drive to Brisbane ahead of me. This photo was taken on the road leaving Winton.nov10

About 20km south of Winton is the Australian Age of Dinosaurs museum . It was too early for it to be open but I have been there before. The museum is 10km off the highway up in the hills (known as the “Jump Up”) overlooking town. The idea for the museum came after local farmer David Elliot found a dinosaur fossil in 1999. It turned out to be a giant femur from a Cretaceous sauropod that roamed the Winton area 95 million years ago. More finds followed and Elliot opened up a museum to show off the ancient local wildlife.


Two hours later I arrived in Longreach where I stopped for breakfast and a crucial cup of coffee. I’ve been to Longreach many times before but I always enjoy stopping here. All the main streets, such as Duck St, are named for birds found in the area.nov6

I didn’t take too many photos on the long drive that followed but I did have to stop near Blackall and take a photo of these drovers moving cattle along the stock routes by the side of the highway. The stock routes are known as Queensland’s Long Paddock and while it is rare now for cattle to be transported this way (trucks are usually the go) they still form an important supplementary food source during drought times.nov11

Just like the previous day, this one ended with a beer. This one was in Brisbane, having arrived to my place north of the city around 7.30pm – 14 and a half hours after leaving Winton. Cheers!nov13

Crocodiles at Lake Moondarra

14712475_10153706560932757_6242102373686916556_oIt’s the nature of our job in the news industry that means working weekends are a regular fact of life. But though my working hours are not social I do have a pact with myself to try and keep Sunday afternoon sacrosanct and take one of the many wonderful bush walking opportunities we have in the North West.

Of late I have been trying out many trails around Lake Moondarra and the area never ceases to lift my spirits.

Lake Moondarra is an artificial lake on the Leichhardt River, 16 km downstream from Mount Isa, providing water to the city and the nearby mines.

The dam was built in 1956 and in 1961 it became Lake Moondarra, from the Kalkadoon name meaning “plenty of rain also thunder”.

There are some great views above the lake, if you’re willing to scramble through occasional rough country, and there is nothing better than finding a new track along one of the lake’s many nooks and crannies. The birdlife is wonderful to watch and I never cease to achieve a feeling of tranquility within minutes of walking there.

Until now, that is.

In last Saturday’s paper we showed the photo of a large crocodile seen sunning itself on the banks of the lake. I always knew there were crocodiles at Moondarra but in the past the thought of them never bothered me. I knew them to be freshwater crocs (Crocodylus johnstoni) , not the fearsome saltwater maneaters (Crocodylus porosus) seen further north. But this photo we published on Saturday put the wind up me.

This croc was over 2m metres long and although an expert told us it was indeed a freshie and not a more dangerous saltie, it still looking intimidating to me.

To my untrained eyes the distinguishing mark of nobbly necks made little difference, all I could see was a large monster with eyes trained away from the water, apparently searching for careless newspaper editors distracted by staring at pelicans it could drag into the water and feast on for a large meal (though like clowns, I suspect I taste funny).

An expert we consulted told us they were harmless if left alone, but added a chilling rider: “If approached, there is a risk of been bitten like entering a yard with a dog.”

Though these crocs were likely on the far shore of the Lake I noticed myself keeping a healthy distance from the shoreline on Sunday. I was tempted to climb a hill to get further away but got myself in knots worrying about snake season. Perhaps I should stay home and read a book.

Nah, I’ll get over it, Lake Moondarra remains an enchanting place.

60th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution an uncomfortable reminder for Viktor Orban

Hungarian refugees get ready to leave the country in 1956

As Budapest prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution, survivors are divided over the immigration policies of current right-wing prime minister Viktor Orban. The 1956 Revolution ended in a brutal Soviet crackdown that saw 200,000 Hungarians flee the country, an irony not lost as Orban tries to stop modern-day refugees from entering the country. A 1956 refugee Nikolits Nadasdy says their situation was completely different to what is happening today. “We were very happy to get to a free country. But we didn’t shoot anybody and we didn’t rape women,” she said. However another 56er Janos Bak disagrees, “To handle this crisis with the best will is difficult, and almost impossible. But if you have the attitude of (Orban) then it’s disastrous.”

The responses show a deeply divided country, a situation Orban is happy to play up. Many booed during his 1956 commemoration speech, a situation not dissimilar to what happened 10 years ago. In October 2006 police used tear gas and rubber bullets to quell protesters (many of them Orban supporters) against the then-socialist government of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany after he admitted lying to win re-election. Veterans of the 1956 uprising refused to shake hands with him at the commemoration and Orban’s opposition party boycotted events where he was due to speak.

The controversy was the main reason Orban won the subsequent election in 2010. In a speech in Germany this week Orban did not shy away from the Revolution. His view now is that Hungary fought for freedom in 1956, opened the way for freedom in 1989 by taking down the Iron Curtain and is “now acting to protect that freedom” by keeping out migrants. But this weekend’s anniversary is decidedly low-key with only one foreign head of state, Polish President Andrzej Duda joining Orban in Budapest.

The events of the fortnight following 23 October 1956 were well worth commemorating. It was the first major challenge to Soviet military power since the Second World War. What began as a student demonstration turned into a wildfire that quickly engulfed the country and a full scale revolution. It caused the fall of the central government in Budapest before the Russians intervened to crush the rebellion.

Hungary had fought on the side of Germany during the earlier war. Its Second Army was annihilated at Stalingrad and Hungary looked to make peace with the Soviets. Hitler ordered Nazi troops to occupy Hungary and forced its government to increase its war effort. When the Soviets invaded Hungary in 1944, the Hungarians signed an armistice, repudiated by Germany. The country became a battlefield and the last Nazi troops did not leave Hungary until April 1945. Even before the war had ended, Churchill agreed with Stalin the Soviet Union would enjoy 80 percent influence in Hungary, with Britain retaining the rest. Communists were part of a provisional government that took power after the war.

In November 1945, the non-Communist Independent Smallholders’ Party won an election. The communists used what one of their own leaders called “salami tactics” to gradually increase power by discrediting and arresting opponents. Communist leader Matyas Rakosi took control of the police and set up a secret unit called the AVH. The Smallholders party was slowly marginalised and eventually made illegal. As relations between the Soviets and the West deteriorated Stalin pushed for the creation of a Soviet state in Hungary and the Communists took control. In 1949 the regime held a single-list election, and the government ratified a Soviet-style constitution. The Hungarian economy was reorganised according to the Soviet model. But it was performing dismally. Stalin’s death led to a new breed of leaders including Imre Nagy who became Hungarian leader in 1953. Nagy freed political prisoners and ended forced agricultural collectivisation. Hardline Communists regained control in 1955 and forced Nagy to step down. But Nagy still had much support in the community. Hungarians were resentful that much of the food and industrial goods they produced went to Russia while the local population starved.

On 23 October 1956, students in Budapest held a rally in support of Polish efforts to win autonomy from the Soviet Union. It sparked mass demonstrations of 200,000 people. The police attacked, and demonstrators fought back tearing down Soviet symbols. Alarmed Communist leaders called out the Hungarian army, but many soldiers handed their weapons to the demonstrators and joined the uprising instead. The following day, Soviet troops entered Budapest. This enraged Hungarians and led to pitched battles with troops and state security police. Nagy was named Prime Minister on October 25. He brought non-Communists into the government. He dissolved the hated AVH and promised free elections. For 12 days, Hungarians fought the Soviets in ferocious street battles. The Soviet ambassador (and future leader) Yuri Andropov publicly agreed to remove their forces from Hungary but they secretly sent new armoured divisions instead.

When Nagy found out the double-cross, he was enraged. He withdrew Hungary from the Warsaw Pact and called on the West to support it as a neutral nation. But the west was otherwise engaged in the Suez Crisis. The Israelis had invaded Sinai, and the British and French had bombed Egypt, hoping to force the country to reopen the recently nationalised Suez Canal. President Eisenhower kept the US out of the Suez issue and was sympathetic to the freedom movements in Eastern Europe. But he was not prepared to go to war to save Hungary. The US privately told the Soviets Hungary was in their sphere of influence and it was up to them to end the revolution.

The Soviet response was devastating. On November 3 Red Army troops bolstered by regiments from Eastern Asia surrounded Budapest and closed the country’s borders. The Asian troops spoke no European languages and were told they were going to Berlin to fight German fascists. Overnight they entered the capital and occupied the parliament building, overpowering poorly armed local forces. Nagy fled to the Yugoslav embassy as the Communists announced on state radio they had regained control. The head of the Hungarian Catholic Church, the remarkable Cardinal Mindszenty (just released after being imprisoned for eight years after the war) sought refuge in the US embassy. He would live there for 15 years until the Hungarian government let him leave the country. Meanwhile 200,000 Hungarians fled to Austria before being re-settled in the West.

Over the next five years, Hungary executed 2000 rebels and imprisoned another 25,000. Nagy was arrested and apparently deported. However two years later, Hungary admitted he was secretly tried and executed. A bitter Hungarian joke of the time expresses local sentiment:

Two men meet on the street after the revolution.
First man: you know, come to think of it, we Hungarians are very lucky people
Second man: What? You don’t mean you’ve become one of them?
First man: Oh no, but just think. The Russians came here as friends. Imagine what they’d have done if they came as enemies.

The anniversary of the Revolution may be an uncomfortable reminder of the complexity of friends and enemies to the simple message Orban wants to push through.