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.
An independent Edwardian Irishwoman who lived 40 years in the desert with Aboriginal people a century ago should be a modern day heroine in Australia and Ireland, but Daisy Bates’ reputation remains troubled almost 100 years on. The “Great White Queen of the Never-Never Lands” was a household name during the decades she spent in exile from European comforts at a remote railhead near the Western Australian and South Australian border, but her more extreme views on race caused her reputation to plummet and only now is her vast ethnographic output getting the attention it deserves.
Bates (1859-1951) lived a vast life spanning a century of intense social change. She saw herself as a woman of science but her views on cannibalism, extinction and caste discredited her within the academic community. She had a remarkable existence living a spartan life in a hot desert tent for many decades. As the Irish Times said in October “she grasped opportunities for reinvention with both hands and carved out a niche for herself, claiming her place in Australian folk history.” Bob Reece’s 2007 biography Daisy Bates: Grand Dame of the Desert remains the best text on her life and I’m indebted to his research for this article.
Bates’ 40 years in the desert is highly unusual but her backstory is also colourful. In 1936 as an old woman she told a tale to journalist Ernestine Hill of her upper-class Irish protestant background that was almost entirely false apart from the setting. She was born Margaret Dwyer in Roscrea, Co Tipperary in 1859 to an alcoholic Catholic shopkeeper James Dwyer and wife Bridget. Bridget died when Margaret was four and she was raised with her siblings by maternal grandmother Catherine, of wealthier farming stock than the Dwyers. Catherine died four years later and Margaret was sent to Britain before returning to her uncle’s place in Roscrea where she was educated by the nuns as an “orphan”.
After school she moved to England where she styled herself as Daisy May O’Dwyer. In 1882 aged 22, she moved to Australia in a well advertised Queensland government scheme of free passages for bonded farm labourers and domestic servants. She landed in Townsville and moved to a station near Charters Towers where she married horse boy Eddie Murrant in 1884 in an Anglican ceremony. “Breaker” Morant, as he later became famously known, was also an assisted immigrant and younger than Daisy. The courtship was lightning but the marriage unravelled just as quickly. Eddie was done for theft of pigs and Daisy swiftly ditched him.
It was the start of an astonishing period of three marriages in 12 months – none of which were formally divorced, though her bigamy was never discovered in her lifetime. After leaving Eddie, Bates went to New South Wales where she was employed as a governess at Berry. On 17 February 1885 at Nowra she married cattleman Jack Bates. But when he went droving she moved to Sydney where, on 10 June she married Ernest Baglehole. Little is known of that relationship and within months she was back with Bates.
She gave birth to her only child Arnold Bates in August 1886 but showed interest in neither her son nor his father declaring she would never have sex with a man again, a promise she appears to have kept. For seven years she lived with pastoral families as a governess before she set sail alone to England in 1894 for what turned out a stay of five years. In London she worked on social campaigner WT Stead’s Review of Reviews, learning the craft of journalism which became a crucial source of income later in life.
She returned to Australia in 1899 to seek out Jack who was buying a pastoral property in north west Western Australia. Their reunion was unsuccessful but it was her first introduction to Aboriginal people who gave her a skin classification governing relationships. Daisy went to Perth where she was feted as a celebrity for her English experiences and her carefully cultivated exotic accent. She moved to an Aboriginal Mission in the Kimberley where she learned basic anthropological fieldwork. Back in Perth she heard about the rapidly disappearing Bibbelmun people of the south-west and set up camp with them, even being asked to organise a corroboree for royal visitors in 1901.
Daisy earned money with freelance assignments from WA newspapers and in 1904 she was employed by the WA government to collect Aboriginal vocabularies. Queensland “protector” Dr Walter Roth was hired to report on the condition of Aborigines in the west and Bates helped him with his agenda but did not accompany him because the coastal route the government decided on meant he would meet “the wrong kind of informants”. Instead she conducted a survey of the Bibbelmun language and she read her first ethnological paper at Melbourne in 1905.
Like many of her era, she became convinced Aboriginal people would become extinct due to their inability to cope with “civilisation”.She strongly defended regulatory action which strengthened her position with the government though it compromised her academic integrity. By 1907 she was considered an “expert” and lectured on the “half caste” problem and keeping Aboriginal people from white influences.
She set off on an epic eight month journey to understand the social organisation of south west tribal groups and by 1909 her manuscript was now a large treatise on every aspect of Indigenous life in the west. Her work came to the attention of English social anthropologist Alfred Radcliffe-Brown who was arriving in WA to do research. Though he was anxious to use Bates’ field notes they fell out because of her lack of interest in theory. They also quarrelled over the treatment of Aboriginal venereal victims with Radcliffe-Brown arguing for quarantine lock hospitals on islands off Carnarvon while Bates said they were better off in their homelands.
Back in Perth in 1912, Bates got the news that would set her life course. She was appointed WA’s Protector of Aborigines at Eucla on the Great Australian Bight. The position was unpaid and unsupported. She initially stayed at a sheep station but was drawn in to tend the sick and noted “how quickly the natives have annexed me”. In 1913 she left the station to live under canvas at Fowler’s Bay and spent her days tending to the aged and ill and collecting dialects and customs. In 1914 she travelled to Adelaide for a science congress and was feted by requests from women’s groups and journalists. She gave testimony to a government inquiry on Aborigines and was opposed to bringing them in to missions or town fringe camps.
She sold her property she inherited from Jack and subsidised her income with articles for The Argus and The Australasian documenting her bush experiences. After a breakdown in 1919 she briefly worked as a matron in a soldiers’ convalescent home in Adelaide before moving to Ooldea Siding on the transcontinental railway 200km from Fowler’s Bay. She remained there until 1935. Ooldea had a permanent underground aquifer and was an important crossroads for Aboriginal people, the site of initiation ceremonies and trade networks. A dozen white fettlers also lived here and Bates helped the Aboriginal women keep free from the sexual appetites and diseases of the rail workers.
Bates lived a penurious existence with no government support but refused to take charity. She kept a high opinion of her own standing keeping apart from the fettlers and insisting Aboriginal visitors call out “Kabbarli” (grandmother) before entering her tent. Inside the tent she kept “the necessaries plus my MSS. and letters and Dickens”. She requisitioned a 500-gallon water tank to store her manuscripts. There was no toilet in deference to the natives who regarded fixed sanitary conveniences as disgusting.
She survived harsh hot summers and cold desert winters and a long railway strike which prevented supplies for many months, entrenching her anti-union stance: “the strike makers are as secret and deadly…as the monsters of the Inquisition”. She survived sandy blight which rendered her blind for three weeks in 1920 requiring a visit to hospital in Perth. She also survived an Aboriginal “rebellion” of 100 hungry natives by calmly making tea and promoting the qualities of the shrewish wife of the rebellion leader who everyone hated.
She wrote a series of articles on infanticide and cannibalism which she claimed to have encountered at Dampier Peninsula’s Beagle Bay in 1900. She also wrote that in 1908 at Peak Hill in the Murchison region Aboriginal women killed and ate their newborns “sharing it with every woman in the group”. Experts at the time believe she was sincere in her belief but was misled by informants. Many believed she was deliberately sensationalising her reports to improve her newspaper copy. Her strong stubborn streak meant the more she was challenged by anthropologists, the more sweeping and exaggerated her claims became.
Her caste views also attracted controversy. She banned half-caste babies from the Ooldea camp and criticised a WA plan for a Central Australian Reserve preferring instead a “women’s patrol” to stop tribal people from entering settled areas. Her view was “the Aboriginal people are unmoral (sic), the half-castes are immoral, and to breed our own coloured population…is an ugly reflection on all of us”. A mixed race delegation to WA premier Philip Collier denied Collier’s claim Bates was a saviour to the natives. “She is doing it for publicity so people may call her a courageous woman for living among the blacks. If she did not encourage them to cadge at Ooldea, they would fend for themselves”.
Undeterred, Bates collected and recorded the culture of the desert groups that met at Ooldea. She remained a Christian though her bible was her Dickens’ collection which she revered. She found similarities between the Irish and Aborigines “being light hearted, quick to take offence and quick to forgive”. As custodians died, they entrusted ceremonial boards and totemic stones to her keeping and increasingly rare weapons made in the old way. She survived 16 years in the desert thanks to her intellectual interests and her spiritual strength. She kept a keen interest in the birds and animals that frequented the camp and sent specimens to museums in London.
In 1932 journalist Ernestine Hill visited and told Bates’s extraordinary story to the world as “the Woman of Ooldea”. Hill noted the contrast of Bates’s upper class demeanour and her spartan desert existence. “A white woman voluntarily exiled from her own people for 20 years finds all her joy in writing the legends and the songs of the vanished tribes,” Hill wrote.
When the United Aborigines Mission opened a post at Ooldea in 1933, they provided rations and medicine with which Daisy could not compete. “Its coming has brought my work of investigation to a dead end,” she wrote. She received a CBE in the 1934 New Year’s Honours and moved to an Adelaide hotel to write up her experiences in the desert for the Advertiser. Then 76 and with her eyesight and health failing, she needed Ernestine Hill’s help to put her manuscript to paper while syndicated articles about “Kabbarli” helped pay the bills. The first of 21 articles called My Natives and I appeared in 1936 in many Australian publications.
In 1938 her publisher suggested her manuscript be called The Passing of the Aborigines and she was delighted with the name. “I do sincerely hope that the fact of their passing will be understood and appreciated by Australians,” she replied. When it appeared in 1939 the reviews were mostly positive and the book became hugely influential in setting a patronising tone to Aboriginal people. British writer Arthur Mee wrote in the foreword she provided “succour (to) a noisome race, melancholy in outlook and terrible in habits”. Bates’ reputation as an expert on Aborigines was assured though her prediction of their extinction came just as their dramatic decline in numbers levelled out. As Reece wrote about her attitude to “half-castes”, she was unable to blame the white men who were responsible for the “menace of colour” and instead took out her anger and frustration on their progeny.
In the late 1930s the elderly Bates returned to camp life at Pyap near Loxton on the Murray. There she gave talks at the local school and showed the children how to make damper. But with few Aborigines to attend to, she moved to Wynbring Siding 160km east of Ooldea in 1941 aged 82. She wanted “the love and respect of those poor cannibals of Central Australia”. These people, she said, learned “there were two kinds of white women, our flotsam and jetsam eastwards and ‘Kabbarli’…and that is my lovely reward”.
Wynbring was even more remote than Ooldea with few trains, daily temperatures in the mid 40s, no post and unreliable water. Visitors from Ooldea trickled into camp but she was unable to care for the sick being old and frail herself. Thefts were also an issue. She despaired Aboriginal people would never return to their “old quiet ways” and the elders had lost their power. In 1945 she was admitted to Port Augusta hospital where staff quickly tired of her Lady Muck attitude. She eventually moved to Adelaide where she was “an eccentric institution” as vain as ever about her appearance but whose shortsightedness made her a traffic hazard. She died on 18 April 1951 and her funeral was a quiet affair with less than 100 mourners. There was no one from Ooldea there though she left her estate for their “relief of poverty and distress”.
As Reece concluded, time has not softened the impact of Daisy Bates’ distorted views on Aboriginal society and its future nor her rejection of Aboriginal part-descent. But there was no doubting her endless kindness to Aboriginal people and her ethnographic work has been crucial in WA native title claims as “an indefatigable recorder of what could be salvaged of the traditional culture”. For better or worse, Bates’ extraordinary story was one of singular courage and vision, however wrong-headed.
This is the tenth annual Woolly Days media person of the year, and the award itself is a bit woolly. Sometimes I give it to journalists or other media professionals who impressed that year and sometimes I give it to people outside the industry who for whatever reason dominated the media that year. A bit like Time’s person of the year, there is no actual award nor does the person have to be admirable – Time gave it to Adolf Hitler in 1938 as a warning not an accolade. “Hitler became the greatest threatening force that the democratic, freedom-loving world faces today,” Time wrote at the time.
This year Time have strayed into my territory giving their person of the year to the admirable guardians. The guardians are four journalists and one news organisation who have courageously brought the truth to the world: Jamal Khashoggi (the Saudi Arabian journalist murdered in the Saudi Istanbul consulate) Maria Ressa (the Filipino journalist who has taken on her murderous regime), Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, (imprisoned by Burma for their journalism) and the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, US (who lost five staff in a mass shooting). Any one of them would have been worthy winners of my award this year. But rather than repeat Time’s work, I take a leaf out of their book and give my media person of the year as a warning not an accolade. US president Donald Trump has thrashed global accords, promoted a neo-Nazi agenda, declared war on the media, has openly lied to advance his agenda, and is inspiring a plethora of authoritarian leaders and would-be leaders across the world. Eighty years on from Hitler in 1938 Trump is the greatest threatening force that “the democratic, freedom-loving world” faces.
Any normal politician would have been destroyed if they were involved in just one or two of those controversies. But Trump is not normal and his scores of controversies appear almost all without consequence. Indeed his strategy is to flood the media with controversies and lies (The Washington Post estimate in 710 days, President Trump has made 7645 false or misleading claims) which all compete for media space. None lasts long enough in the short news cycle to land a mortal blow while each individual attack is dismissed as “fake news”. The real fake news, usually in his favour, is disseminated widely via uncurated, algorithm-driven social media while the truth is still getting its pants on.
It is true that the Mueller investigation hangs over him like a Sword of Damocles threatening imprisonment and impeachment. The US Constitution allows for the impeachment of a president for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours.” The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives can vote with a simple majority to impeach a president. But the impeached leader is then tried in the GOP-run Senate and it needs an unlikely two-thirds vote to find him guilty and remove him from office. In the meantime Trump remains in King Lear mode raging against the unnatural elements toying with his fate.
Trump wants to portray the media as enemies. His strategist Steve Bannon blatantly told the New York Times after the election the media was the opposition party, not the wounded Dems. But the media did not want to be the enemy, merely the chroniclers of his presidency. They wanted to normalise his presidency using existing frames of reference, with outdated notions about “respect for the presidency” and hearing both sides of the argument despite being blatantly manipulated by the White House and its support base.
Media companies have come to rely on Trump, despite his animosity. For ratings-driven news outlets, the always-controversial candidate was the gift that kept giving. As CBS CEO Leslie Moonves admitted: “Trump may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” Organisations critical of Trump such as the New York Times have grown their subscription base greatly covering Trump’s ups and downs. But with the American newspaper industry losing over a third of its staff since 2006 the analysis of the downs has not been as thorough as it used to be.
The supposed “adults in the room” have had as little success as the media in managing Trump. Former foreign secretary Rex Tillerson spoke about Trump’s modus operandi. “When the President would say, ‘Here’s what I want to do and here’s how I want to do it.’ And I’d have to say to him, ‘Well Mr President, I understand what you want to do, but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law. It violates treaty,'” Tillerson said in November. “He got really frustrated … I think he grew tired of me being the guy every day that told him you can’t do that and let’s talk about what we can do.” The transactional Trump preferred to move the argument to what he wanted to do, and his supporters followed suit. .
According to researcher danah boyd, “alt-right and alt-light” trolls, conspiracy theorists, and offensive and outrageous provocateurs, all bathe in the flood of negative publicity, and use the media’s coverage, “particularly its storm of outraged, fact-checking, oppositional coverage” to whip up their base, generate interest in their ideas, and stoke the belief mainstream media was against them. Trump’s actions mirror his base. In October when a supporter was arrested in October for mailing bombs to Trump opponents and another murdered 11 Jewish worshippers in a Jewish synagogue, Trump put the blame elsewhere: “There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame.”
Trump does not want to put out the flame – he relies on its light and heat. CNN and its White House correspondent Jim Acosta are public enemy number 1. Trump and Acosta’s extraordinary ongoing battle flared up in public in November in extraordinary fashion. When Acosta asked about the so-called “migrant caravan” and Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Trump shut him down. “You are a rude, terrible person,” Trump said to Acosta, also reprimanding him for “horrible” treatment of White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. Acosta stood his ground but failed to return to fire about Trump’s own terrible rudeness. Here was a golden opportunity to accuse an angry president of being a congenital liar but Acosta did not take it. And neither the underhand way his administration manipulated a video to make Acosta look worse, or the court overturning his decision to deny Acosta a White House pass has made an iota of difference to the way Trump deals with the press gallery, or them with him.
Media educator Jay Rosen has been arguing for years press organisations need to change the way they deal with Trump, who he called the “most significant threat to an informed public in the United States today”. Rosen says normal practice cannot cope with Trump’s political style which incorporates a hate movement against journalists. He says that instead of sending veterans like Acosta, media companies should send in the interns. “Our major news organisations don’t have to cooperate with this. They don’t have to lend talent or prestige to it. They don’t have to be props. They need not televise the spectacle live and they don’t have to send their top people,” Rosen said. “They can ‘switch’ systems: from inside-out, where access to the White House starts the story engines, to outside-in, where the action begins on the rim, in the agencies, around the committees, with the people who are supposed to obey Trump but have doubts… The press has to become less predictable. It has to stop functioning as a hate object. This means giving something up.”
No organisation has yet seen the sense in Rosen’s words and given something up. Instead they are constantly playing catch up while Trump bends or breaks the rules further. He also works around them using social media, especially Twitter. Donald Trump discovered Twitter around February 2013 – at the start of the presidential cycle that led to his extraordinary win in 2016. The @RealDonaldTrump Twitter account had existed since 2009 but for four years broadcast bland promotional fare. A young movie maker Justin McConney who Trump admired for a golf video advised him to transfer his freewheeling approach to the world’s most unregulated public arena. “I wanted the Donald Trump who is on Howard Stern, commenting on anything and everything,” McConney said at the time.
Trump was not immediately sold but after media coverage of his fork-and-knife pizza-eating dinner with Sarah Palin in 2011, McConney convinced him to record a video blog explaining his decision which was about not eating the crust to “keep the weight down”. Not only did it cut out the middle man in getting the message out instantly, it generated a bonus round of coverage of the blog itself. His use of social media grew as he toyed with the idea of a 2012 run and he began to throw in social commentary. When he bought an Android phone in 2013 the shackles came off completely and he tweeted 8000 times that year. When he entered the Republican primary field in 2015, Trump used outrageous tweets to earn traditional media coverage — as better-qualified opponents struggled for attention. Everyone expected it to end once he was elected president but he merely doubled down with his new-found authority, and 45 million followers positive and negative are gripped by his every 280-word rant. He has only gotten worse in 2018. As his public enemy number one CNN says “his tweets read like a stream of consciousness, verbal vomit — always (or almost always) focused on the ongoing special counsel investigation being led by Robert Mueller.”
Even McConney says Trump has gone too far, but who will stop him? Unlikely the American electorate. Trump has a plausible path back to the White House in 2020 because he has not lost the trust of the rust belt states that voted for him in the first place. Certainly not other world leaders as the famous photo taken in June that accompanies this article shows. The unrepentant schoolboy Trump stares up at headmistress Angela Merkel and fellow frustrated teachers Shinzo Abe, Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May as he stonewalled G7 agreement on trade and tariffs, a year after he withdrew from the Paris climate agreement.
Even if he is somehow brought to earth by Mueller’s investigation, there are other authoritarians such as Bolsonaro in Brazil, Duterte in Philippines, Salman in Saudi Arabia, Orban in Hungary all watching and learning Trump’s crafty anarchy at work dismantling democratic checks and balances. The guardians named by Time in those countries are doing a good job but Donald Trump is showing that with the help of state media manipulations the guardians can be depicted as enemies. That is the real media message of 2018. I hope 2019 finds a solution to this problem. Happy New Year.
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. But this time was November so the walk would be 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.
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.
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 the second world war. 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.
Then it was another climb to Mother Beddock and looking beyond to Rose Bay and the city 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.
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.
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.
Living in Mount Isa but with strong roots in Brisbane means I take the 2000km trip to the state capital probably 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 midway different 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 it’s only shop-cum-petrol station closed its doors recently making it an uncrewed fuel stop only. 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 seen 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
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 pretty much 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. 44,000 bears later, the shop is still going strong. When I posted this photo on Facebook at the time, my comment was “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 used to enjoy 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 had 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 another sculpture I and another historian Peter Keegan helped commission. 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.
Talking Heads emerged from the New York scene in 1975 and were one of my favourite bands from the early eighties. I particularly loved their trio of albums Fear of Music (1979), Remain in Light (1980) and Speaking in Tongues (1983). The band was dominated by the brooding presence of David Byrne and his 1981 collaboration with Brian Eno (who was a big force behind Fear of Music) My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was a seminal influence on later sampling and still one of my all time top 10 favourite albums.
Living in Ireland at the time I was always on the lookout to see if they were playing anywhere close live but in those pre-Internet days I don’t recall ever having the opportunity. The closest I came was Jonathan Demme’s film version of their live album Stop Making Sense with David Byrne’s Big Suit the showstopper of that performance. Though I liked the singles from Little Creatures (1985) “And She Was” and “Road to Nowhere” I didn’t think the band was as interesting in the late 1980s and apparently neither did they breaking up in 1991.
I thought then I would never see Byrne or the band in all their glory. It wasn’t until just after I posted my piece about Eno-Byrne earlier this year did a friend point out that Byrne was touring Australia in November. Though he missed out Brisbane, he was playing the Gold Coast Convention Centre and that was close enough for me. I’d been looking forward to the gig ever since and I was not to be disappointed.
From the moment Byrne comes on stage and sits at a table to pick up a sculpted skull, it was captivating entertainment on many levels. I half expected him to break into Shakespeare with “Alas poor Yorick” but instead it was the song Here from his latest album American Vertigo. “Here there is something we call hallucination / Is it the truth or merely a description?” Who knows, but it was a tantalising opener.
For that song the band was off stage but they soon joined him in similar-suited splendour (all minus footwear) as he turned back the clock to Fear of Music with the classic I Zimbra. It was the song that launched Byrne on a career-long fascination with African music and it was the first excuse for the seated audience in the Coast to get out of their chairs and start rocking the arena. It was American Utopia with African roots.
The stage set was minimal but with 12 performers on it, it didn’t matter – there was always something interesting going on. Sometimes it was the two fabulous dancers with their elaborate choreography that Byrne would either join or just look on in delight. Sometimes it was the six-piece percussion group setting a pounding beat as they strutted across the stage. Sometimes it was the keyboardist carrying the music all by himself.
But mostly it was Byrne himself, now 66 years old, but careering across the large set with the energy and intensity of someone half his age. American Utopia released in January was his first solo recording in 18 years. He played several tracks from the album including Everybody’s Coming to My House. He told the story that when he sings it he worries about everyone being in his house, but when he heard a choir sing it, they infused it with positivity and a genuine sense that everyone was welcome in the house. It fits in with a larger project Byrne is putting together called Reasons to be Cheerful. I was expecting a morose artist but he was surprisingly upbeat and funny.
I also expected a performance infused with art – and Byrne did not disappoint. It was part stage show, part dance routine, part theatre, part performance and all captivating. At one point all 12 of them pirouetted perfectly like a marching band and it was glorious to watch.
The performance was enhanced by terrific use of lighting and shadows. The group bounced around untethered by wires or standing instruments but there was always method in their madness. Byrne was the star but each contributed to a dazzling whole.
The new music was great. But what everyone there wanted to hear – and I was no exception was the classic Talking Heads tracks. And Byrne was more than happy to oblige. Born Under Punches, Once in a Lifetime, Slippery People, Burning Down the House, This Must be the Place, and Blind, all had people racing to the front of the stage and getting their boogie on. Who could resist such great dance music?
Byrne and the band played two encore sets and finished with a modern day protest song Hell You Talmbout. Written in 2015 by Janelle Monáe it asks what the hell are you talking about and lists the names of black Americans killed by police or in race-related violence, asking people to say the names of the dead. It wasn’t Talking Heads but it was a powerful conclusion to a great concert. Hell you talmbout – this was one of the best gigs I’ve ever attended and like nothing I’ve seen before and likely ever again. He’s still alive but, David Byrne, won’t you say his name.