Pre Trip: Holidaying in the Barrier Reef 1957

playing at being the captain                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Here is a brief account of my first real ‘grown-up’ holiday and interstate adventure, written in a letter home to my parents, and stored away amongst all my other treasures.

Three pharmacy colleagues and I set out together in the spring of 1957. I traveled first from my home in Wagga in southern New South Wales to meet up with them in Sydney, and then set out to drive all the way from Sydney, New South Wales to Queensland by car for several thousand miles along the coastal road as far north as Rockhampton, stopping off for a week at Surfers Paradise, and then caught a plane to Mackay, where we boarded a small ship and spent a week sailing through the islands of the magnificent Great Barrier Reef.

I rounded out the adventure with two month’s work and play at Surfers’ Paradise – and this was in the days before a single high-rise had been built.


Hosking’s Pharmacy.

Surfers Paradise. 30 September 1957.

Dear family,

What a great adventure this has been. There’s so much to tell you about it I don’t know where to start — I could write a book about my travels but by the time I had finished the news would be stale so I will have to confine myself to sketching the outline and fill in the details when I get home.

It has been a wonderful three weeks and I am really feeling the benefit of it by now. I’ve got a beaut suntan, achieved gradually and relatively painlessly, and have regained most of my lost weight and am now working here at the pharmacy. It is quite easy going and still has the feeling to some extent of being on holidays — just different

The first week went quickly once we arrived in Surfers Paradise even though we spent the time there rather quietly, and it was just long enough to make us fit enough for the trip further north.

You would find Surfers a very different place to the one you described years ago Dad, when all it consisted of then was Jim Cavill’s Hotel and a bird sanctuary.

a peacock at the Bird Santuary

a peacock at the Bird Santuary,Surfers Paradise.

The serviced rooms we first stayed at were very nice at Las Palmas, but not quite as swish as El Dorado, which we moved to. Each unit boasted a bedroom, sitting room and cocktail bar, and a kitchenette equipped with a fridge and electric stove and jug, toaster, egg beater, bottle and tin opener, champagne glasses and a phone, not to mention a private swimming pool in the garden, a barbecue with a sundeck and also a playroom!!

Add to that a washing machine and clothesline all at our disposal as well.

We really relished all of the comforts especially after the long car drive up from Sydney.

We were quite lucky with our meals and accommodation during all of our travels.

That part of the trip was relatively uneventful. It took a little bit of time to get used to travelling together and establish a routine of sharing the driving. There were times when I found it rather hair raising. I was the only one who had experience of travelling on rough country roads — the other three were certainly city drivers, rather impatient and tending to

a glimpse of lush tropical rainforest

a glimpse of lush tropical rainforest

be speedy with not enough respect for the rough dusty bits and the potholes!

I really enjoyed watching the change of scenery as we came north, especially as it became more tropical and green, and at times almost mountainous — such a contrast to the Riverina, where I spent my childhood.

We set off north from Surfers on Saturday afternoon and got as far as Bundaberg by about 10.30 that night. We had no accommodation arranged so started to do a pub-crawl, but with little success, so we went to the cop shop, going in and breaking up their card game, and asked for help.

Two gallant policemen came to our rescue, interrupting what had apparently been a steady night’s drinking to do so. They walked from one hotel to the next as we followed them along slowly in the car, checking in with the owners on our behalf, finally finding rooms for us in quite a good pub.

We then courteously offered to drive them home again after thanking them effusively but they took the offer a bit too literally, stiffened up and replied ” thank you all the same, but unfortunately we are still on duty!”

By this time it was very late at night and we had hardly gotten to sleep when, the next morning we were woken at six o’clock with a cup of tea. This seems to be a barbarous custom common to all Queensland pubs and I’m afraid we weren’t very grateful for the service.

Any chance of getting back to sleep after that was prevented by the electric floor polisher buzzing outside the bedroom door, so Colleen and I — the two Catholics on board — went off to a 6.30 Mass, returned for breakfast and then got off to an early start, heading for


The countryside along the way it was quite varied. A lot of it was very dry and uninteresting to begin with and we saw quite a few bushfires and burning off of sugar cane rubble, and occasionally some wild life, kangaroos and emus.

In fact we nearly collected an emu on the road — that gave us quite a fright and the poor emu as well.

a friendly Kangaroo

a friendly Kangaroo

Soon we were going through really magnificent scenery as we drove ever further north, passing the towns of Bundaberg, Childers, and Maryborough, and especially where there were crops of pineapples, bananas and fields of sugar cane.

I’m afraid I didn’t get many photos because we all have cameras and had trouble agreeing on the best spots to stop to take a photo and so we often missed out altogether.

Unfortunately the car started playing up again as it had done earlier and finally gave out 6 miles south of Gladstone. Jeanette and Colleen hitched a ride into town and alerted the local RACQ man–Queensland’s NRMA equivalent.   He arrived finally with the tow truck and pulled us up on board, car as well as passengers.

This was to be my first ride in a towed car, and Luna Park had nothing on it.

We spent a couple of hours there at the garage while it was repaired and we quite enjoyed ourselves, as the old chap and his wife made quite a fuss of us.

The Criterion  Hotel Rockhampton Queensland

The Criterion Hotel
Rockhampton Queensland

We set off again about 6.30 pm and reached Rockhampton at about nine o’clock, and had more luck with accommodation this time, staying at the Criterion, which proved to be a very nice hotel, providing good food and comfortable beds.

Our stopover there was uneventful except for a conman who was also staying there.

He helped to carry our luggage in, chatting to each of us in turn.

Afterwards we exchanged notes and found that he had told one of us of his experiences in deepest Africa. Another was treated to a description of his palatial home in Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and another, that he was staying in the bridal suite at the pub, and how about coming up to have a look at it with him!

The next morning we caught the plane to Mackay. Jeanette had a movie camera and spent much of the brief trip up in the cockpit taking shots of the scenery, much to our envy,

shell and coral display

shell and coral display

We arrived at about 11 o’clock and filled in the rest of the morning looking at the Mackay Botanical Gardens, which were really beautiful – lots of spectacular tropical plants that were new to us,and visiting a little museum which gave us a good idea of what was in store for us as we travelled through th Whitsunday Passage.

Mackay Botanical Gardens

Mackay Botanical Gardens

In the afternoon we collapsed from exhaustion and excessive heat — we certainly had trouble getting accustomed to the tropical temperatures and humidity.

That evening I organized the group, much against its will, to go on an organised tour of a nearby sugar mill. It turned out to be

local aboriginal children we met at the gardens

local aboriginal children we met at the gardens

IMG_0045one of the best nights of the journey.

I found it very interesting and the chap who showed us over it gave us all the details of how it functioned, and was very funny into the bargain.

I asked more than my share of questions — really stiff ones like’ how many feet of conveyor belt are there in the mill?’ and lots of other technical information, and to pay me back, I was made to sit at the front of the bus with the driver and sing into the mike all the way home.

It was a riotously funny journey and I managed to keep the crowd community singing all the way amidst much laughing.

The visit to the mill also gave us a chance to learn more about the history of the whole area. Captain Cook had explored these beautiful waters in the 1770s.

Later, in the mid-1800s the sugar industry began to grow and many small sugar cane farms sprang up, often with the help of indentured labour brought in from several Pacific Islands.   We learned that the practice was abused and finally had to be stopped, but the little port town of Mackay continued to grow.

The next morning we woke early, full of excitement in anticipation of our little sailing trip, which we had booked on a small cruising ship belonging to the Roylen line.

Leaving Mackay Harbour

We were taken down to the wharf by taxi and met with the other people who would be spending the next five days on board with us.

There were 20 passengers altogether, including three older couples who had motored up from Sydney together, four Chinese girls, one rather gone-to-seed ex-jockey, and another rather irritating young man who, we were soon to find out, regarded it as his duty to share himself around among the four of us. They all proved to be quite a good crowd to travel with, and seemed to like us as well.

The crew turned out to be even better! They looked after us very well, just about giving us the run of the boat. The four of us found ourselves up in the wheelhouse before we had

A friendly aircraft carrier we passed on the way.

A friendly aircraft carrier we passed on the way.

even gone through the heads.

This proved to be just as well as it was the best place to be when the weather was rough, and it certainly was for the first few hours.

I amazed myself by not getting seasick and I only had to take very few pills during the trip.In fact I soon became so fond of the boat and sailing that I am now thinking of running away to sea!

The trip on the whole turned out to be much better than I could have imagined.

I really loved the experience, so if you want to have a week’s really good holiday I can assure you that it would be worth flying up and exploring the Barrier Reef while sailing at the same time.

Jeanette Beekman, Colleen Nader, Elizabeth and our little cruiser

Jeanette Beekman, Colleen Nader, Elizabeth and our little cruiser

The ship is only a small one, carrying only 20 passengers at a time. The cabins were down below, each with two berths, and with showers nearby.The dining room, lounge and wheelhouse were on top, with a bit of deck space to spare at either end. It was fairly calm all the way as we were travelling between the islands inside the coral reef.

sailing smoothly along between between the islands

sailing smoothly along between between the islands

We would anchor off one of the islands each evening and usually went ashore for a while. We would pull up anchor again about six o’clock in the morning, and I would quickly tumble out of my bunk and shoot up on deck so as not to miss anything.

After breakfast we would pull into some lovely little uninhabited cove and have a swim.

coral 1The water was crystal clear, a beautiful turquoise blue, with shimmering white sands along the edge and plenty of tiny fish life darting about around us.

Usually we were the only ones who cared whether we were given a chance to swim or not, but they would always stop for us. A little further on, we would drop anchor again after the swim at a spot where the crew knew that the fishing was good, and we would throw our lines over.

I had a try at that too – probably my first fishing experience as far as I can remember, and succeeded in catching three beauties in half an hour, so I now consider myself a fisherwoman of no little repute.

I can also steer a ship! After a certain amount of persuasion on our part, we were allowed to try our hand at the wheel. Altogether, I managed to get about four hours of steering practice up my sleeve. It was great fun, but I found that the next time I had to steer a car afterwards it took a bit of adjusting to make the change. Pulling the wheel around very slowly while you are taking a sharp bend can land you in all sorts of trouble.

The ‘Bosun’ was a great character with a tough but attractive Queensland exterior and a lightly disguised soft side. He seemed to run the whole enterprise. He was generous with his time and local knowledge. I became his favourite and he encouraged me to make the most of the adventure.

That didn’t include the final night’s farewell celebrations however. It was a big gathering with other travelers and crews joining in. We learned from one of his admiring mates that he had a local reputation to uphold. – a conquest every Friday night at the end of the cruise, and we both knew that I wasn’t on the list of possible candidates! The price of virtue!

coral 4Nothing lost. It was a great party, with lots of sore heads the next morning.

We had one last swim in the glorious waters and then sailed back to port.

The time had flown by all too quickly!

We set off down south, pausing at Surfers again. I wasn’t yet ready to return home, so checked out the possibility of finding work, and my luck was in.

Bruce, the local chemist, was looking for a break, so here I am minding the shop and dispensing the pills for the next month or two – but I will be home well before Christmas.

This is the quiet time, – lots of the holidaymakers have left – so the days are cruising by.

I am able to have lovely ocean dip at sunset each evening to wind up the day and reflect on how lucky I have been! ,

my Surfers Paradise 'home'

my Surfers Paradise ‘home’

My accommodation is perfect –a little motel unit right on the beach for which I pay a very modest weekly rate because much of the tourist accommodation is empty – so I am able to start saving again for a big adventure overseas.

I had found a quiet boarding house to start with when I first went looking when we got here.

My Scottish landlady would awaken me at 7.30 for breakfast and have tea ready at 5.30 pm, which wasn’t so good when I missed the bus and arrived home at 6.15.

The food proved to be rather disappointing as well. It was mainly sausages served up in various guises.

Just a few days of this, and it was time to find something different! And it was second time lucky!

On the first weekend, I ran into a chap I knew from Sydney who was up here for a Court sitting for a few days with some legal friends.

They were a beaut crowd — four men and two girls, and we all had a great time together.

We went swimming twice on Saturday. In between time, we had lunch — beer and sandwiches — in the well-known Surfers Paradise hotel beer garden.

It is a great spot for watching the world go by. It reminded me a bit of King’s Cross.

In the evening we had an enormous steak each at their Bar B.Q and then went on to the Chevron and spend our time up on the terrace overlooking Surfers, where there were tables to sit at, a great band playing just the kind of music I like, and enough room for dancing! What a promising start it was to my ‘surfers Paradise in the quiet season’ experience!

Needless to say, Sunday was spent much more quietly!

Before the girls were leaving for Sydney, we made a pact to start planning to travel overseas together as soon as practical. Our friendship had survived the trip and we had all caught the travel bug with a vengeance! Time will tell!

I hope you are all well and not missing me too much. Letters addressed to the pharmacy will find me, and a long distance phone-call would be wonderful!

Much love to everybody


2 thoughts on “Pre Trip: Holidaying in the Barrier Reef 1957

  1. ozrose

    What an insightful report
    Reminded me of when we visited the reef together Can’t remember what year that was ?
    Wow how the journey by road has changed now Sounds like bits of the pacific highway were dirt roads back then
    Love your descriptions of the cruise & all the various pubs & hotels what a bevy of beauties !!!



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