Maryborough represented a bit of change of pace for us on our tour of the east coast of Australia. This would be our longest house/pet sit in a city slightly inland, rather than the beach locations we’ve been used to. However, a bit of relaxing downtime was called for after our action-packed tour of Tasmania.
It’s a three hour drive north from Brisbane and on arriving at Maryborough on Saturday lunchtime we were immediately struck by two things: how pretty and interesting the city centre architecture of Maryborough is; and that there appeared to be no one there, with no shops open….rather like a zombie apocalypse film set, minus the zombies. We found the local tourist information centre and to our relief they explained that everything closes at lunchtime on a Saturday. As they politely guided us out of their Centre in the magnificent City Hall (they were also closing) we were directed to one of the cafes that remained open for a delicious lunch.
One of the many quaint things that immediately strikes you about Maryborough is its pedestrian crossing lights….
…that pay homage to the author of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers whose home town this was…
They are one of many delightful Poppins themed features that crop up all over the city centre, including an excellent life size statue of the legendary nanny…
Our housesit was in an absolutely gorgeous traditional Queenslander house (timber construction, raised on wooden stilts, and huge verandah) where we met Jane, whose home and cat (Leo) we would be looking after for four weeks. Jane was a lovely host who treated us to dinner on the night we arrived, and gave us loads of tips and recommendations on what to do in Maryborough and beyond. Suitably enthused, we launched ourselves into Maryborough life, going to its excellent Brolga Theatre to see two National Theatre recordings from London: Alan Bennett’s ‘Allelujah” and Shakespeare’s Richard II; an evening soiree at the art gallery; attending the local cinema club; Park Running; and regularly checking out the Thursday morning market where we discovered the sticky delights of Custard Apples – yes “apples” that taste of custard! As for Leo, having looked after several dogs, chucks and rabbits on previous sits, he was the easiest and least demanding of the lot. Spending the day doing his own thing and curling up at the end of our bed at night purring away happily. He does have a very disarming stare though…..especially when he greeted us at 5.30 am with this look!!
Maryborough has a rich history and at one point was vying with Brisbane as the capital of Queensland. Its growth from 1847 onwards was based on its port on the Mary River (the only river in Australia that flows north into the sea), and the influx of colonial immigrants in part attracted by the gold rush taking place to the south in what became the city of Gympie, and mining to the north. Timber and sugar industry developed, however in time it became a centre of manufacturing, particularly shipbuilding and train engineering.
During the high point of these labour intensive industries Maryborough thrived and the City features images of the “5 o’clock whistle” when the working day ended and the streets were engulfed by workers riding home on their bikes or to one of the many hotels for refreshment. It must have been quite a sight.
With this interesting history, the centre of Maryborough is a goldmine of fascinating architecture that sits beside thoughtful and whimsical street art and sculptures, an entertaining eccentric mural trail and other relics from the past, alongside a beautiful park and the river.
The great shame of it is that there are so few people around to appreciate the city centre, and worse still, a large number of the shops are empty. Maryborough is a city centre crying out for investment and a regeneration plan that makes the most of its remarkable assets.
City centre retail revival has faced three fearsome foes, two if which are all too familiar: the inevitable growth in online shopping, and the development of out of town shopping centres. The latter is an own goal and is particularly galling as when you visit the local one a majority of the outlets would comfortable fit in the empty units in the city centre. There is another major threat painfully familiar to Queenslanders: flood. There is plenty of history to show the extraordinary flood levels the City and its centre has suffered in the near and distant past.
There are several tours of the city available delivered by incredibly knowledgable guides who clearly have a passion for Maryborough that they want to share. The guide is dressed as Mary Poppins – naturally! In addition there are self guided tours that take you to dozens of sites, and another that guides you to all of the murals.
It’s hard to imagine many other cities of the modest size of Maryborough taking so much trouble to celebrate and show off its past. Turn another corner and something else pops up to intrigue and delight you such as a display of retail advertising lovingly collated from Maryborough’s heyday.
Our stay in Maryborough coincided with Anzac Day on the 25th April. There is an excellent Anzac Memorial in the city commemorating the forces, with detailed displays on the Gallipoli and WWI campaigns.
An excellent walk with panels and commentary, is complemented with superb sculptures that make the display both informative and a moving tribute.
It’s also the site of the cenotaph and on learning that there would be a Dawn Service we woke up early to attend the first of days three services, starting at 5.30 am. We were amazed at the turnout, with hundreds of people attending what was a moving service as the sun rose.
It’s not possible to overstate the importance of this day in the Australian psyche, especially in a city like Maryborough that is so connected to the past and the members of the community who have served the Forces, including the first man on the beach at Gallipoli, Major Duncan Campbell, immortalised by a statue at the memorial.
One of the “must-do’s” in this part of Queensland is a visit to Fraser Island – the world’s largest sand island and a World Heritage site. It’s a fabulous mix of sand dunes and rain forest all of which can only be traversed by four-wheel drive. After bumping along the track from the ferry onto the island we made our way along a short stretch of sealed road until our driver gleefully announced that that was the end of the comfort and we suddenly found ourselves bouncing up and down sandy tracks, on our way to out first stop for the day: Lake McKenzie
This must be the strangest and most beautiful lake we’ve swam in. It’s a freshwater lake that sits on a sandy bed, high up on Fraser Island. The water is pure rainwater and it’s prevented from draining away by organic matter that has created a seal. The sand is pure silica and produces astonishing colours as well as a very soft feel on the foot.
Despite the unquestionable beauty of this lake it is quite intimidating. After wading into its shallows you can see a steep shelf where the water drops away dramatically into dark depths. This creates the different stripes and shades of blue you can see in the picture above and below.
Very sadly, just two weeks before our trip to Fraser, two Japanese students went missing at the Lake. Initially it was thought they were lost in the Bush that surrounds it. With light fading the search was resumed the following day when they were both found drowned in the Lake. Quite how this happened – especially given the apparently tranquil setting with no tide or rips to worry about – remains a mystery. It certainly makes you think twice about respecting the water regardless of how gorgeous it looks.
Fraser offers great contrasts and from the Lake, after more kangarooing along sand routes, we went along a rainforest boardwalk where we were presented with another natural risk…falling Kauri cones!
Here the forest felt distinctly ancient with species of palms and ferns dating back 300 million years. To add to the prehistoric atmosphere, a large monitor lizard duly scuttled into view…
From this vibrant and lush setting we made our way to the Fraser Island Highway….or as its otherwise known 75 Mile Beach as we careered along the sand yards from the ocean. This was wonderful and like so much of Fraser Island, a unique experience.
75 Mile Beach is official highway where the rules of the “road” apply, albeit with some flexibility to take account of the prevailing tide, and its nothing if not versatile doubling up as the runway for the local light aircraft….
Remarkably the drive on the beach and the aircraft aren’t the main attraction here. Instead the impressive remains of the Maheno Shipwreck take that honour. The Maheno has a special place in Australian history having been involved in the Gallipoli campaign and subsequently used for target practice by the airforce in preparations for WWII. Given all the natural beauty of the Island its odd that this large rusting relic is such a major attraction, but in a way it’s the contrast of its decrepit state against the gorgeous sand and lapping waves that make it quite mesmerising.
Having said that, when you turn away from the Maheno and look along the beach you just have to stop and stare at the jaw-dropping magnificence of this coastline. It really is quite overwhelming.
One of the Island’s most famous and notorious inhabitants had been conspicuous by its absence during our trip – the Dingo. We’d just about given up hope of spotting one as we made our way back along the sand when one suddenly slipped into view stalking an unsuspecting sunbather.
They certainly have a sense of menace about them and once the sunbather spotted it, she joined a nearby family for safety in numbers, and the dingo moved on. With no dogs on Fraser Island the local dingoes are the only pure-breed ones in Australia and they remain a source of controversy. A week after our visit a 14 month old toddler suffered a fractured skull when two dingoes grabbed and dragged him away from his family into the bush before he was saved by his father who heard his screams. On the local media there followed discussions of culls and the importance of campers staying in safe areas the dingoes can’t access. The incident was another reminder that so often in Australia you are the visitor in the territory of wild and dangerous animals.
After our dingo sighting, time was tight so our 4W Driver decided to take a short cut back to the ferry port. This involved going along a relatively unused route (which really is saying something by Fraser Island standards) and a journey that felt as though we travelled as far vertically as we did horizontally such was the undulating condition of the track. There was certainly no danger or dozing off and it made the crossing back to the mainland feel quite serene as we enjoyed another glorious Australian sunset.
As you would expect from its heritage, Maryborough is blessed with a handful of excellent Museums. We especially liked the Bond Store Museum with its interactive displays, one of which was like operating the HG Wells Time Machine. Press a few buttons, push a lever and years click by in front of your eyes until it stops and a film plays to correspond to that year – so simple and so much fun.
However, our favourite museum in Maryborough is Brennan and Geraghty’s Store, a shop that is heritage listed and was saved by the National Trust. Dating back to 1870, this store looks as it did over 100 years ago, with paperwork and records found onsite that are over 140 years old.
As you step into the store it is truly like stepping back in time. Run by brothers-in law Brennan and Geraghty, it managed to hit a century of business before it closed in the early 1970’s. The store was left with old products and artefacts in situ and has been lovingly conserved by the National Trust and a great band of welcoming local volunteers who now staff it. Every item is from the actual store, and nothing has been added or removed.
It’s a bit off the beaten track in Maryborough but well worth the effort of finding and spending an hour or two marvelling at the products, fixtures and fittings. Maybe a reflection of the diet at the times but there seemed to be an extraordinary number of constipation related wares on sale!
An Aussie blog wouldn’t be complete without the obligatory beach report and photos. Although not directly on the coast, Maryborough is a good jumping off point for some great stretches of sand. Twenty minutes up the road is Hervey Bay with its huge sweeping beach – but it has to be said, far from the softest sand we’ve enjoyed (to be fair we are talking world class sand as the benchmark).
An hour south are the wonderfully named Tin Can Bay and Rainbow Beach, the latter being a top beach option.
Our favourite was Bargara Beach near Bundaberg about an hour north. A really lovely spot with enough surf to make it fun and interesting, and a super little beach-side cafe. Bargara was meant to be a brief stop before we checked out Bundaberg. Thankfully we swopped that arrangement around as we found Bundaberg to be a bit bland.
Towards the end of our stay we ventured a couple of hours south to Noosa Heads. This is a much larger and more well-established resort. Forgetting it was Easter Monday we went there expecting it to be reasonably quiet – it wasn’t. Instead it was choked with horrendous traffic. We briefly saw a very busy beach with great surf, but it wasn’t for us. We have got spoilt by quiet deserted stretches and the likes of Noosa, Manly and Bondi are not for us – the backpackers and surfers are welcome to them. Instead we headed to another beach on the Noosa Heads peninsula and found the Aussie beach calm we so relish on Sunshine Beach.
Wildlife Sanctuary’s: Hmmm…
Sometimes a wildlife sanctuary is just that, a place of protection and recovery for animals that have been injured or mistreated in some way who can’t go back to the wild. At Fraser Coast Wildlife Sanctuary they seemed to get the balance right in most cases, especially their roo’s and reptiles. Here it was possible to get very up close and personal with snakes…
… and kangaroos who are being well cared for by passionate staff. There is something very magical about hand feeding kangaroos, but you do have to watch them nibbling your fingers!
Having said that it wasn’t always clear why so many birds were in cages, but on balance we felt this was a well run Sanctuary with its heart and head in the right place. Sadly, we couldn’t say that for the Dolphin Centre that operates from Tin Can Bay, which was a dispiriting experience. Admittedly, we may have been slightly prejudiced by one remarkably rude volunteer who helps to run this experience. Here every day between 7.00 – 8.00am you get the chance to see and feed Humpback Dolphins. Much emphasis is placed on the dolphins being wild and the Centre operating in accordance with Government regulations by not over-feeding them. However, it feels rather cheap and exploitative, and to our mind a really successful day would be none of the dolphins turning up, having caught all they need to eat in the wild. No stars and no pics for this – it’s one of the few things on our trip we regretted doing.
Remarkably Sam and I have managed to maintain our new running habit (thank you Chris and Julianne for inspiring us when we were in Sydney). Our extended stay in Maryborough gave us the chance to finish our Couch to 5K programme (which by the way we can’t recommend highly enough) AND complete our first ever Park Runs! Having found where the local Park Run takes place, we used this as our training circuit every other day. Up at 6am to beat the heat, it is a beautiful spot, and I always enjoy seeing a golf course when I’m running (Sam, less so).
The first week we attended Park Run the organisers asked if there were any visitors and having owned up to being from the UK we got a lovely cheer, as we did the following two weeks, although as one of the locals pointed out, if we came to any more we would be considered locals as well.
The people we met at Park Run, and indeed at every event we went to in Maryborough, were incredibly friendly. Everyone seemed to know Jane, whose house and Leo we were taking care of, and were pleased we had come to visit their city as part of our travels. For us it was a delight to spend four weeks off the beaten track living like a local in a fascinating corner of Queensland where the modern history of this part of Australia is cared for and celebrated with zeal and heart-felt passion by its community. A real treasure.
The end of our Australian Travels: Far North Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef