Before we leave Bargara to begin our travels, we thought we should give you a little bit more information about the Bundaberg region. It is a fantastic part of Australia, often overlooked by visitors who flock instead to well known Queensland destinations such as Brisbane, Cairns, and The Gold Coast. Many aspects of the area are quintessentially representative of regional Australia, hence the title of the post which we’ll explain further later on.
Bundaberg is a 4 hour, 350 km drive north of Brisbane, adjacent to the northernmost tip of Fraser Island and a launching point to visit the southern Great Barrier Reef. With the coral bleaching events further north, the southern end of the reef is now being recognised as one of the best places to visit this natural wonder. The climate is magnificent with cooling ocean breezes moderating the sub-tropical heat. The summers rarely get above low 30s at the hottest point and in winter, it’s still early 20s in the middle of the day. This climate, and the rich volcanic soil make it a very fertile area. The horticultural industry based here makes it the most valuable vegetable growing region in Australia, we gave a bit more detail in our post, Bum Nuts Anyone? For eight years we’ve lived in a coastal suburb of Bundaberg, Bargara, which we’ve also written about in our post, Where’s Eddie?
As part of his job, Andy has often entertained visitors to Bundaberg and if time allows, he takes them on a whistle stop tour of the area. This post follows that route and we hope you might find it useful if you visit, which we strongly recommend you do.
We start at the University, about 7 km south of the Central Business District (CBD), just across the Isis Highway from Bundaberg airport. It’s a 50 minute flight from Brisbane with Qantas operating 4 flights per day and Virgin another daily flight. Heading north, past the electrical and homeware retailers you find in any sizeable city, we also pass one of the two undercover shopping centres, Stockland, the multiplex cinema and Bundaberg hospital. About 1.5 km south of the CBD we cross the Tallon Bridge over the Burnett River. Named after Don Tallon, the Bundaberg post-war cricketer, the bridge opened in 1995. Locals normally just refer to it as the new bridge. The Burnett river is integral to Bundaberg’s history, but that’s a topic for another post. In North Bundaberg at the end of the bridge is one of our favourite Bundaberg cafes, Oodies. This café is in a building that was once run as a general store by the Tallon family.
Just over the bridge is Bundaberg’s Botanic gardens. A feature of the gardens, which makes it stand out from other similar parks, is the Hinkler Hall of Aviation. It gives the history of Bert Hinkler, another son of Bundaberg, and pioneer aviator who made the first solo flight from England to Australia. Hinkler died young, at 40, crashing his plane in the Italian Alps. Before that he spent a time living in Southampton, England where he worked for the Sopwith aviation company. In the 1980s, it came to the attention of a group of locals that Hinkler’s Southampton home was about to demolished. They mobilised, and managed to have it deconstructed, shipped to Bundaberg and re-erected. It’s really quite strange to see an early twentieth century English house in an Australian botanic garden. Hinkler’s name is used with some frequency across the region. The federal electorate is named after him, as is the other undercover shopping centre and there are several statues and monuments commemorating his achievements.
The botanic gardens are well worth a couple of hours of your time. As well as the Hinkler Hall of Aviation, there’s Chinese and Japanese gardens commemorating Bundaberg’s sister cities, Nanning and Settsu respectively. There’s also an historical museum and another museum that details the sugar industry, an important part of the development of Bundaberg’s economy. The sugar museum, is housed in Fairymead House, which was also relocated from a different site. This imposing Queenslander was originally the residence of Ernest and Margaret Young, owners of Fairymead Sugar Mill and Plantation. If you visit the gardens on a Sunday, you can take a trip round them on a cane train which follows a track around the gardens and lake. You can also feed the ducks, but expect some of the food to be taken by the eels and freshwater turtles that also inhabit the waterways in the gardens.
Leaving the botanic gardens we double back and travel over the Burnett River Bridge ‘the old bridge’. When opened it was the fifth longest metal truss bridge in Australia. Of those five, it is the only one still in use. Into the main drag of the CBD, Bourbong street where there is a wide selection of shops and some great cafes. Bundaberg is definitely a regional city where you can get a really good coffee. In the CBD, our favourites are the award winning Indulge cafe, Leaf & Bean and Allowishus. Bundaberg is a little unusual amongst regional Australian cities in that it has retained a vibrancy in the CBD. In many places, as we found in Toowoomba, they have become a bit of a ghost town with everyone doing all of the shopping in the undercover centres. We think this has to do with pedestrianisation. In regional centres people typically expect to be able to drive up, park and get to the shops. Pedestrianisation is a worthy aspiration but without the critical population mass of a major city, it seems to often result in killing off the city centre.
The thriving arts scene which we wrote about in ‘A Red Hot Crush‘ is also evident in the CBD. Bundaberg Regional Arts Gallery (BRAG) is just around the corner from the Moncrieff Entertainment Centre, named after another famous past resident, opera singer Gladys Moncrieff. Elsewhere, street art and murals add colour to the cityscape.
Bourbong street continues out of the CBD across Kennedy bridge which crosses a creek of the Burnett river. We follow it and take a left turn towards Bargara on the coast. Travelling through East Bundaberg we pass the sugar mill, Bundaberg rum distillery and the Bundaberg Brewed drinks factory. We wrote about these in our post ‘Bum Nuts anyone?’ Eventually, the houses give way to cane fields and standing out from the predominantly flat landscape is an extinct volcano, The Hummock. Its full name, given by Matthew Flinders when he charted the Queensland coastline is The Sloping Hummock but it is rarely referred to as this. From the top are great views of the surrounding paddocks, out to the mountains behind Childers and on a good day, you can just about make out the tip of Fraser Island.
From the hummock, you also have a good view of townships along the coast. To the south, Elliott Heads has one of our favourite beaches. Its northerly next door neighbour is Coral Cove then Innes Park which blends into Bargara. For a bit more information on Bargara, read our post, Where’s Eddie?
The landscape around Bundaberg inspired Mark Callaghan, lead singer of the band GANGGajang to write their most famous track, Sounds of Then. He moved from the U.K., to live between Bundaberg and the coast in the 1980s. Many incorrectly think the song is called ‘This is Australia’ as that phrase is repeated in the refrain. Whilst that might not be the case, we often look around, pinch ourselves that we’ve had the opportunity to live in such a beautiful place and agree that this is definitely Australia – come and see for yourself.
Out on the patio we’d sit,
And the humidity we’d breathe,
We’d watch the lightning crack over canefields
Laugh and think, this is Australia
GANGgajang (1985). Sounds of Then. In: GANGgajang [CD]. 826 349-1. True Tone Records