689. Friday 19th July 2019. Air crash memorials, Blacks Beach, Shoal Point and a drama story…


Monday 15th July

Woke to a sunny day but with a chill wind blowing from the south west. Those south west and west winds are the puts, even here in the tropics. Can you believe it was 7° here in Mackay. I did not want to get out of bed. Moving my feet around only found cold sheets apart from where I had cocooned warmth during the night.

I decide to drive to McEwens Beach on the south side of Mackay.

150719 jackknife
On my way to McEwens Beach there was a long line of traffic at a large roundabout at Bakers Creek. It seems the large Mainfreight truck had jackknifed going around all lanes had to be closed while two tow trucks managed to get it back onto the road in one piece.

This suburb of about 200 courageous souls has no facilities such as a shop. The nearest being on the highway 7 Klms away at the bottom end of Bakers Creek. The road narrows several times to a one lane road and traffic is forced to each put one wheel in the dirt when approaching each other. That’s fine and dandy in the daylight and the dry but when it is wet the dirt becomes slippery slidey as tyre tracks in the mud can attest. Much of the road passes through sugar cane on both sides of the road while the rest is now, politically correct, wetlands. One upon a time we called it swamp.

150719 wetlands
Wetlands near McEwens Beach. A large varity of animals, birds and sea life call this home. Now that we have been educated to call them Wetlands instead of Swamps we now know they are a basic breeding ground for life.

What’s in a name? The birds love it whatever you call it. So do the mosquitoes and sandflies. The suburb is located on the extra wide mouth of the estuary of Alligator Creek as it drains into Sandringham Bay. The name Alligator was given back in the days when we did not know the difference between Alligators and Crocodiles. Australia only has Crocodiles. By the way there are several creeks with the misnomer of Alligator between Rockhampton to the south and Townsville in the north. In the distance I could easily see a dozen ships waiting to get to the Hay Point Coal Loading Terminal.

150719 hay point
From McEwens Beach at the mouth of Alligator Creek you can see some of the ships anchored and waiting to load with coal at Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal. I have seen more than 50 ships on some days.

Often it is possible to see 50 or more ships just offshore in good weather and bad. There is nowhere else to go but in cyclonic conditions the port facility is closed down and the ships are sent somewhere else, probably further south. Some years back, perhaps just before or just after to turn of the century, the local residents with waterfront properties complained bitterly to Mackay Council that due to several cyclones their waterfront was being eroded and they were losing some of their property. Council in a spirit of free spending poured huge amounts of money, labour and rocks into shoring up the eroded banks.

150719 rock wall
At McEwens Beach these huge blocks of rock were installed along the waterfronto to stop erosion during cyclonic swells and tides. The staircase is the best access to the beach. BEACH??? Yes this is a beach of muddy sand. Alligaor creek drains from a huge area and spreads out far and wide. During tides which can be up to 6 metres, a large quanty of material is shifted.

All this for 200 residents! That said the properties are still intact with a nice rock retaining wall about 5 metres thick at the base and three metres thick at the top keeping the angry sea from reclaiming the land which it believes belongs to it.

150719 swimming enclosure
The netted swimming enclosure at McEwens Beach fares better than similar enclosures which directly face the ocean.

Leaving McEwens Beach I drove back to Bakers Creek to see the memorial to one of Australia’s worst air disasters. Two of Australia’s worst air disasters occurred in the Mackay district, one here at Bakers Creek and the other offshore at Illawong Beach at the end of the Mackay Airport Runway.

At Bakers Creek in June 1943 a US Army Flying Fortress crashed shortly after take off. It was returning soldiers who were on R&R leave in Mackay to the front at New Guinea. Forty men died in the crash and there was only one survivor. The plane was known as “Miss Every Morning Fixin because when it was withdrawn from active service in Darwin, 1,100 bullet holes were found in the body. The plane was always undergoing repairs. The reason for the crash remains a mystery. News of the crash was suppressed due to wartime censorship so full details were not released until late in 1945 when the war had ended.

150719 bakers creek memorial
WWII Mackay Air Crash Disaster Memorial.

Next I drove to Illawong Beach where there is a second memorial to an air crash.

150719 illawong memorial
Mackay Air Crash Disaster Memorial at Illawong Beach.

In June 1960 a Fokker Freindship, owned and operated by TAA crashed on approach to landing, killing all 29 on board. What made it worse was 9 schoolboys had joined the flight in Rockhampton and were on their way home for the weekend. The plane crashed somewhere between Round Top and Flat Top Islands about 7 Klms offshore.

150719 round top flat top
The islands known as Flat Top and Round Top, for obvious reasons. The plane crash was a few Klms offshore behind Round Top.

Several theories were put forward for what caused the crash but not one was conclusive enough. It also remains a mystery. The wreckage was not found until two days later in about 12 metres of water. A further two weeks went by before all wreckage and bodies were recovered.

150719 ships
Same ships waiting but viewed from Illawong Beach.

Tuesday 16th July

In the cold morning with a chill south westerly blowing I went to Blacks Beach and tolerated the wind for a few minutes.

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Bench seat at Blacks Beach, another location where huge rock walls were built to stop erosion.
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View of Brampton Island from Blacks Beach. Note the choppy sea surface which here is partly protected by the Slade Point Headland.

After lunch I walked around Eimeo Beach Village finding it was out of the wind but still required a jacket to stay warm.

Wednesday 17th July

Another cold night and and even colder morning. It was 5° early this morning with another night of similar temps expected tonight.

Last night I weighed myself. 75 Kg. That is a weight loss of 7Kg since I started my diet and exercise routine. 7 Kg! Let me put that in perspective. My carry on bag when I flew here was 7Kg, the maximum allowable. That is a heavy bag to carry in your hand or on your back. That is the same as 7 bags of sugar or 14 500 gram tubs of butter.

In the morning I went to my old favourite, Shoal Point and walked northwards towards Reliance Creek. The tide was on its way out giving me some photo opportunities.

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Bench seat at Shoal Point overlooking Little Green Island. Believe it or not, at low tide you can walk to the island.

I sat on the sand for awhile with one of the oldest houses behind me. I recall visiting here many years ago when the man who owned the house had a seaplane. He would fly in at mid tide and taxi as far onto the sand as he could go. He lowered the wheels and used a tractor to tow the plane to his backyard rock retaining wall where it was tied down. When he wanted to fly he towed the plane to near the incoming tide, returned the tractor and sat in the plane doing his checks waiting for the tide to come in and the plane would float.

Those days are gone.

170719 shoal point1
Even here you can see the edge of the forest being reclaimed by the sea. Sometime in the future the tree will succumb to the forces of wind, erosion and tidal pressures and will topple to the ground. Note the other trees also suffering and dead.
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Shoal Point. I recall that once upon a time this tree was part of a forest of Paperbark Trees and this was the edge of the land. Now it is part of the ocean floor.
170719 boat at sp
Shoal Point waiting for the tide to reurn. Cape Hillsborough is in the background.

I noticed what looked like long ribbons of red on the sand in the distance. I thought it may be some sort of rope washed ashore from a fishing boat. I soon found it was a species of Pig Face, or Carpobrotus or Karkalla or Sea Fig or Beach Bananas.

170719 pigface
Red stemmed Pigface.

There are about 30 different varieties and I call them all Pig Face but this one with flaming red stems is new to me. Every part of this plant is edible and/or medicinal – the leaves can be used like Aloe Vera to lessen stings and burns of the skin, as well as eaten raw or cooked. Pigface has been eaten and used extensively by the peoples of Australia for as long as there’s been people here. https://www.milkwood.net/2014/01/30/snacks-for-salty-sea-dogs-foraging-pigface/

Thursday 18th July

Another cold night and morning with that nasty south westerly wind still making life colder than it ought to be.

This morning I finally caught up with ex BIL John W. I caught John as he was preparing to collect some supplies for a coffee shop and cafe he owns in a shopping centre nearby. It is a busy coffee shop with a staff of around 4 to depending on the time of day. John sat down to chat when his phone rang. There was drama at the shop. It seems there was no gas. No gas for shopping centre. WT!!! There are normally 4 giant 45 Kg bottles which are used to supply to various stores but at this time of day it was the coffee shop most in need as they do deep frying and other cooking all on gas appliances. We drove to the centre and checked the gas bottles. All are empty. It seems the supplier has somehow forgotten to keep the bottles topped up and or replaced. They only have two trucks supplying gas for commercial premises. One was in Airlie Beach a 1.5 hour drive to the north and the other was at Moranbah a 2 hour drive to the west. It was lunch time and customers were queued to the door and getting annoyed. Those who wanted sandwiches or toasted sandwiches and coffee were getting served. Those who wanted the house specialities (Phillipino meals) were out of luck. John and I raced back to his house and collected a 9 Kg gas bottle and a gas burner and back to the store to get it set up. In the meantime the gas supplier had found another supplier willing to provide a 45 Kg bottle to get things working but it would be an hour before he arrived. That was my excitement for the morning.

John on the other hand had two days of excitement.

Here is the beginning of the story from RACQ CQ Rescue.

The rescue helicopter landed on the sandy shore of the island, 35km north-east of Mackay, to find a 7.3 metre catamaran beached, a man and his two dogs the sole occupants.
The sailor reported he’d been stranded since Saturday night after six foot waves blew in damaging the vessel and washing him ashore in the north-western bay of the island.
With plenty of supplies on board, he didn’t activate his EPIRB until today after he suffered a fall.
The gent refused transport as he didn’t want to leave his dogs and was late this afternoon being assisted by the good folk at Volunteer Marine Rescue (VMR).

170719 cq rescue
Stranded with a damaged hull on Keswick Island. Thanks to the CQ Rescue Facebook site for the photo.

He and his poodles were rescued by VMR and brought back to Mackay but he was concerned the damage to the catamaran would involve a major recovery but in the meantime was concerned his boat would be stripped of all its goodies. Enter John who was asked if he knew somebody with a large boat capable of bringing loads of goods back. As luck was with him there was such a man in the coffee shop that day with a new Haines who was willing to bring home the belongings but on approaching the island it was found the conditions were too rough to attempt bring the boat onto the beach. While the skipper brought the boat close enough to shore to allow John and his friend to wade (actually it was more like swim ashore) in chest deep water to begin stripping everything off the catamaran. Meanwhile the skipper of the rescue Haines became seasick in the conditions. After most of the day was spent loading the Haines the trio spent a rough seasick passage back to Mackay.

After telling me the story John introduced me to the Catamaran owner and the Haines owner who are both regular diners at the coffee shop.

After lunch friends Ron and Eileen W from our motorhoming days arrived for a coffee and a catch up since our last meeting which after discussing realised it was early in 2013.

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