From Hervey Bay (mainland port for Fraser Island) we drove north in the direction of the Tropic of Capricorn, headed for a farm stay 50km south of the city of Rockhampton. The land was noticeably drier on route, and we passed a lot of land that had clearly been subjected to bush fires not so long ago. We made a morning tea stop in the sugar producing town of Childers, which is infamous for a hostel fire nine years ago which claimed the lives of 15 backpackers, many of whom were British. The Palace Hostel, where the arson attack happened, has now been rebuilt and I visited the memorial room there set up in memory of the dead. The town itself didn't seem to have a lot going for it. The main street actually contained a lot of Deep South style architecture, which is no surprise given the strong sugar cane industry here. The people in this region also seem somewhat similar to those in the Deep South, which is somewhat scary.
We arrived at the 26,000 acre farm in the early afternoon. The landscape was typically very dry looking, and it turned out it hadn't rained there since the end of February. Contiki are the only tourists who visit the isolated place, and we were well catered for with the facilitise they had, including a nice bar for the many alcoholics on this trip. They also had a volleyball net which we utilised for some of the afternoon, before they took us on a tractor-trailer ride around the premises. The farm owner is the local mayor, but he was away on business so his son, who turns 39 tomorrow, took us around with his wife acting as guide. The cattle they rear on the huge site are brahman cows, which are funny looking creatures. The males especially have a huge bump on the back of their heads, and both sexes have a huge drape of fat hanging from their chin. The cows were spread right across the massive farm, so we only saw a few. The farmer uses a light aircraft to check on them (as well as visit the shops), which illustrates how big the area is.
In the late afternoon one of the farms few workers took those of us who were willing on his quad bike around the site. When I went we had a drag race on the air strip with the aeroplane, which our coach driver was flying. Despite the fact the bike got up to a very brisk 60mph we lost. I had another go later in the evening when we were taken out to view the stars. I got out just in time to see the moon rise, as well as a couple of shooting stars. After the first good meal I've eaten in Australia (a home cooked beef roast) the farmer then demonstrated to us how to use a whip. This sounds pretty lame but it was actually quite incredible. I had absolutely no idea how loud a proper whip was. On grass, the farmer casually flicked his wrist, thrashing the kangaroo hide whip down with an almighty crash. The first time everyone was astonished. It was like a banger firework being set off right in your ear. The farmer then explained that the whip was the first human invention to break the sound barrier. When the end hits the floor it is infact travelling faster than the speed of sound, and the loud noise created is actually a small sonic boom. The farmer then demonstrated his prowess by halving a piece of paper held up by his colleague, and then whipping a newspaper out of one of our group's mouth. I was very impressed.
We then celebrated the farmer's 39th birthday with a karaoke session. With a 40 strong group I thankfully didn't have to have a go, but painfully had to listen to some of the singers who were terrible. There were a lot of very hungover people when we got up this morning at 5.30am. For me the farm stay was probably the highlight of our trip so far. I felt like I'd got a glimpse of proper Australia and the place was a really beautiful spot.
This morning we had a long drive through hordes of sugar cane fields. Our guide explained how the sugar industry was the most notorious in Australia. It was responsible for a little known slave trade in the 1860s, and is also to blame for the introduction to this country of the cane frog, which is now out of control and expected to be responsible for the extinction of up to 50 species of native animals here - including some crocodiles. We had lunch at McDonald's in sugar capital Mackay (which is hometown to one of the people on this trip). The restaurant was heaving, apparently due to the fact nothing else was open in town on a Sunday! They're certainly very traditional people here in rural Queensland.
So here I am in the gateway to the Whitsundays (see previous blog). My boat leaves soon so I best go. Thanks for reading.