When you see the Southern Cross for the first time
You understand now why you came this way
‘Cause the truth you might be runnin’ from is so small
But it’s as big as the promise, the promise of a comin’ day

Southern Cross – by Stephen Stills, Richard and Michael Curtis

Why Crosby, Stills and Nash would perform a song like Southern Cross is not apparent. Except that it is a lovely harmony. Perhaps Capt. James Cook and crew had the same emotion when they sailed south. Depending on your view of the world this voyage may or may not have been a good thing. Either way it is now history and we can only enjoy living in these beautiful islands (and continent) downunder.

Thirty years ago we were in Cooktown after a 4WD trek up the Bloomfield track from Cape Tribulation. We were headed for Lakefield National Park and a bit of camping. This time though it was an eight metre motorhome and we arrived via the Kennedy and Mulligan Highways. From Cairns we drove uphill, very uphill to Kuranda and a quick stop and look around the market town. To be honest Kuranda looks a little washed out. Whilst it wasn’t market day we had expected a few more people here. The small town now has a sameness about it. T-shirts, hats, the usual mundane souvenirs and boomerangs didn’t seem to cut the mustard anymore. Maybe it just needs the international tourists to come again but …. something seemed to be missing. We spent the first night out of Cairns at Rifle Creek camp a kilometre north of Mt Malloy. And so did about 50 other caravans, motorhomes and cars in a pleasant grassy camping area meant for 25. Again another example of the hordes travelling rural Queensland. Mt Malloy, population 250 is a roadside pub, cafe, roadhouse and dwellings. Built on timber and tin mining our guess is that it has now become a bit of an alternative hideaway judging by the dreadlocks parading around town and the signage on the cafe. Apparently our coffee and cake money would save the planet and bring Julian Assange home into the bargain. Still the town was pleasant and the track through bush to the camp was worth the walk.

We only had a two hour drive to Cooktown from Mt Malloy so took it quietly. The drive is through beautiful countryside ranging from rainforest as we ascended further over the ranges then gum covered farmland crisscrossed by rivers and creeks. This was different from further west in Queensland where the brahman cattle look scrawny and forage large tracts of land for a feed. Here near the coast rainfall is abundant and the animals sleek and healthy. We stopped in at Palmer River Roadhouse, a quirky roadhouse and diner with a small camping area attached. Looked good for the return journey.

Cooktown from the Grassy Hill – the Endeavour River would be bottom right

Cooktown pretty much describes itself. The Endeavour River which runs along the town out to the reef and Mt Cook behind it really confirms its history. Although the town was not really established until 1873 originally as Cook’s Town it blazed its way into history with the arrival of the wounded barque Endeavour and Captain James Cook, Joseph Banks and crew. The Endeavour had run onto the reef during the night and was very badly holed. Badly enough that Cook himself wrote of the impossibility of pumping out the inflowing seawater and the likelihood of abandoning the ship. A clever midshipman suggested a way (called fothering) of covering the hole with a sail smothered in tar, rope and any other substance that would form a plug. They limped towards the coast hauling up at a rivermouth now known as the Endeavour River. Repairs were effected, local Aboriginal peoples befriended, the ship refloated and 48 days after lying capsized on the riverbank the repaired ship set sail north once more. The story also has it that Cook climbed the large hill at the rivermouth (named Grassy Hill by him) and surveyed a way back out through the reefs which lie off the rivermouth. The interaction between Cook and the local Aboriginal people was thought to be generally friendly although it did include one skirmish where a local man was wounded by gunfire. It appears the two groups made up because friendly relations resumed. The area is well known for its biodiversity and indeed the naturalist Joseph Banks collected and recorded 200 specimens of native flora which formed the bulk of the collection taken back to England from the voyage. He also observed the north Queensland tribe Guugu Yimithirr word gangurru for the unusual two legged large tailed animal they saw for the first time and which Cook later recorded as kangooroo.

Cooktown became a populated town in 1874 as the port that serviced the goldfields along the Palmer River. There is not much to it now other than as a tourist destination and the kick off and end point for a trip up Cape York to the tip. The town is located at the base of Cape York and with a population of 3,000 is the largest town in the region. We enjoyed a pleasant four days including a sunset river cruise on the Saturday evening which took us up the Endeavour River. We were told that many boats moored in the river were abandoned including the sunken one with mast protruding above water. The story is it had been bought sight unseen in a pub in Cairns to settle a debt. The new owner never visited but when told it would be taken by the council then showed some interest. When told he owed a heap of moorage fees he suddenly didn’t own it anymore. Abandoned and uncared for it eventually rotted, holed and sank. Although it blew 20 knots all day everyday while we were there the cruise night was a particularly balmy and pleasant evening even if the trip along the mangroves proved that mosquitos and midges thrive here. I also learnt that apparently midges don’t bite. But they do pee. On your skin and the acidity from their relieving themselves causes blistering and itchiness. So there you go. Rather than buying expensive lotions and repellent perhaps providing the antagonists with a cheap roll of toilet paper might be the better option.

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