Three Years on the Road
by
Brett Davis


9. Pine Cones and Cane Toads

After the steep learning curve of the first week of cycling, the following month had been relatively easy. Karen and I had been travelling through familiar territory, with towns close together, avoiding Highway One as much as possible and staying with friends and relatives for much of the time. In fact, over half of our nights had been spent in the houses or units of friends or family. For the majority of the remaining nights, we had been safely camped in caravan parks. Only two nights had been spent in camping areas, and we were still virgins when it came to camping in the bush by the side of the road. North of Noosa, however, all this would change. We knew nobody. For the first time on the trip, we would be on our own.

The two weeks in Uncle Kevin's unit on Noosa Sound had been wonderful, but all good things must come to an end, however, and eventually we had to move on. After the usual teary goodbyes to Kevin and Barbara, Karen and I resumed our cycling trip, travelling through Tewantin and Boreen Point before spending morning tea at a park in the little township of Wahpunga. We had difficulty obtaining water here until a council workman gave us enough for a cuppa. At the start of the trip we had been aware that water availability would be a problem in some parts of Australia, particularly the desert sections up the centre, down the west coast and across the Nullarbor, but running short of water a couple of hours north of Noosa had definitely not been part of our thinking. We checked our maps and saw the big black dot of Wolvi not too far ahead, obviously a major metropolis, so we were not too concerned that our water supplies were dwindling.

Unfortunately, Wolvi turned out to be a locality rather than a town. This would prove to be an invaluable lesson for the future - never ever trust a map. We called into the local school and filled up six bottles from a tank, courtesy of a newly assigned teacher who sympathised with our situation as she told us of her own cycling exploits around Japan. After a lunch of hamburgers and chips at the Wolvi general store, we backtracked five kilometres to the Counter road and headed for Tin Can Bay. While travelling along its undulating, hard packed, red clay surface through a maze of pine forest roads, Karen and I realised we would not reach a town before nightfall so we began looking down the side roads to determine their suitability for nocturnal habitation.

At a little after four in the afternoon, with almost eighty kilometres showing on our computers, we reached the Tin Can Bay road. We soon diverted down a dirt road into the pine forest, and followed a rough trail to a partially cleared area about one hundred and fifty metres from the main road. As Karen boiled the kettle and I set up the tent, a flock of black cockatoos flying overhead cried out their advice that the site we had chosen was okay. We would eventually lose count of the number of times we were given similar signs, by other birds sometimes but mostly by black cockatoos. Not for nothing are they Karen's favourite bird.

Pine forests are dark at the best of times. In late afternoon they become decidedly gloomy. At night they are as black as pitch. And we were a week away from mid winter, so not only would the night be black, it would also be long. Very, very long.


The Pine Forest

We finished dinner in the evening gloom just prior to absolute darkness. I retired to the tent shortly after the five o'clock sunset. Karen was a real night owl, staying up to the heady time of 7pm! Nothing untoward occurred during the night. Next morning we were up at first light, just after seven. I had spent fourteen hours in the tent!

After fixing a leaking patch on Karen's front tyre, we hit Tin Can Bay road again, turning left along Cooloola Way road through more pine forests. The eastern side of the road bordered a military bombing zone, where signs warned us to "Beware Unexploded Bombs and Lasers". A morning tea of water and chocolate-coated scorched peanuts was enjoyed beside a gate into the drop-zone. The undulations flattened out near the turn-off to Tuan and Boonooroo, both on the coast across from Fraser Island.

Boonooroo was the logical overnight stop, so after lunching at a picnic area near the boat ramp we rode back to its caravan park, one that will live long in our memory. The manager was a bloke named John, seventy years old at the time and a real character. He was very friendly, but house-keeping was not one of his strong points. While we registered, he invited us over to his house for a cup of coffee. The cups he handed us were of doubtful cleanliness, but believing in the philosophy of "whatever does not kill us makes us stronger," Karen and I sipped the coffee as we listed to John tell us about his life and the caravan park. While he talked our eyes took in the squalor of his kitchen - the bacon rind embedded in the congealed fat which half-filled a frypan on the gas stove, the similar quantity of fat in the electric frypan on the bench, two cupboard doors hanging from one hinge each and the onion skins blowing across the grimy linoleum floor.

John took us outside to show us the swimming pool. Twenty or thirty cane toads littered the surface, some of them still alive but not long for this earth, most of them dead and in various stages of decomposition. The water was a green algal soup almost thick enough to walk on. It completely hid the bottom of the pool, and considering the nastiness that floated above, this was perhaps fortunate. While he explained that we would not be able to swim in the pool due to a council directive to clean it up or risk park closure, John used a broom to scoop up cane toads and sling them over the caravan park fence onto the tidal mudflats beyond. He explained that the pool simply needed a good dose of chlorine to bring it back to its sparkling best, and tried to show us the true colour of the pool tiles by scrubbing at the algae with the broom, with no success.

Back in his house, John invited us to have dinner with him and to spend the night, free, in his spare room. Karen was bravely trying to stop herself from throwing up. We pretended to consider the offer, even inspecting the room which housed a double bed so lumpy it may have been hiding a body, but we eventually declined with an excuse so lame I cannot even remember what it was. John was just a lonely old man seeking some company. He probably still is.

In the afternoon, Karen and I went for a walk out onto the mudflats, taking care to avoid the cane toad graveyard just outside the pool fence. We returned to a dinner of baked beans, capsicum and mushrooms at a table with an overhead light just behind the caravan park shop. The weather looked threatening - we could see no stars - so I set up the tent "outriggers" - six strings that attach to pegs to stabilise the tent in high winds. Rain began at 10:30pm and continued on and off all night. At eight o'clock the next morning, a cold change hit us, with gusty winds blowing in from the west. The rest of the day was cold, probably to be expected for mid-June. As we were leaving the caravan park that morning, John was still cleaning the pool, broom in hand.

A sign on the Granville bridge on the way into Maryborough brought some warmth to an otherwise wintry day. "No overtaking cyclists on bridge" it proclaimed - a wonderful sentiment. We stopped a lady in the street to ask for directions, and discovered that her son was currently on a cycling holiday around Canada! She directed us to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) office where we booked and paid for four nights' camping fees for Fraser Island. We planned to leave our bikes on the mainland, catch a ferry over to the island, walk around the central lakes for five days and catch the ferry back. While in town, Karen also made a couple of phone calls - one to her friends at Coca-Cola and one to the message machine of a boat-builder friend of ours named Ian.

Ian built the boat in which Kaye Cottee sailed solo around the world. He had been planning a sailing trip to Queensland on his own boat - "Dockitt Eddy" - just prior to our leaving Sydney. For a time we even considered joining him, especially as we had travelled the highway to Brisbane many times before, but as the time of our departure drew nearer we discovered that our respective schedules did not quite match. He had planned to leave about a month after us, so Karen had tried phoning him to find out how he was going. I suspect she was still hopeful of scrounging a couple of week's sailing around the Whitsundays.

We visited the Pizza Hut for their lunchtime all-you-can-eat special, then headed out of town on a backroad, bound for Hervey Bay. Unfortunately, our maps were not as detailed as we would have liked, and I missed a fairly crucial turn. By the time Karen had convinced me of my mistake, I had added a dozen kilometres to our day, and Karen was not impressed. She let me know about it all the way to our caravan park in Urangan. To this day, she still reminds me of my error - the one time in over a decade of navigation when she was right and I was wrong.

When we arrived at the Harbour View caravan park, I convinced Karen that a Camp-O-Tel might be a warmer option than our tent, given the very cold and windy conditions. Only four dollars a night more expensive than a tent site, these fibre-glass constructions contained two bunks, and a compartment in the floor that could be used as an ice-box. In my defence, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was so cold inside our high-tech accommodation that the compartment in the floor was superfluous.

At the caravan park booking office, while researching our transport options to Fraser Island, Karen discovered that we could book a day trip, break it at any time, go off and do our walking and camping for a few days and complete the day trip later. This would not only get us to and from the island, but it would also allow us to see sights on the coast north of Eurong that we had not seen before. Karen told the caravan park manageress that we would book the day trip if we could find a place to store our bikes, and was immediately offered the use of an equipment shed for storage.

Still full from pigging out at the Pizza Hut at lunch time, neither Karen nor myself needed any dinner. An apple and a cup of soup tided us over until breakfast. The morning was cold, and Karen was again angry at me for talking her into staying in the Camp-O-Tel. Neither of us was in a very good mood as we cycled off to the new Pialba shopping centre to buy groceries for our stay on Fraser Island.

By the time the shopping had been completed, we were almost divorced.



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