BOWEN, a quiet seafront settlement, was once under consideration as the site of the state capital, but it floundered after Townsville’s foundation. Overlooked and undeveloped, the wide sleepy streets and historic clapboard buildings made Bowen’s town centre the perfect film-set location for the 2008 Baz Luhrmann epic, Australia, standing in as 1930s Darwin. Nothing remains from the mass Hollywood intrusion except for the many tales of almost every resident whose world was briefly turned upside down. Stark first impressions created by the sterile bulk of the saltworks on the highway are offset by a certain small-town charm and some pretty beaches just off to the north. The main attraction for travellers, though, is the prospect of seasonal farm work: Bowen’s mangoes and tomatoes are famous throughout Queensland, and there’s a large floating population of itinerant pickers in town between April and January. The backpackers’ hostels can help with finding work, though nothing is guaranteed.

Bowen’s attractive beaches lie a couple of kilometres north of the town centre. Queens Beach, which faces north, is sheltered, long and has a stinger net for the jellyfish season, but the best is Horseshoe Bay, small, and hemmed in by some sizeable boulders, with good waters for a swim or snorkel – though the construction of an oversized resort nearby threatens to ruin the atmosphere.