Running for over 2500km from the New South Wales border to Australia’s northernmost tip at Cape York, Coastal Queensland contains almost everything that lures visitors to Australia. Set down in the more developed southeastern corner, the state capital Brisbane is a relaxed city with a lively social scene and good work possibilities. South between here and the border, the Gold Coast is Australia’s prime holiday destination, with a reputation founded on some of the country’s best surf – though this now takes second place to a belt of beachfront high-rises, theme parks, and the host of lively bars and nightclubs surrounding Surfers Paradise. An hour inland, the Gold Coast Hinterland’s green heights offer a chain of national parks packed with wildlife and stunning views. North of Brisbane, fruit and vegetable plantations behind the gentle Sunshine Coast benefit from rich volcanic soils and a subtropical climate, overlooked by the spiky, isolated peaks of the Glass House Mountains. Down on the coast, Noosa is a fashionable resort town with more famous surf. Beyond looms Fraser Island, whose surrounding waters afford great views of the annual whale migration and where huge wooded dunes, freshwater lakes and sculpted coloured sands form the backdrop for exciting safaris.
North of Fraser the humidity and temperature begin to rise as you head into the tropics. Though there’s still an ever-narrowing farming strip hugging the coast, the Great Dividing Range edges coastwards as it progresses north, dry at first, but gradually acquiring a green sward which culminates in the steamy, rainforest-draped scenery around Cairns. Along the way are scores of beaches, archipelagos of islands and a further wealth of national parks, some – such as Hinchinbrook Island – with superb walking trails. Those with work visas can also recharge their bank balances along the way by fruit and vegetable picking around the towns of Bundaberg, Bowen, Ayr and Innisfail. Moving north of Cairns, rainforested ranges ultimately give way to the savannah of the huge, triangular Cape York Peninsula, a sparsely populated setting for what is widely regarded as the most rugged 4WD adventure in the country.
Offshore, the tropical coast is marked by the appearance of the Great Barrier Reef, among the most extensive coral complexes in the world. The southern reaches out from Bundaberg and 1770 are peppered with sand islands or cays, while further north there’s a wealth of beautiful granite islands between the coast and reef, covered in thick pine forests and fringed in white sand – the pick of which are the Whitsundays near Airlie Beach and Magnetic Island off Townsville. Many of these islands are accessible on day-trips, though some offer everything from campsites to luxury resorts if you fancy a change of pace from tearing up and down the coast. The reef itself can be explored from boat excursions of between a few hours and several days’ duration; scuba divers are well catered for, though the best of the coral is within easy snorkelling range of the surface.
Winters are dry and pleasant throughout the region, but the summer climate (Dec–April) becomes more oppressive the further north you travel, with the possibility of cyclones bringing torrential rain and devastating storms to the entire tropical coast.
In a way, Queensland’s popularity as a holiday hot spot is surprising, as this is perhaps Australia’s most conservative state, lampooned in the past for being slow and regressive. Marked physical and social divisions remain between the densely settled, city-oriented southeastern corner and the large rural remainder, which is mostly given over to mining and farming. These divisions date back to when Brisbane was chosen as capital on Queensland’s separation from New South Wales in 1859; the city proved an unpopular choice with the northern pioneers, who felt that the government was too far away to understand, or even care about, their needs. These needs centred around the north’s sugar plantations and the use of Solomon Islanders for labour, a practice the government equated with slavery and finally banned in 1872. Ensuing demands for further separation, this time between tropical Queensland and the southeast, never bore fruit, but the remoteness of northern settlements from the capital led to local self-sufficiency, making Queensland far less homogeneous than the other eastern states.
The darker side of this conservatism has seen Queensland endure more than its fair share of extreme or simply dirty politics. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the repressive stranglehold of a strongly conservative National Party government, led by the charismatic and slippery Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen (better known as “Joh”), did nothing to enhance the state’s image. Despite a long-term Labor government since his time, state politics remain predominantly right-wing, as was seen in the late 1990s by the emergence from southeast Queensland of Pauline Hanson and her One Nation Party, whose shallow, racist outbursts won favour with a fair number of Australians who felt ignored by the main parties.
Change came with the new millennium, however: Labor Premier Peter Beattie served for three successive terms between 2001 and 2007 and was the first state premier to act on the Australia-wide water shortage caused by a decade of poor rainfall, by implementing water-recycling measures for domestic, industrial and agricultural use in 2007. He resigned from politics shortly afterwards, and was succeeded by his deputy, Anna Bligh, who became the State’s first elected female premier in 2009. Bligh’s calm handling of the crises caused by extreme weather events in the summer of 2010–11 attracted widespread praise.Read More
Native to South America, the huge, charismatically ugly cane toad was recruited in 1935 to combat a plague of greyback beetles, whose larvae were wreaking havoc on Queensland’s sugar cane. The industry was desperate – beetles had cut production by ninety percent in plague years – and resorted to seeding tadpoles in waterholes around Gordonvale. They thrived, but it soon became clear that toads couldn’t reach the adult insects (who never landed on the ground), and they didn’t burrow after the grubs. Instead they bred whenever possible, ate anything they could swallow, and killed potential predators with toxic secretions from their neck glands. Native wildlife suffered: birds learned to eat nontoxic parts, but snake populations have been seriously affected. Judging from the quantity of flattened carcasses on summer roads (running them over is an unofficial sport), there must be millions lurking in the canefields, and they’re gradually spreading into New South Wales and the Northern Territory – they arrived in Darwin, via Kakadu, in 2006. Given enough time, they seem certain to infiltrate most of the northern half of the country.
The toad’s outlaw character has generated a cult following, with its warty features and nature the subject of songs, toad races, T-shirt designs, a brand of beer and the award-winning film Cane Toads: An Unnatural History – worth seeing if you come across it on video. The record for the largest specimen goes to a 1.8-kilogram monster found in Mackay in 1988.
The Bounty and the Pandora
The Bounty and the Pandora
In 1788, the British Admiralty vessel Bounty sailed from England to Tahiti, with a mission to collect breadfruit seedlings, intended to provide a cheap source of food for Britain’s plantation slaves in the West Indies. But the stay in Tahiti’s mellow climate proved so much better than life on board the Bounty that on the return journey in April 1789 the crew mutinied, led by the officer Fletcher Christian. Along with eighteen crew who refused to join in the mutiny, Captain William Bligh was set adrift in a longboat far out in the Pacific, while the mutineers returned to Tahiti, intending to settle there.
Things didn’t go as planned, however. After an incredible feat of navigation over 3600 nautical miles of open sea, Bligh and all but one of his companions reached the Portuguese colony of Timor in June, emaciated but still alive, from where Bligh lost no time in catching a vessel back to England, arriving there in March 1790. His report on the mutiny immediately saw the Admiralty dispatch the frigate Pandora off to Tahiti under the cold-hearted Captain Edwards, with instructions to bring back the mutineers to stand trial in London.
Meanwhile, in Tahiti, Christian and seven of the mutiny’s ringleaders – knowing that sooner or later the Admiralty would try to find them – had, along with a group of Tahitians, taken the Bounty and sailed off into the Pacific. Fourteen of the Bounty’s crew stayed behind on Tahiti, however, and when the Pandora arrived there in March 1791, they were rounded up, clapped in chains and incarcerated in the ship’s brig, a 3m-long wooden cell known as “Pandora’s Box”.
Having spent a fruitless few months island-hopping in search of the Bounty, Captain Edwards headed up the east coast of Australia where, on the night of August 29, the Pandora hit a northern section of the Great Barrier Reef. As waves began to break up the vessel on the following day, Edwards ordered the longboats to be loaded with supplies and abandoned the ship, leaving his prisoners still locked up on board; it was only thanks to one of the crew that ten of them managed to scramble out as the Pandora slid beneath the waves.
In a minor replay of Bligh’s voyage, the Pandora’s survivors took three weeks to make it to Timor in their longboats, and arrived back in England the following year. Edwards was castigated for the heartless treatment of his prisoners, but otherwise held blameless for the wreck. The ten surviving mutineers were court-martialled: four were acquitted, three hanged, and three had their death sentences commuted. Captain Bligh was later made Governor of New South Wales, where he suffered another mutiny known as the “Rum Rebellion” (see “History”). To add insult to injury, the Bounty’s whole project proved a failure; when breadfruit trees were eventually introduced to the West Indies, the slaves refused to eat them.
Seventeen years later, the American vessel Topaz stopped mid-Pacific at the isolated rocky fastness of Pitcairn Island and, to the amazement of its crew, found it settled by a small colony of English-speaking people. These turned out to be the descendants of the Bounty mutineers, along with the last survivor, the elderly John Adams (also known as Alexander Smith). Adams told the Topaz’s crew that, having settled Pitcairn and burned the Bounty, the mutineers had fought with the Tahitian men over the women, and that Christian and all the men – except Adams and three other mutineers – had been killed. The other three had since died, leaving only Adams, the women, and their children on the island. After Adams’ death, Pitcairn’s population was briefly moved to Norfolk Island in the 1850s, where some settled, though many of their descendants returned and still live on Pitcairn.