“Mum, why do you have mud on your hat?”
I didn’t reply but attempted a withering look at my adult son. Given the circumstances, it was surprising there were any surfaces on me not covered in mud. I couldn’t understand how my cheeky offspring had remained spotless, especially as he was such a mud magnet as a child.
I would like to blame the ambiguity of the English language but ultimately it was my fault for not thoroughly researching the destination. Admitting my guilt won’t stop me complaining about confusing aspects of my native tongue though.
Henry David Thoreau wrote, “When I read some of the rules for speaking and writing the English language correctly, I think any fool can make a rule, and every fool will mind it.”
I used to be very protective about my native language. Reading and writing came easily to me. Later, when tutoring dyslexic students and watching immigrants struggle with its rules, I was forced to recognise the many inconsistencies and adopt a more humble approach.
I’ve lived in Queensland most of my life so I should understand regional context, but a misunderstanding arising from the use of the word “around” transformed what was meant to be an idyllic walk into something much more memorable.
The adventure began with a phone call from the Strummer. My second adult child is a self-taught musician, drone master and public transport guru. Until he rang me, I was unaware he had recently added hiking to his interests. My other two children, Tough Cookie and the Professor, have featured in a few hikes but until this trip the Strummer had evaded capture. I did write about him in An Outback Survival Tale though if you’d like more background. One of his early desires was to bungee jump out of a plane and we predicted that if he survived childhood, he’d either become a famous adventurer or criminal due to his Houdini-like escape talents.
After the initial shock that my son wanted to go on an adventure alone with me, we made plans to complete a 5km walk around Coochiemudlo Island which is accessible by a short ferry ride from Victoria Point in Moreton Bay, near Brisbane.
Now here in Australia and other countries, “around” has a variety of meanings. One online dictionary gives it sixteen adverbial meanings and seven prepositional meanings, as well as different uses in idioms and slang. Unfortunately, in this case I made the assumption that when other walkers said it was “only a gentle, relaxed 5km walk around Coochiemudlo Island” they meant encircling the island by beach walking.
It’s true that when we say “let’s go for a walk around town” we don’t mean encircle the town but to explore it in various directions along the streets. However, the combination of the words, “around,” “island,” and a numerical distance led me to believe we could circumnavigate Coochiemudlo. I’d also visited the island briefly a few years before and enjoyed its gently sloping sandy beaches and calm sheltered waters. Nobody mentioned mangroves.
The morning was pleasantly gloomy. Being sun-sensitive I’m always a little relieved when thick clouds offer protection from our harsh cancer-causing Queensland rays.
The ferry was almost empty. If a freak wave hit us we’d have a pile of life jackets to choose from. This was a relieving thought also. With all that relief going on, the adventure was off to a promising start.
After arriving on the beach we had to choose which direction to walk around the island. Since I was keen to view the rich red ochre cliffs for the first time, we turned left to attempt a clockwise approach.
The name Coochiemudlo is derived from the name given to the island by the traditional owners, the Quandamooka people. “Kutchi Mudlo” (or “Goochie Mudlo”) means “red earth” and “rock” or “stone.”
It wasn’t long before I began to doubt this whole around plan. Waves lapped the edges of slippery red ochre clay banks. How far could we go? With the Strummer moving at a cracking pace ahead of me, I didn’t have time to voice my doubts and nervously picked my way along the path, hoping I wouldn’t discover my son’s skull smashed to pieces around the next bend.
It was the first time I’d ever come across such large areas of vibrant red ochre. The sea water was muddied where it lapped the shore and I wondered how many years the red cliffs would last given how quickly they appeared to be eroding.
A colourful crab interrupted my thoughts of gaping wounds and disappearing land.
After navigating Red Rock Beach without incident, we came to a stretch of sandy shore and I was once again enthusiastic about our attempt.
This was short-lived as around the next bend we were faced with mangroves. Mangroves were never part of the plan.
My thrill-seeking offspring was still keen though.
“Where’s your sense of adventure, Mum?”
We entered the dark mangroves which looked like a promising set for a psychological thriller. At any time I expected to come face to face with a mud-soaked, bloated body entangled in branches. It’s quite possible I’ve been watching far too many crime series lately. I tried not to think about snakes.
The cloud of mosquitoes was impossible to ignore though. We’d sprayed our exposed legs with mosquito repellent in the carpark before taking the ferry but I’d left the bottle in the car because it leaked easily and I was trying to reduce the weight in my pack. Now, thousands of blood suckers honed in on our arms, necks and faces. My son has already contracted Barmah Forest Virus and I’d had Ross River Fever three times from mosquitoes so it wasn’t just the threat of blood loss that had us waving madly.
The barely existent path soon disappeared and life became soggy. This concerned me for a few reasons, one being that my son was wearing brand new expensive footwear. Due to him having the world’s weirdest shaped feet, his shoe purchases rival my house mortgage.
I don’t have much more to say about mangroves. While they improve water quality, prevent coastline erosion and provide a unique and valuable habitat for wildlife, as a walking destination mangroves leave a lot to be desired unless you are much better prepared than we were.
We persevered a little longer until even my son expressed doubts. After backtracking, we caught sight of the golf course again, where we risked flying balls and irate players to escape the marauding mangrove mozzies.
Upon climbing a steep flight of stairs we arrived at a vehicle road and a sign which said Coochiemudlo Walking Track.
We learned that a large part of the relaxing 5km walk around Coochiemudlo involves roads and not beaches. Stinky, sticky and itchy from our muddy adventure, I was relieved to be on solid ground; however, by now most of the thick cloud cover had disappeared and we were treated to the fierce midday sun shimmering off tar road.
There was little wildlife in view. Creatures are far too sensible to be active on a hot, humid, breezeless Queensland day.
Native bees were feeling the rising heat at this roadside box.
An information board showed us Morton’s Steps and the remains of old jetties. We ventured down hoping to find a scenic shaded path among the trees but were greeted again with more mangroves so returned to the road. In fact, mangroves make up about one third of the shoreline of Coochiemudlo Island.
Here’s a very rough map I’ve created to show the mangrove portion of the shorefront.
And here’s the information map provided on a sign on the island.
Eventually, we arrived at shaded paths taking us through other types of vegetation along the beachfront.
It’s a shame the mangrove incident had sapped some of our energy as the sandy beaches are beautiful and offer historical points of interest as well as interesting Indigenous cultural remains such as stone fish traps, scarred trees, and shell middens. If we’d brought towels and swimwear we could have cooled down as well.
Like many Australian coastal destinations, Coochiemudlo’s European history has involved changing land use – clearing for timber, attempts at farming, wartime training, and tourism. Some animal and plant species (such as the koala population) no longer survive on the island, and problems exist with domestic pets as well as introduced invasive plant species. However, the close-knit island community (of around seven hundred) actively participates in environmental improvement projects. The friendliness and relaxed attitude of residents are often applauded by visitors.
So far, sleepy Coochiemudlo has escaped commercialisation that has transformed other island destinations into bustling tourist centres. There are only two cafes (both of which were closed on our visit) and no other shopping facilities or schools. Residents take a short ferry ride to the mainland to purchase major supplies. During holiday season, bikes, kayaks and other water craft may be hired to explore the island. On both visits, I felt like I was stepping back into the past to a simpler, quieter time.
While I’ve complained about the mangrove detour, I enjoyed spending rare quality time with my son and it’s amusing to look back fondly on these kind of blunders. Sharing this experience with the Strummer brought back memories of his adventurous childhood antics and I had to laugh at the sense of déjà vu the walk afforded me. Parenting the Strummer child was never boring! A couple of days later we enjoyed a follow-up walk at Karawatha Forest Park and made another unexpected detour. But that’s another story…