There is something rather primal about travelling over water on a small boat. You willingly surrender to whatever mood the sea wants to throw at you and you forget life’s pressures. Nowhere are you more conscious of this than sitting on a plastic weathered seat on the deck of the old Stradbroke Island water taxi as it crosses Moreton Bay, bound for an island 30km southeast of Brisbane, in Queensland. No bridge was ever built to connect this island paradise to the mainland and that’s what has kept it secret…kept it safe.
Stradbroke is a paradise of empty stretches of beach and dunes, lanky mangroves, eye-piercing aquamarine waters, abundant wildlife and sacred lands connecting 25,000 years of indigenous Quandamooka Country to the present. It feels wild and exotic to be so close to nature in this modern world and equally as emotional. Affectionately known as ‘Straddie’, though respectively known as ‘Minjerribah’ by the traditional Quandamooka people, it is Moreton Bay’s largest island, split into two halves in 1895.
I have a timber weekender on the island and everyday I am not there it’s on my mind. I long to be where the bush meets the beach. From the deck of my house on the north, the unmistakable screech of the lorikeets can be heard for miles, as they fly about the Norfolk Pines. Their rainbow-coloured wings dart from branch to branch in a frantic buzz. This is probably the most hectic show you will see on the entire island other than the Old Surf Club, where everyone including the staff, are barefoot in damp ‘togs’ as they sip their sundowners.
What it lacks in mod cons it makes up for in its abundant nature, showing off what Australia is most well known for. There is a plentiful supply of prawns trawled out around Shag Rock off the Point Lookout headland. When the wattle (yellow acacia or mimosa) is in full bloom on land you know the mullet are in season and out in the waters the Stradbroke Island oysters are grown in old leases in the passage of Amity. The mangroves provide a quiet refuge for native animals like the threatened dugong, a shy and gentle sea cow, whose herds graze only on underwater beds of seagrass.
But the way to experience the call of nature at its purest is ‘The Gorge Walk’ at Point Lookout. Its Sheoak trees teems with curious wallabies, grey kangaroos, and kookaburras laughing and bouncing in their feathery branches. From the wooden track, you can gaze into the gorge and where an underwater world of dolphins, sea turtles and manta rays put on a show. Out on the horizon migrating whales breach and plunge.
Rich in turn of the century European colonial history and hardship, Dunwich on the western side of North Stradbroke is a historic town, once an outpost colony for Leprosy, with the only signs of Victorian-era architecture on the island. Amity Point, a low-lying village at the north-western tip, is clustered with tired yet charming fibro Fisherman’s shacks in faded pastel pinks and blues, and boasts some of the largest shark numbers in the world. The local catch at Amity is bream, tailor, snapper and if you are lucky the spectacular marlin which you buy with cash straight from the houses of the fishermen. They paint signs detailing their catch in scrawled local lingo. Pan-fried over a camp fire, the fish is so fresh it needs little more than a skillet and a flame.
There is only one road which connects the main three townships, and not a single set of traffic lights. The third cluster is Point Lookout, the ‘good looking one’, which offers six of the most pristine beaches you will find in the country. The headland village is the most popular spot for taking in the views of Cape Moreton in the north and Point Danger to the south, and the best place to pick up a flat white. The ‘Point’ as the locals call it paints a vision of ‘a quintessential summer in Australia’, with epic surf breaks, rugged rocky capes and echoes of Men at Work’s ‘Down Under’ playing from crackling radios of old Land Rovers. This is Australia.
Quandamooka people are the traditional owners of the waters and the islands of Central and Southern Moreton Bay and the coastal land. They have lived on the land and seas surrounding Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island) for at least 25,000 years and play a vital role as the owners and carers of the island, with the right to live and conduct traditional ceremonies and maintain sacred places of cultural import. From June to August which welcomes all. You can feel the ancient energy of one of the oldest living cultures on earth through celebrating their stories, arts and culture. When not in high season the island’s population shrinks to just under 2000.
There are two large sacred freshwater lakes on the island: For the Quandamooka, their Dreamtime acknowledges the Blue Lake ‘Karboora’ and Brown Lake ‘Bummiera’ as being sacred and the home of Yuir Kabool, the “Rainbow Serpent”. Many visitors swim in the lakes, though traditionally these two lakes were approached with a sense of reverence, caution and even fear by Quandamooka elders.
The island itself only attracts a certain type of person: either the outdoor type or the recluse. Perhaps they are the same person, escape artists looking to lose themselves in the islands unspoilt pull. The ones who crave nature and not much else. It’s not for everyone, and that’s the way it should be. Kept secret, kept safe.