30 years ago – Fraser Island
  |  First Published: November 2003

OUR round-Australia trip would not have been complete without a visit to one of our favourite spots: magnificent Fraser Island. Denise and I had been regular visitors to Fraser since purchasing our 1963 column shift, short wheel base LandCruiser in early ’71, making the five-hour journey each way one weekend almost every month.

Before our trip I’d been elected the second secretary of the fledgling Brisbane Sportfishing Club, a position that was temporarily filled by Ron Henderson (now a North Queensland sales rep and former Henderson Handicrafts man). Ron and his wife Maureen were to join us in the final phase of our 15,000 mile odyssey, the pretext being that Ron could bring me up to date on club matters while we were catching a few fish!

After a bit of a hiccup when Ron’s Toyota became hopelessly bogged in the infamous Eli Creek and had to be extracted by one of the residents’ blitz trucks (at considerable expense), we finally selected a camping spot adjacent to a flowing creek not far from the famous Cathedral sand cliffs. My fishing appetite being whetted by almost five months of continuous activity, I elected to erect the tents with the help of the girls while Ron dashed down to the nearest gutter with the latest you-beaut tailor lure from the Irons stable dangling from his rod tip.

However, when Ron hooked up almost immediately, I couldn’t help myself! The tents could wait if the fish were on. I quickly rigged my light surf rod with my favourite tailor lure, a 1ounce ABU Toby spoon, and dashed down the beach to join a very excited Ron, who was just landing a big tailor around the 3kg mark.

Ron was full of praise for his new lure given to him by legendary tackle shop owner Len Mossop to field test on the trip. I wasn’t about to argue – that was a very impressive catch for a lure’s very first Fraser Island outing. However, half an hour later when my Toby had landed a half a dozen solid tailor and the Iron hadn’t even recorded another strike, the new lure’s prospects had started to look a little lacklustre. My memory is hazy but I seem to remember the lure being pelted into the sand dunes at the end of the session and a Toby taking its place for the remainder of the trip!

The four of us spent a fabulous week patrolling the Island’s beaches catching tailor in some great looking gutters which we rarely had to share with anyone else. I remember one particular session between Indian Head and Middle Rocks where we landed some magnificent fish between 4lb to 9lb in a late afternoon bite.

There was one sour note though! Hundreds of half-buried tailor carcasses littered the sand dunes around Indian Head, one of the first indicators of the dark side of the growing popularity of the island – a popularity that was due, in part, to my glowing press articles on the place. It was the first time I became aware of the price of promoting a ‘new’ fishing spot.

I had planned to write a book about the trip but was dissuaded after discussing the project with Vic McCristal who was careful to explain the cutthroat aspects of publishing in those days. My diary ended up collecting dust on my bookshelves for three decades, and it’s been a real pleasure to open it again after all this time.

The question most of you probably want to ask is, “How does the fishing 30 years ago compare with now?” There are two sides to this question and they both revolve around perspective.

In general terms, the fishing in 1973 was virtually untouched compared with that of today’s era of intensive commercial and recreational effort. Perhaps the greatest irony is that the fabulous barra fishing we experienced as raw beginners in the Princess Charlotte Bay area is no more, while prospects in the Northern Territory barra scene have actually been significantly enhanced over the same period.

Don’t get me started about Queensland’s fisheries management performance in that time!

People have different perspectives on this issue because we all have different past experiences and expectations. In 1973, 20 barramundi in a day was a great result whereas these days half a dozen is more acceptable to a person of my experience. While large numbers of large dead fish impressed us three decades ago, these days taking only a couple for immediate table use is carefully considered. A fish’s statistics is now more likely to be expressed in centimetres rather than in kilos or pounds.

Probably the most significant insight gained from our round-Australia sojourn was that if you have the urge to get out and see this vast country, do it while you’re young rather than waiting until retirement comes along. The majority of travellers on the road in 1973 were retirees and many of them lamented that they couldn’t take full advantage of their opportunity because of the restrictions brought upon them by their age.

In one instance, Denise and I were led to an outcrop of semi-precious stones by a wife whose husband was unable to climb the hill because of his heart condition. Only by befriending a couple of strangers could the elderly couple collect the rocks they knew were nearby.

These days, I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that your body is just like one of those classic cars – no matter how well you maintain the thing, a few dings and rattles accompanied by subtle losses of engine performance are inevitable.

Just as certain is that money just can’t buy memories. Enthusiasm is easier to maintain prior to the cynicism brought on by longevity.

Recent events have provided Denise and I with the perfect opportunity to celebrate the 30th anniversary of our trip. Ron Pearson, now retired, will be joining me in Weipa for a week on the water about the time this issue reaches the stands. It’s a reunion that’s been a long time coming but certainly worth the wait!

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