The Retirees are diverted to Cairns – the Tableland

Fresh from our adventure to Port Douglas we decided to go west to the Tablelands in the hills behind Cairns. The route takes us up through Kuranda so on the way we visited the Barron river Falls. We have not had any significant rain and the dam on the river is not releasing much water so the falls weren’t that spectacular. What was spectacular was the walkway making the journey easy and accessible. The artwork along the way is novel and in keeping with the surrounds which is beautiful but humid and hot.

The next town is Mareeba where we found the local tourism centre to be a real surprise packet. Set in parkland along with other community buildings, there is a museum on indigenous life, a collection of historic items and coffee shop to entertain visitors as well as the helpful local volunteers giving advice on points of interest on the Tableland. I had noted there were some “ghost towns” west of Herberton and we enquired about the roads and whether our little Skoda might survive the journey. In usual Australian understatement “the roads were sealed all the way except for a little bit at the end after Watsonville”. So we had a cuppa and a scone, viewed the museum, the historic railway ambulance and the buildings before availing ourselves of the amenities as we expected there would be nothing but nature to provide for us from hereon in.

Along the way a little surprise greeted us. Windmills; the modern version for power generation.

Of course the road was sealed until Watsonville but there it turned to dirt for the remainder of the trip to Irvinebank. If Watsonville is a ghost town then they are very untidy ghosts. After Watsonville there is another ghost town Bakerville and it literally was not there, gone, kerput, nothing there but the old town sign. After bumping along a fairly well used dirt road we made it to Irvinebank. What a fascinating place this is. Irvinebank, is now a rural village but formerly it was a mining and tin-smelting town, and it is 80 km south-west of Cairns.

In 1880 the Great Northern tin discovery was made at Herberton, 25 km east of Irvinebank. Two years later three prospectors, James Gibb, Andrew Thompson and James McDonald, found promising tin lodes in the catchment of the Gibbs and McDonald Creeks, in the vicinity of the future Irvinebank. The Glen Smelting Company in Herberton, managed by John Moffat, acquired several of the tin shows in Gibbs Creek in 1883.

In 1883-84 Glen Smelting opened a battery and smelters at Gibbs Creek, renaming it Irvinebank. John Moffat was born in a small village on the Irvine River in Ayrshire, Scotland, and he built Loudoun House (his residence) and the Loudoun Mill, both named in memory of Loudoun Parish, Ayrshire. A fairly complete little town emerged in a couple of years: Tait’s Hotel, a general store, a draper, a butcher, a baker, a primary school (1886), a school of arts and Catholic and Methodist churches. Moffat’s house overlooked a large timber-walled weir across Gibbs Creek. Moffat gained a benevolent ascendency over the Irvinebank community by willingly taking privately mined ore for his Loudoun mill, encouraging efficient and uninterrupted production by promptly paying his suppliers.

Moffat also owned the Stannery Hills mine, 15 km north of Irvinebank, and acquired a controlling interest in the immensely rich Vulcan mine discovered in 1888 at Irvinebank. In 1902 a tramway was built from Stannery Hills to the Mareeba-Chillagoe railway line, and in 1907 the tramway was extended to Irvinebank. The extension was costly, and put a strain on Moffat’s finances, coinciding with a fall in metal prices. The Irvinebank mining industry underwent retrenchments after Moffat’s retirement in 1912. In 1919 the battery, smelter and tramway were sold to the Queensland Government as a State enterprise.

At the peak of Irvinebank’s prosperity it had two brass bands, a busy social centre in the school of arts/public hall (1901), a large primary school and a well fitted out hospital. Ivinebank was the administrative centre of Walsh Shire from about 1902 until the shire was absorbed by Mareeba Shire in 1932. The local doctor had an astronomical observatory and a skating rink under his house. His death from influenza in 1919 symbolised the coming of decline of Irvinebank throughout the next two decades. The tramline was closed in 1936 and the lines pulled up for reuse in 1941.

Much of the township and industrial areas are heritage-listed, although privately owned. In 2004 an owner removed artefacts and architectural fittings, but police action secured their return.

Irvinebank has a tavern/motel, a primary school and the Loudoun House museum. The former State treatment works, former Queensland National Bank building and the Vulcan tin mine, 1.5 km west of Irvinebank, are on the Australian heritage register. The School of Arts and Loudoun House are on the Queensland heritage register. The annual John Moffat festival was revived in 2005, coinciding with the opening of the John Moffat gardens on Gibbs Creek.

The whole town is a museum. When we finally arrived we parked beside Ibis Creek. The town amenities block is between the creek the School of Arts and the caravan park and it was a credit to the towns people. Kookaburras sat in the trees over the creek and greeted us. to our left and up the hill a bit there is a weatherboard highset School of Arts building along with the shrine in memory of John Moffat in front of the School of Arts. Going further up the hill is the Queensland National Bank building. Built from brick it is the only surviving brick building in town. The bank closed on 30th April 1923. On the top of the hill is the old Tramway Station and a short section of the tramway line. The Station is a corrugated iron building which housed the loco and carriages to cart the smeltered tin to market. We visited Loudoun House museum.The house is the former residence of John Moffat and now houses a phenomenal collection of memorabilia of the mining history and life in Irvinebank. It includes a “shrine” to fallen soldiers and would occuppy any avid historian for hours. The house is the oldest high-set timber and corrugated iron house in far north Queensland.

The last photo above shows the main house and the servants quarters which now house the caretaker.

In the downstairs areas the items on display are too numerous to describe so I will just give you a selection of my pictures.

I then moved upstairs into the living areas of the home. Again a museum of social history unfolds.

As I said there is a “shrine ” to the servicemen and women of WW1 and in particular a memorial to Harry Dalzeil VC. If you read nothing else read about Harry below.

Henry Dalziel (1893-1965), soldier, locomotive fireman and farmer, was born on 18 February 1893 at Irvinebank, Queensland, son of James Dalziel, miner, and his wife Eliza Maggie, née McMillan, both of whom were native-born. He was educated at Irvinebank and became a fireman on the Cairns-Atherton railway.

Dalziel enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force on 16 January 1915 (all the A.I.F. (Australian Imperial Force) were volunteers) and embarked with reinforcements for the 15th Battalion. Joining his unit at Gallipoli in July, he served in the battle of Sari Bair in August and was eventually evacuated with his battalion to Egypt. On 31 May 1916 he sailed for France, going into the line at Bois Grenier and from July serving on the Somme, at Pozières and Mouquet Farm. In 1917 Dalziel saw action at Gueudecourt, Lagnicourt, Bullecourt and Messines before being wounded by shrapnel at Polygon Wood on 16 October. He resumed duty on 7 June 1918, first as a driver and then as a gunner.

For valour during the battle of Hamel on 4 July Dalziel won the thousandth Victoria Cross awarded. When his battalion’s advance met with strong resistance from a heavily armed enemy garrison at Pear Trench, Dalziel as second member of a Lewis-gun team helped his partner to silence machine-gun fire. When fire opened up from another post he dashed forward and, with his revolver, killed or captured the crew and gun, thus allowing the advance to proceed. During this action the tip of his trigger-finger was shot away; he was ordered to the rear, but instead continued to serve his gun in the final storming of Pear Trench. Although again ordered back to the aid-post he began taking ammunition up to the front line, continuing to do so until he was shot in the head. Dalziel’s wound was so severe that his skull was smashed and the brain exposed. He received extensive medical treatment in England before returning to Australia in January 1919. Dalziel died of a stroke on 24 July 1965 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Greenslopes, Brisbane, and was cremated with military honours.

His commander was the Australian, Lieutenant General John Monash. Monash led the Australians at Hamel in what was called THE AUSTRALIANS’ FINEST VICTORY. Monash was given full charge of this completely Australian Force of 7,500 men. Some Americans who had recently arrived in France took part in the battle. The Battle of Hamel was the Turning Point of WW1, where two V.C.s were awarded. The other to Thomas (Jack) Axford.

Continuing the visit to the museum you see that it had been a school and a day surgery as well;

We continued our tour around the town. The log wall dam was remarkable and that night the TE news carried a story about how that wall had some maintenance the week before we visited.

I was very surprised to find Irvinebank and history of Queensland unknown to me. Far from being a ghost town this is a living memory, remarkable in its history and great that it survives to feature the life and times of the community. As we drove home we continued to remark on thigs we had discovered.

The Retirees are diverted to Cairns – Port Douglas

Its an over cast day. The girls did not get their shopping fix in Cairns so everyone is in agreement – Port Douglas here we come.

Port Douglas was established in 1877 after the discovery of gold. It grew quickly, and at its peak Port Douglas had a population of 12,000 and 27 hotels. When the Kuranda Railway from Cairns to Kuranda was completed in 1891, the importance of Port Douglas dwindled along with its population. A cyclone in 1911 demolished or severely damaged all but seven residential buildings and 4 commercial buildings, including the Wharf buildings (rebuilt), the Courthouse (rebuilt), the Catholic church (rebuilt) and Chinese temple (not rebuilt). At its nadir in 1960 the town, by then little more than a fishing village, had a population of 100.

In the late-1980s, tourism boomed in the region after investor Christopher Skase financed the construction of the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas Resort. It was following this development that Port Douglas had a rebirth with the town doubling in size during the tourism months. Hence the girls excitement – shops and more shops.

Something it does not wish to be remembered for is that on 4 September 2006, television personality and conservationist Steve Irwin died at Batt Reef, off Port Douglas, after a stingray barb pierced his heart during filming of a documentary.

Arriving in Port Douglas we went to the waterfront and then onto the hill behind the centre of the town which provides an excellent view of the residential part of the town to the south. Shrouded in mist and low cloud, the view of the cove and beach edged by tropical growth gives a picture of a slumbering paradise. This is far from the truth. It is only Covid restrictions and business closures that give it that impression – generally it is bright and busy.

The Island Point Lighthouse stands on a short ridge below the lookout. The modern version replaced the weatherboard version which had been blown over in the 1911 cyclone. It still operates today but as an automated lighthouse. After leaving the lighthouse we walked back to our car in the park by the foreshore. An old weatherboard building stood before us – here was the courthouse rebuilt after the 1911 cyclone; testament to the village that has grown to be a town once again.

We drove around to that beach we had seen from the lookout. Kicking our shoes off we strolled out onto the sand to look back at the hill. Scaling the hill and only visible from the beach is a walkway and stairs to take you up to the lookout. From there the path circumnavigates the hill past the lighthouse and in the the courthouse park. Just thinking about that walk made us hungry – lunch beckoned. Our journey had brought us to the local surf club. The inviting deck with views to the beach and the cove was appealling, so we walked in and ordered lunch. It was a bit of deja vue. I felt I was here before – not in another life. But the previous time 20 years or more ago I was alive in Port Douglas. And the food tasted just as old – we ordered a bucket of prawns which probably came from the frozen stock when I visited 20 years beforehand. The redeeming feature was they had Tooheys Old on tap.

I was unable to deny them any longer and we headed for the shops. There are two parrallel streets of shops running sideways up the base of the hill and all competiting for the tourists’ attention. Of the 27 original pubs there are probably half a dozen. The Iron Bar caught my eye as its decor is intended to do and like bees to the honey pot patrons packed the place. The southern Mississippi style joint beside it is a renovated accomodation hotel and the contrast is dramatic. To remind us it was spring the crab apple tree in the centre of the road was blooming magnificently much more so than the shops which appeared neglected and sad. So we strolled on shop after shop and even the ladies got bored with it so we gave up and went home.

I am buggered as to what people see about Port Douglas. Sure the reef is close by if you have a boat, there is a nice beach but I prefer something with a rolling surf, no box jellyfish or salty crocodiles, and there is a marina full of boats of all sizes but little else to see.

The Retirees are diverted to Cairns – Cairns

After a big day yesterday we decided to visit the big smoke – Cairns. Its 20minutes from Palm Cove to Cairns so we had a sleep in and did a few other things before winding up in front of the Post Office. The girls wanted some shopping therapy but were very disappointed. Many empty shops and only the tourist trinket shops seem to have survived the Covid restrictions. Last visit to Cairns work had just started on the foreshore beautification project and the development of the malls. The end result is quite pleasant. However not too many people are enjoying it. The Art Gallery has added a coffee shop which seemed busier than any where else in town.

The courthouse has had a change of use. Once the base for dispensing justice it now does various things other than dispensing of justice. Bored with everything we return to the Art Gallery for a morning coffee and piece of cake.

The weather is not very kind and its is threatening rain which in the tropics means it is muggy. I suggested we visit Yorkey’s Knob which was well received but we arrive at 10.00am and the yacht club has only just opened. We have the verandah to ourselves. We decided we will have lunch here but the kitchen doesn’t open till noon. Still a very pleasant place to do nothing but read the paper have a drink and watch the yachts go by. Lunch time arrives and we notice that the patrons were all arriving so we quickly order our lunch. We had chosen a spot with a breese, a view of the yacht harbour and the beach beyond and at the next table was a local dining alone. She started to throw her unwanted lunch in the water piece by piece and the fish below seemed to expect it turning up in schoals to make the water boil as they fought for the scraps. We joined in but very soon the the food was exhausted and the fish disaapear as quickly as they came. I think we were all just wanting to put our feet up so we ventured back to the apartment for an afternoon siesta. As we got up to leave a bird flew through the verandah straight to its nest. Lo and behold this long nest hanging in a corner of the verandah protected from curious visitors by the staff.

It may have seemed a disappointing day but on reflection it was a good wind down form the previous day.

The Retirees are diverted to Cairns – The Daintree

We had planned to drive to Cooktown but this would be a 6 hour drive (3 up and 3 back) so the day is gone without any time to explore. So a change of plan – we will go crocodile hunting in the Daintree, Daintree forest walks, Daintree Village visit and Cape Tribulation in our little economy Skoda.

The road north winds along the coast making this a fabulous drive for the passengers (me and Sally). I took the oportunity to record the trip in pictures. The farther north the more sugar cane appeared and then the narrow gauge rail line for carting the cut cane to the mill. As we passed through Mossman we could identify the mill by its single stack and white smoke stream from the stack.

After Mossman and its canefileds we entered the lower Daintree and signs of crocodiles abound – I mean there were literally tens of signs offering cruises on the Daintree River. After noticing more and more of these signs and passing the turnoff to the Cape Tribulation ferry, we decided we had better choose one which we did and which we were very pleased with as to price and quality of the tour but I did not keep the name. One thing to note is that cash remains king as the wifi for the swipe machines is not always reliable.

We left the highway crossing into a large carpark with a green two storey house /ticket office /gift store to one side. We were surprised to learn the next tour was about to start and we were assured of a seat. After the obligatory toilet stop we headed down to the river and the walkway to the boat – a flat bottomed vessel with seating for 40 + people and a canopy. There were 16 of us tourists and the skipper so no wonder we were warmly welcomed. The river is wide and bounded by dense brush with mangroves standing in between. We entered a channel between the main river and an island in the river. Almost immediately we had our first encounter – a young junvenile male basking on the sandy bank. Not a monster but 3.5m long I guess – bit too early for him to get up and greet us. Shortly there after and taking great care not to be seen by the previous croc was a fingerling (with bloody sharp teeth no doubt) followed by the canal boss croc presently (according to the skipper) then another fingerling and then a female sheltering not to be seen by the other two males

As we moved from the channel other tourist boats came into view and the wildlife changed from the water to the trees. A white egret had his eye on something below the water and below him was the boss of the river as opposed to boss of the channel.

Kerry spotted a tree frog. That is pretty good eyesight I thought as I scoured the vegetation along the bank. A gentle tap on my shoulder and I was directed to the ceiling of the boat and just above us a large frog rested comfortably in the trusses holding the canopy of the boat. We saw quite a number of hawks along the banks. They sailed the sky following the wind currents or perched high in the treetops ever vigilent for breakfast lunch or dinner. Meanwhile on the riverbanks another croc starts to stir. In front of us the Cape Tribulation Car ferry crosses the river. Undeterred a stork searches the water for its meal and the frog slumbers on. We approach the ferry drop off and two of our group go ashore to follow the bush trails presumably. As we reverse off the bank a 4WD bus pulled up and the “bush walkers” board the bus – thats what is wrong with assumption it is often wrong.

We are now in the main channel of the river with more crocs. For a change some Tawny Frogmouth Owls sit sunning themselves on a branch above us. It is pleasant on the river and we find our selves dreaming when the boat bumps against the wharf – tour is over but very enjoyable.

Back on the road we head for Daintree Village. If the road did not end in a dead end we would have driven through the village and never known it. Very little has changed here for quite some time.

After a disappointing lunch (too many flies and the food just unexciting) we returned to the Car Ferry where we crossed to head for Cape Tribulation. Its a small ferry operated on a cable across the river and even in these strained tourism times running continuously with a full load. The crossing takes little more than 5 minutes and unloading even quicker. “Watch out for the Cassowarys” signs abound but not a Cassowary to be seen. Our goal is to get to the Cape – its 4WD country after that and our Skoda does not stand a chance. We are determined to find the mountain lookout to view the mouth of the Daintree River. It is just a short drive and the lookout is less tha 100m off the road. We had not noticed that the car had climbed so high so when we look out we are shocked to see a large river mouth enter the Coral Sea.

There is then a long drive to the Cape through green tropical rain forest with the only interruption being the speed bumps to keep the traffic at a reasonalbe speed for the wildlife. These speed bumps are a metre wide and have a lumpy surface made with river rock. Even so the 4WD and off road caravans pay no notice and travel at what ever speed they please. Once we arrive just south of the Bloomfield River there is a beach between headlands with deceptively green clear water hiding those dangers of the north – box jellyfish. We kick off the shoes and stroll in the water then head around the headland. There are plenty of tourist buses with the car park full of buses but not too many people on those buses. So we walk past the composting toilets around to the headland and our visit to Cape Tribulation comes to an end. Time to start back to Cairns.

There are two more things we want to do on the way home. The first is to visit the tropical fruits ice cream shop – Daintree Ice Cream Co. Jack fruit and other exotic fruits are used to make the ice cream in limited quantities so we missed out on the special of the day but what we did have was pretty good. Whilst enjoing the ice cream I notice something moving in the shrubs just beyond the driveway. We watched as a Pademelon hopped into view

Kerry’s getting tired with continuous driving. We head off but there is time for one more stop. We had noticed signs to a Tree top walk on the way north so we called in at the Daintree Discovery Centre. The Daintree Rainforest is the world’s oldest continually surviving rainforest. The Daintree Discovery Centre is home to a sky high experience – the 23 metre rainforest canopy tour. There are multiple levels and layers to this walk. We chose the walk through the mid section then the Cassowary walk which deals with the construction of the walk. Cassowary were known to simply walk through the construction unafraid of the men and machines. We also walked through the dinosaur heritage that goes with it being the oldest living rain forest.

By the time we finished our quick walkabout the Discovery Centre it was clear we were not going to return to Palm cove before dark. There is some contraversy as to who drove home but we made it after dark. On the way through Mossman we spotted a bit of history – loaded cane trucks awaiting the loco to take the cages to the mill. That photo actually tells me Kerry was driving.

The Retirees are diverted to Cairns – Palm Cove Day 1 part 2

Safely back on the ground and noting our hire car was still there in the car park where we had left it, we headed north to Palm Cove. Now the fun starts – finding the right resort. We were to stay in the Coral Coast Resort but everything is Coral Coast something and the reception is in another building some distance away and the receptionist was at lunch. After two attempts to check in we got lucky the third time and received the key and a brief oral directions to find our way.

Not too shabby and spacious apartment. In the directions mention was made of a footpath access to the beach. Now none of the directions were accompanied by a map so there was some trial and error. We did find our way. It turned out to be a pleasant stroll but the wind was blowing strongly off the reef bringing relief from the humidity. The path wound through some of the housing around the resort and then a timber walkway took us across the coastal swamp before striking the esplanade with its pubs and shops, and the ocean side park with BBQs and sheds amongst the palm trees.

Our plan was to get a coffee and look at the water and the only option was to have a beer at an overcrowded bar. Everything else was closed or not yet open for the evening. So after taking a walk along the beach we returned to the apartment but on the way we met two kookaburras who were obviously locals and not at all put off by our presence. In fact I would say they were waiting for the restaurant to open.

We wandered home and being rather tired (had to get up at 4.30am) ordered a pizza and after collecting it and a bottle of wine relaxed watching TVNQ.

The Retirees are Diverted to Cairns – Palm Cove Day 1

Its August and our anniversary plans are in disarray. New South Wales is in lock down our theatre show cancelled and no plan B. So we divert our attention north where travel is permitted and choose Cairns as it is as far away from Sydney as a commercial flight could take us. Kerry has promised to let her girlfriend Sally know when next we are travelling and Sally wants to come along. We book accomodation at Palm Cove about 20 mins drive north from Cairns airport where we pick up our economy car – a small Skoda. Our apartment will not be ready until 2.00pm and its 8.30am. The weather has not been kind, its grey and there is rain in the air not quite falling though so its humid.

We drive north with the idea that we will take the Sky Rail to Kuranda for the morning and return by bus. We had booked the passage on the Sky Rail but arrived so early that there was concern we would have to wait in the coffee shop. Covid has devasted Cairns and its tourism. There were none of the usual crowds pushing and shoving and we walked straight on to the next cable car. The trip to Kuranda carries you up a steep slope draped in forest with views back to the coast. Yorkey’s Knob is clearly visible and the canefields spread north and beyond.

Leaving the coast behind the humidity builds as we passed way above the floor of the forest with crows nest ferns and staghorn/elkhorn ferns adorning the trees. There is stop on the way and we dismount to have a look. A timber walkway takes us around the forest and past giant red cedars and a view of the valey which is astounding.

The path to Kuranda is cross by Barron Gorge and the Barron River. As we approach the gorge I notice that the Kuranda train has positioned itself for the passengers to take photos of the gorge and that the train is a diesel not the traditional steam train. It is still humid and spots of rain appear on the windows. The station pulls into view and Kuranda awaits.

As we come towards the platform a camera takes a photo of us so as we move towoard the gift shop we are greetes by the image of the three of us smiling into the camera lens. Despite my doing my best to disuade Kerry from buying the souvenir photo, we walk out with our memento. Whilst in the shop we learn there is no bus on Sundays that returns us to the Sky Rail station below. I visit the Rail station to enquire about the return journey (the station is beside the Sky Rail station) and we decide to take the Sky Rail back. The train returns to Cairns and the return journy on the Sky Rail is half the price of the single journey on the train.

As I said tourism is dead and no more evident than a walk past vacant shops in Kuranda. Kuranda always seemed to be like a giant gift shop for tourists and with no tourists the small businesses are closed down everywhere. A single troubadour is performing on the street, didgerdoo in hand and outstretched hat for the scheckles from the tourists. Essentially we walked the street, stopped at the church which is an extrordinary example of a bush church, and had a coffee in a local shop. We could walk unmolested as there were so few visitors.

So we return to the Sky Rail passing some unusual bushes. The return trip was uneventful and our hire car awaited our return. Palm Cove next stop.