By Kathleen Kemsley, (c) 2020
A friend recently asked me if I ever felt afraid when I camped alone. The question drew my memory immediately to a place where I felt absolutely isolated. Isolated, but not fearful. And as it turned out, not alone either, for there were many wild creatures who made Cape Palmerston their home.
Along the undeveloped east coast of Queensland, some 40 miles south of Mackey, I found my way from Ilbilbie to the Cape Palmerston Holiday Park. I was hoping for a good night’s rest on my way to the Whitsunday Islands. When I pulled in to the Holiday Park, the office was vacant. I stood out front for a few minutes, noticing that there were no other campers parked on the sprawling grounds. Were they even open? I had already driven six hours, so did not want to think about searching out a different campsite farther up the road.
After a few minutes a man rode up on a four-wheeler to greet me. “Are you open for camping?” I asked.
“Oh yes, we’re open all year,” he said. “Not too many people right now, on account of the coral spawn.”
“The what?” I had no idea what he was talking about.
“Coral spawn. Coral is an animal, you see. They release eggs and sperm once a year, depending on the moon and the water temperature. Happens here in October, around the full moon. It’s an underwater blizzard that is critical for coral reproduction. Said to be an incredible phenomenon. But the sad truth is, coral spawn also stinks to high heaven.”
“Sounds interesting,” I said. After I paid for my campsite, he told me to park wherever I wanted.
Needing to stretch my legs, I followed a faint trail through a dense forest. As soon as I broke out of the trees at the coast, I smelled the coral spawn. Beyond the sandy bluff, ankle high water covered some mud flats for at least a half mile out before the ocean began. In the distance I could see milky surf, and indeed it did stink. As far as scenic beaches or clear warm water, Cape Palmerston was a bust.
But in true bad news, good news fashion, when I returned to the campground, I discovered the upside of this deserted spot….it teemed with wildlife. Movement caught my eye at the edge of the camping area. Drawing closer, I saw a knee-high creature that resembled a miniature kangaroo. It had to be a wallaby! I walked toward it, tugging at my camera, but the shy animal sensed my presence and hopped away.
Into the silence, a strange bird called from the forest. “Ooooo-ha-ha-ha,” it screamed. Peering through tangled tree branches, I spotted the telltale chunky black beak of a Kookaburra, the iconic symbol of Australia. I tried to imitate the laugh back to my vocal companion. It humored me by calling a response.
Farther down the hill in the forest, a flash of red caught my attention. When I investigated, there appeared a large bird with a red head and yellow neck, standing nonchalantly on the ground. It showed no fear as I approached closer to photograph it. Later, when I had an internet connection, I identified it as an Australian Brushturkey, also known as Gweela.
As the sun sank lower in the sky, I slowly walked toward the long grass beyond the edge of the campground, preparing to photograph the sunset. Suddenly, in front of me, a group of wild kangaroos rose from beneath the shade trees and fanned out to look for dinner.
Standing perfectly still, I watched six females, several with joeys in their pockets, travel gracefully through the field. One large male, nearly six feet tall, stood behind them, glancing toward me to determine whether I was a threat to his harem. I stayed silent. After a few minutes, he dropped his guard and helped himself to some grass.
The sky flared orange before darkness fell. Returning to my camper, I made a sandwich for dinner and ate it sitting in a lawn chair. As the moon rose, I tilted my head back to stare at an unfamiliar sky. The Southern Cross was obvious, but I did not know names for the other constellations. With no one to ask, I made their names up: Kangaroo, Wallaby, Gweela, Kookaburra.
No other noisy campers broke the vast silence of the night. I felt alone in Queensland – alone but not lonely, or fearful. The local residents and the vast night sky kept me company. In the camper van I slept a deep, dreamless sleep.