I have been so active with investigating and researching and travelling and photographing that I have ended up with too many photos for the one post. Instead I will create three posts to spread out the photos. That said there are still many photos in this post.
Monday 8th July.
Today I took a drive into the Habana Valley which is on the way to nowhere.
In recent years sugar cane plantations were subdivided and sold as 5 acre lots so that once rolling hills of sugar cane have given way to rolling hills of grass dotted with large houses.
Habana is one site within the Mackay district which used slave labour, known as Blackbirding, a practice of enticing or kidnapping men and women from The Solomon Islands and working them in the canefields for little pay and poor conditions. The practise began about 1863 and continued until 1904 when it was outlawed. Many were repatriated to their homes in the Pacific Islands but many were not. Blackbirds were brought into Brisbane and sold to various sugar can farms along the coast from Maryborough to Port Douglas. Some were sold and sent to the New South Wales cane towns. Those that remained integrated into society and in fact some of the roads around Habana are named after Solomon Islanders. Descendants have mostly stayed in the area and married locally.
I cannot say Habana was once a thriving community as I could not find any evidence of shops but Habana like many other small communities around Mackay have experienced fluctuating fortunes and mostly those fluctuations have been progressively down.
At the height of the sugar boom, cane was cut by hand and cutters came from all over Australia for the harvest. A famous book was written about the fortunes of the time, Summer of the 17th Doll, written by Ray Lawler. The book was made into a stage play and a Hollywood movie starring Ernest Borgnine.
After hand cutting came cane harvesters where almost every land owner had their own harvester. Repairs and fabrication were carried out by local businesses. Soon it was simpler to have a harvesting contractor carry out the harvest and land owners no longer needed to purchase a harvester which sat idle for 8 months of the year.
Gradually the local engineering firms and fabricators had less and less work and soon closed their doors.
People also moved away. Habana is such a community in the throes of dying but will probably last a little longer as the urban sprawl and the need to have 5 acres of lawn means people will buy blocks of land and build their expensive homes with large ride on mowers. Cane is still grown and harvested in the area which can being sent by rail to the mill at Farleigh. Cane train lines still criss cross the area.
After the recent heavy rain the ground is very boggy so finding a parking spot, off the road, dry and not subject to getting bogged was a challenge.
Just a word on weight loss. Tonight my weight is down to 75.4 Kg. That is a loss of 6.6 Kg since I started dieting but the most loss of weight came about by reducing carbs and sugar and lots of exercise. I am now wearing trousers which have not fit since at least 2012. Even they are beginning to fall down. Soon I will need to got to a smaller trouser size.
Tuesday 9th July
Yay! The sun WAS shining. By the time I got dressed and out the door for a walk along Eimeo Beach a light drizzle had begun. Aaah! What the heck. I went anyway.
By the time I arrived at the beach the drizzle had stopped.
I did a few laps of the beach and a wander around the old fishing village.
There is not a lot of history for the suburb. In 1870 a Jeremiah Armitage took bought 150 acres of waterfront land primarily or perhaps by design, for the purposes of timber getting and milling. He quickly changed tactics and planted 9 acres of fruit – that is, mangoes and coconuts and built a guest house which is today the site of the Pacific Hotel Eimeo with multi million dollar stunning views across Sunset Bay.
Mid morning I headed out for a circuit which would take in the villages or towns of Homebush, Eton, North Eton, Kinchant Dam, Marian and Pleystowe. I wanted to look for old buildings either still in use, abandoned or used occassionally.
First stop was The Pub In the Scrub or The Pub in the Cane Paddocks or the correct name is The General Gordon Hotel, Homebush.
The hotel was built by CSR ( Colonial Sugar Refinery) way back in 1883. It is basically surrounded by sugar cane paddocks including across the road.
It is quite some distance out of town. Town? Well, it is not really a town so much, it is a community, including a Primary School and a bunch of houses and precious little else. Back to the hotel. It was named after the famous Major General Charles George Gordon who died in the battle of Khartoum in 1885. Today the hotel looks tired, and run down and needing much tender loving care but the people in the trucks and utes and cars which pull up for a cold beer all day do not seem to mind. Out the back a level area is set aside for campers who pay $5 a night and share the hotel bathroom. I recall many years ago stopping here for a cold beer and a counter lunch and at that time noticed all the dusty musty memorabilia lining the walls and ceilings. Nothing has changed.
A little further along the road was my next stop, Homebush Mission Hall (still a fair way out of Homebush) built in 1892. This is where the Blackbird story I mentioned yesterday fits into today’s travels. Many indentured labourers (slaves) could not read or write and were not permitted to attend any local churches. The Presbyterian Church built this hall in 1892 on land donated by CSR. The idea was to teach reading, writing and Christianity to the Islanders. In 1997 the building was granted a Queensland Heritage Listing which has done little to maintain the building or encourage its use. There were several Mission Halls built in the Mackay – Sarina area but as far as I know this is the only hall still in existence and apparently being used on a semi regular basis, mainly by the South Sea Islander Community.
Next stop was Homebush itself which as mentioned is little more than a Primary School and a few homes. I should mention that stretching as far as the eye can see in any direction is sugar cane which is, in most cases, almost ready for harvesting.
Across the street is an abandoned house with abandoned furniture all exposed to the elements and slowly being taken over by mould and rot.
Following the road to an intersection I found this is the Peak Downs Highway just outside of Eton, another cane growing and harvesting town. In fact for about 100 Klms north and south and west of Mackay is almost exclusively cane farms. I found an abandoned home just on the edge of town.
I always wonder what led to families leaving a house which is gradually being taken over by trees, bushes, grasses and the elements and will eventually become one with nature. Unless somebody buys the land and bulldozes it first.
Next up was North Eton on my way to Kinchant Dam for lunch.
Not so many years ago I remember there was a sugar cane mill here as there were many such mills scattered throughout the valley. There were too many mills so began a series of closures and all that remains is a large chimney which serves no purpose other than as a reminder of once upon a time. Other small towns which closed their mills have nothing left except perhaps a plaque marking a site. Since leaving the house this morning I can safely say I have never been out of sight of sugar cane growing along the highway, in suburbs and right up to house fence lines.
Mackay is Sugar Cane.
I stopped at Kinchant Dam for lunch. The dam was built in 1977 to provide water water for irrigation and town water. There is a camp ground / resort at the dam and it advertises itself as a quiet place to relax. When up to 50 skis boats are roaring around on weekends it is anything but quiet. Today WAS quiet with only one underpowered boat towing somebody on a belly board.
I chose the narrow road to Marian where I once again found abandoned houses one coming into town and one as I was leaving.
Marian still has an active mill. Soon when the harvest is in full swing the mill will become fully operational and will “crush” around the clock. The paddocks of cane, growing three to four metres high will be harvested and for a few months will be ploughed fields ready for planting.
By now I was on the Mackay – Eungella Road and my next stop was Pleystowe where I found another abandoned house.
Pleystowe still has an active mill but the town itself has gradually deteriorated and the one remaining general store has also closed and become abandoned. I suppose if I walked around the nearby narrow roads I would find more abandoned houses. The mill is now the centre of activity but only during the crush. Pleystowe is only a dozen Klms from Mackay where two large shopping centres cater for needs while Marian also boasts a smaller shopping centre and Walkerston only 3 Klms away now has an ultra modern shopping centre. An interesting feature along this stretch of road between Pleystowe and the Walkerston turnoff is long rows of Mango trees lining each side of the road. It is quite pretty normally but during Mango season the fruit drops to the road and is squashed by passing traffic. The smell of rotting fruit is a sickly sweet offence to the aural senses. Luckily there are few houses in that stretch of road. I should mention the Mango’s are known as Commons and nobody eats them anymore, they are too stringy but are good for pickling. That is why the fruit is not picked.
Wednesday 10th July
This morning I went to Bucasia Beach for a walk.
It is 10 times the size of Eimeo Beach so it was easy to set up a brisk pace and keep that pace for a good distance.
I should mention sand on tropical beaches especially those that are protected by an outer reef. That is, all beaches north of Agnes Waters which only have waves when big storms whip up the seas over a short distance.
The sand is coarser and grittier than beaches say on the Gold Coast.
It is also more of a brown colour rather than light yellow or even white found further south.
The sand also has lots of shell fragments and small pebbles.
Most beaches have lots of pumice stone which floats and always seems to sit on top the sand as well.
Pumice is formed by frothy volcanic lava which sets quickly when making contact with the water, trapping little air pockets and creating a stone which floats. My guess would be this pumice arrives on our beaches from the active volcanoes around New Guinea. Add to this mix the debris which spews out of creeks and rivers during heavy rainfall. Material such as leaves, twigs, branches, tree roots and mangrove seeds. Then of course there are the bodies of shell fish such as crab and skeletons of fish. The water temp here in winter is warmer than summer water temps down south. Is it any wonder then that I have always called the waters in the tropics a “soup”.
In the afternoon I drove to Shoal Point for a wander among the rocks and shoals.
Leiutenant James Cook first encountered these shoals in the ship ENDEAVOUR on 2nd June 1770. The actual shoals lie about 200 metres offshore and were named Blackwood Shoals by the Survey Ship HMS FLY in 1843 and Llewellyn Shoal by the Survey Ship SS LLEWELLYN in 1879. Subsequently the spit of land became Shoal Point.
Tonight I attended Rock and Roll classes and found my confidence shattered by a different teaching method and far too many people. I was told the numbers were down by about 50% tonight as it is state of origin night. One thing I did learn is to maintain my beat and footwork. My teacher for tonight suggested I practise footwork with appropriate music while I am doing things around the house. Well okey dokey then, one, two backstep, step. One, two backstep, step. Do it until it becomes automatic. One, two, backstep, step. One, two Backstep, Backstep. Oooh darnit. Got out of step already.