Back to Bowen

I had stayed the night in Bowen on a similar trip last year and enjoyed a lovely walk around Cape Edgecumbe that I wanted to repeat. I forgot however that the last time I was here was in the month of May when the temps were a pleasant mid 20s. This time was November so the walk would be in temperatures at least ten degrees warmer. The last time I did it was anti-clockwise so to vary the mix I did it clockwise this time starting with the Rotary Lookout walk from Horseshoe Bay.bowen2

With temperatures well into the 30s it doesn’t take long to work up a sweat as you climb the hill out of the bay. But there is a fine view from the Lookout to compensate. Below is the vista back to Horseshoe Bay and looking north into the Pacific.bowen3

Looking south, the town of Bowen is lost in the hazy distance. More prominent is the rock formation and local landmark called Mother Beddock. Mother Beddock is apparently named for her prominent nose, although no historical information on
such a person has been identified. Early spelling appears to have been ‘Beddick’.


Beyond the Rotary lookout is another more functional lookout post used by the army in World War II. A Japanese attempt to capture Port Moresby and gain a foothold in the Solomon Islands was thwarted in early May 1942 during the Battle of the Coral Sea. RAAF Catalinas flew many hours of reconnaissance missions over the Coral Sea searching for the Port Moresby invasion fleet. They were helped by the radar station on this hill.


Then it was back down the hill to Murray Bay. I fancied a swim in the ocean though was worried by the prospect of the stingers that infest North Queensland waters in the warmer months. However it didn’t bother a trio of teenagers having fun in the ocean. I thought that if it was alright for them, it would be fine for me too so joined them in the drink. It was a blissful escape from the heat of the day and the stingers stayed clear.bowen6

Then it was another climb to Mother Beddock and looking beyond to Rose Bay and the town of Bowen. Mother Beddock’s precarious position is as a result of thousands of years of weathering and erosion.


The Don River’s alluvial plain provides fertile soil that supports a prosperous farming industry. The river flows north by northeast through the Eungella National Park and is joined by thirteen minor tributaries before emptying into the Coral Sea north of Bowen.bowen8

Every year, during winter, the day time tides are low enough for a special event – Bowen’s Walk to the Lighthouse. North Head Island is home to one of Queensland’s oldest lighthouses. Port Denison was the first port established in North Queensland, with Bowen officially proclaimed on April 11, 1861. Built in 1866 this six-sided wooden tower lighthouse protected ships entering the busy port. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1985 and the original lens shifted to the Bowen Historical Museum. Community groups restored the lighthouse in 2017.


Below is the view back along King’s Beach to Cape Edgecumbe from Flagstaff Hill. The walk looks tempting but a creek two thirds of the way down prevents beach access to the cape.


Finally to the kiosk at Flagstaff Hill for a coffee and to check out the story of the region at the interpretative centre. Sadly it was closed and may have been since Cyclone Debbie ripped through the region last year.


The road north to Mackay

In my previous post I wrote about my recent drive from Mount Isa to Brisbane. After a week in town, the highlight of which was a visit to the Gold Coast to see David Byrne in concert, it was time to head north again, this time up the coast. My drive up the Bruce Highway was punctuated by fires in the distance. These fires got worse later that week causing evacuations and road closures. The closest I came was seeing them in the distance such as this one at Deepwater National Park near 1770 seen from the road south of Miriam Vale. The fire burned 20,000 hectares over a week and destroyed at least four homes in the Baffle Creek area.


I kept going and checked into a motel in Rockhampton. In the afternoon I drove out to the Capricorn Coast, first stop Emu Park. Pride of place overlooking Keppel Bay is the Singing Ship, commissioned in 1970 on the bicentenary in 1970 of Lt James Cook’s his exploration of the bay in May, 1770. The memorial represents the billowing 12m sail, mast and rigging of his ship Endeavour. It doesn’t “sing” but concealed organ pipes use the sea breezes to create music.


Further north on the Capricorn Coast drive is the Causeway Lake. The Lake is a human-made feature formed by the bridge crossing Mulambin Creek, which allows
fresh salt water in on the high tide.


Below is the view from the top of Bluff’s Point south back to Mulambin Beach with the Causeway Lake on the right. The 2.3km Bluff’s Point circuit is a lovely walk at all times of year especially looking on all the islands of Keppel Bay, all of which were part of the mainland until the sea levels rose about 10,000 years ago.


Below is the almost Rio-like view north from Bluff’s Point to Rosslyn Bay and Yeppoon and the hills of Byfield State Forest further on. The whole area is the remnant of an extinct volcano.


Nestled under Double Head, Rosslyn Bay is the dropping off point for ferries for one of favourite spots Great Keppel Island. It is also the home of Keppel Bay Marina, built in 1996.


Below is Fan Rock at Rosslyn Bay. The rock formations were formed over 63 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous Age when the Australian plate was moving north and weak spots in the Earth’s crust passed over an area of deep heat. Molten lava forced its way through layers of rock creating a chain of volcanoes. Geologists say Fan Rock’s hexagonal columns were formed by thick lava lowly cooling before solidifying, shrinking and cracking. The surface cracks grew deeper as the rocks below cooled forming columns that fanned out from the centre of the volcano. Over time wind and water eroded the surface lava, ash and soft rock. This exposed the resistant trachyte plug leading to striking fan effect.


Next is the entrance to Ross Creek at the bottom end of Yeppoon beach. Yeppoon is the main town on the Capricorn Coast with a population of 18,000. Ross Creek was named for the family who first settled in the Yeppoon area in 1865. The Capricorn Coast was part of the traditional lands of the Darumbal Aboriginal people.  The word Yeppoon is derived from an Aboriginal word describing a place where waters join – Yeppen Lagoon in nearby Rockhampton has the same meaning.


The following morning I was back on the road. There is precious little distractions on the 300km stretch between Rockhampton and Sarina. The only small town Marlborough is off the highway and barely worth the detour. The only highlight is Clairview, one of just a couple of spots (the other is at Bowen) where the Pacific Ocean is visible from the Bruce Highway. Clairview is a beautifully quiet spot – not so much sleepy as comatose. Its sands are apparently famous for crabbing and its waters are a protected sanctuary for the endangered dugong.


Koumala is a small settlement 30km south of Sarina on the highway. It was too early for a beer as I came though but I had to stop to take a photo of the hotel’s symbol, a massive saltwater crocodile. The presence of large salties is the reason it’s not safe to go swimming at Clairview beach, no matter how idyllic it looks, or most other beaches along the North Queensland coast. The town name, Koumala, is not Aboriginal as it might seem. Instead it harks back to the indentured Pacific Islanders who harvested the sugar cane in this region in the early 20th century and comes from a Fijian word meaning sweet potato.


Another drive from Mount Isa to Brisbane

Living in Mount Isa but with strong roots in Brisbane means I take the 2000km trip to the state capital on average once every three months. And with expensive flights, sometimes that means hopping in the car and doing the 20hr trip either in one or preferably two days. I’ve written before about the journey via Winton and via Blackall which the same road but with a different midway stopping point. In November I was back on the road again but this time I needed to do it in one big day.


I left Mount Isa in darkness around 4am and the important task in the first section to Cloncurry is dodging cattle on the roads. Kangaroos are out there too but cattle are a lot bigger and something you really don’t want to hit. I arrived at Cloncurry unscathed as the first shards of light appeared in the east behind the rich copper-filled hills of the Curry.


A further 100km down the road is McKinlay. There is not much to this settlement and its only shop-cum-petrol station closed its doors recently making it an uncrewed fuel stop. This is increasingly the prospect for remote small towns but it means travellers may now have go hundreds of extra kilometres to get food and water and you may end up paying $3 a litre fuel if you are unlucky. Scottish explorer John McKinlay (his likeness here on a plinth in town) who came this way in the 1861 South Australian Burke (and Wills) Relief Expedition, may or may not have had much sympathy for the issues of modern travellers.novdrive2

When I got past Longreach – seven hours into the journey – I passed other travellers heading to Brisbane but taking a different way there. The Spirit of the Outback train travels twice a week in both directions via Rockhampton and takes 26 hours to do the 1325km distance. It leaves Longreach 10am Thursday, so would only have just begun its journey when I overtook it west of Barcaldine. The effect of the drought can also be clearly seen in the parched landscape.


Tambo is the oldest town in the central west and is half way between Mount Isa and Brisbane. Thomas Mitchell came through here in 1846 mistaking the Lake Eyre-bound Barcoo for a Gulf-bound “river to India” which he grandly named Victoria. It took a second trip by his second-in-command Edmund Kennedy to spot the mistake. Nowadays nearby Blackall is bigger but Tambo does have Tambo Teddies. The shop was established in 1992 when wool prices had crashed and as now the district was in the grip of a drought. Three women came up with the idea to create teddy bears from wool pelts and stuff them with wool. Over 44,000 bears later, the shop is still going strong. I posted this photo on Facebook with the comment, “At Tambo, Halfway there. 950km down 950 to go. How much more can a teddy bear?”


Plenty more was the answer as I cruised the miles through Augathella, Morven, Mitchell and arriving in my old haunt of Roma early evening. Around 40km west of Roma is the tiny community of Muckadilla. When working in Roma I enjoyed coming here on Anzac Day for the 6am dawn service as the first rays of light pushed through from the east. A few days before I arrived, local historian David Bowden arranged for this black memorial wall commemorating Harry Murray VC. Murray was the most highly decorated Australian soldier who fought in the First and Second World Wars. From Tasmania, he got his Victoria Cross for his relief work at Gueudecourt in 1917. After the war he became a grazier at Blairmack, Muckadilla and married an estate agent. They lived at Muckadilla until 1925 when they separated and Murray went to New Zealand, later buying a property in Richmond, Queensland. Well into his sixties, he commanded the 26th Battalion in North Queensland until April 1942 and did not retire until 1944.


Murray is not Muckadilla’s only brush with fame. Across the road from the cenotaph is a sculpture another historian Peter Keegan and I helped commission in 2014. The plaque commemorates the last place where 19th century German explorer Ludwig Leichhardt was known to be alive.  Leichhardt wrote his final letter to the Sydney Morning Herald from Allan Macpherson’s station on the Cogoon (Muckadilla) river in early 1848 before he disappeared with seven or eight men on his quest to travel across Australia east to west.


Muckadilla is one of many towns in the region with a grain tower though its one is closed down. The one shown here at Wallumbilla 40km the other side of Roma is still operational. Wallumbilla survives on cropping and beef cattle (though also has become a coal seam gas centre in recent years). The silo stores sorghum and other crops in season and is owned by Graincorp, which has been shutting down hundreds of these silos across Australia.


I continued driving into the dark as I closed in on Brisbane. My final stop was at Chinchilla 300km west of Brisbane. A couple of days earlier Chinchilla had won Australia’s Next Big Thing competition (a marketing exercise by Wotif) and was now the proud owner of an eight-metre-long melon sculpture. It is hard to get a sense of its size in this photo which for all the world could easily be a close up of a real melon on a table. But assuredly it is big and will be the centrepiece of activities when Chinchilla celebrates its 25th Melon Festival in February. For me it was just a quick pic then back in the car to complete the drive by 11.30pm, 17 and a half hours after leaving the Isa.