Friday, 10 April 2015

TOD Tour, Day 58 - A Cruise & A Sunset

The Bundy Belle
Two wonderful activities today. I'm late to writing and needing bed because we have a longer than normal drive for the next two days after changing our plans and deciding to head west to Carnarvon Gorge.

This morning we went for a two and a half hour cruise on the Burnett River, from Bundaberg to Burnett Heads, aboard the Bundy Belle. She is a converted river ferry which has been operated by husband and wife team Darren and Lisa Lockley since 2009. In 2013, they almost lost the "Belle" during the largest flood in the history of the Burnett River, when their pontoon washed away. Darren swam out to the Belle and drove her back up river against the flood water and tied her to a huge river gum to wait out the flood.

The Belle was the only boat that was in the river that day which wasn't washed out to sea or left wrecked on the banks downstream by a river travelling at 80kms/hr.

Operating from a new pontoon at Grunske's by the River, they conduct a variety of cruises. Ours started at 10:00am and was full of informative stories and funny anecdotes from skipper Darren.

There was the tale of the slave trade which operated out of Bundaberg at the turn of the last century, when Pacific islanders - principally from the Solomon Islands - known as Kanakas, were tricked to leave their homes and then sold from the wharf at the Fairymead Mill into slavery with local farmers. They built many of the walls which trained the Burnett to run narrower and deeper and therefore keeping the channel open for the trading ships to reach the then port at Bundaberg itself. They built these by hand, rock by rock, as they did many other labour intensive tasks such as the cutting of sugar cane. The trade only came to an end after Federation.

A 44 foot motor cruiser wrecked and
stranded on sacred ground on Paddy's Island
Local aboriginal clans suffered under white men too. In 1849, after the deaths of two young brothers who were herding sheep and the son of Gregory Blaxland who discovered the passage over the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, a company of men were sent out to exercise a punitive action against local aboriginals. They were chased onto Paddy's Island, which lies on the Burnett, east of Bundaberg and it is estimated than more than 1000 men, women and children of the Taribelang clan were murdered in the action. Paddy's island was eventually given to local aboriginal people more than ninety years later and is considered a sacred site.

The Bundaberg Sugar Company operates a huge mill and refining factory on the banks of the Burnett. It is one of only two companies in the world who grow, mill, refine and export their product in t he same area. They are owned by a Belgian parent company.

Of course, no tour of the Burnett or of Bundaberg for that matter, would be complete without a mention of Bundaberg Rum. The distillery only came into being when the local sugar producers were looking for something to do with the molasses which is left over from production and latched onto the idea of distilling rum. In 1939, a lightning strike ignited more than a billion litres of rum in 63 large vats and in an effort to save the distillery, the drums were punctured to allow the rum to escape to the river, where locals were busy capturing that which wasn't on fire in pails. The river burned with a blue flame for days after the fire had been extinguished in the factory and fish could be scooped, stultified from the river for weeks afterwards. The big white polar bear is owned offshore too.

"The Skipper was a sailing man ..."
well ...
All along the Burnett, rocks of rich volcanic origin are clearly evident. Their source, a cinder volcano now called The Hummock, can be seen to the south as you cruise along. Bundaberg has recorded the most earthquakes in Queensland's recorded history with twenty in the last ten years, as it lies directly on a fault line.

As we came up upon the Bundaberg Sailing Club in the lower reaches of the Burnett, we observed several small sailing craft of the Access 303 program, which takes disabled people and teaches them sailing. The program is staffed by volunteers from the Sailing Club.

Apart from the huge sugar loader down in an area called Bundaberg Port which is close to the river mouth, the only other building of note apart from those with rich waterfront addresses was the old lighthouse. It has been replaced these days by an automatic light which uses only a 50watt tungsten globe to reach more than 13kms out to sea. The sugar loader has fallen on hard times. Before the 2013 flood, $37 million worth of sugar was exported each year from the loader. That has dwindled to nothing as, as the river is now too shallow to allow the export boats safe passage. The building is now used for naval cadets.

At $25, this was a cheap morning in consideration of the sheer weight of information shared, let alone the scenery. Sue even spent twenty minutes in the wheel house steering us home!

We lunched beside the Burnett between the bridges and then drove north to the Town of 1770, where, after a swim at our accommodation, we went down to the bay and saw one of the most sensational sunsets my eyes have witnessed in 58 years.
Sunset at 1770

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