My day started with a an opening to attend at 7:00am - the opening of the caravan park laundry. In a first from my experience, I was the only one there - no crones to survive, whose resentment that a man was in their domain, enthusiastically separating whites from colours, usually made for spiteful comments and occasionally, outright complaint. Just two industrial strength Mayfair automatic washing machines, empty clotheslines and me. I finished the important business and then uploaded my two recent interviews with radio station 2AD onto the Waratahs Cricket Club site. Washing, showers and breakfast and we were leaving for Bundaberg at 9:30am.
|Behind the stick of the Avro Baby|
Hinkler's planes are there - the Avro Baby which he flew from England, the Puss Moth in which his last flights were made and the Ibis, an amphibian aircraft he was developing for the armed forces. There was even a small rib from his early glider which was taken on board a shuttle flight by Mission Commander Scobie ... the commander of the last Challenger flight. Amazingly, this 12 inch piece of wood, wrapped in plastic, survived the inferno and was found floating on the sea off Florida and has been returned to the museum.
|Hinkler's house, originally|
at Mon Repos
After Sue was let loose on two more museums in the botanic gardens precinct and we ate lunch, we drove across town to the east for a tour of the Bundaberg Rum Bond Store. I must admit, our expectations were low and had other events worked in our favour rather than against, we probably would not have made time for this tour. That would have been our loss for the tour was not only informative but it was also fun thanks to the wit of our tour guide, Bill.
Bundaberg Rum is no longer Australian owned, having been bought out by a British company twenty years ago and in doing so, they removed much of the vertical integration which the original parent had set up. The sugar mill, with it's tall tower emanating mostly water vapour these days, had once been part of the organisation but now it processes the local sugar cane and pumps molasses under pressure and heat direct to massive tanks which hold 10 million litres on the site of the home of that big, cheeky polar bear. The molasses is mixed mostly with yeast home grown in the BR laboratories for the task of fermenting the molasses. This produces a dark liquid which is 8% alcohol by volume. From here it is distilled twice (steam driven through the liquid under pressure) and the vapours which are given off are then condensed into a liquid which is 78% alcohol. This also drastically reduces the volume of the liquid from 4000 litres down to 4. The mix is then cut with water to produce both overproof (57%) and underproof (37%) versions required for the finished product but to add taste and colour, the rum is placed in huge vats for at least two years to finish it. There are three hundred of these vats, all hand built by local coopers, without glues or joints. Each vat had an estimated commercial value of $10 million.
Bundaberg in the late afternoon, forks of lightning peppering the town. One struck the wooden roof of the bond store, where the large vats, in those days uncovered, squatted with their heavy loads of rum. Embers from the burning roof dropped into the rum vats, igniting them and in very little time, the whole place was ablaze. In an effort to save the building, the bungs were removed from the vats and the rum flowed out into the streets of East Bundaberg. There are reports of the event saying people were in the streets with buckets and any container they could find, scooping up the flowing rum and filling their baths before returning to the street for more.
The flames followed the rum flowing down to the Burnett River and for five days and even more eerily, five nights, a 15km stretch of the Burnett was covered in a blue flame, killing all the fish in the river. It took five days to extinguish the fire and it was jokingly said three weeks for the firemen to sober up but when it was over, only the cement molasses tanks remained. The people of Bundaberg threw in with the owners and rebuilt the facility from the ground up inside 12 months.
Our $15 entry fee included the tour and two free drinks of rum in the bar afterwards, surprising value which more than made up for my previously held disregard for Bundaberg! I got my picture taken with the polar bear so I exuded a happiness which had nothing to doing with the free drinks.
Our best day on tour so far.