I'm a freelance writer living in Brisbane. I love bushwalking, kayaking, wildlife, history and travel.
Published August 8th 2018
Love You Townsville
I moved to Townsville from Tasmania in the 1970s. At first I didn't like the city. I thought it was hot and dry, but over the years I lived there, I grew to love it. In the early 1990s, I moved to Port Fairy in Victoria for three years. I liked living there, but I did miss Townsville. At the time there was a tourism advertisement on TV about Townsville. I remember the words "When I go back to Townsville, my city by the sea, the golden nights, the city lights. Love you Townsville". I used to sing it to myself.
I did return to Townsville and lived there until I moved to Brisbane in 2001. I recently went back for a short one-week visit with a friend from Darwin and two friends from Brisbane. We had all met in Townsville many years ago. Jenny had lived in Townsville for twenty-one years before moving to Darwin in 1993, Bea lived there for twenty-five years before moving to Brisbane in 1989, and I lived there for a total of twenty-four years.
This trip we stayed in one of the Queensland Country Women's Association townhouses on the Strand, near the rockpool. It had been cold in Brisbane before we left, so we really enjoyed Townsville's warm winter weather.
We went for long walks on the Strand nearly every morning and swam in the sea across the road from our accommodation. We had heard news stories about crocodiles swimming off Townsville but took our chances. I preferred swimming in the sea, rather than the rockpool. There were lifeguards standing guard, but I'm not sure how effective they would have been if a croc had you in a death roll. At least we didn't have to worry about box jellyfish, as it was winter. We also walked around the headland at Kissing Point and saw the canons and remains of the old forts at Jezzine Barracks.
There were some interesting art installations on the Strand. These colourfully painted shipping containers called "Uncontained" are a legacy from the Commonwealth Games, Festival 2018. My friend Cathy told me they were going to be sold off soon. An artist from a different country had painted each one.
Castle Hill dominates the city. You can see the red granite face of Castle Hill from everywhere. We climbed it early on a couple of mornings. It is only 286 metres (938 ft) high and is a fairly easy climb these days.
A group of lovely young women with an older woman helped us get a car parking spot at the bottom of the mountain one morning. We thought they must have been a school group with their teacher, but they turned out to be solders with their commanding officer. They looked so young.
The tracks have been upgraded since we last climbed it many years ago. Back then my friend Bea and I used to climb up the goat track after work to get fit for a planned trek in Nepal. We even had our photo in the Townsville Bulletin. The tracks were much rougher in those days. There are steps most of the way up now and it is very popular with lots of people going up. There are great views from the top all over the city and out to Cleveland Bay and Magnetic Island. We also drove up one night and were amazed at how far the city had grown since we lived there. There were lights for miles.
We caught up with old bushwalking friends and had dinner with them at a Thai restaurant on Charters Towers Road. Jenny, our friend from Darwin is a musician and was keen to attend some concerts that were on in town. The other three of us went across to Magnetic Island for two days. I wrote about our trip there here.
Bea and Gavin both had reunions to attend. Bea had gone to school at St Anne's (Now the Cathedral School of St Anne and St James). She was a guest speaker at their 100-year Foundation Day celebrations. Gavin attended his James Cook University John Flynn College 50th anniversary celebrations.
While they were at their events, Jenny and I explored the city. We discovered the Classic Movies venue in Denham laneway and returned to watch a film, which was part of their "Monsters in the Lane" series. The 1973 movie Badlands was free.
It was based on the true story of Charles Raymond Starkweather who went on a road trip with his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate. During his killing spree, Starkweather murdered eleven people in Nebraska and Wyoming during their two-month road trip. It was a great movie. The laneway was covered in creative graffiti and there were comfortable couches and chairs. They also provided cheap, delicious food.
We drove around town in our hire car and visited some of our old haunts and discovered new ones. Townsville has grown a lot since I left and whole new suburbs have been developed. We discovered a nice one beside the river at Riverside Gardens and went for a walk by the river. We drove by the houses we used to live in. Jenny has sold her home in North Ward and Bea showed us the house where she lived as a child, and the one where she had lived with her husband. I remembered all the bushwalkers parties we used to have on her deck.
It was a bit sad to see a lot of empty shops in Flinders Street. It was always a bit quiet, but I think it is now even quieter, even though the Mall has been opened up. I suspect there would be a lot more shops and people out in the suburban shopping centres. It was good to see a lot of the old heritage buildings have been preserved and a lot of them have signs on them, so you can walk around the city and learn about the old buildings.
Townsville was declared a municipality in 1866. John Melton Black was elected the first Mayor. I remember the current Mayor Jenny Hill. We did our Masters in Public Health and Tropical Medicine degrees together at the old Anton Breinl building which used to be in the old Townsville Hospital grounds.
When I lived in Townsville I met an old man, Les Alexander who told me a lot about the early history of the town. His late wife's grandfather had been one of the first settlers in the new town. James Gordon was the Sub Collector of customs and Police Magistrate. He declared Townsville a Port of Entry on 10th October 1865 and registered the first child born in Townsville, William Townsville Boyes on August 25th, 1865.
Les gave me a very old photo of Townsville to copy which belonged to James Gordon. It has been dated to around 1870. Unfortunately, it had sticky tape on it which left marks. He also gave me a photo of James and his wife.
One day we walked around to the Drill Hall studio in North Ward. They had some wonderful art and crafts for sale. The Drill Hall Studio is situated in a former Military Drill Hall, built in 1905. It is one of only two pre-Federation Military Drill Halls left in Queensland. The Drill Hall features a sculpture garden, exhibition space, working artist studios as well as retail art, handmade gifts, unique decor, art, jewellery and designer clothing.
A highlight for us was going to lunch at the old Breakwater Casino, now called the Ville, which reminds me of Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmations. I had a surprise birthday party there once. The views across to Magnetic Island are still very beautiful.
I travelled up and back from Brisbane to Townsville sitting up on the train overnight. I really enjoyed the trip but didn't get much sleep. The elderly woman sitting next to me on the way back to Brisbane said she would never do it that way again! I loved seeing lots of wildlife from the train windows. I saw lots of brolgas, bustards, kangaroos, sea eagles, pelicans, egrets and ibis'. I hadn't seen a brolga or bustard since I left North Queensland.
Townsville is 1350 kilometres North of Brisbane and 350 kilometres South of Cairns. The train leaves Brisbane around 3.30pm and arrives in Townsville the next morning around 9.30am. You do meet interesting people on the train A woman told me a story about how her first husband just disappeared one day. He turned up years later in Tasmania with another wife and family. He had changed his name and died leaving all his money to his three children from his first marriage but the children never claimed their money.
The week went very quickly. This trip I didn't get to go to some other favourite places such as the tea rooms at Hervey's Range Road, Paluma and Mt Spec, fish and chips at Balgal Beach and long walks on Saunders Beach. They will have to wait for my next trip to Townsville.