Spring has sprung, the grass has ris, I wonder where the birdies is?
They say the bird is on the wing, But that is quite absurd,
The wing is on the bird
This lovely old big of doggerel is sometimes attributed to Spike Milligan, sometimes to Ogden Nash and sometimes to many others: there are many versions of it. Whoever first wrote it is not really important – the fact that Spring has indeed sprung is the key bit to this story. In Australia Spring starts at the beginning of September and as we finally had some warm weather at the start of the month, I decided to take advantage of the sunshine offered in Queensland – also known as The Sunshine State – and to have a week or so on the glorious Sunshine Coast.
This delightful part of the State is just an hour or so North of Brisbane and consists of a string of sunny, sandy surfing beaches, tranquil rivers and some pretty dramatic ancient mountain peaks.
Names that tell a story
Just as Madras regained the name Chennai, and Bombay is once again Mumbai, many Australian place names given by early European settlers are gradually being changed in favour of the names originally given by First Nation dwellers. Hobart’s majestic Mount Wellington named in honour of the Duke of Wellington, is now known as kunanyi – with a deliberate lower case “k”. The Sunshine Coast’s Fraser Island (the world’s largest sand island, again named for a European) is soon to be re-known as K’gari.
However, many places retain their old First Nation names and along the Sunshine Coast we find Mooloolaba, Maroochydore, Mudjimba and Marcoola: references to red-bellied black snakes, the place of the black swan and mudyimba berry bushes. Sadly, Marcoola isn’t a First Nations word at all. It’s a small town midway between MARoochydore and COOLum.
- Since Maroochydore means “black swan” and Coolum means “headless”, I am sure the Marcoola locals would have preferred it if their town name meant “headless black swan”
An old saying – not sure if it is ever used any more – to describe someone whose actions and behaviour is erratic is that they were running around like a chook with its head cut off.
As kids, we always believed that while the Sunshine Coast was pretty and had some good surfing, it was all a bit old-fashioned and tame, compared to the glitz and glamour of the Gold Coast – and hour or so south of Brisbane. So like headless chickens, every person under thirty would trot off to the Gold Coast … while the pensioners, oldies over forty and the very very young would toddle off to the Sunshine Coast.
Perhaps there is still some truth in that old belief, but the Sunshine Cost has matured a lot since we had family holidays there so many years ago, and now there are probably as many young people on the northern beaches as there are geriatrics trotting along Cavill Avenue in Surfers Paradise.
But I have to confess I arrived in Maroochydore on Fathers’ Day and had dinner in a local restaurant where the floorshow consisted of very elderly couples sedately foxtrotting, Pride of Erining and jiving to the sounds of a rather tired couple on guitar and piano …
And now for something more energetic
Spring had sprung and while the grass was ris and the days were bright and sunny, they were still a little cool. My apartment on the tenth floor of a building looking out over the thundering surf had a very brisk breeze preventing me from spending any time on the balcony. However, the ocean was a balmy 22 degrees Centigrade and warm enough for swimming or scuba diving on the man-made reef surrounding the decommissioned HMAS Brisbane guided missile destroyer.
Several surfing schools were operating along the coast and one chap – a coach from Robbie Sherwell’s “Learn to surf” (www.xlsurf.com.au) – looked at me rather sceptically as he asked me if I had already booked a lesson. He and many other surfers had been on the waves since 6.00 am – a long time before I had crawled out of a warm bed for a leisurely breakfast.
It is true that I learned to water ski many years ago at Maroochydore’s famous Cod Hole, but the coordination, balance and probably numerous other things have stopped me from ever being able to stand up on a surf board, to tunnel through the tube or to successfully execute a foam climb – whatever that may be. On this visit, my surfing experience was a gentle paddle in the sea and a few half-hearted attempts to body-surf a few waves, knowing that I was relatively safe from being eaten by a shark as most of the coastline in this area is protected by netting.
The netting is not always effective, however. A man recently died in the area south of the Sunshine Coast after being attacked by a shark, and the netting is occasionally the cause of death when whales and other animals get caught up in the nets and drag them and the buoys that support them for many kilometres before dying of exhaustion.
- Not so for the local Ironmen
For these intrepid men and women, their 2021 Sunshine Coast competition that happened at the end of my visit started with a 1.9 km ocean swim, followed by a 90 km bike ride and topped off with a twenty-kilometre run.
The very thought of hopping in my little red car and driving 112 kilometres tires me enough and offers a fair chance of my dying of exhaustion. The thought of swimming and cycling and running that far is the stuff of nightmares – Freddy Kreuger of Elm Street could learn a thing or two about nightmares from these strong people … and the old cheeses like me who have palpitations at the thought of it all.
The people – the ordinary people – who gather on the beaches and the pathways lining them are still energetic enough, swimming, walking with their dogs or pushing their babies in prams, chugging their morning coffees from throw-away cups, sweeping metal detectors over the sands hoping to find that long-lost buried bullion – or a dollar or two. These people I liked.
- And then there are the e-scooter riders
These people and the invention they ride upon are a blight on society.
They are getting no exercise, they are not energetic, and they are a menace to man, dog and babes in arms. Guys on bicycles usually have bells they can ring to warn you that you are about to be run down by a speeding velocipede but the e-scooters are silent death. I think these demonic devices are not licensed to be ridden on roads so they must use footpaths – FOOT paths. For pedestrians. Not for vaping, ear-bud studded, tattooed, vacant-minded yobbos who blithely toss old age pensioners, little old ladies with Zimmer-frames, happy children licking ice creams, and sweet little dogs yipping at their owners’ ankles – yobbos who toss all of these NICE people into the gutters of oblivion as they speed by on their nasty little electric toys.
It’s not all surf and sunshine
Maroochydore years ago had a bakery or two. We used to visit one at Cotton Tree to buy donkey ear pastries and salad rolls for our hired little motorboat trip up the Maroochy River. No doubt there was also a butcher or two and a café where ice cream sodas – spiders – could be bought.
Today the huge Sunshine Plaza offers just about everything one could desire and a few things you did not know you desired. There is a high ropes course nearby and boats and kayaks can be hired for paddling in the Cornmeal Creek. The Plaza straddles the creek and wide boardwalks follow the water on both sides, with plenty of bars and restaurants to keep the hungriest visitor happy.
On Saturdays visitors can visit The Bavarian restaurant for steins of beer, schnapps and Jägermeister, and at night the waters light up in a show that does not quite equal the Bellagio in Las Vegas but is still quite fun.
A few kilometres north, near Peregian Beach, is an ideal place for those who want to work on their all-over suntan. The Hideaway is a small (men only) clothing optional resort with a dozen or so comfortable rooms, a swimming pool and a spa – in a totally private garden.
Heading inland from the coast is a myriad of treats – Eumundi with its superb Farmers’ Markets, Yandina and the Buderim Ginger factory, the town with the lovely name Obi Obi, Woodford where there is usually an annual folk festival (but cancelled this year because of COVID restrictions), and the highly regarded Australia Zoo.
Steve Irwin – “The Crocodile Hunter” – founded this huge zoo hoping to make it the best wildlife conservation facility in the world. See www.australiazoo.com.au. Irwin attracted world-wide audiences for his exploits in the wild with snakes, crocodiles and other wild beasties and was famous for his saying, “Crikey, mate …” and was very successful in his efforts to protect and preserve so many forms of wildlife. At the age of just 44, while filming a documentary in the Great Barrier Reef, he was killed when a stingray struck him in the chest.
I can rather imagine him saying, “Crickey – that’s a bit of a nuisance!”
A few kilometres south along the Steve Irwin Way and you come to the fabulous Glasshouse Mountains, so named by Captain James Cook (then only a Lieutenant) in 1770 because these “mountains of mystery, which arise abruptly from rich volcanic soil” reminded him of the “glasshouses” near Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Until I visited this site this year, I had always thought, spotting them from afar on trips to the coast as a kid and as a young adult, that they were supposed to look like agricultural glasshouses used for growing hothouse plants. Nope – quite wrong!
The “glasshouses” Cook was reminded of were tall, conical furnaces used in the production of glass ware. Today, only the Catcliffe Glass Cone in South Yorkshire remains in the UK, but here on the Sunshine Coast there are half a dozen or so “glasshouses” with First Nation names of Tibrogargan, Tunbubudla, Coonowrin – and Tibberoowuccum, one of the many “children” of Tibrogargan and Beerwah in this area traditionally owned by the Jinibara and Kabi Kabi people.
There is an excellent Visitor Information office where you can also buy ginger and macadamia marmalade or Desert Peach marmalade, and there is also a spectacular lookout just a short drive away where the formation of these volcanic plugs is explained in a series of informative signs.
This Sunshine Coast area is a delightful place to visit – whether you take a short flight from Brisbane, use the train or drive, there is so much to see – huge pine forests and sprawling pineapple farms. If you are lucky you might find a shy giant barred frog, and perhaps to hear the shrieks of the glossy black-cockatoo, the chuckles of the laughing kookaburra or the squawks of the rainbow lorikeet – all birds native to the area, and all of them, without a doubt, examples of where the wing is on the bird.
Text and photographs © Christopher Hall September 2021
Map and Ironman (*) photo from Internet
In my blogs I try to present a snapshot of the places I have discovered during a brief visit. I am not trying to present a detailed picture of the whole city or the whole region or the whole country.
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If a man ascended into heaven and gazed upon the whole workings of the universe and the beauty of the stars, the marvellous sight would give him no joy if he had to keep it to himself. And yet, if only there had been someone to describe the spectacle to, it would have filled him with delight.