Down the Bruce Highway

1 to 4 August 2019

Yeppoon to Emu Park, 24km

to Booral via 1770, 441km

to Bribie Island via the Glasshouse Mountains, 257km

to Brisbane, 78km

If we are going to explore this huge continent we need wheels. After some research Stefan had found us the perfect vehicle for the job. Trouble was it was about 670km north of Brisbane so we had to take a flight.

It was only an hour to Rockhampton but looking out of the window the change of landscape started to give me a sense of the scale of this country – from the highrises of the Brisbane River to the red mud of the Fitzroy River. Having picked up the car (more about that later!) we were able to start the prequel to our Australian roadtrip.

Late in the afternoon we made the short drive south to Emu Bay to stay overnight. We were still both struggling with jetlag and as soon as I lay down on the bed in our motel (at 7.30pm!) I was fast asleep.

Consequently we were wide awake and ready for the day at 5.30pm the next morning. The sun rises at 6.30am in Queensland and so we decided to go and watch our first sunrise over the Pacific at the beach.

As well as the sunrise we found our first lessons in Australia’s history. Having spent three years in the Mediterranean on our Adventures with Pintail we have learnt a lot about the impact of the two World Wars in Europe. Remembered here at Emu Park, are the soldiers of Australia and New Zealand who made their own sacrifices for a country very far away. The war memorial took as its inspiration a photograph taken by James Francis of the Australian infantry troops heading to the front in Belgium on 5 October 1917. Further along the front was a reminder of one of the ANZAC forces most terrible losses. A painting by David Rowlands, The Spirit – Gallipoli Landing 1915, has been transposed onto a perspex sheet reflecting the sea behind in a haunting image of the scenes in Turkey.

A small open air museum told the stories of local people who left Queensland to fight for Britain. The tale of Annie Wheeler in particular brought a tear to our jetlagged eyes. Based in London during World War I she ensured that messages from home got through to Queensland’s troops, visited the injured in hospital and sorted out all their bureaucratic hassles. She even set up an ANZAC buffet to feed them in Victoria Street, London. Her card index system was evidence that she supported the needs of 2,300 men. She became known as the Mother of Queenslanders and had a song written about her. It was, however, the recognition she received on her return home that gave us lumps in our throats. A crowd of 5000 greeted her at Rockhampton train station and local residents donated money to buy her a house in Emu Park to repay her for her work. In 1920 she was awarded an OBE.

From the museum a Memorial Walk took us along a boardwalk telling the timeline of the battles fought by the ANZACs

accompanied by silhouettes of the soldiers. The Memory Walk was a striking, sobering lesson in the distance the impact of war travels.

At the end of the walk we were projected further back in Australia’s history with an introduction to a protagonist whose presence we sensed would rival that of Christopher Columbus in our European travels. The Singing Ship sculpture, which chimes with the passing wind, commemorates the exploration of Keppel Bay by Captain James Cook in 1770. We suspect that this won’t be the last we hear of him!

Emu Park is small and sleepy Queensland town yet it taught us so much about Australia’s history and introduced me to the cockatoo, one of its native birds. “We’ve only been here a day and already you’ve found us a museum!” said Stefan as he steered me passed the town museum. It was still only 7.30am so, to his relief, its doors were firmly closed.

After breakfast we headed off south on the Bruce Highway and an introduction to Australia’s roads. For a country so big you might expect major road systems but I was fast learning that outside of the cities we would be lucky to find more than single lane roads with the occasional overtaking lane. But the roads are good and the traffic very quiet. Roadside signs promised sightings of wombats, kangaroos and koalas so we were both surprised that our first wildlife of the trip were camels!

If we thought we’d shaken Captain Cook off for the day we were wrong. The very literally named 1770 marks the spot were he first made landfall in Queensland in, yep, 1770. The peninsula town was a detour off the highway but its shallow waters and sandbanks made it a worthy one.

We took a walk along the beach, climbing through the mangroves and their tangles of roots and imagining Pintail anchored there with the other yachts. It did look a little too shallow inside the sand bank!

Continuing down the Bruce Highway we drove through more Queensland landscapes. Towards Bundaberg, we passed miles and miles of fields of sugar cane, a key ingredient for the famous Bundaberg Rum distilled in the town.

Our next overnight stop was near Hervey Bay and after another early night (Stefan fell fast asleep bolt upright on the sofa!) we went for a walk along the 1km long Urangan Pier. The pier was formerly used for the export of sugar cane, coal and timber. Today it was lined with people of all ages fishing in the shallow waters of the bay.

And it wasn’t just people hoping for a fish. Pelicans kept a careful eye out for a catch.

From the pier we had a good view of Fraser Island, the world’s biggest sand island but a visit would have to wait until we had kitted out the car for camping.

As we got closer to Brisbane we took a detour off the Bruce Highway (by now 4 lanes of roaring traffic) and onto the Steve Irwin Way. Passed his Australia Zoo and climbing up we got a view of the Glass House Mountains. Named by (you guessed it) Captain Cook in (altogether now) 1770 because they looked to him like the glass furnaces of Yorkshire, these 25 million year old volcanic plugs appear to rise from an otherwise flat landscape. Mount Beerwah is the tallest of the peaks at 556m.

One of the Sunshine Coast’s other sand islands, Bribie Island is the only one to be connected to the mainland by a bridge, making it a commutable surburb for the city but also a popular weekend beach destination. Even on a winter Sunday the beach was filling up with families just after breakfast.

On the island we found some examples of water tank murals which form part of the Silo Art Trail. The trail crosses Australia and we hope to bump into a few more examples on our road trip.

But for now we were headed back to the city to get the car ready and kitted out for the long drive.

And in case you were wondering, the drive down the Bruce Highway did deliver on its promise of kangaroo sightings. Our tally?

2 alive

6 dead

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