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Issue 29. Out Now!

Tin Can Bay to Hervey Bay Print E-mail

 Sailing into Snapper Creek at sunset. Beryl Rowan image.
By Rosemary Jilderts

       Where the whales and dolphins play.Our visit to the Sunshine Coast was over but John and I once called it home and had many friends there so I knew we’d be back.

Rather than our usual night time departure, for a change we left Mooloolaba at 0500 hours – and on a Friday! I double checked the log and the details were correct. It seems obvious we were no longer concerned about the maritime superstition that said you shouldn’t leave port on a Friday.

There was only a light sou’easter blowing so we were happy whenever our speed picked up, although it never exceeded 8.5kts. As usual we were escorted by pods of dolphins. Dozens of them raced beside us for over two hours … my whistling excited them as they surrounded us, putting on a brilliant display of tail slapping, jumping, surfing the waves then leaping and landing on their sides as they had a good look at us.

We stayed wide of Wolf Rock which is rated one of Australia’s top 10 dive sites. The four volcanic pinnacles comprising Wolf Rock are part of the Great Sandy Marine Park and have a 1.5km protection zone around them to protect the critically endangered grey nurse sharks which can be found there all year. These fierce looking, but harmless, sharks grow to about three metres.

Also to be found there are large gropers and manta rays. Other species include turtles, leopard sharks, bull rays, giant trevally, kingfish, mackerel and barracuda. While Wolf Rock is considered a ‘big critter’ dive there are also smaller varieties like batfish, nudibranchs, anemone fish and octopus. With lots of vertical gutters and overhanging ledges this is ideal for multi-level diving.

Off to port was beautiful Rainbow Beach which is the gateway to the Great Sandy Strait. Towering cliffs of coloured sands loom over this glorious windswept surf beach. If you have the opportunity, take a drive, walk along the beach towards Double Island Point and see the amazing colours up close. People often ask how these colours occurred and geologists tell us they are caused by decaying vegetable matter seeping through the sand. Local Aboriginal legend tells us otherwise.

“Way back in dream-time, there lived on the banks of the Noosa River a beautiful black maiden called Murrawar who fell in love with the rainbow, which came to visit her here every morning. She would clap her hands and sing to this lovely rainbow.

“One day Burwilla, a very bad man from a distant tribe, stole Murrawar for his slave wife, beating her cruelly and making her do all his work, while he sat in the shade admiring his terrible killing boomerang. This boomerang was bigger than the biggest tree and full of evil spirit.

“One day Murrawar ran away and as she hurried along the beach, which was all flat in those days, she looked back and saw Burwilla’s boomerang coming to kill her. Calling out for help, she fell to the ground too frightened to run.

“Suddenly she heard a loud noise in the sky and saw her faithful rainbow racing towards her across the sea. The wicked boomerang attacked the brave rainbow and they met with a roar like thunder, killing the boomerang instantly and shattering the Rainbow into many small pieces.

“Alas, the poor sick and shattered rainbow lay on the beach to die and is still there with all its colours, forming the hills along the beach.”

Don’t you think this is a much more interesting explanation?

By 1500 hours we were at the bar. Over the years we have crossed it under many conditions from extremely rough, to glassed over. Conditions on any bar can change very quickly, so you should ascertain current conditions and follow instructions and recommendations by the Volunteer Coast Guard.

This time the crossing wasn’t too bad at all. We surfed a few three to four metre waves then once we were through the shallowest section John handed the helm over to me to finish the crossing. Another half an hour saw us anchored at Inskip Point. Conditions were a bit uncomfortable in wind over tide but we were too tired to really care.

Inskip Point is where most boats stop to rest and catch their breath after crossing the bar heading north, or when waiting for conditions to be right to head south across the bar towards Mooloolaba and Brisbane. If the weather blows up, slipping further into Pelican Bay offers a pleasant and safe refuge.

Not much further on is Tin Can Bay with a population of around 3,000 and boasting a marina, shipwright, yacht club, hardware, service station, newsagency, pharmacy, butcher, baker, seafood outlet, hairdresser, greengrocer, bank, library, post office, emergency services, a fishing co-op and an IGA where you can stock up before heading up the strait. (Whew – it’s all there!)

The next morning we headed into Tin Can Bay. Our choice of anchorage for the moment was upstream past Snapper Creek. Old friends, Phil and Gina and their brood from the Hitchhiker catamaran Trojan, lived in the area so we dropped in to see them. Later in the day we were pleasantly surprised when friends who owned the local post office called in to see us. They’d noticed us while they were out crabbing and we were just in time to join them for a birthday celebration barbecue that night, they said.

Tin Can Bay is one of our favourite places. In the early 90’s, we bought land at nearby Cooloola Village where we initially planned to build our cat. and later a house, but plans changed and we sold the land. I think we’ve always been a little disappointed at making that decision. The village of Tin Can Bay has such a great atmosphere, the people are fantastic and the waterways are beautiful ... perfect for exploring, fishing and just relaxing.

Tin Can Bay’s main industry is fishing with a fleet of around 50 seasonal prawn and scallop trawlers. Spanner crabs are now being harvested for the overseas market. The peninsula on which the town sits provides safe beaches for families and also offers calm waters for recreational boaties.

For those wanting to launch dinghies there are two public boat ramps around the bay. One is at the southern end of the bay at the entrance to Crab Creek and the most used one is at Norman Point between the Volunteer Coast Guard and Barnacles Café. This is also where you will see the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins that have been enjoying contact with humans for decades, coming in to the boat ramp at about 7.30am and being fed at 8am.

Torquay Jetty sunset at moonrise. Image courtesy of Tourism Queensland.

It all seems to have begun back in the 1950’s when locals began feeding an injured dolphin that had beached itself on the sand. He was named ‘Old Scarry’ because of the battle scars on his body. Old Scarry returned to the wild when he was well but continued to visit and be fed. In the 1980’s when we cruised through in our first yacht, boats in Pelican Bay were also regularly visited by a friendly dolphin.

When we visited in the 1990’s, we were approached at the boat ramp near the Coast Guard by a female dolphin that locals called ‘Scarry’. Accompanying her was her calf but he kept his distance. It appeared as if Scarry was teaching her baby that it was safe to interact with humans as she wasn’t interested in the food we offered her but kept nosing up to us then turning to watch the calf which had been named ‘Mystique’ by the local school kids.

Mystique is now the alpha male of his pod and is scarred from his battles, including one with a bull shark in December 2007, after which encounter he also found refuge in the bay where volunteers fed and cared for him keeping up their ministrations around the clock for 10 days. After recovering, ‘Mystique’ – obviously aware of the help given by the untiring locals - presented them with an aerial display of thanks before heading back to the wild with Patch, one of the females from his pod. Patch had begun coming in to feed after Scarry disappeared and is believed to be about 22 years old. She weighs just over 200kg, has very few battle scars and her skin is turning pink as she ages. Another dolphin has begun accompanying Mystique. He’s been named ‘Harmony’ and despite still being fairly young, he is quite scarred. The family tradition of liking a good fight seems to live on in Harmony.

Keen crabbers will be in seventh heaven and anglers will also love the area with its diverse range of fish to be caught ranging from estuary to reef species. The vast mangrove areas are fantastic breeding grounds for such species as whiting, flathead, bream, cod, mangrove jack, mackerel and tailor. Around the bombies outside the bar snapper, squire, pearl perch, tailor, sweet lip, cod and red emperor are regularly hooked. And, of course, the fishing off Fraser Island beaches is world class.

There are plenty of shops that will supply fresh bait but if you want to catch your own, the foreshore at low tide will yield yabbies and working the jetties will provide white bait and other small bait fish. Beach fishermen will find plenty of sand worms and pippies on Rainbow Beach.

Wild dolphins arrive for feeding at Tin Can Bay. Beryl Rowan image. Dining at Cafe Balaena, overlooking Hervey Bay Marina. Image courtesy of Tourism Queensland. Pelicans at Torquay Beach. Image courtesy of Tourism Queensland.

Tin Can Bay has had various names. It was originally called Tuncanba by the local Aborigines. ‘Ba’ means ‘place of’ and ‘tuncun’ means ‘dugong’ or ‘plenty of tucker’. It was also known as Wallu and Toolara but in 1937 it was given the name Tin Can Bay.

The first industry in Tin Can Bay was dugong processing in the 1850’s. The timber industry followed. One of the state’s earliest railways ran along the headland which extends to Norman Point. It was built to transport logs to the shore, the logs then being moved onto rafts and taken to the mills at Maryborough. Timber logging ceased in 1893 but there was still some milling going on and dugong were still being caught until the end of the century. In the 1890’s oysters were being cultivated but it proved to be uncommercial due to the variable tides.

In 1919 fresh water was discovered and the land gradually opened up with 25 blocks being sold for £40 each. These were purchased by Gympie and Maryborough families who built weekend fishing shacks but even by 1929 there were still only three permanent residents. In 1932 the first shop was built and by then the town had 35 permanent residents. The school was built in 1935 and in 1945 the Queensland Fishboard Tin Can Bay Market opened.

Tin Can Bay remained a holiday spot and port until the mid-1950’s when the prawning industry began. Commercial quantities were discovered and the area boomed. Sand miners and forestry workers moved in and the population grew.

Today Tin Can Bay is a quiet holiday destination, loved by the locals and visitors alike for the beauty of the area and the natural wonders of the Great Sandy Strait, the Cooloola National Park and World Heritage listed Fraser Island which are all mere minutes away.

This simple but delightful fishing village adjoins one of the best and safest waterways in the country. The Great Sandy Strait is popular for sailing and house-boating and the immense variety of wildlife is just one of the many reasons visitors return again and again.

Beautiful Jacaranda trees frame the Rotunda in Memorial Park, Gympie. Julie Hartwig image. Multihull Regatta at Hervey Bay Boat Club. Image courtesy of Hervey Bay Boat Club.

When visiting by boat you may want the security of a marina while you explore the area. Tin Can Bay Marina is located at Latitude 25° 55’ 0” S – Longitude 153° 0’ 0” E. In some areas water depth is limited to 2.1m. When you enter Snapper Creek keep the green markers about 10-15m off your starboard side. Keep the swing moorings off your starboard side as the green marker can be difficult to see. But let them know you’re on your way in and they’ll assist you.

The marina has 172 berths from 9-20+ metres; they have a 30 tonne travel lift; diesel, ULP, gas, bait and ice are available; there’s also a chandlery amongst other services. Email them on This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it , phone them on 07 5486 4299 or radio them on VHF73 ‘Tin Can Bay Marina’.

There are a number of great hiking and 4WD tracks in the Cooloola Section of Great Sandy National Park where you can enjoy its unique ecosystem of amazing sand dunes, everglades, lakes, rainforests, streams and wildlife. If you’ve arrived in your own boat and don’t have access to a vehicle you can hire a 4WD at Rainbow Beach. While there you could check out Carlo Sandblow which is a growing sand dune. It covers over 15 hectares and overlooks the beautiful coloured sand cliffs. There are many other interesting sites in the region for you to explore.

For an interesting rainforest walk take the Gympie Road for a few kilometres then take Freshwater Road on the left. After covering three kilometres of good gravel you will come to Bymien. Conventional vehicles can go no further. You can stop for a picnic then take some great walks to Lake Poona and through spectacular rainforest. It will take around 40 minutes to reach Lake Poona.

Dolphin feeding at Norman Point, Tin Can Bay. Julie Hartwig image.

About 50kms and around 45 minutes’ drive west of Tin Can Bay lies the gold mining town of Gympie. The road is generally good but after recent floods it has some bad spots that require care. There is a daily bus from TCB to Gympie run by Polley’s Buses. It departs Dolphin Shopping Centre about 8am and returns in the afternoon.

John and I know the road well ... we walked most of its length once. On our first trip north in 1985, our steering failed and we needed a part. There was nowhere in the sleepy little township of Tin Can Bay where we could purchase it so we started hitchhiking into Gympie. Eventually a sympathetic local picked us up and dropped us at a marine store where we were lucky enough to find the part we needed. Then began another long and tiring walk back to the coast. This time a prospector (who tried to sell us some of his rocks) picked us up when we were over halfway back and delivered us to the jetty where Scylla was tied up. We didn’t buy anything from him but he had some interesting stories to tell.

Gympie lies about 160km north of Brisbane and sits on the beautiful Mary River. It’s an historic city that is worth checking out while you’re visiting Tin Can Bay if you get the opportunity.

Before James Nash discovered gold in 1867, the State of Queensland was bankrupt so, following his discovery, Gympie became known as ‘the town that saved Queensland’. His discovery of gold in a creek bed started a gold rush and for a short time the town was called ‘Nashville’. It was renamed in 1868 after a local stinging tree that the Aboriginals called ‘gimpi’. Gympie, at that time, was a mining shanty town with tents, lots of small stores and liquor outlets. Within only a matter of months 25,000 people had rushed to the goldfields. By 1880 Gympie was proclaimed a municipality, a decade later it had become a town and in 1905 it was a city.

There are lots of attractions around Gympie. For the history buffs, the Gympie Gold Mining and Historical Museum holds a wealth of information and memorabilia from the town’s early gold mining days. The timber industry and social history of bygone days is well illustrated at the Wood Works Museum with their displays and demonstrations. Items include a large selection of hand tools used in pioneering days.

Leaving from the historic Gympie Railway Station in Tozer Street every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesdays, ‘The Valley Rattler’ steam train winds through Gympie into the Mary Valley on tours run by the Mary Valley Heritage Railway. Every Tuesday morning the ‘Red Rocket’ Heritage Railmotor also operates.

Also of interest may be the Mothar Mountain rock pools with subtropical rainforest and crystal clear water cascading gently over ancient granite outcrops in Woondum State Forest.

The town of Kilkivan has strong historical ties to the old coach and stock routes and is one of the very few towns on the Bicentennial National Trail. This trail follows roads and tracks that were used by the early pioneers between Cooktown and Victoria and is only suited for horses, mountain bikes or by foot.

The Kilkivan and District Museum is at 12 Bligh Street, opposite the Post Office. Call in to see them with any queries or to ask their advice. The museum is open Tuesday to Friday from 10-3 and Saturdays from 12 noon to 3pm. Ph: (07) 5484 1612.

Still for the history buffs, the Mount Clara Copper Mine Chimney built in 1870 is a great example of incredible workmanship. This stone pitched chimney was built using local stone of all shapes and sizes and is in remarkable condition. You’ll find it on Rossmore Road, 11km southeast of Kilkivan.

Close to Goomeri are the popular Kinbombi Falls. A wellbuilt track leads to a deep natural pool at the base of dry falls where turtles are regularly seen. Take a walk along the track at the top of the gorge for some breathtaking views. There’s a large picnic area with barbecues, tables, toilets and parking so maybe pack a picnic lunch.

Clouds reflected in the mirror like surface of Crab Creek, Tin Can Bay in the early morning. Beryl Rowan image. Rainbow Beach and Wide Bay. Julie Hartwig image.

Leaving the township of Tin Can Bay behind, we made our way back down Tin Can Inlet to the southern end of the Great Sandy Strait. With beautiful Fraser Island off to starboard we began another trip through this fascinating area. The strait runs for around 50 miles from Inskip Point near the bar in the south, to Hervey Bay at the top. It is shallow in parts but deep keel boats can still navigate it however don’t be at all surprised if you touch bottom occasionally. There used to be a popular saying, “If you haven’t touched bottom in the Great Sandy Strait, you haven’t been through!” It is certainly worth the effort ... not only to take advantage of a calm water passage to Hervey Bay but for the great fishing, boating and cruising grounds it offers. The numerous navigable creeks feeding into the straits add more possibilities for fishing and crabbing. However, if exploring them be aware that many aren’t usable at low tide so don’t get caught if you don’t want to sit high and dry until the next high tide.

North of Kauri Creek the waterway opens up and stretches for miles. Naturally, with so much fetch, in strong winds it can whip up and become quite rough, particularly in wind over tide conditions. This area also has some of the deepest spots in the straits.

While the wide expanse of the Great Sandy Strait gives the appearance of holding a lot of water, much of it is shallow so large boats that travel this waterway have to keep to a tight channel. It’s necessary to remain alert otherwise the unwary could end up stuck on a sandbar and have to await the incoming tide. Undoubtedly, you will have Alan Lucas’ Cruising the Coral Coast open at the helm for a lot of good information.

We decided to spend a few days in Garry’s Anchorage which has been a popular stopover for boats as long as there have been boats cruising the coast. The wind had come up a bit and we could rest and relax for a few more days in this beautiful anchorage. While there are numerous anchorages in the strait, Garry’s is the only known bolthole when conditions blow up. With all others you need to keep an eye on the weather and anchor according to conditions. Just south of Stewart Island we took a starboard turn into Garry’s and joined friends already on anchor.

The narrowest point in the strait at low tide is at Ungowa but it’s also very deep. It’s well known by the sailors who race their trailer-sailers in the annual Bay to Bay race because this is where they usually become becalmed due to South White Cliffs blocking the wind. It is at this point that boaties can see what remains of the island’s timber felling history – old barges, now just rotting, rusting hulks, once transported logs up the Mary River, the steel-hulled Palmer lies in Deep Creek and just a few hundred metres north lies the wreck of the Ceratodus in the mouth of the creek named after it. To reach the Ceratodus just walk south along the cliffs from the Ungowa jetty which is where the timber used to be loaded. The old logging camp can still be accessed but take care near the jetty which is in a dilapidated condition.

Further along is McKenzie’s Jetty which is even more dilapidated than Ungowa’s but it has a lot more history. There are the remains of a tramline as well as the village and sawmill where the timber was processed before being sent to the mainland by barge. The site of the WWII Z Special Unit (not Z Force) commando training camp is also here.

Cruising catamarans anchored at Garry's Anchorage. Julie Hartwig image. Boats moored in the calm waters of Tin Can Bay. Beryl Rowan image.

Approximately five nautical miles north of Ungowa, on the mainland, is the Mary River. As you pass through River Heads, immediately to starboard is the Susan River where we have often hidden out in a blow, spending the time catching a heap of good sized mud crabs.

The City of Maryborough sits on the banks of the Mary River about 19nm upstream. Its glorious colonial architecture, museums, parklands and riverside dining make Maryborough a delightful stopover.

Maryborough is one of the state’s oldest cities and in early colonial times it rated as the second most important port on the east coast of the country. Sydney was the most important. It even at one stage was being considered along with Brisbane as the site for the new state capital.

The original wharf district is now called Portside, an exceptional heritage precinct. At Portside you can discover what the early pioneering days were like. The port may now be long dormant but beautifully preserved buildings remain and with its incredible history, it can seem as if time has been suspended. Stately old colonial buildings have re-emerged as pubs, restaurants, museums and art gallery.

There are tours of homesteads that are over 140 years old, haunted historic sites and you can take a ride on an exact replica of Queensland’s first steam train. The city is famous for its weekly market and the World’s Greatest Pub Crawl.

The city was settled in 1847 making Maryborough one of the state’s oldest cities and it was the second largest immigration port, after Sydney. More than 22,000 free settlers took their first steps on Australian soil here.

Take a walk through the Bond Store Museum which is one of the city’s oldest buildings and the largest museum collections celebrating this early history. Step through the doors and you will step on history. The earthen floor and ancient handmade bricks in the original 1864 building downstairs still exist along with many liquor barrels from that era.

In 1899, Pamela Lyndon Travers was born above a bank building in Maryborough. You don’t recognise her name? Pamela was the creator of the famous fictional nanny, Mary Poppins.

After several days exploring beautiful Maryborough we turned back towards the Great Sandy Strait, through River heads and across to the Fraser Island side to navigable water.

Great Sandy Strait Marina Resort. Image courtesy of Tourism Queensland. The Bullroarer is an Aboriginal instrument but the actual word used is "secret-sacred" and not shared with non-Aboriginal people. The instrument itself consists of a simple wooden slat, 30-40cm in length and 5-7cm wide that is whirled around in a cicle on the end of a length of cord. the slat rotates under the influence of aerodynamic forces and generates a pulsating sound with a frequency typically around 80Hz. This sound is an important feature of Aboriginal initiation ceremonies.

Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world. It’s pounded by surf on the eastern side and the western side is protected. Its formation has created the most superb and safest cruising areas in the world. The island was formed by south easterly trade winds, over hundreds of thousands of years, building up sand blows. This sand mass building up offshore blocked the free flow of the Mary River and eventually the estuaries now known as the Great Sandy Strait and Tin Can Inlet were formed.

It is a unique environment. There are many areas amongst the mangrove forests, seagrasses, saltmarshes, salt flats and mudflats that are in near pristine condition. The area supports a large number of waterbird species, crustaceans, fish nurseries, corals, turtles, dolphins, rays, dugong, reptiles and more with some of these species either threatened or endangered. It is also the home of the last pure-bred dingoes in Australia.

The island spans around 122km and covers 163,000 hectares. Its width varies from 5-22km. Vast ocean beaches decorate the island’s east coast and the longest, Seventy Five Mile Beach, is – obviously – seventy-five miles (120.7km) of unbroken beach. The west coast faces the mainland and has numerous creeks, sheltered lagoons and quiet inlets. Fraser Island is a mystical place to which everyone who visits will want to return.

Most of the lakes are deep enough for swimming with freshwater turtles and small fish inhabiting some. Twin Wabby Lakes and Lake McKenzie are generally described as the most beautiful with the latter being the most popular. Each lake is different and all deserve a visit.

On both sides of the island beautiful creeks and streams flow down to the sea after wandering through lush tropical forests disgorging pure clean water which has been filtered through the island’s fine sands. Eli Creek on the eastern side – its beauty unsurpassed – is the largest of the freshwater streams and is a popular swimming spot for visitors.

As you explore this beautiful place you can’t help being charmed by its beauty and mystery. It has a rich Aboriginal heritage and combined with a colourful European history it can leave visitors with more questions than answers.

The indigenous people of Fraser Island are the Butchulla (or Badtjala) people. They have occupied Fraser Island for at least 5,500 years but further archaeological work may prove earlier occupation. It is believed there was a small permanent population of between 400 and 600 but this probably swelled seasonally to 2,000-3,000 in winter months when there was an abundance of seafood. There are many sites of archaeological, social and spiritual significance on the island. The existence of the original inhabitants is proven by middens, artefact scatters, fish traps, scarred trees and campsites and there is still a strong spiritual connection by the Butchulla People today.

There were six clans in the Butchulla Nation with their territory extending through the island, Double Island Point, Tin Can Bay, Bauple Mountain and north to a point at Burrum Heads. The documented early history of these people is incomplete and subject of debate and discussion. A Council of Elders comprised of mature men, with only the eldest having voting rights, established standards as set down through generations of tradition and governed the Butchulla accordingly. The Council was responsible for ensuring social and environmental laws were adhered to. They also governed the totem system which saw every member of the tribe being allocated a totem represented by a plant or animal. The People were not allowed to hunt, eat or harm their – or their family’s – totem unless during war, special ceremonies or if they crossed non-tribal lands. These totems were rarely vital food sources and this system protected resources that were scarce in the area.

Initiation ceremonies and corroborees were important to the people, during which traditions and legends were passed on through the telling of stories, singing, dancing and music. The Butchulla didn’t play the didgeridoo like northern tribes. They commonly used a bull roarer.

European colonisation caused many conflicts with the Aboriginal people. The Europeans didn’t understand or respect tribal boundaries, the tribes’ social structure or the importance of their environment to them. The Butchulla people put up strong resistance but they were overwhelmed by European weapons, disease and the loss of their normal food sources. With the clearing of land and agricultural practices established, the natural supply of food cycles was disturbed and the indigenous population had to alter their traditions and hunting methods to survive. By 1872 their numbers were down to 435 and by 1880 had fallen to only 230. In 1904 most of the remaining Aborigines were transported to Yarrabah near Cairns and Durundur near Caboolture. There were a few families that remained behind with the men being employed in local logging and fishing industries.

Today there are only a handful of surviving descendants of the Fraser Island Butchulla people but their history is still an important part of the island. Efforts are now being made to find and manage cultural sites so that future generations can understand and respect their way of life.

The Maheno was taken out of service in 1935 and sold for scrap metal to a Japonese firm. The Maheno left Melbourne on 25 June 1935 in tow behind the Oonah, a 1700 ton coaster which had also been sold to the same buyer. During a fierce cyclone the tow-rope broke and the Maheno drifted ashore and became stranded between Happy Valley and Cathedral Beach on Fraser Island im July of 1935. The SS Maheno was an Edwardian liner on the Tasman Sea crossing between New Zeland and Australia, and was used as a hospital ship by the New Zeland division of the Royal Navy during World War I. The word Maheno means "island" in Maori.  

It is possible that Portuguese explorer de Menonca visited Fraser Island around 1521, and clay pipes that have been found in middens at Indian Head could be evidence that the Dutch visited the area in the 17th Century.

In May 1770, Capt. James Cook sighted and named an area that he believed was connected to the mainland the ‘Great Sandy Peninsula’. Twenty nine years later, in 1799, Matthew Flinders realised it was an island when he explored parts of Hervey Bay in the Norfolk.

In 1863 logging was started on Fraser by ‘Yankee Jack’ Piggott. Species logged included kauri pine, hoop pine and cypress pine as well as Fraser Island Turpentine (Satinay) which was sent overseas to line the Suez Canal and to rebuild the London docks after they were damaged in World War II. This timber was found to be resistant to marine borers but is hard to find these days as the major stands are in World Heritage listed areas.

The Valley Rattler leaving Imbil Railway Station. Julie Hartwig image.

ELIZA ANNE FRASER (1798-1858?)
No story of the area’s past has been under more public scrutiny and dispute than the story of Eliza Fraser.

Eliza Fraser was a shipwreck victim who was born Eliza Slack perhaps in Derbyshire, England and was literate. Sometime prior to 1821 Eliza married James Fraser, a mariner. On October 22, 1835, Eliza (37) and James (56), captain of the brig Stirling Castle, left their 14 year old daughter and two sons with the Presbyterian minister at Stromness in the Orkney Islands and sailed to Australia.

They arrived in Hobart Town then sailed to Sydney before heading north towards Singapore. But disaster struck during the night of May 21, 1836 when the ship hit a coral reef off the north east coast of Australia. The ship foundered and the survivors (18 men including Capt. Fraser, and his pregnant wife Eliza) took to the lifeboats which headed south hoping to reach the convict settlement in Moreton Bay. Eliza gave birth to a baby just a few days after leaving the wreck but it didn’t survive. Contact was lost between the two lifeboats with the faster one missing Moreton Bay and coming ashore at the Tweed River.

The second leaking longboat, carrying Captain Fraser, Eliza and several sailors, reached the northern tip of Great Sandy Island (later named Fraser Island) which they thought was part of the mainland. According to Eliza’s account, the survivors traded clothes for food with the local Aborigines. Captain Fraser repaired their boat but most of the crew refused to embark on it again, saying it was unseaworthy. Ten days later some of the crew began walking south along the beach, leaving behind Eliza and James and two of the crew all of whom, Eliza maintained later, were captured by an Aboriginal tribe and suffered unfamiliar hardship and cruelty at the hands of their captors. (It should be noted that historical records of what is known about aboriginal culture and customs do not support the claims of brutality made by Eliza).

Eliza later told authorities that her husband was speared in the shoulder because he was too weak to carry out the strenuous work demanded by the Aborigines and that he died in her arms nine days later. However, Harry Youlden, a fellow survivor, maintained that the captain and chief mate had died of starvation. It was common knowledge that Capt. Fraser suffered from poor health, so this may be closer to the truth.

Sunset over the beach. Image courtesy of Tourism Queensland. Aerial view over Hervey Bay Boat Harbour. Image courtesy of Tourism Queensland.

Seven weeks of captivity and ill treatment supposedly followed, then one of the natives ... perhaps escaped convict David Bracewell ... took her by canoe to the mainland. A rescue party made up of volunteer soldiers and convicts was on its way, having been alerted by some of the sailors who had made their way south to Bribie Island. Here they met up with Lieutenant Charles Otter of the Moreton Bay garrison. The search party was guided by convict absconder John Graham who initially rescued two of the seamen at Lake Cooroibah, then the next day he found the second mate, John Baxter. He located Mrs Fraser near Lake Cootharaba and, helped by his Aboriginal friends, he delivered her to Lt. Otter. The party returned to Brisbane on August 21, 1836.

John Graham may have had enormous help from Bracewell but it is believed that Eliza, rather than being grateful for her rescue, threatened to report Bracewell to the authorities for his ill treatment of her during her capture. Terrified of retributions and believing he’d never obtain a pardon Bracewell fled into the bush. Graham was given his freedom, a 10 guinea reward and was highly commended for his part in the rescue. According to Lt. Otter, Eliza – when rescued – looked gaunt and starved, and appeared to be twice her age of 38 years.

On their arrival back in Sydney newspapers published exaggerated accounts of their experiences. Eliza was the toast of the town, receiving a large amount of money donated by the public. Less than six months later, on February 3, 1837 she married Capt. Alexander John Greene at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. They returned to Liverpool, England in Capt. Greene’s ship, the Mediterranean Packet, where Eliza declared herself to be a penniless widow. An appeal was opened for her but when a public inquiry revealed that she had remarried and had already received compensation the Lord Mayor’s fund was allocated, for the most part, to her children with whom she was soon reunited.

Close competition amongst yachts competing in the Bay to Bay race. Julie Hartwing image. The Country Life Hotel at Kin Kin is a classic country pub with good food and interesting memorabilia from the logging industry that was prevalent in the area in years gone by. Julie Hartwig image.

Harry Youlden described Eliza as a ‘most profane, artful wicked woman’ contradicting some of her claims in his journal which he wrote 20 years later but journalist John Curtis described her as a woman suffering from ‘aberration of the mind’ as a result of her terrible experiences.

Eliza used every opportunity to make money from her story – and perhaps that is understandable. She was indisputably destitute when she arrived in Sydney, but there were many who refused to believe her account of her ordeal. The Sydney Gazette in 1838 was dubious about some of her claims including giving birth in the open boat. Her recollections during the years following her rescue varied so much that no-one is really certain of the true facts. Her original story is held in the State Archives of NSW but later accounts were confused and exaggerated.

Tin Can Bay Marina at sunset. Julie Hartwig image. An aerial view of Moon Point where the Great Sandy Strait empties out into Hervey Bay. Image courtesy of Tourism Queensland.

There are many who don’t believe that the tribes would have treated Eliza in the way she described. Tribal Elders today insist that if Eliza’s mistreatment and her husband’s murder had occurred they would have been handed down in stories and songs, but there are none so they didn’t happen, they say. Whatever the truth may be, whether she was or wasn’t badly treated by the Aborigines and whether Capt. Fraser was murdered or not, it is indisputable that Eliza’s version of the story has prevailed and is now the widely accepted version.

Descendants of the Frasers believe that Eliza and Capt. Greene moved to New Zealand and that in 1858 Eliza was involved in a carriage accident in Melbourne which caused her death.

But as far as Eliza’s story goes, the debate rages on still with Butchulla elders claiming that she “was a liar” whose name should not be used for their ancestral home but that the island should be returned to its original Butchulla name of K’gari.

Aerial view of Tin Can Bay Marina. Image courtesy of Tin Can Bay Tourism. The lights of Hervey Bay Boat Harbour are reflected in the water. Image courtesy of Tourism Queensland.  

The traditional name the Butchulla people gave to what we know as Fraser Island was K’gari which means paradise. There is a wonderful local legend as to how it got its name.

“It was Beiral, the great god in the sky, who made all the people. But the people had no land. So Yendingie, Beiral’s messenger, came down from the sky and first he made the sea and then he made the land. When he reached what is now called Hervey Bay, he had a helper with him – the beautiful white spirit, Princess K’gari. K’gari helped Yendingie to make the sea shores and the mountain ranges, and all the beautiful lakes and rivers. Princess K’gari enjoyed what she was doing so much that she worked very hard. Yendingie said to her, ‘I think you’d better have a rest otherwise you will be too tired. There are some rocks over there in the sea. Why don’t you go over there and have a sleep, K’gari?’ So she did. She lay there and fell into a deep sleep. When she awoke she said to Yendingie, ‘I think this is the most beautiful place we have ever made. Please, Yendingie, I would like to stay here forever.’ ‘Oh, no, I could not allow you to do that. You are a spirit and your place is with me,’ But K’gari pleaded with him, ‘Please ... I could still see what you are doing. I could still look up into the sky. I would love to stay here.’

Finally Yendingie relented and said, ‘Very well, but you cannot remain here in your spirit form. I will have to change you.’ So he changed her into a beautiful island and then, so that she wouldn’t be lonely, he made some trees and some flowers, and lakes that were specially mirrored so that she could see into the sky. He made beautiful creeks and laughing waters that were to become her voice. And, as well as birds and animals, he made some people to keep her company. Now he told these people who they were and what they had to do. He also taught them the magic of procreation so that their children and their children’s children would always be there to keep Princess K’gari company.

And she is still there today, looking up at the sky and very happy indeed.”

Urangan Pier. Image courtesy of Tourism Queensland. Aerial view south over Tin Can Bay. Julie Hartwig image. Aerial view over Hervey Bay. Image courtesy of Tourism Queensland.

Kingfisher Bay is a popular anchorage on Fraser Island. It’s protected from south-easterlies and is well known as a great fishing location.

Kingfisher Bay Resort, near North White Cliffs, is on the original Aboriginal mission Balarrgan. This became a quarantine station in the late 1800’s where miners going to the Gympie goldfields were processed. There are many fascinating features in between Kingfisher Bay and Moon Point such as the largest artificial reef in the southern hemisphere, Fraser Island’s largest flowing stream, remains of Queensland’s two oldest lighthouses and an island discovered and named by Matthew Flinders. There are also the remains of an old logging camp and the site of the last Aboriginal mission encampment. There’s also scenery that will take your breath away.

We spent a couple of days anchored in Kingfisher Bay where John caught a solitary squid and I proceeded to turn it into an old boot. I vowed then and there to take their lives no more.

As we passed the fairway buoy the following morning a light SW breeze came off coastal rain and we sailed under main and genoa but as the breeze swung around from the south we ran up the kite and dropped the genoa. As the morning wore on, the breeze dropped, the kite was only just holding shape and our speed had dropped to 3.5kts. We continued on under one engine with no appreciable increase in speed but within an hour the wind had moved around to the east and was strengthening and we were soon doing between 6 and 10kts.

During the 19th Century the number of ships lost on Breaksea Spit (45km of reefs) was staggering. The area became notorious as the greatest single hazard to vessels travelling along the eastern coast of Australia. Many ships have been wrecked in the region with 23 recorded between 1856 and 1935. Although the Sandy Cape lighthouse was turned on in 1870 it made little difference to the numbers of ships wrecked.

Wide Bay Bar. Google Earth image. Great Sandy Strait. Google Earth image. Tin Can Bay to the Bar. Google Earth image.

 Great Sandy Strait southem section. Google Earth image. Great Sandy Strait northern section into Hervey Bay. Google Earth image.


Hervey Bay (pronounced Harvey Bay) is synonymous with whale watching as this is where the whales come to rest and play every year from mid-July to early November. Urangan Boat Harbour is the hub for everything marine. Back in the early days when there were no marinas, boats were tied to pile moorings and there was one public wharf and a fuelling pontoon. In recent years the sea wall has been extended and raised and three marinas have been built inside the harbour.

Currently the three marinas in the harbour are:
The Hervey Bay Boat Club Marina catering for vessels up to 25m. Contact details are – on VHF channel 77 during office hours, email to This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it , mail to HBBC Marina, P.O. Box 7020, Hervey Bay Qld. 4655, Phone during office hours: (07) 4197 8763 or after hours (07) 4128 9643 and fax on (07) 4125 5110.

Fisherman’s Wharf Marina with 130 powered berths for vessels up to 24m.
Contact details – Phone: (07) 4128 9744; fax: (07) 4125 5000 and email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ;
address: 864 Boat Harbour Drive, Urangan, Hervey Bay, Qld. 4655.

Great Sandy Straits Marina: Contact Wes and Helen
Fielding on Phone: (07) 4125 3822, mobile: 0421 040 754 and email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Hervey Bay Sailing Club are located at 427 Charlton
Esplanade, Torquay 4655. General Enquiries: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Bay to Bay Race enquiries: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

If you’re looking for a spot of quiet and peaceful relaxation, then look no further. With 40km of pristine beaches, great fishing ... whether estuary, beach, jetty, reef or game fishing ... spectacular diving opportunities or just exploring the countryside, it’s all here.

Offshore is the first coral cay on the Great Barrier Reef, Lady Elliot Island.

Hervey Bay boasts a couple of titles. It’s often called the jewel in Queensland’s crown, and is also described as the Whale Watch Capital of the World. The climate is subtropical with temperatures ranging from 14-23°C in winter and 22-29° in summer.

Captain James Cook discovered it in 1770 and, wrongly assuming that Fraser Island was part of the mainland, thought that the sheltered waters behind it were a bay. He named it Hervey’s Bay after Lord Augustus Hervey, an Admiral of the Blue, the Earl of Bristol and Cook’s boss. Hervey also had a reputation as a womaniser who had earned the title the ‘English Casanova’.

Sunset sailing new Moonboom Islands, Great Sandy Strait. Julie Hartwig image.


In 1802 Matthew Flinders began mapping the area in detail. Hervey Bay was originally part of a cattle station called the Toogoom Run which was settled in 1854. The first subdivision of land occurred in 1859 and Boyle Martin, his wife and child, were the first settlers arriving in 1863. Martin worked cutting timber and he may have been the first person to grow sugar cane in the area.

A lot of Scandinavian settlers moved into the area in the 1870s and for a short time the area was known as Aarlborg. Dairy farming was the main industry at that time. Sugar cane was introduced in the 1880s and South Pacific Islanders (Kanakas) were brought in to work the plantations. In 1896 the railway connected the Bay to Maryborough but it wasn’t until 1917 that the Urangan Pier was completed. It was then that the port gained importance for the export of sugar.

Local Maryborough business people started taking up large waterfront blocks of land for weekenders with a number of villages popping up throughout the area. Some of these were known as Polson’s Point (later becoming Point Vernon), Barilba (became Pialba), Torquay, Urangan and Gatakers Bay. They remained as individual villages until 1977 when they were combined and declared the Town of Hervey Bay, with the area finally being named a city in February 1984.

Hervey Bay has expanded and now has a population growth of around 8% per year. It is a peaceful and picturesque city that offers plenty of interest to all visitors whether what they are looking for is on the land or on the water.

Sydney Morning Herald
Tin Can Bay Tourism
Barnacles Dolphin Centre
Tin Can Bay Coast Guard
Fraser Coast Chronicle
Fred Williams for his story ‘Princess K’gari’s Fraser Island’

• It should be remembered that any and all guides are just that ... ‘guides’. Some of the information I give is supplied by locals and I have to assume that they know what they’re talking about. They can’t know what sort of vessel you are in or what the draft is. Nothing beats using your own eyes. So always treat any information given as someone else’sperspective. It may not be the same as yours or someone else’s.

PO Box 35, Tin Can Bay 4580
t: (07) 5486 4290 m: 0419 798 651
f: (07) 5486 4568

Base operating hours: 0600 – 1800 daily

Radio Frequencies:
Calling and Distress: VHF 16 and 27.88Mhz
Working frequencies: VHF 80, 67, 82 and 27.90 Mhz

Contact Coastguard for the latest Wide Bay Bar crossing information. They recommend that all persons on board vessels crossing the Wide Bay Bar wear life jackets. It should be pointed out that, following the latest boating reforms, persons in open boats under 4.8m must wear a PFD 1 when crossing the Wide Bay Bar.

I should also point out that Coast Guard offices don’t overlook the bar and are based in Snapper Creek at Tin Can Bay. I mention this because once a boat that was following us called them and wanted them to confirm that it was safe for him to follow our course towards the bar but, of course, we weren’t visible to the duty officers.

Wendy Elliston
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