Secret societies


Secret Societies - 12th July 2003
(Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald)


There's a simple reason why 60 per cent of travellers to Australia nominate Queensland as their primary destination: the Great Barrier Reef. There are also, obviously, other compelling reasons connected with virgin rainforest, the weather, tropical beaches and islands and a tourism industry geared to excellent holidays in the sun.

But beyond the glam and glitter of Surfers, Noosa, Cairns and the reef Queensland contains dozens of exotic and unusual destinations: the state's long history of mining, the rough 'n' tumble world of the outback, the quintessentially Australian sense of humour that pervades many attractions, and the secret coastal hideaways that offer visitors experiences beyond suntans and snorkelling.

South Long Island, Whitsundays

South Long Island doesn't really exist. It is just a small (20 people maximum) resort at the southern end of Long Island in the Whitsundays. The Whitsunday Wilderness Lodge (as the resort is known) is special because it successfully combines ecotourism with sheer luxury.

Accessible only by helicopter from either Hamilton Island or Airlie Beach, the lodge verges on pure tropical fantasy. It is surrounded entirely by national park. There is no access for day trippers. Everyone has their own beachfront cabin with views over Paradise Bay. The food is five-star and the tariff includes seaplane day trips to the outer reef and sailing trips around the Whitsundays.

What separates the wilderness lodge from all the other resort destinations on the Great Barrier Reef is its commitment to ecotourism. Three times each year it drops the weekly tariff by nearly 50 per cent on the understanding that all visitors will help clean up ocean debris from the beaches that the lodge's yacht regularly visits.

Whitsunday Wilderness Lodge, PO Box 842, Airlie Beach, Queensland 4802. Phone (07) 4946 9777, email info@southlongisland.com, http://www.southlongisland.com. Five nights cost $2990 a person, with each extra 24 hours $400. This includes all meals, helicopter transfers, seaplane and yacht cruises, use of all equipment and park entrance fees.

Mount Morgan

Queensland has many interesting and unusual mining towns, ranging from the modern, open-cut expanse of Blackwater to the historic gold/silver/lead/copper town of Chillagoe. But none has quite the exotic appeal of Mount Morgan, 38 kilometres west of Rockhampton.

Time seems to have bypassed this town and its quaint timber houses, its huge pubs that recall a bygone prosperous era and its unusual statue titled "Running the Cutter", which depicts a boy, with billy cans of beer, running to quench the miners' thirst. The work of the "cutter" was a commonplace, if arcane, custom which occurred at the mine between 1900 and 1918.

Mount Morgan is also home to a rather handsome classical revival courthouse - a reminder of the town's one-time wealth, which yielded more than 300,000 kilograms of gold - and a number of swing or suspension bridges across the river (there were six at the height of the mining boom, used for access to the main mine).

But it is the fascinating way the early riches from the mine were used that makes this town so special. The original syndicate of six men included Thomas Skarrat Hall, whose brother's widow donated some of the Mount Morgan fortune to a fund that established the famous Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne. Another partner, William Knox D'Arcy, made 6 million pounds from his share in the mine, then left Mount Morgan for London, from where he financed oil drilling in Persia (now Iran). That venture eventually evolved into the famous BP (British Petroleum) Company.

See http://www.mountmorgan.com and http://www.walkabout.com.au/locations/QLDMountMorgan.shtml

Eulo

There's something fundamentally Australian about Eulo. The eccentricity of the locals, and the sense of fun and optimism amid hardship which still characterises the town, distinguish it from much of outback Queensland.

Take, for instance, the town's "Paroo Track" where the world lizard racing championships are held each September. At one side of the track is a piece of granite with a plaque reading: "Cunnamulla-Eulo Festival of Opals. 'Destructo', champion racing cockroach accidentally killed at this track (24.8.1980) after winning the challange (sic) stakes against 'Wooden Head' champion racing lizard 1980. Unveiled 23.8.81."

Somehow the spelling mistake, the absurdity of a cockroach racing a lizard, the circumstances under which the cockroach was trodden underfoot (by a drunken punter, perhaps?) all lend a distinct charm to the town.

But Eulo offers much more. The Eulo Queen Hotel, named after Isabel Macintosh - known throughout western Queensland as the Opal Queen - has existed since the days of Cobb & Co and boasts a bar that has been patronised by just about every opal miner in the district. On the road to Thargomindah there's a place where the hot mud from the Great Artesian Basin bubbles to the surface. And there is the bizarre settlement of Yowah where opal fanatics from the south (mainly Victoria) spend their winters hoping to get rich. Yowah has a grassless golf course, hundreds of temporary homes and an excess of dreamers. There's no electricity, bore water only, and the Flying Doctor is still the sole reliable medical service.

See http://www.dpi.qld.gov.au/rlq/10822.html, http://www.ahc.gov.au/explore/paroo/eulo2.html and http://www.walkabout.com.au/locations/QLDEulo.shtml for details of accommodation and eating in the town.

McKinlay

The term "one-horse town" aptly describes McKinlay, on the Landsborough Highway between Winton and Cloncurry. It doesn't really deserve to be the region's premier tourist attraction because to the south lies the famous Combo Waterhole where, according to legend, a certain swagman committed suicide by jumping into the muddy billabong.

Still, Australia rarely lingers on the past and McKinlay is a town (a term that exaggerates its status) that achieved international fame when Paul Hogan used the local pub as one of the settings for Crocodile Dundee. Originally known as the Federal McKinlay Hotel (a rather grand name for a single-storey building that looks as though it was built from corrugated iron), after Hogan renamed it Walkabout Creek Hotel some enterprising southerner paid the princely sum of $290,000 for it, officially renamed it Walkabout Creek then set about promoting it as an international tourist destination. This ploy might have proved more successful if there had been more tourists travelling along the Landsborough Highway.

See http://www.dpi.qld.gov.au/rlq/10876.html

Normanton

As you drive further and further north on the single-lane Burke Developmental Road, which connects Cloncurry with Normanton and Burketown, the feeling that Burke and Wills were a pair of gross incompetents becomes quite overwhelming. The land is flat and sandy. The scrub is low lying. What was the problem? Then you hit the swampy nightmare that is the southern edge of the Gulf of Carpentaria and immediately you understand why neither Burke nor Wills knew for certain whether they'd reached the northern coastline.

In the 1880s Normanton became the port for the gold rush to Croydon. A decade later the population ballooned to more than 1000 as goldminers and abattoir workers poured in. This brief boom caused a somewhat bewildered and optimistic Queensland Government to build a railway station and railway line from Normanton to Croydon.

The Gulflander is one of the great railway oddities - it hasn't made a profit since 1907, yet it still runs between the two towns, leaving Normanton every Wednesday and returning on Thursday. The 152-kilometre journey takes five hours, including numerous sightseeing and refreshment stops.

Normanton also has a piece of pure Queensland kitsch in the shape of the Purple Pub. It complements the town's other artistic highlights such as Percy Tresize's humorous paintings on the walls of the Albion Hotel bar and the quite beautiful, very unusual, timber Bank of New South Wales.

More information at http://www.gulf-savannah.com.au/regions/normanton.asp and for information about the Gulflander see http://www.traveltrain.qr.com.au/traveltrain/virtual/gulflander/index.asp


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Sydney-siders head north, by Greg Tingle & Yvette Moore

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