The fires that followed me as I drove north up the Bruce Highway in November were well evident around Cardwell. They were obvious in the hills at the back of the town and they were also prominent on Hinchinbrook Island, as seen from the Cardwell jetty. The island is accessible by ferry from Cardwell and is home to the beautiful 32km Thorsborne Trail along its eastern seaboard which takes about four or five days to complete. Though some of the island remains closed due to the fire damage, the Trail is still open despite a further major rain event on December 16 from ex-tropical cyclone Owen.
The fires were also visible in the hills behind Cardwell but when I went to the visitors’ centre, they told me that Murray Falls, about 40km north of town, was still open. The Seaview Deli Cafe was most certainly open as when I asked them what time did they close, they told me they don’t close. It is a rare 24 hour cafe which caters for the Bruce Highway bus stop traffic throughout the night. They may or may not be aware they are under attack from a giant crayfish.
I set off 20km north up the highway before finding the turn-off to Murray Falls and then another 20km to get to the carpark. The area was deserted and the falls looked cool and inviting.
The falls are in the Girramay National Park tumbling 30 metres down the mountain. A short walking track through the rainforest leads to a lookout above the falls. Murray Falls are unhappily named. John Murray was a senior officer in Queensland’s notorious Native Police and was direct and indirectly involved in many deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Aboriginal people as the Queensland frontier moved north and west. After one massacre, Murray wrote they had been “taught a lesson which will show them their inferiority in war”. The Girramay People have successfully reclaimed native title over the region. I prefer the Girramay word for the falls, Jibirrji.
In November 1848, an exploration party led by Edmund Kennedy landed north of what is now Cardwell. Kennedy wanted to travel norths along the coast to Cape York but he was was immediately frustrated by the thick rainforest, swamps and rivers of the area. After two months, his party found an inland path through the mountains to the west of Cardwell and Tully. Kennedy maintained friendly relations with the Cardwell tribes but he was speared to death just 20km short of the Cape.
The Queensland Government officially opened the Kennedy district in 1861. George Dalrymple took up a pastoral run in the Valley of Lagoons in 1863 and established a port settlement on Rockingham Bay a year later. The port was originally known as Port Hinchinbrook, but was renamed for British secretary of state for war, Edmund Cardwell. Though the first port in the region, Cardwell was quickly superseded by Townsville.
The region has yet to fully recover from the damage of Cyclone Yasi which made landfall near Cardwell in 2011. Yasi damaged three quarters of the town’s buildings, destroyed the marina and wiped out crops. Attractions like Girramay National Park remain mostly unknown to the wider public despite Cardwell’s obvious attraction as one of the few towns on the highway that fronts the ocean.
The Girramay story is that Jibirrji falls were created by Guyurru, the brown pigeon. Guyurru cut a steep wall out of the rock with a tomahawk turning it into a circular falls. The pigeon then filled the plunge pool at the bottom with tasty witchetty grubs wrapped inside leaves. I didn’t see the pigeon or the grubs it feasted on, but I did enjoy a cool dip in the croc-free waterhole. The fires seemed a million miles away.
Afterwards I went back to town and enjoyed the 5km-long coastal front walk from Port Hinchinbrook in the south to the war memorial in the north. Cardwell was an important supply depot for the Battle of the Coral Sea which took place 800km offshore in 1942. The town’s monument celebrates the actions of the USS Lexington which was sunk during the battle. In 2017 a 92-year-old survivor from the ship, led Cardwell’s 75th year anniversary commemorations.
That evening as I returned to the cafe for some fish and chips I looked out over Rockingham Bay and Hinchinbrook Island. The sky and sea were basked in eerie shades of blue and purple as the fires eased into the evening with smoke still wrapping the island. The photo below is exactly as I took it on my phone, like Cardwell itself, needing no filters or enhancements.