8 September 2002
I got up at about 6.30 a.m., wiped the outside of the tent dry, and made 14 slices of toast while we all finalised preparations for our trip to Fraser Island. We left the trailer locked to the car in the caravan park at Hervey Bay and boarded a bus. Susie forgot the video camera, but since the tour bus was running early, the tour guide kindly drove us back to the caravan park to collect it. His name was Patrick, and he was a lad from Gayndah who had holidayed on Fraser Island since he was a boy. He spoke with such a broad Australian accent that many of the foreign tourists on the bus couldn’t understand a word he said.
We drove to an old settlement somewhere outside Hervey Bay from where the ferry departed. There were many groups of 18 to 35-year-olds with hired four-wheel drive vehicles and cans of Bourbon and Coke in stubbie coolers—a somewhat foreboding sign. The crossing to Fraser Island was by way of a ferry called the Fraser Venture. It could carry numerous vehicles on the flat fore-deck, although it was somewhat short of a full payload. The others on safari with us sat on the upper deck, which afforded a handsome view of the waterways. There were mangroves off to the starboard side, water birds aplenty, and I spotted a dolphin weaving its way along.
When we landed on Fraser island all the vehicular passengers drove off and Patrick appeared with a four-wheel drive bus. Everyone got on, and we persuaded him not to leave without Clare, who was still doing her business in the long drop. The drive across the island was a treat in itself. The road was a sandy one-lane track that weaved through a tunnel of vegetation. Our first treat was a walk back along a stream in a rainforest. We assembled at a spot where a large dark green plant grew, and I recognised it straight away: it was a rare King Fern that is almost extinct, and that can also be found in a particular spot in Carnarvon Gorge that we had visited months earlier.
The walk through the rainforest was short, easy and delightful. The path wove alongside a stream called Wanggoolba Creek that was remarkable for its complete silence: because the creek travels across sand, it emits not a trickle of sound; it is perfectly clear and perfectly silent. We had a quick look at “central station”, which used to be the main settlement on the island when it was the centre of the Queensland logging industry.
Then we drove the rest of the way across the island to the eastern side, where the resort was located. We had lunch there (it was so good not to have to prepare it ourselves) and then set out in the afternoon to Wanggoolba Creek, the Coloured Sands, and the wreck of the Maheno.
As we pulled into Eli Creek, I removed a tick from the back of Ruby’s knee. The creek itself was a delight. It was fresh water that ran from the island’s fabulous inland water table, to 75 Mile Beach on the eastern side of the island. You could walk 150m upstream, hop in the water, and float down to the beach. The creek had a perfect sandy bottom, and its edges were lined with mosses and ferns. I floated down with my snorkelling mask on and saw many jungle perch and a sly eel, which burrowed its way into the cushion-like wall of the banks. Our guide announced that the volume of water flowing down the creek every day was enough to meet the daily freshwater demands of Sydney—but I must admit, I found that a bit hard to believe.
Our next stop was at the Coloured Sands. This site had an Aboriginal Dreaming Story associated with it, so it was clearly a site of some cultural significance. Some dickhead had gouged a love heart into the soft sand.
Our final stop on the safari was the wreck of the Maheno. The history of the ship was almost as interesting as the rusting skeleton lying half buried in the sand. Once a first class ferry that ran between Australia and New Zealand, she was commandeered into wartime service as a hospital ship, refitted, sold as scrap to Japan, and then blown ashore in a hurricane en route there. The RAAF then used her as a target in their bomber pilot training. The molten scars on the iron framework were still visible among the barnacles. Susie seized the photo opportunity, as the wreck looked lovely in the late afternoon light. Patrick told us how it used to loom 40 feet above the beach, and how you could camp in the cabins once you got used to the rather extreme tilt of the floor.
After our tour of the beach, we returned to the Eurong Resort for dinner. Our room was a dismal affair on the ground floor. The ceiling was mouldy and it looked dirty and unkempt. Susie let her dissatisfaction be known to the tour organiser, who promptly relocated us to a room on the top floor that had a private balcony with a panoramic view of the resort and the ocean beyond, as well as a bath, a nice loo, a decent fridge, a TV (damn!) and best of all separate rooms for the kids and adults. The first room had only two sets of bunks and a filthy settee. After the kids had gone to bed, Susie and I had a long hot bath, and then retired early.