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The Rocky Road Trip Concludes!

After six hours and over 500 kilometers worth of driving, passing through Gympie, Tiaro, Childers, Gin Gin and Miriam Vale, we finally reached the city of Rockhampton, on Queensland’s Central Coast.

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Customs House, Rockhampton

 

The estimated urban population of Rockhampton in June 2015 was 80,665, making it the fourth-largest city in the state outside of the cities of South East Queensland, and the 22nd-largest city in Australia.

Rockhampton is one of the oldest cities in Queensland and Northern Australia. In 1853, Charles and William Archer discovered the Fitzroy River, which they named in honour of Sir Charles FitzRoy. The Archer brothers took up a run near Gracemere in 1855, and more settlers arrived soon after, enticed by the fertile valleys. The town of Rockhampton was proclaimed in 1858, and surveyed by Arthur F Wood and Francis Clarke, the chosen street design closely resembled the Hoddle Grid in Melbourne and consisted of a grid of wide boulevards and laneways, which was uncommon in Queensland.

Within the year, gold was found at Canoona, and led to the first North Australian gold rush. This led to an influx of migrants who quickly transformed Rockhampton into the second-largest port in the state; during this period, Rockhampton was nicknamed as the “City of the Three S’s”, of which were “Sin, Sweat, and Sorrow”. Subsequent gold rushes at Mount Morgan Mine, which was at the time one of the most productive gold mines in the world, laid the foundations for much of the city’s Victorian architecture.

 

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Customs House by Night

 

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Old National Bank building, now the home of Riverston Tea Rooms

 

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Fountain at Riverside Boardwalk

Today, Rockhampton is the industrial and agricultural centre of the north, and is the regional centre of Central Queensland. Rockhampton is also a large tourist destination known for its history and culture supporting such institutions as the Rockhampton Art Gallery, one of the most extensive regional galleries in Australia, the Central Queensland University with campuses across five states, the Rockhampton Heritage Village, and Dreamtime Cultural Centre. It is also famous as the hometown of Rod Laver – one of history’s best tennis players. The city acts as a gateway to local tourist locations such as the Capricorn Caves and Mount Archer National Park, as well as regional tourist areas like Yeppoon and the Capricorn Coast alongside the island chains offshore that include Great Keppel Island.

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Banyan Fig Trees, Rockhampton Boardwalk precinct

The cattle trade is a dominant industry in Central Queensland, and has been visually represented around Rockhampton City with a set of seven large statues of bulls known as the ‘Big Bulls’.

The Central Queensland Livestock Exchange at Gracemere is one of the largest livestock sales facilities in the country, lies just to the west of the city.

Rockhampton promotes itself as the Beef Capital of Australia, but the title has been disputed a number of times by the New South Wales town of Casino. The tri-annual Beef Australia Expo held in the city is a celebration of the local area’s cattle industry.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh visited Rockhampton on 15 March 1954, and Princess Alexandra visited Rockhampton on 1 September 1959.

Karl Stefanovic, former Rocky WIN News reporter, has gone a long way since his days as a young journalist in the Beef Capital. Karl, who is now a co-host of Nine Network’s Today show, lived in Rockhampton after completing his university degree. Christine Anu,  17 time ARIA nominated pop singer and actress who gained popularity with the cover song release of the Warumpi Band’s famous song “My ISland Home”, spent all her high school years here.

Since European settlement, Rockhampton has experienced shaking associated with several earthquakes, in 1883, 1918 and 2016. The region has also experienced meteorite sightings- on 2 August 1903, many people in Rockhampton reported seeing a meteorite. Between eight and ten minutes after the meteorite was observed in the sky, a loud boom was heard which shook houses, rattled tin roofs and moved telegraph wires.

On the night of 31 October 2016, Central Queensland residents, including in Rockhampton, Yeppoon and Gladstone, reported seeing a bright orange light in the sky. Many residents in the Gladstone area south of Rockhampton, particularly those living in the Boyne Island and Tannum Sands areas, reported hearing a loud boom soon after. Despite the light also being observed in Rockhampton, there were no reports of the boom being heard there, unlike in 1903. Experts including astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, Astro Space News editor Dave Reneke and private astronomer Owen Bennedick all concluded that a meteorite had crashed to earth near Gladstone.

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Flood gauge, Fitzroy River

 

 

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Fitzroy River at dusk 

Rockhampton wasn’t quite the end of our road. We still had another forty minutes and forty kilometers to drive northeast, to the seaside township of Yeppoon.

Yeppoon is the principal town on the Capricorn Coast, a string of seaside communities stretching more than 150 kilometres (93 mi) from north to south. The beaches and shallow coves provide a destination both for tourists and miners settling down in Central Queensland. Offshore, there are 27 islands including Great Keppel Island, which is 20 kilometres (12 mi) from Yeppoon. Yeppoon is the gateway to the Southern Great Barrier Reef.

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Main Beach, Yeppoon

 

The Capricorn Coast was part of the traditional lands of the Darumbal Aboriginal people. Yeppoon was first settled by the Ross family in 1865 who took up large landholding along the length of the Capricorn Coast. Fruit crops, cattle, and wool were the major industries of the early town. A short-lived period of sugar cane growing followed from 1883 to 1903, which failed due to unseasonal rains and lack of financial backing. Along with other sugar growing areas of Australia, South Sea Islanders were used as labourers on the sugar plantations, often without their consent, an activity known as blackbirding. Pineapples, mangoes and other tropical fruit became the mainstay of local agriculture in the new century, with cattle grazing and fishing also contributing to the local economy.

On 20 February 2015, severe tropical cyclone Marcia crossed the Capricorn Coast near Shoalwater Bay as a category 5 Cyclone. The storm destroyed more than 150 houses in Yeppoon and left more than 13,500 residents without power.

Yeppoon will host the inaugural Capricorn Coast Writer’s Festival in May-June 2019.

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Well, I’ve reached Yeppoon, where my new life begins. I hope you’ve enjoyed coming along for the ride on my Rocky Road Trip blog series. Keep an eye out for my upcoming blog series Books By The Beach Series 2, which will take off right here in Yeppoon, and in which I will be bringing all the beautiful beaches of the Capricorn Coast straight to your screen, with a literary touch.

I hope you’ll join me then!

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Rocky Road Trip Stops 4 & 5: Gin Gin & Miriam Vale

We pulled off the Bruce Highway at Gin Gin, approximately 51 kilometres (32 mi) west of Bundaberg and halfway between Brisbane and Rockhampton.

Our stop was fairly short and uneventful, except for our chance meeting with some intriguing fellow road-trippers. This was their mode of travel.

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With a a population of approximately 1,190 people, the town name has sometimes been said to derive from a local Aboriginal word indicating “red soil thick scrub”. It is also possible the name comes from the Western Australian locality of Gingin. 

British occupation of the region began in 1848 when Gregory Blaxland Jnr (son of the explorer Gregory Blaxland) together with William Forster brought their flocks of sheep up from their squatting leases on the Clarence River. The area they selected extended all the way to the coast and they called it Tirroan. Strong resistance from the local Aboriginal people was encountered resulting in the death of several shepherds and the killing of Blaxland in August 1850. Two large massacres of Aboriginals were conducted by local squatters and their stockmen as punitive measures to these deaths.

The Gin Gin district is nicknamed Wild Scotsman Country due to the capture of one of Queensland’s few bushrangers, James Alpin McPherson, in the area on 30 March 1866. McPherson, who went by the same nickname, was captured at Monduran Station, 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) north of town.

We left the Bundaberg Region behind and entered the Gladstone Region, and the population plummeted as we entered Miriam Vale, rural town of approximately 512 people.

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Historical Queenslander style house now home to Lifeline charity store

 

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Rainbow captured above Miriam Vale

Miriam Vale is renowned as a traditional cattle growing area, and also supports timber, beef and dairy cattle. Tourism is an emerging industry within the shire and the town is a gateway to the tourist resorts of Agnes Water and Town of 1770. Miram Vale is on the North Coast railway line and is serviced by the Miriam Vale railway station.

In the 1970s signs at the entry to town proudly proclaimed “Welcome to Miriam Vale – Cattle, Tobacco, Timber and Dairy”. The tobacco industry faded in the late 1970s followed by the dairy industry in the 1990s.

A car rally passed through Miriam Vale in 1924; the stretch of road between Miriam Vale and Gin Gin was said to the roughest of the rally.

Across House Creek there is also evidence of an old speed way ground (circa 1970s) and if you look around the district you can find history in old horse race tracks.

Miriam Vale has a nine-hole golf course with small greens and mature gum trees. At times in its history the course was stretched to twelve holes but the members and district could not sustain the extra work needed to keep these holes open.

We’re nearly there! Next stop- YEPPOON!

 

 

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Rocky Road Trip Stop 3: Childers

It was mid-afternoon by the time we reached the township of Childers in the Bundaberg Region. We were mindful of the time that was escaping us, and with four hours of driving still ahead to reach Yeppoon, we had little time to spare. We spent our short time at the Palace Backpacker’s Memorial.

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Childers has become infamous for the event that took place here in June 2000. The town made international headlines when an arsonist set fire to the Palace Backpackers Hostel, claiming the lives of 15 tourists. Once best known as a major stop for backpackers working the fruit-picking trail, the name of this locality has become eclipsed by tragedy. The Palace Backpackers Hostel  fire is usually the first thing that pops into the minds of most Australians when they hear the name of this town, but this place is much more than the tragedy that took place here. Before I tell you about our visit to the memorial, let me tell you about Childers.

With a population of approximately 1,584, the Childers area was traditionally inhabited by the Dundaburra group who are part of Kabi Kabi tribes of the Wide Bay Burnett in the northernmost area. Their descendants still live in the area.

The township is set on a ridge overlooking fields of rich volcanic soil.

Europeans first arrived in the area in the 1850s. Pastoralists established properties soon after to raise cattle on the fertile lands. Back then, sugar was (as it is now) the key crop grown in the Isis. The town was established in 1885. The Isis railway line to Childers opened in 1887 and was pivotal in the early development of the area. Childers Post Office opened on 14 November 1887. The town is reportedly named after High Childers, British statesman, who was the Auditor-General of Victoria in the 1850s.

The railway line closed in 1964.

 

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The Childers Palace Backpackers Hostel fire on 23 June 2000 killed nine women and six men. The former Palace Hotel had been converted into a backpacker hostel, and was popular amongst backpackers who were working as fruit-pickers in the area. Robert Paul Long was arrested for lighting the fire and charged with murder (two counts) and arson (one count). He was later sentenced to life in prison.

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Queensland artist Sam Di Mauro made a 7.7 metre (25 foot) long glass memorial wall that was set into the new building. Sydney artist Josonia Palaitis was selected to paint portraits of the victims, from the photos of them provided by their families. Photographs are not permitted of the portraits, so you’ll have to visit for yourself. In the meantime, take my word for it that it is a truly heartwarming experience to view this moving tribute.

 

The Palace Building reopened in 2002, and alongwith the memorial, includes a Regional Art Gallery and an Information Centre.

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Mosaic art bathtub chair

 

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A backpackers hostel still operates behind the original Palace site. A courtyard stands between the old and the new, featuring sections of the original wall and building structure that survived the fire. Quaint timber potting beds and shady trees fill the space with greenery. Tinsel and old chandeliers hang from the branches overhead , giving the space a very eclectic feel. It is a quiet and peaceful space, in between the old and the new, ideal to reflect and remember.

Next stop, Gin Gin.