Our main reason for visiting Australia in March 2023, was to see where Barry’s sister Jenny and her family live. I’ve wanted to go for many years, but Gladstone isn’t the easiest place to visit from New Zealand, requiring a main flight to either Brisbane or Sydney, then a domestic connection. Barry had never made it even though she’s lived there since the late 1990s, and Covid prevented us from going during our 2020/21 NZ trip. Boasting a tropical savanna climate, this time I was determined to make it happen! We stayed for seven days to make the most of the probably once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Jenny’s Family Home
Barry and I hadn’t seen Jenny’s husband Ross, or their son Jake, since our Wainui Beach wedding in December 2009. Jenny’s visited Gisborne numerous times since then, as well as staying on board Areandare with us in the summer of 2013 for her 50th birthday adventures.
Their home is nestled amongst greenery, with a big bird bath the local white-winged choughs adore. The sound of delightful laughing kookaburras filled the surrounding air.
Across the road is ‘Reg Tanna Park’, a pleasant walk around a small lake full of turtles and ducks. Unsurprisingly, more Ibis were hanging around too …
At night time, we frequently heard the sound of possums running over the roof – Barry got quite close to one on the back deck one night! We taught Jenny, Ross and Jake a few card games – and I believe they thrashed us every time much to Barry’s chagrin 😉
Wandering Gladstone Waterfront & Marina
After settling into their gorgeous home on the evening of 25th March, the following day we wandered around the waterfront and saw the Marina where Jenny and her family lived on their boat for several years.
In August 2021, Gladstone had an urban population of 34,703. So it’s a similar size to Barry’s hometown of Gisborne, which had a population of 37,700 in June 2022 – but certainly felt a lot larger! The population size seems to vary depending on which Wikipedia page you read! The Gladstone region (including Boyne Island and Tannum Sands), reportedly had a population of 63,515 in August 2021. It’s 517km northwest of Brisbane, where Jenny’s daughter and other son Rik live. I haven’t been able to find an Aboriginal place name for Gladstone – I suspect because it was a region belonging to numerous tribes. I loved that there were references to this along our waterfront walk.
The town is home to Queensland’s largest multi-commodity shipping port. The Port of Gladstone. It’s a massive harbour, with boats seeming to appear from all directions. Jenny worked for many years as a Cabin Attendant/Deckhand on the Heron Island Ferry, which takes holidaymakers to the idyllic island where they can swim, snorkel and scuba dive amongst the Great Barrier Reef. It looked stunningly beautiful – but we, unfortunately, had no time or money left (it’s Aus$ 85 one-way on the ferry) to check it out. It’s a two-hour ferry trip from Gladstone, lying 72km northeast, and you have to stay overnight. We spotted the ferry returning to the Heron Island Ferry Terminal.
Jenny pointed out where their boat had been moored at the Marina when they lived aboard – adjacent to a large grassed area prolific with bird life. The gorgeous Galahs (aka rose-breasted cockatoos) seemed very content with their slice of paradise.
“Before European settlement, the Gladstone region was home to the Gooreng Gooreng, Toolooa (or Tulua), Meerooni and Baiali (or Byellee) Aboriginal tribes. In May 1770, HMS Endeavour, under the command of James Cook, sailed by the entrance to Gladstone Harbour under the cover of darkness. Matthew Flinders, during his 1801–1803 circumnavigation of Australia, became the first recorded European to sight the harbour in August 1802.In 1863, the town became a Municipality with Richard Hetherington elected Gladstone’s first mayor. The fledgling town was named after the British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, and has a 19th-century marble statue on display in its town museum.“https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gladstone,_Queensland
After walking along the waterfront, Jenny drove us around the headland to take a short walk around Spinnaker Park. We saw our first ‘beach’ here, but it was most unlike any we’ve seen in Gisborne. Jenny doesn’t think many people would swim here, probably only paddle their feet. It’s very small, complete with a jellyfish net hung across its length which kind of puts me off! There is a much nicer beach at Tannum Sands, a 20-minute drive away, that we visited a couple of days later.
It’s a beautiful park for wandering around, with picnic spots for a pleasant day out. We sadly didn’t spot any cetaceans during our stroll. A few colourful rainbow lorikeets were hanging out showing off their plumage.
Industrial But Interesting
Gladstone’s primary industries are mining-related. The Port of Gladstone is the fifth-largest multi-commodity port in Australia and shockingly in this day of supposedly reducing our carbon footprint, it’s the world’s fourth-largest coal-exporting terminal. Each year 50 million tonnes of coal passes through the port, making up 70% of the total exports. Around 30 coal trains arrive at the port of Gladstone on any given day. Blimey!
The port consists of several wharves and terminal facilities, one of which is Boyne Wharf which is used by the Boyne Island aluminium smelter, which opened in August 1982. There’s a photo below right of the three of us with the Queensland Alumina Ltd (QAL) building in the background. The western harbour basin has been expanded, primarily to allow increased exports of liquified natural gas (LNG). Gladstone Harbor is within the World Heritage Area of the Great Barrier Reef and has historically supported a thriving seafood industry.
Below left, I believe we’re looking out over from the Round Hill Lookout over some of Gladstone Harbour and its industry. It is rather an industrial town, which I guess contributes to its attraction, economic value and prosperity – and is interesting rather than unpleasant. Admittedly far more interesting to Barry than me! Jenny drove us around and pointed out highlights, plus the three of us went on a private bus tour which took us to a few places we hadn’t yet ventured to.
Afterwards, we were treated to a display by a couple of honeyeaters on the grassland by the Marina where the bus dropped us off. There are 182 species of honeyeaters in Australia – Jenny has reliably informed me this one was a Blue-faced Honeyeater.
On another day we had a mooch around the town, visiting a fabulous art exhibition at Gladstone Regional Art Gallery and Museum/GRAM. Sadly neither of us took any photos. I do recall lots of Alice In Wonderland-themed pottery …
Tondoon Botanic Gardens
Jenny took us to the award-winning Tondoon Botanic Gardens not far from her home, which had lots to soak up. We’d packed a picnic, and local magpies thought they might get to share it with us! In an Australian Botanic Gardens top 100 list, from Australian Geographic magazine, these gardens come in at number eight. Interestingly, the Olive Pink Botanic Garden that Jenny and I visited in Alice Springs, was voted number four.
We got up close and personal with a cheeky Kookaburra, which was sat on a fence not far from Jenny. We’d spotted a few hanging out on trees and signs beforehand, but this one was so close! Barry has some fantastic photos in his slideshow at the end. A native of the eucalyptus forests of eastern Australia, this delightful bird is the largest member of the Kingfisher family, which makes sense when you see it up close.
We were directed away from a Bunya Pine forest, as it was the season for them to fall. From December to March, they can produce dozens of Bunya Pines (botanical name: Aracauria bidwillii) weighing up to 10kg each. They are HUGE and if one fell on you I doubt you’d survive! The seed in the Bunya cone is a delicious and nutritious food, a famous and celebrated example of Australian bush tucker.
Jenny cheerily pointed out a caterpillar ‘train’ she’d spotted moving slowly yet confidently along the path. I’ve since learned these are called Ochrogaster lunifer, or processionary caterpillars. Each caterpillar leaves a thread of silk for the next one to follow. It was quite astounding to watch.
Check out the cool video of the caterpillars – just don’t touch them if you see them. They are quite incredible to watch. I guess there’s safety in numbers!
Curtis Island Ferry Trip
On one of the days we managed to get Ross out with us on the Curtis Island Harbour Ferry. It wasn’t quite the Heron Island journey I’d have loved to do, but nonetheless it was informative and enjoyable. The ferry takes people living in some of the remote areas into town for provisions, along with their car/ute, then ferries them home again. Or tourists like us, who just want to check out the area further.
We visited Quion Island, Facing Island, and Curtis Island. There are camping grounds on Facing and Curtis Island, but they’re rather remote with few facilities. Ross told us how they camped at Facing Island one year when the children were young. How wonderful.
Most of the posts we passed in the water had white-bellied sea eagles, nesting amongst their piles of collected sticks, at the top.
Lake Awoonga BBQ
One evening we had the joy of visiting Lake Awoonga with Jenny and Jake – Jenny was extremely relieved that we finally got to see marsupials! She spotted one hopping nearby and whispered to me to look. I was ecstatic! I’d almost lost hope we would. These were Whiptail Wallabies, otherwise known as Pretty Faced Wallabies, rather than Kangaroos, but it mattered not. I’m sure we could’ve paid to see kangaroos in a zoo (we did see Red Kangaroos at Alice Springs Desert Park), but I wanted to see them in the wild.
The spectacular lake and surrounds were a 30 km drive south of Gladstone, with fabulous facilities. Scattered around the recreation area are free barbecues (of which we availed ourselves), swimming (that Jake and Jenny enjoyed), landscaped walking trails, and a caravan park. Since 1996, the lake has been stocked with several fish species. Over 2 million barramundis have been released. Which was one of the (many) reasons I chose NOT to swim! The thought of a large fish nibbling on my body, or even just brushing past would’ve freaked me out. I’m pretty sure Jenny thought I was silly – until she told me she’d felt things that I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed 😉
In addition to fishing, and being the source of Gladstone’s water supply, Lake Awoonga boasts many natural attractions, especially wildlife. There are more than 225 species of birds (astoundingly over 27% of Australia’s bird species) found in the region. Despite this, I only spotted another kookaburra gazing out over the water from one of the many wooden huts. We heard lots of them laughing too as the evening wore on …
I love how the wallabies were nonplussed by Jenny wading out of the water close by where they were grazing.
An Art Experience Not To Be Missed
We absolutely couldn’t miss experiencing Jenny’s amazing art studio at Crow Street Creative. Her art was mesmerising – she’s so clever and creative. One of the many things she does is ‘Little Crow Art‘ for kids and adults.
She also frequently produces unique artwork for public spaces, like ‘Luminous 2023‘ at Tondoon Botanic Gardens in July. She was considering applying when we were walking around the gardens, and thankfully she chose to. See the images below, from her Facebook Page. How inventive is that? Using an old overhead projector and a range of ‘tools’ to make illuminated images? I remember using an OHP for presentations decades ago. How times have changed!
Gladstone people are extremely fortunate to have my staggeringly talented sister-in-law amongst them. And there’s more …
An Introduction To Life Drawing
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to do a ‘life drawing‘ class. It’s another opportunity Jenny offers regularly to the local community. She has a bank of local models to call on, who are willing to pose for an hour or so. I can’t imagine she makes much profit after paying the model and charging participants so little (though she has now put this up to $15), but it’s such tremendous fun.
We persuaded Barry to come along too. He wasn’t terribly keen, but really got into the spirit of it. Being his usual jester-like self, he chose to draw using different artist genres/periods which kept us all amused. We started with short one-minute sketches, gradually working up to 20 minutes. The delightful male model changed his position for each time span.
I doubt you’ll have much trouble guessing which artist drew which piece below …
About halfway through the Life Drawing class, we heard shrieks emitting from outside and went to investigate. The most amazing otherworldly storm was happening a few kilometres away, producing massive flashes of lightning in the nearby sky every few seconds. Barry and I had never witnessed anything like it and he stayed out videoing for ages. Totally mesmerised. I captured a short video and managed to find a couple of cool shots out of the dozens I tried …
Wow! I guess you’d take it for granted if you lived here, but for us it was magical.
Agnes Water & The Paperbark Forest Walk
The delights of our Gladstone and surrounding areas experiences continued, with a delightful day out at Anges Water and The Town of 1770. Barry and I were interested in visiting the landing place of Captain Cook in May 1770. I guess because Gisborne was the first land he set foot on in 1769. I also wanted to check out a beach/seaside place where people holidayed; one that might entice me more than ‘Surfer’s Paradise’ managed to. It won’t surprise you to read that the notice below about jellyfish (marine stingers) did nothing to assuage my fear of dipping even my toes into any Australian waters! Their season is from November to April – we visited in March! If I had a full wetsuit and my sea shoes on I may have ventured in …
A dear friend I met when I ‘rescued’ him after he fell over on the beach around Tuahine Point on Wainui Beach, many years ago, told me how he’d lost his daughter to a stone fish sting on her way home from the UK. She was dead within minutes he informed me. The story has always stayed in my brain. It would’ve been the ‘reef’ species, which is recognised as the “world’s most venomous fish”, capable of killing an adult within an hour of being stung. It does state on the Australian Geographic website, that there hasn’t been a death from one in Australia since European settlement. Well, that’s clearly untrue! I have no doubt Ron would have known how his precious daughter died.
The board showed rip currents we’re familiar with, as the beaches in Gisborne have such currents. However, there was still no way I was going in and risking it. I’m aware this year two Kiwis have tragically died in rips on Rarotonga.
We took a short walk on the beach then ate a delicious lunch in the seaside town cafe, packed with hippie-type folks looking suntanned and happy. Afterwards, we drove 2.5km to the Paperbark Forest Walk. Wow! This was so peaceful. Surrounded by these magnificent trees. The ten-minute boardwalk meandered around an intact patch of coastal melaleuca forest until you’re completely surrounded by hundreds of paperbark tree trunks and the majestic green fronds of the cabbage palm. Stunning. Yet simultaneously sad that places like this are rare since ‘white man’ decimated so much native forest.
Joseph Banks Regional Park
Next, Jenny took us to The Town of 1770 where we parked up and walked to the Captain Cook landing site of 24th May 1770, which is obviously why it’s called Agnes Water & 1770. They are two separate towns but appear to merge into one when you visit.
Along the headland walk, I spotted a strange beetle/bee/wasp dragging a spider. Once again Jenny came to my aid and told me it was an Orange Spider Wasp (Cryptocheilus bicolor). Wow! These like to prey on such spiders as Harry the Huntsman who slept with us in Uki!
“Spider wasps have one of the most powerful stings among Australia’s venomous insects, as it is designed to paralyse large spider species like the Funnel-web. These long-legged insects are so named because of their nightmarish predilection for laying their eggs on spiders’ bodies. The larva subsequently eats the spider after hatching.
And though they are generally non-aggressive, they have been known to wield their painful venom against humans.https://www.australiawidefirstaid.com.au/resources/spider-wasp-australia
Oh my! It looked pretty, little did I realise how deadly it was! Good job we didn’t freak it out … You’ll note this one has a spider in its grip, so it was otherwise occupied. Phew!
We would’ve looked out over ‘Bustard Bay’ at the Headland Lookout – interesting name! You’ll see the reason in the image below. I far prefer the name ‘Eurimblua Creek’.
We popped back to Agnes Water Beach where Barry dipped his toes in the sea, before returning to Gladstone.
Tannum Sands BAM
On Saturday the 1st of April, we visited Tannum Sands (part of the Gladstone region) to wander around the ‘Beach Arts Music’ (BAM) market held on the first Saturday of every month, from 2 pm to 7 pm. There were dozens of stalls selling all manner of things, lots of food, and live music. We got a very cute Aboriginal patterned shirt for our NZ grandson Ludo there. It’s a bit big but I’m sure he’ll grow into it by the next Kiwi summer. For some reason, we took no photos of the market. It could be due to us getting caught in a torrential downpour as we reached the far end of the stalls! I’m pretty sure the final two images in Barry’s slideshow are of the beach there.
Haere Ra/Farewell For Now Australia
It was absolutely amazing to spend so much time hanging out with Jenny and savouring the delights of her home town at last. It would be great to return one day, but the chances are slim sadly. Still, we have all these memories to treasure and revisit anytime.
On Monday 3rd April, we flew from Gladstone at 6.45 am to Brisbane, then to Auckland, and finally arrived in Gisborne at 7.50 pm. Despite my abhorrence at discovering more details of the rampant racism and gruesome genocide that First Nations people have been subjected to for over 250 years, I felt as though I’d finally ‘seen’ and gained a better understanding of a tiny portion of this vast continent.
And I hope with all my heart that the First Nations ‘Statement From The Heart‘ YES vote is successful in giving these amazing people the constitutional rights they deserve in their own country.
“History Is Calling: We invite you to join a movement of the Australian people and walk with us for a better future. We call on all Australians to support a First Nations Voice to Parliament by voting Yes in the upcoming referendum, so we can finally have a say on policies and laws that affect our communities …“
“… We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.”https://ulurustatement.org
For far more amazing photos than mine, check out Barry’s slideshow. Click on the first image to begin …