16/06/18 Forrest Beach is a small coastal town an hour north of Townsville and 20km east of Ingham. We set up close to the water in a campground run by the local Progress Association – a large grassy area with shade trees – and in no time Di had us down on the sand to top up her Beach Babe tank. After just three weeks away from the coast, her Beach Separation Anxiety level was high. Sand between the toes quickly fixed that.
We shared the large camping area with just one other van, and the long beach was deserted apart from us. I couldn’t understand why no other people were here. This place was a gem – a store and newsagency across the road, and a pub within a short stroll – all the basic requirements for a top spot. I’m not going to be the one to spread the word around, though. Less travellers in the camp site suits me just fine. Please forget that you just read this.
The TV was tuned in ready for State of Origin game one while I tuned in with a glass or two of Shiraz to give the Maroons the benefit of my expert coaching skills. Origin is about the only time we watch TV – all the inane commercials and relentless sports betting ads drive me nuts. So much for my expert coaching, though. We’ll get the Blues next time.
Heading on from Forrest Beach, smoke coming from the stacks of the Victoria Sugar Mill signalled the start of the cane crushing season. From now on, we’re likely to come across harvesters in the fields and cane trains with loaded bins on their way to the mill or empties on their way back out.
Near Mourilyan, a backroad took us from the Bruce Highway, through the small villages of South Johnstone and Wangan and across to the Palmerston Highway, to camp at Sybbie’s cattle property, at East Palmerston. We love that place. When we lived in Townsville, it was like our second home that we visited as often as we could to relax in its greenness, if there is such a word. You just want to soak up the pretty scenery – rolling green hillsides, permanent streams in the gullies, stands of African Tulip trees, dotted with grazing horses and cattle. It’s so lush, if you stand still too long, you start to take root through the soles of your feet.
We arrived to find Clem, the French traveller who we’d met earlier at Glen Erin, already there awaiting a cattle mustering job she was soon to start up on the tablelands. Sybbie had arranged the job after I’d given him a call. Until then, she was helping out on his cattle property.
Sybbie is always a great host. He took us all on a tour of the tea plantation, then to Etty Bay for a fish and chips lunch, where we were joined on the beach by a cassowary (a new bird for Di’s twitcher list) that strolled casually out of the rainforest onto the sand, and for dinner we tucked into some terrific wood-fired pizzas at The Falls Teahouse up in Millaa Millaa. Clem’s tiramisu that she made a couple of days later was to die for. It clinched her official entry to the family as we celebrated the anniversary of her first twelve months in Australia, and the approval of the second year on her visa.
Sybbie runs the harvested tea leaf up to the Nerada Tea Factory just outside Malanda two or three times a day. On one of these trips, we followed behind his truck and were given a tour of the tea factory in operation, tracking the leaf along conveyer belts to the various stages of processing into black tea product. The factory is noted for its resident Lumholtz tree-kangaroos in the surrounding grounds and, after much looking, we at last spotted one up in a tree (Twentieth Tick for Di’s “Animals in the Wild” List). Di and I hadn’t seen one before and its agility among the branches was surprising. To me, it looked very much like a wallaby-sized possum.
Before heading back for the day, Di, Clem and I stopped off at Malanda Falls and then Gallo Dairyland where we selected some yummy cheeses. We continued with more touristy things with Clem the following day, again visiting The Falls Teahouse for lunch, and doing the circuit drive to Millaa Millaa Falls, Zillie Falls and Ellinjaa Falls. A quick stop on the way back at Gooligans Creek produced a new bird for Di – a Woompoo Fruit Dove – with a platypus very close by in the large pool.
We had a change to the travel itinerary. The plan was to head further north, but Sybbie was taking a few horses to compete in the Georgetown Campdraft over the weekend, and Clem was going as well to hopefully have a ride. So we’re heading west with them to be their cheer squad. I’ve checked out the North Korean Olympic cheer squad on You Tube to get some pointers for what’s involved.
The drive from East Palmerston to Georgetown took about 5 hours, up the Palmerston Highway and through the Wooroonooran National Park to Millaa Millaa, then onto the Savannah Way to Ravenshoe, Mount Garnet, Mount Surprise and finally Georgetown. For the stretch from Millaa Millaa to Ravenshoe, the highest town in Queensland, we were at times down to 40kph with the very steep inclines and heavy vehicles. But the slow pace gave us a chance to take in the lush scenery around us.
Camp was set up in the Georgetown recreation grounds near the campdraft ring, in amongst an assortment of horse float trailers and goosenecks of all kinds and sizes (some seriously huge). The Kruiser looked for all the world like a very flash horse float, and drew a lot of attention and questions about what it was. At pretty much every camp in the past four years we’ve had someone come over for a look at the van. It’s all part of the Kruiser experience. When we hear “G’day, mate. What is it?” we’ve got the standard presentation down pat. It’s a great way to meet people, and a lot of folks are genuinely interested in it, especially horse people whose first reaction is to assume it’s some kind of strange horse float.
The annual Georgetown Campdraft event is a big part of the local community calendar and one of a number of similar events held throughout rural Australia. Competitors come from all over to compete and we were looking forward to our first campdraft. We had a great three days of close contact with horses, cattle, dust, beer, country music, big Akubra hats, blue jeans, spangles, boots and spurs. And met some wonderfully welcoming people out to have a good family time.
From Georgetown, we’ll be returning back to Millaa Millaa and going north, so on the final day we said our goodbyes to Sybbie who we’d be seeing again on our way south, and to Clem who was going out west to work in a contract mustering team for a couple of months.
“Cheerleading isn’t easy – if it was more guys would be in it.”