Friday, 2 October 2009
On the road again, our destination Maryborough, not far north but recommended to us as a town of historic interest.
As we approached, the sky was dark with ominous looking reddish-brown clouds. Bushfire, I thought, but when I commented to the caretaker at Maryborough's caravan park, she shrugged. "Probably canefields."
Of course. We are now in sugar cane country, and they burn off the fields when the crop has been harvested. No wonder nobody seemed to be taking any notice of the smoke. However, on the evening news, we heard that it was indeed a bushfire and that the firefighters were exhausted from a long day of bringing it under control.
For many years Maryborough thrived as the second largest port after Brisbane, partly because of all the sugar cane being shipped from the mills there. Most are gone or derelict now.
Only one state-of-industrial-art one remains, but the former wealth of the town is evident in the stock of fine old buildings. We enjoyed the informative museum and the National Trust operated general store, maintained as it was in its heyday. There is also a lovely park and lake with great numbers of ibis nesting on an island in the middle.
Despite the grand buildings, however, Maryborough has a slightly sad feeling. No lively bistros or sidewalk cafes line its broad streets. Considering it's school holiday time, there are few young people about, and a preponderance of elderly and handicapped. Some shops are closed, others open only on weekends.
You have to hope that its future holds a second period of prosperity.
One of the fascinating details I learned in the museum was the history of John Carne Bidwill, who gave his name to a number of Australian plants, particularly the wonderful bunya bunya pine, Araucaria bidwilli. I'm glad he is remembered in botanical nomenclature because he had a short life of more bad fortune than most.
According to the museum's information, he came from England to Australia to be the new director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney. However, on arrival, due apparently to some bureaucratic error, the post was given to someone else.
His consolation prize was to be sent to Maryborough to be Commissioner of Lands. While there he began to collect plant specimens and develop a garden. He also sent seeds, including the Araucaria, to Kew Gardens.
Then his superiors charged him with finding another, more inland route, to Brisbane. He and his party became lost and were rescued by aborigines after surviving for 8 days without food and water. The experience broke his health and he died soon after, at the age of 38.
After his death, his plants were all auctioned off with two exceptions: a bottle tree, now in the grounds of the local courthouse; and a bunya bunya transferred to Maryborough's municipal park.
My photo of Bidwill's bunya bunya was unsuccessful, but here's one of a similar size in Rockhampton's botanic garden.