92. Bowen to Townsville then Northern NSW

Back in Bowen from Yellow Belly it was all systems go to prepare for the Airlie Beach weekend market where Patrick sells his justifiably famous Bowen Mango Sorbet.


The one-hour drive south from Bowen at dawn was frustrating as the most glorious sunrise could be seen through the trees but we could not stop to take photos.    IMG_2969

We reached the markets in good time and helped Patrick set up his stall, then for the next 7 hours he churned out sorbet after sorbet as Dave handled the cash…….

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…… and I wandered around trying to resist the amazing array of goods at one of the best markets I have seen.


I did buy a lovely gypsy necklace in turquoises and blues, and a bracelet to try and make my newish medicare bracelet look a little less horrible (it broke 2 days later), admired the intricate shell ‘curtains’ at one stall….

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…..  the amazing dance a young Japanese girl did with a shiny orb which seemingly never touched her fingertips, the sand sculpture of a fire-breathing dragon, and of course sampled the food including that same Hungarian friend bread which was such a hit at the WOMAD festival in NZ a few months back.


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The air next to us was full of bird calls as the vendor played endlessly on his wares, and further away a band played an eclectic mix of didgeridoo plus guitar  …




Camel rides on the beach were obviously popular.



Our main objective on this Aussie trip was after all to search for a suitable caravan and tow vehicle, so reluctantly saying goodbye to Patrick and Sylvie and their incomparable French hospitality (and YES we did have a huge meal of king prawns on one occasion and plenty of mango sorbet!) we boarded a Greyhound bus for Townsville. The front seats being free, Dave had a good time sorting out the world’s problems with the driver while I was content to admire the scenery.

We had booked into a motel near the waterfront so did not have far to go to find some good food. Next morning we picked up a hired car, a very pretty little blue something, and for the next 2 days investigated caravan yards, finding several reasonable vehicles but not anything that really grabbed us. By this time I was feeling rather unwell and the heat was not helping, but we continued as planned, dropping off the hired car on the way to the airport and collecting another vehicle (a cute little red Kia) at the other end in Brisbane.

Our plan was to go straight down to Coffs Harbour and THAT caravan, but it seemed impossible to be in Brisbane and not do some visiting so visiting we did, and stayed overnight with some old friends and rewarded them with a dose of my developing cold. I feel so bad about that. Dave was also feeling a little unwell by this time.

But we accomplished the drive to Coffs Harbour, booked into the first motel we saw, had a lovely Indian dinner and next day finally saw THE caravan, a Jayco the same length but three year older than our NZ home. And very nice, too! I was immediately enamoured. The tow vehicle is a grunty black Jeep Cherokee in excellent condition. Some repairs to the caravan are currently being carried out and so it will not be available for about 2 months. Dave wants to wait till we have been to the Maryborough Motorhome and Caravan show next weekend before making a final decision.

Next day we made a quick trip to Port Macquarie to try and locate my errant brother Barry. We went to his last known address and were told he had left 6 years previously. But eventually we found him in a nursing home in nearby Wauchope. it was good to know he was being well cared for in pleasant surroundings.

Meantime I was developing a bad case of bronchitis coupled with a cold and not feeling very happy. Nor was Dave.

Dave writes …..

After spending an hour with Barry we returned to Coffs Harbour. A second night in the motel there and then on Saturday morning we left to head quietly back to Brisbane… but by the time we reached Brunswick Heads Nancy was coughing full time and I was feeling like I had been worked over by a heavyweight boxer so just before lunchtime we went in search of a motel to hole up in for a couple of nights, Nancy thinking she could shake off the coughing and me to overwhelm my bugs with a dose of alcohol. A very small “supermarket” just down the road from the motel provided essential sustenance so we turned the heater up high and settled in.

By Monday I was feeling fine but Nancy was definitely not so we headed off to the local medical centre for a consultation…  Bronchitis!!!  Not what we needed but because I was feeling good we drove on to Nic and Mick’s place as planned.

Then the lurgy struck again and I started coughing as almost as badly as Nancy, getting pretty frustrated with it all actually and the sooner I can shove it off the better.. Definitely wasn’t covered in our pre-winter flu shots. 

Nancy: so here we are still with Nic and Mick who are looking after us both well although they do follow us around with cans of antiseptic room freshener! After a few days of rest and sunshine in gorgeous bush surroundings I am feeling much better and have taken some photos of the magpies continually stalking the back lawn and a resident pair of parakeets, but Dave is still not 100% either so we have decided to forego to Caravan show at Maryborough and instead concentrate on getting better before catching the plane home on Wednesday. All plans for visiting Brisbane friends are off.

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91. Back to Bowen

It was just over 32 years since I left Bowen. Arriving in mid-1977 on our boat “Cornelius”, pregnant and unused to the Queensland heat, it was a while before I started to feel part of the place. My first husband Geoff and I had bought a run-down slipway and were determined to make a successful venture of it. We lived on board “Cornelius” for the next six years and survived a near-cyclone while Geoff built it up to a thriving business, with a new and much stronger cradle capable of handling large fishing vessels and a concrete block winch-house designed for future expansion. Initially I was the winch operator – it was an old car engine I think! – and Geoff was the all-important cradle operator, responsible for correct placement of valuable yachts and fishing boats so that as they were hauled out, they remained upright and stable – not as easy as it sounds as the slipway rails were not level. So to start with Geoff had to place the boat just so and slightly heeled over to one side, then as it was hauled out I had to keep a critical eye on the angle and immediately put the boat back in the water – fast – if it started to heel over too far the other way! Fortunately that only happened once or twice. Most slipping was done at high tide which invariably meant at night, so communication was by torchlight and hand signals. We had plans for a secondary runway and cradle but they had not come to fruition before Geoff died in 1983.

On Geoff’s and my first evening in Bowen we wandered up the main street and decided to try out a little cafe which advertised pizza and garlic prawns. We were not expecting much in a small country town but those garlic prawns were so good Geoff had several helpings, and thus started a long friendship with Patrick and Sylvie which continues to this day.

Bowen the town was much changed, I only recognised a few of the older buildings, but Patrick and Sylvie’s lovely rustic French style home was still there and as welcoming as ever. The harbour was just as welcoming from a distance but unrecognisable close-up, with many new moorings and reclaimed areas.

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Dave and I went down to the Slipway of course, now surrounded by a high corrugated iron fence. On asking permission for a wander around it was freely granted. It was good to see that the concrete block winch house is still being used, but the cradle rails have been straightened (!) and a new cradle is in place on the main slipway while what I was fairly certain was the cradle which Geoff designed and made in 1978 was still in use as the secondary cradle on the secondary runway which we had designed. I will need to check some old photos first to be certain.

During the 1978 near-cyclone the wind blew sand into every tiny crevice and joint; the moving parts of the cradle were seized up solid and Geoff had to melt the sand out later with a powerful blowtorch. It was impossible to face into that wind which of course reached its peak at night, coinciding with a high tide; we had left the spotlights on so the eerie scene was exhilarating and frightening at the same time –  howling wind, swirling sand, flickering lights, boats rocking madly (even with every possible bit of running rigging removed). We were triply fastened to two sturdy piles (those nearest the shore in the photo below, but there was no pontoon then) plus we had an anchor out into the harbour plus ropes to the mangroves ashore. There was concern that the high tide would lift the boat up and put it down on top of the piles. Some other boats forced their way as far up a mangrove creek as possible but others like us elected to stay in the harbour.

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Over the years Patrick and Sylvie have developed a rustic retreat which they named Yellow Belly after a snake which they saw there the first time they discovered the area. Located about an hour’s drive through parched bushland and at a remote point on a cattle station…….






….. over the years it has become a focal point for the multitude of foreign visitors, mainly French, who seem drawn to Bowen and to P et S in particular, by magic.





I was there at the beginning, one of many willing hands conscripted on the promise of a feed afterwards. Memorable meals at a long rough-hewn table in the shape of the gum trees. Sylvie with a broken arm after one of the roof beams fell on her.


Some 10 of us would arrive in the morning with a motley collection of tools and materials, very rarely anything new. Slowly the outline of a hut took place. Over the years the plan was refined. There is now a workshop housing a generator, guest quarters, a cookhouse, an outdoor shower and of course a long drop complete with phone to the house if you run out of toilet paper.


There are lots of interesting quirky objects, like this ancient coffee pot brought out from France, which once belonged to Sylvie’s great great grandmother. What stories it could tell. Or the blue and orange enamelled dish.

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A huge flood in 2008 almost reached the bottom steps. It can be seen from the second photo taken from the river bed just how far away the river is normally.



It was all new to Dave of course, but I think he enjoyed our stay there.