Before being released into the wild with our rusty Land Rover, we have to watch a safety video about Fraser Island. Driving on sand and getting bogged are covered, but a disturbing proportion focuses on the native Dingos (fox like wild dogs). This was along the tracks of don’t feed them, don’t try and play with them and ensure food is locked in cars. However, this progresses into carrying a stick as a weapon, not going to the toilet on your own and ‘defending yourself aggressively’ if attacked. Landing on the island, we pass about 5 warning signs within 5 minutes of leaving the ferry.
Fraser Island. Pourquoi? In 1836 a ship called Stirling Castle was wrecked near the Island. A search party from Brisbane rescued the survivors, though the head of the ship, Captain Fraser, had died. His widow, Eliza Fraser, travelled Australia and Britain telling tales of woe from the incident, in particular, the murder of her husband by ‘The Savages’ (Aborigines). As a result, K’gara (‘paradise’), was reclaimed as Fraser Island. However, survivors argued Captain Fraser’s death was due to natural causes and that Eliza was a sneaky squirrel out to make some quick cash.
We walk through tropical rainforest and past crystalline rivers to Basin Lake. A slight anti climax in itself, we are rewarded with some impressive mosquito bites. Looking like lepers, we head to East Beach and cruise along the sand to Maheno wreck.
Although now a skeleton, the Maheno was washed ashore in much better condition in 1935. Despite listing at a 16 degree angle, the vessel itself was suitable enough to host a wedding in 1936.
The boat was a retired trans-Tasman steamer bought as scrap metal for $15,000 by the Japanese. It was being towed 50km off the coast of Fraser Island when a storm hit, the tow rope broke, and the Maheno washed up on shore. Not worth the recovery costs, this is where she has remained.
At night we camp up on the beach, avoid cooking to avoid dingos, watch the sunset and spot shooting stars whilst a lightening storm flickers in the distance. It all gets a bit too sentimental and we head to our tents. Having managed to lose 3 of our 4 ground mats during the day (ridiculous) this is ‘sleep’ of the standard that makes you weep inside.
Milking our last day on the island, we trek up sand dunes and swim in the freshwater McKenzie Lake, complete with white sand. Following a slight mishap related to being at the wrong port for the wrong ferry, we are back on the mainland bitten, battered and badly in need of biscuits.
The dingos were fine. They only followed us on one walk – which we consequently did facing backwards and with minimal enjoyment.
After snaffling some free wifi (and possibly a cheeky burger…) from Hungry Jacks, we stock up on supplies at Aldi where I’m surprised to find ‘Low Carbohydrate Potatoes’. Is this not an oxymoron? A local strain of sweets, ‘Musk Sticks’, are sampled – like eating soap. Reminiscent of those satanic Parma Violet monstrosities.
Landing in Bundaberg we skirt around the Friday night frivolities to pass out in a residential street. Bundaberg is how I imagine the Deep South, with wide streets, wood board bungalows and pie shops. The town is also famed for sugar cane farming and Bundaberg Rum. Just down the road is a town called Rum Rum and over 1,000 rum fans queued 72 hours for the launch of the latest Master Distillers Collection – Double Barrel. I think they like rum more than sugar cane.
In the eerily quiet Botanical Gardens we can hear a trombone playing in the distance as we pass the Chinese Gardens and over historical railway tracks. It’s a strange but tranquil space which also commemorates a man called Bert Hinkler. Born in Bundaberg, he became a long distance pilot, flying England to Australia in 1928.
His first home built plane used an ironing board for where he lay down, and is now hung from the ceiling of a museum in his honour. Twice he flew this under the town bridge we drove across to reach the gardens. He later settled in Southampton, England.
In the 1980s, long after his death (plane crash, awkwardly) his home was marked for demolition. Bundaberg residents and Hinkler admirers managed to transport and reconstruct the house in the Botanical Gardens. Consequently, there is a fairly ugly pebbledash house nestled amongst the ferns and palm trees. Curiously, Captain Cook’s house had the same fate, being shifted from England to Melbourne.
Town of 1770 and Agnes Waters follow. Same same but different.
After whipping up a corned beef hash (8/10) in Rockhampton we drive onwards to a free camp site and meet more wildlife in toilets – lizards today. Better than spiders and cane toads the size of my head. Whilst eating breakfast we admire an impressive touring van called ‘Midlife Crisis II’.
In Sarina we pass a gathering of folk looking at a large muddy patch. After investigating further and dishing out $25, we are confused spectators at the Queensland Mud Trial Championships. Under the chassis’ of VW Beatles and other unlikely shapes, huge engines and monster truck wheels churn through mud pits. Occasionally a tractor pulls them out when stuck. The heavily tattooed audience sport un-ironic mullets and t-shirts with slogans like ‘I’m sotally tober’. The children have rats tails.
The following day we all head off on different Whitsunday Island tours. Aboriginal legend credits the 74 Islands to an egg laying serpent of Dreamtime fame.
I’d opted for a 3 day Introduction to Sailing Course. The only one to have done so on a boat of 11 others. The general approach seemed to be for me to pull a rope (or halyard…) here and there. Further questions were generally dismissed…they might have well said ‘don’t worry your pretty little head about that’. I kicked up a stink when back and managed to get refunded.
When snorkelling we had to wear black all-in-one stinger suits to protect against jellyfish. This triggers a memory that sharks attack humans as they mistake them for seals. The ‘stinger suits’ might as well be seal costumes. I’m scared.
The array of fish available for perusal is impressive. The parrot fish and snubnose cockrod with its giraffe print pattern please me endlessly…well, until I am cold or hungry. Usually both.
I’d heard that The Whitsundays’ Whitehaven Beach has high silica ‘pure’ white sand which squeaks underfoot – and it’s true!
Back on the road to Cairns we cook steaks and braise vegetables on a BBQ. The guy next to us whacks on a tin of beans – in the tin. Ten minutes late, we watch him trying to open it.
In Townsville, we experience ‘peak irritation’ with each of us wanting to do different things with some hangryness (hunger induced anger) in the mix. We resolve to just meet back at the van 3 hours later.
I head to a cultural museum about aboriginals not being included in the consensus as humans until 1969, amongst other oppressions. This is followed by Queensland Tropical Museum. The main exhibition is about a British ship, Pandora, captained by Edward Edwards (great name). The boat was chartered to recover mutineers of another ship, Bounty (they were Bounty Hunters, I guess). Ultimately, Pandora was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef with 99 survivors scrambling into 4 emergency boats. The majority died. The whole jolly escapade is dissected in graphic detail.
Aside from the tragedy, I gather sailors were rationed 1 gallon (4.55 litres) of beer daily and the left over meat fats from cooking, called slush, were sold to candle and soap makers. The money was then used to purchase extras for the crew, hence the term ‘slush funds’.
Walking back past a boat called Prawn Star, we climb into the camper (which is starting to smell like a hamster cage) and head for camping on Mission Beach. Waking up in a fragrant furnace, I drag my duvet and pillow onto the sand and sleep on the beach. I get some strange looks in the morning so decide to go all out. I put my head through a hole on a bin bag, dye my hair, and make use of that donkey milk face mask from Korea.
After rainforest ramblings at The Boulders, we drop the van off in Cairns and head our separate ways. Like siblings, we’ve laughed together, and also wanted to rip each other’s faces off. But ultimately, Team Sanga (so many sandwiches!) will be missed.
One of Cairns tourist retailers is called ‘OK Gift Shop’. Where is the aspiration in that? I also notice a glass cage in the lobby of a hostel. After inspecting the branches and sawdust like a swivel-eyed loon, I ask the receptionist what is inside. She responds “hermit crabs, but they died”. Nothing more. Part of me thinks these two observations provide a decent enough projection of the city, but that would be a little harsh. There are free public exercise classes, flocks of migrating birds and flying foxes (HUGE bats) at night.
I spend my time in the city visiting a fortune teller, unexpectedly enjoying afternoon tea in a swanky hotel (thank you Brad, liking your smooth moves x), diving the Great Barrier Reef and eating pies (Australian tradition. Surely?).
I track down the fortune teller at Rusty’s Market. He tells me I’ll have twins, is horrible about my mum (sorry mum!) and then shows me a photo of him with Bam Magera from Jackass. Apparently we have the same hands…?
After 3 dives on the Reef I’ve knocked heads, quite literally, with a 4 foot maori wrasse called Dennis and hand fed a green sea turtle. The underwater photos were ridonkulously expensive so below is a fairly accurate (photoshopped) representation. On your 14th dive you SOO don’t need your regulator in.
The Great Barrier Reef isn’t quite the underwater theme park often depicted. It may be the biggest reef in the world, but the best it isn’t.
With a plane out to New Zealand tomorrow, I feel troubled that I’ve only seen a fraction of Australia. And a fraction which is well trodden and all too predictable. I’d love to see the outback, learn more about aborigines and hear someone actually say ‘throw another shrimp on the barbie!’.
Oh well, next time…