Meeting Maryborough's favourite children on a military and literary trail helps Ewan McDonald swallow his disappointment when Hervey Bay plans go awry.

The Gods of Travel do not always smile upon us. You will know those days — the one when you were in London for the first time and Big Ben was shrouded in scaffolding. The day you were in Florence and the museum you dreamed of visiting was closed on Mondays. The afternoon you were in Barcelona and Messi was playing at Camp Nou at 8pm, and your cruise ship was sailing at 6pm.

There are two ways of dealing with this. One is to find the nearest bar and sulk for the rest of the day.

The other is to take the opportunity to try something new, different, spontaneous. (Note: Option 2 does not necessarily rule out finding the nearest bar.)

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A statue of Duncan Chapman. Photo / Supplied
A statue of Duncan Chapman. Photo / Supplied

So it was in Hervey Bay. There are two reasons the world comes to this Queensland resort. One is World Heritage-listed Fraser Island, just offshore, where rainforest trees grow on sand dunes, there are 250km of sandy beaches, and dingoes (and other wildlife) may freely roam. The other is its documented claim to being the best place on the planet for whale-watching encounters.

There had been storms and high seas, so the island was off-limits. The whales had consulted their devices and decided it was not their time of year to venture north. Which brought me to Option 3: taking a car and finding out why Hervey Bay and the Fraser Coast is a favourite playground for Queenslanders and out-of-staters.

I didn't have far to look. The Esplanade runs for 16km along the foreshore, separated from the wide, sandy beach by a green belt interspersed with occasional nature groves, seafront cafes, jungle gyms and yacht clubs. Sailing boats, that is, not superyachts.

Trading under the Hervey Bay name are a strip of suburbs — Pialba, Torquay, Scarness, Urangan — baches, dairies, motels, campsites, a pub or three. It's got the feel of board shorts and sarongs, icecreams and fish'n' chips. The endless summer holiday that Kiwis and Aussies used to have, and here you still can.

Crossing the road in Maryborough, you're reminded of Mary Poppins' author P.L. Travers, who was born here. Photo / Visit Fraser Coast
Crossing the road in Maryborough, you're reminded of Mary Poppins' author P.L. Travers, who was born here. Photo / Visit Fraser Coast

Because the 123km of Fraser Island shelters Hervey Bay from ocean surf and the seabed is shallow and flat, the beaches are perfect for young families. In the campsites, teens park utes and pitch tents next to grey nomads sipping savvy blanc under motorhome awnings.

For water-lovers, it's paradise with an ocean view: swimming, fishing, paddleboarding, wind- or kitesurfing. For me, something new, different, spontaneous: driving a jetski.

Possibly not the most recommended hobby for someone who learned to drive after his fifth significant birthday, and to swim some time later, and has a phobia about drowning. But hey, with Aquavue Watersports guide Darren Wah as the backseat rider, I was skimming the ripples in no time. No, there are no photos, but we don't need to go into the reason for that.

Half an hour's drive inland, the historic river-port of Maryborough honours its favourite children with distinctive but different memorials.

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Duncan Chapman was the first Anzac ashore at Gallipoli. The city has invested four years, $5 million and 10,000-plus volunteer hours into Walk With the Anzacs, an outdoor, interactive experience in

For water-lovers, Hervey Bay is paradise. Photo / Supplied
For water-lovers, Hervey Bay is paradise. Photo / Supplied

His statue was erected and a bronze boat, representing the landings, was placed in the park to commemorate the 1915 centenary. Now the memorial has been extended to an original, emotive and emotional military trail.

Chapman's statue faces a landscape of weathered steel columns, 8m high, echoing Anzac Cove and the cliffs above. As visitors walk past the "cliffs" and statues, motion sensors trigger voices from speakers; soldiers recount war and sacrifice. The final act: Māori soldiers singing a hymn in te reo moments before they go into battle.

To the sound of marching feet, the trail leads into the Western Front Walk, more voices chronicling later battles in Europe, where Chapman and thousands died; stories of journalists and nurses; heartaches of wives and families.

As Fraser Coast Mayor George Seymour said at last year's unveiling, "This goes beyond a memorial. It's about understanding the sacrifice made by men and women over a century ago. It fills in gaps in the understanding of how The Great War affected Australians." This New Zealander, too.

The town also commemorates its favourite daughter, P.L. Travers, author of Mary Poppins, and has an annual storytelling festival and a statue of her umbrella-unfurling nanny outside the bank building where her father was manager.

On four pedestrian crossings, the traffic lights flash a red Mary Poppins for wait and a green Mary Poppins with umbrella raised for cross now. But Maryborough can be quiet on a wet Monday afternoon.

I pressed the button and waited for the lights to change. And waited.

Eventually, I crossed anyway. I doubt Mary Poppins would have approved.

Checklist
GETTING THERE

• Qantas flies from Auckland to Brisbane, with return Economy Class fares from $587. qantas.com
• The Fraser Coast is a three-hour drive from Brisbane.

Hervey Bay and the Fraser Coast is a favourite playground for Queenslanders and out-of-staters. Photo / Supplied
Hervey Bay and the Fraser Coast is a favourite playground for Queenslanders and out-of-staters. Photo / Supplied

DETAILS

queensland.com