Friday, September 2, 2011

Bills' Fabulous Adventures: Maddie on Straddie - Part II

Part 2 of our Straddie Adventure. 

You can take an organized tour of Stradbroke Island run by a very experienced and expensive tour company that takes all day and costs about $100 per head, including lunch.  My eleventh hour call to the Stradbroke Island Tourist Bureau revealed that although this was the quietest weekend on the island, that tour was booked out. Many places are closed during May, but as luck would have it, a local tour guide called Bill, will take you anywhere you want to go, show you the island, all for $35 Adult and $20 per child of any school age. A bargain, I'd say. No lunch included mind. Fine by me.

As we had no private transport on the island, we asked if Bill could pick us up at the nearby point Lookout shops where we had walked to. 'No problem' Bill said. Bill, a local lad and old 'surfie,' who works for the Sand mining company on Straddie, must not have regular clients, as he appears to have given himself a bit of a 'spruce up' just prior to our tour, as there was still hair clippings evident on his collar. With a cheery greeting, Bill informed us that we did have to go back and pick up another guest from our hostel, Mr Owen Wilson.... ooh! a celebrity! Bill couldn't wait. Bit disappointed to find out it was not THE Owen Wilson, but a slighter version with a Kiwi accent from Hamilton.

Bill driving at Stradbroke island beach 4WD track
Bill first took us along the beach near our hostel, at Adder Rock telling us that it was named after the Death Adders so prevalent there! "Not to worry," Bill said, "Step either side of a Death Adder and you won't know about it. But step on it, and you will soon know!"I felt a bit scared for the people in tents at the Adder Rock campsite but they were taking the cheap option! Perhaps this was the origin for Bill's penchant buzzwords to make one smile for the camera...."Say Snakes" he said when snapping our picture!

Freshwater streams running out to sea, forming gutters.
Driving on most beaches is allowed at Stradbroke Island, but you do have to be careful and a speed limit is now imposed upon drivers. Some fools would go hell for leather along the beach, not only endangering swimmers and sunbathers,  but also blissfully unaware of the fresh water gutters that run our to sea at various points along the beach. Despite being a veteran at 4WD beach driving, Bill reduced to a crawl when negotiating these little traps.

Bill likes to collect things during his tours/fishing expeditions along the beaches of Straddie. A series of strange artifacts adorned his truck's dashboard. "Have a look at this, what dya reckon it is?" Bill said in his laconic Aussie drawl.  This pinky white lump stunk like a rotten fish, and Bill revealed it was the horn of a snapper fish, the lump on its head. He had found it washed up, and thought it interesting to collect. (Yuk!)  "Once I caught a $5 note on my fishing line" he told us. Then there was also exhibit B: the swim bladder of a porcupine fish. Yet another item looked like some king of porous black rock wrapped up in an old stained beanie tucked into the sun shield of the car. We had to guess what that was, as well.......Bill gave us a hint that it was used in expensive French perfume.  Being completely stumped he divulged, "It's the gall bladder of a sperm whale", Bill declared. It is called Agoris and apparently fetches over $250.00AUD???  Well, trust the French.

Bill likes to give us an insight into local customs.... "Look, No hands!" he declared as the car travelled along ruts caused by previous vehicles essentially steering itself!

Surf was not "UP" today, but the weather was clear and beautiful and we could see all the way over to nearby Moreton Island. ( A ferry travels between Stradbroke and Moreton at Amity, where we were now headed. (see pic below) This was also the stretch  of water where one can hand-feed friendly dolphins  who scout around fisherman in their small craft looking for any unwanted fish.

Amity jetty where Moreton Island ferry departs once a week.
 Amity is a sleepy village and beach with plenty of cheap cabins and campsites and Bill tells me a great fishing spot. Downside: No surf, not that I mind that so much as the sharks. It is not normally a beach with shark nets, and in 2010 a girl was mortally attacked by a shark. She managed to crawl out of the water and alert other swimmers, but died later from blood loss. So be aware! Please note that since then, they have erected a screened in shark proof swimmers area so that children and family can swim safely.

With binoculars one can see all the way to the skyscrapers of the Gold Coast and Brisbane city from Amity beach and even south to Mt Warning.


Elegant Cormorants are often seen on Straddie's Flinders beach.... as are Sea eagles, and Bills' friend 'Stumpy', the seagull with one leg, the reason for which eluded even Bill. are the local celebrities - the Koala, which whilst still threatened due to the fact that it is an island population, is not in immediate danger. If fact, the island protects it from a lot of the diseases so prevalent in mainland populations.

Bats congregate behind the Stradbroke Island hotel at Point Lookout,  and Kangaroos come down to the beach at sunset. Some have even been seen swimming in the surf!!! Incredible. Surfing Kangaroos, who would have thought it possible. Maybe they use their tail like a fin on a surfboard?

Curlews, Magpies were spotted as were Rainbow lorikeets which were of course, in abundance, enjoying the nectar of the local flora, but what you won't find is a dingo. Dingoes are found on Moreton Island ( the purest breed of dingo and dog in the world!) but on Straddie you only have foxes which came across to the island during the '74 floods ( and perhaps the 2010 ones as well) purportedly from the swellings of the Logan river.

Baited hooks are used to attract sharks out in the open water, on the basis that it will keep sharks away from the divers and swimmers... I don't really have a lot of confidence in this theory. The buoys that hold these hooks can be seen from Gorge Walk or Straddie Hotel verandah.


The headland at Point Lookout is home to a variety of plants that have specially adapted to the harsh windy and salty conditions, such as Kangaroo Grass, Midjim Berry, Pigface, and Beach Bean, (whose bean like seed pods remain viable even after drifting long distances in the sea.)  Asparagus fern is a lovely plant in the garden of a suburban home, but at Straddie it is a pest that has taken over 60% of the headland area and needs to be eradicated. Spraying the weed is one solution whilst a few dedicated volunteers are attempting to regenerate the area with native species. Near the weather station located at the top of a grassy track near the Gorge walk at Point Lookout, signs alerted visitors to this ever present problem.

Dunwich & its historic Cemetery

Dunwich has 10,000 years of Aboriginal history and there is a strong culture here today. Its cemeteries is one of the oldest in Queensland, first being used in 1850 when an immigrant ship, aptly named "Emigrant" quarantined itself at the Dunwich quarantine station due to an outbreak of 'typhus ' on board. Two Doctors and 26 immigrants died as a result, and are buried here.

Dunwich itself is also the location of the schools. Whilst the primary school has a thriving population of 500, the high school might have some racial tension, as there are only 15 pupils enrolled there. Most students catch the ferry over to the mainland schools each day.

In 1886, a Benevolent Institution was built at Dunwich to house the old, the infirm, the disabled, and the inebriated, and for a short time, lepers. It was closed in 1947 and the remaining inmates moved to Eventide at Sandgate. Up to 9000 graves, mostly unmarked are present in the cemetery which overlooks the passage of water and ferry jetty to the mainland. A very peaceful place and one in which my Danish great great grandmother lived and died. She was here until 1922, and lived to the ripe old age of 93, some feat for those times. Remnants of the Dining Hall remain. Some relics and history, including the Coffin stand can be viewed at the Dunwich museum. For current opening hours, please check their site.

Bill told us that the old people loved living at the Benevolent Asylum, although I have also read that in the early days, conditions were harsh, and they were forced to construct their own mattress out of straw. Males and Females were housed in separate dormitories, and there was a common hall were entertainment was provided.

Going off road now we enter the forested area of Stradbroke, where the trails are just sandy paths, through Banksia heath, only just wide enough for the car to get through. It required careful driving along this section as there would often be deep holes filled with tea tree stained water and soft sand underneath. ( Just as well we had an expert driver and a 4WD vehicle).

Xanthorrhea, or Grass tree, known also as Gin, are prevalent here. They have a special mycorrhizal relationship with an enzyme in the soil so that transplanting them is impossible unless you take a good quantity of sand from around their roots with them. If the enzyme is not present, the plant dies. They are extremely slow growing but prized in landscaping and gardens for their unique splendour. The Grass tree's trunks are incredibly fire resistant and when the whole of Stradbroke island burnt some years back in a deliberately lit fire, the grass trees, simply regrew their top green string like foliage and continued on undaunted.

Sand Mining
This industry is the biggest on Straddie and provided for much of the island's employment besides tourism. They mine the sand for silica to make glass. Rutile is a by product which is an ingredient in house paints replacing lead dioxide. Zircon is also used as a glaze for tiles and of course, false diamonds and comes from Rutile.  The Sand mining has had a controversial past, but steps by the company to make it more environmentally responsible and friendly have quietened these voices substantially.

A national park has been declared on the eastern side of the island and Bill told us he wasn't sure the politicians knew that the area they declared a new National park had already been sand mined and rehabilitated long ago.

Brown Lake
Antiseptic Melaleucas at Brown Lake
Bills next stop was at Brown Lake, a freshwater lake 1 km long. The tea trees that fringe the lake give it is characteristic colour and name. There were quite a few swimmers in the lake when we were there, although it was a little chilly. Apparently, tea tree or Melaleuca oil from the tree makes not only a good hair and breath tonic but is also a great antiseptic, and this is believed to be the reason why the Aboriginal women of the island would come here to give birth.

Brown Lake

32 Mile Beach

Owen Wilson at 30 mile beach

Our last and final stop on Bill's Adventure tours, was Main beach. A vast length of straight surf beach,  32 kilometres long. The saddest thing was to see this phenomenon of natural beauty which is on the ocean side of Stradbroke, littered with plastic every metre of its length. Plastic drink bottles being the main offender. I heard a statistic that every day 3.5 million tons of plastic is dumped into the oceans, or washed there. I can see that this is more likely an underestimate as time goes on. We must find a way to introduce compostable plastic, as this avoids the toxins in fish and sea birds and marine animals and improves the aesthetics of our beaches.

Shark bite plastic refuse
The white bottle pictured here was interesting for the fact that it contained a beautiful imprint of a shark bite. Bill told us that for some reason sharks are attracted to white. So throw away that white swimsuit if you want to go swimming here. 


The Good: The price and length of tour

I kind of liked Bill Fabulous Adventure Tours and am so glad I did not take the squeaky clean version. In four hours, I learnt more about Stradbroke Island and got to see the kinder side of the Island people.

The Bad: Four hours might be a bit long for some people ( not me )

The Ugly: the stinky snapper fish head on the dashboard

What would Bill be doing today? Does he have more clients to entertain with his pearls of wisdom? I wonder if he has 'gone fishing?' or having  a 'gander' for the ever present whales that can be seen migrating to warmer waters in order to give birth from June to November. Where ever he is, it will be sunny and relaxed, I can assure you.

For more information about Bill's tour contact the Stradbroke Island Tourist Office, a division of Redlands council. or click here Stradbroke Island tourism

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