If you’ve been on the road a while you learn that most Grey Nomads head north for the warmer climate of Queensland and the Northern Territories. They leave home after Mother’s Day (May) and plan to be home by Father’s Day (September). It’s an established trend.
We arrived in Mackay, Queensland at the height of the Grey Nomad season which means camp grounds have hoicked up site prices. Camp sites vary between $45 and $75 a night for powered sites and slightly less for non-powered sites. With the main campgrounds at capacity we were lucky to find a reasonably priced site and reasonable amenities.
Setting camp takes less and less time as we fine tune who does what and when. While the M.O.T.H (Man of the House) levels the caravan and disengages the Colorado from the caravan, I’m busy connecting power, water and sullage hoses and the most important job of all, boiling the billy for that hard-earned cuppa. Then it is time to sit, meet the neighbours and watch new arrivals set camp. Arrive early and be entertained; arrive late and be the entertainment.
Murals help to break stark walls within the city
Mackay, a coastal city, is about midway between Rockhampton and Townsville and 820 km north of Brisbane. It grew into a grand city in the 1870s and 1880s with a booming sugar industry. In the 1930s it became Queensland’s first regional city to have a town plan when the outer harbour was constructed.
Mackay kept us busy the five days we spent there; one of the days I did the heritage walk through the town centre. The two Johns from the Visitor Information Centre provided historic information about the town’s long struggle against fires, floods and cyclones.
The artistic interpretations of this once thriving river port run the length of the flood wall. No small feat for the five female artists (The Murials) who volunteered to creatively depict Mackay’s highs and lows throughout its history. Large sections of steel barricades are stored within the flood wall precinct and easily set in place to lock off the Pioneer River from the town centre.
In 1915 and 1916 fires burned most of the town’s buildings to the ground. Then in January of 1918, as man ragged against man in during WWII, a cyclone rampaged through the town destroying most of the buildings was a springboard for the building boom that commenced in 1920. The council of the time decided that new buildings in the town would be of stone causing an influx of stone masons making Mackay the second fastest growing town in Queensland. The town now has one of Australia’s best collections of buildings in the Art Deco style of the 1920 – 40s. Sugar cane farming also helped boost population and helped keep cane farming an important factor of the economy.
As we meandered the streets listening to the two Johns’ not inconsiderable knowledge and humourous anecdotes we got to know other members of the party. The friendliness of the others coupled with new insights into the type of architecture that predominates in the city was a highlight.
The Riverside precinct with sculptures and historical information plaques provides a perfect location for the community to gather and interact. Grassed areas between the paved precinct and riverbank draw people to the city centre where, on special occasions, artists provide entertainment as was the case when we attended the Friday night markets. On a night perfect for a street gathering multiple sets of drums pounded as we browsed the stalls and sampled local produce.
The local marina was worth the afternoon we spent watching the rich prepare their yachts and ocean-going launches for another adventure. The Lighthouse Seafood restaurant dished up the best fish and chips we’ve had yet. So much so we made a special trip to make sure it wasn’t a one-off. They have that process nailed; the meal was as delicious second time around.
We will remember Mackay for the river and heritage walk, the bike ride that cost me a skinned knee, the best fish and chips and a great camp site.