Category Archives: far north Queensland


mcylWe’ve reached the half-way point of series one in the wonderful Cape York NRM podcast My Cape York Life – with plenty of good stories told and many more to come.

The stories are entertaining, inspiring, and often hilarious. You’ll hear about epic wet season adventures, close encounters with crocodiles, the Cape’s first attempt at helicopter cattle mustering, and the joys and challenges of living in remote and isolated places.

Last year, my friends at Cape York Natural Resource Management and South Cape York Catchments decided to give the region’s land managers a place to tell and share their own remarkable stories. And My Cape York Life was born. Lyndal Scobell travelled the Cape, recording the stories. I was invited to do the editing and audio production – and I’ve loved every minute of it.

Episode 4 came out yesterday – we meet Louise Stone at the height of turtle nesting season near Mapoon on western Cape York. Louise was co-ordinator of the Mapoon Land and Sea Rangers, who work to protect vulnerable and endangered turtles and their nesting sites along the beautiful Gulf of Carpentaria coast.

In episode 3, we met Mikayla Down and Wilfred Peter, traditional owners of Lama Lama Country, on the northern coast of Princess Charlotte Bay. Mikayla and Wilfred work with Yintjingga Aboriginal Corporation’s Lama Lama Rangers, caring for and managing traditional land and sea country from Silver Plains in the north to Marina Plains in the south.

In our first two episodes, we sat by the Wenlock River, on the north-west Cape, listening to Shelley Lyon tell stories of her 40 adventurous years on Cape York. Shelley has extensive conservation experience from decades working in the Cape’s national parks and private conservation properties with husband Barry. You can click to hear episode 1 and episode 2.

Still to come in this series of My Cape York Life, the ups and downs of raising cattle on the Cape, the joys and challenges of leading a small Cape York indigenous community, how an ecologist from London made her home on a farm near Cooktown, and we meet a cattle farmer and entirely self-taught award-winning plant and wildlife expert at Shipton’s Flat.

My Cape York Life is brought to you by Cape York NRM, with support from South Cape York Catchments, and the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme.

Hann River roadhouse

Hann River roadhouse



Posted by on March 4, 2017 in Aboriginal, Cape York Peninsula, community, EFFINCUE, environment, far north Queensland, indigenous, People


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mcylI love good stories. This podcast series is full of them. It’s called My Cape York Life, made by Cape York NRM, launched on February 10. You can find My Cape York Life in your podcast app or stream/download here

And here’s a 60 second sample

Cape York Peninsula is my favourite place.I love its wide-open spaces, its earthy colours, its bone-jarring dirt roads. I admire the tenacious spirit of the people who call it home, and I love their stories.

cy-2012-547It’s not easy living and travelling on the Cape. It’s rugged, and beautiful, all at once. Distance and remoteness challenge notions of community and connection. My Cape York Life takes you to the Cape’s tropical savannas, lush rainforests, abundant wetlands, its magnificent coastline and pristine rivers. You’ll meet the fascinating people who live and work here and take care of this surprisingly fragile place. My Cape York Life will take you to the Wenlock River, Mapoon, Lakeland, Port Stewart, Wujal Wujal and more.

The stories are entertaining, inspiring, and often hilarious. You’ll hear about epic wet season adventures, close encounters with crocodiles, the Cape’s first attempt at helicopter cattle mustering, and the joys and challenges of living in remote and isolated places.

Late last year, my friends at Cape York Natural Resource Management and South Cape York Catchments decided to give the region’s land managers a place to tell and share their own remarkable stories. And My Cape York Life was born. Lyndal Scobell travelled the Cape, recording the stories. I was invited to do the editing and audio production – and I’ve loved every minute of it.

If you live on the Cape, have a connection to the place, you’ve travelled there or dream of doing the great red dirt adventure one day, My Cape York Life is for you. Search My Cape York Life in your podcast app, and you can stream & download from

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I’ll be up early this Sunday – not something I usually do – but it’s the 10th anniversary of a life-changing event. So I’ll spend a quiet hour before dawn remembering cyclone Larry.

One of the most powerful cyclones ever to make landfall in the Australian region came ashore in far north Queensland early on Monday 20th March 2006. The real danger zone around the eye was fairly small, and it was moving so fast it didn’t stay anywhere for long. Even so, the eventual damage bill made it our costliest cyclone to that time.

   Listen to the Remembering Larry radio series here

 It was the first severe cyclone to get near a large population centre in Queensland in 20 years. It’s often compared to Tracy, which destroyed Darwin in 1974. They were of similar intensity – both high-end category four systems, though Larry had briefly reached category five intensity while still out over the Coral Sea. But Larry was much less destructive, largely because building standards had improved since the 70s and it moved so much faster than Tracy.

How bad did it get that night? A lot of the data comes from later examination of the damage, but there are some direct observations that still chill me to the core. A wind gust of 225 kilometres per hour was recorded close to Innisfail. At Mt Bellenden Ker, a gust of 294 km/h was detected near the ABC Far North transmitter site. 187 km/h at Ravenshoe. Peak gusts to 240 km/h were common immediately around the eye.

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If you’ve never encountered a severe cyclone, be thankful. It’s a unique kind of sensory overload. The wind sounds like a large fleet of jet aircraft shrieking overhead. You hear debris slamming into the sides of your house. You watch your ceiling vibrate, your window panes flexing. Rainfall so intense it sounds like a thousand snare drums. The barometric pressure falls so low your ears pop and sometimes you feel like you can’t fill your lungs. It takes incredible emotional stamina to endure it, and then it all goes dead quiet as the eye moves overhead. An enervating calm prevails, but only briefly. And then it goes from zero to all hell breaking loose as the second half comes over. And in Queensland, that’s where the worst weather lurks – the south-east quadrant.

I was on air at ABC Far North as Larry came ashore, leading a remarkable team of people in what became a marathon of radio coverage that continued for many months. We were bunkered down that night and our listeners became our eyes and ears – describing the mayhem, sharing their stay safe tips and sending encouragement. They told us of surf in the usually placid Johnstone River, waves on the crater lake 70 kilometres inland at Lake Eacham. They described tall trees bending almost double, cows being blown backwards in paddocks. Horizontal sheets of rain, wheelie bins being blown through the air.

When it stopped blowing, our work began in earnest. We hit the road, moving into the cyclone affected areas in Johnstone Shire, the broader Cassowary Coast area and the Atherton Tablelands. The people of far north Queensland honoured us and helped each other by sharing their stories of that horrible night, the damage, and the many small steps towards recovery. The ABC Far North team worked long and hard, doing what it’s always done – giving voice to the experiences, concerns and expertise of the remarkable and resilient people of far north Queensland. Our coverage kept communities informed, and was closely followed by governments at all levels responding to the disaster.

One of the most disturbing elements in the immediate aftermath was the apparently random nature of the damage to buildings. One house flattened, the one next door untouched. This could be explained by interaction between wind and terrain, or by the age of a structure – but the haphazard spread of damage seemed cruel.

Damage to crops, industry, infrastructure and livelihoods was extensive and expensive. In southern Australia, you probably remember how high banana prices were for months after Larry. But people living in the Larry zone did it tough for most of 2006, and some took even longer to recover financially. Emotional recovery is also a lengthy journey, and even now, there are folks who break out in a cold sweat whenever they hear the cyclone warning siren on the radio. I am one of them.

So – what will I think about early this Sunday morning when I remember Larry, 10 years on?

Top of the list is the remarkable courage and resilience of people who endured Larry and the ensuing months of hardship. It was hard, often exhausting work covering the Larry story, but every day I went home inspired by the way most folk went about getting on with life.

I remember how we seemed to have learned a great deal from the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina in the US in 2005. At so many levels, organisations and people were determined to get it right. By and large, they did.

I remember the longest working day of my career. I clocked on at lunchtime Saturday. I got home on Thursday night.

I remember taking over the office of then Johnstone Shire mayor Neil Clarke, turning it into an ABC studio. We ended up running a studio outpost in Innisfail for several months after Larry.

I will reflect on the often unseen cost of a natural disaster – relationships, appetite, sleep, confidence – so many things we can’t put a price on, but tangible damage nonetheless.

I remember the Bureau of Meteorology crew in Cairns who got Larry right at every step, and the remarkable Craig Burke, who was on duty as Larry came ashore. His was an outstanding act of community service, and first class radio broadcasting too. You have to wonder why the Bureau now seeks to remove staff from so many of its regional centres.

I remember the determined and relentless hard work of my ABC Far North team that night and all through 2006. Your work was in the finest tradition of public broadcasting, and never forget what so many people told us in the aftermath – we saved lives that night, and helped keep people going when the road to recovery seemed an impossibly uphill journey

I remember being scared. Being on air in the dead of night, reading out the latest BoM cyclone warning and coming to the line “cyclone Larry now poses a serious threat to life and property”. Listen back to the recording and you can hear a split second of hesitation, a slight waver in my voice. I was shit scared, but not for me. I was safe in our Cairns studio. I was scared for friends, our listeners, the people directly underneath Larry, who were relying on us to keep them informed on what was indeed a dark and stormy night. All good radio broadcasters are guided by a quiet inner voice, a sort of radio instinct. Mine was telling me, loud and often, “don’t fuck this up”. Somehow, together, we did what the occasion demanded – teamwork and adrenaline combining most effectively.

I remember the Larry jokes. They were pretty awful and usually involved “colourful” language. But that sort of “gallows” humour speaks of the powerful resilience so often seen in disaster zones. On Rankin Street, Innisfail, a bloke approached me, having noticed my ABC shirt. “I’ve got a water feature at my place,” he said. “It used to be my ceiling fan.”

Cyclone anniversaries are really just media-made occasions, a chance to recycle the old footage and revisit a now venerable story. The most telling quote from the recent fifth anniversary of cyclone Yasi was “today? If you hadn’t told me I wouldn’t have thought of it”.

And I wonder if that might be a common answer this Sunday too. Nevertheless, there is much to be said for spending some time remembering the enormity of what confronted us, and the determination of those affected and of those who came to help us. Together, we stared down a mean bastard called Larry. To borrow from William Shakespeare:

“Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Larry’s day.’
Old folk forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But we’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats we did that day”

All across Australia, there are many thousands of people who were “in” Larry somehow.
I’ll be thinking of you. Fondly. You know who you are.


Posted by on March 16, 2016 in cyclones, EFFINCUE, far north Queensland


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HG COMIn 1969, a group of far north Queensland artists began a search for Hells Gate – a by then lost location at the heart of the Palmer River gold rush 100 years earlier. Percy Trezise, Dick Roughsey, Ray Crooke and anthropologist  Frank Woolsten went in to tough country in the Kennedy Creek region of Cape York Peninsula, at the start of a lengthy exploration of history, country and story. The story of that long journey is eloquently told in an exhibition about to open at the Cairns Regional Gallery – Searching for Hells Gate.

Hells Gate was a pass in the Great Dividing Range and a significant short cut on the journey from the Palmer goldfields back to Cooktown, the closest town and port. As the name implies, it was a hellish place, very difficult to traverse and the ideal place to ambush a prospector and relieve him of his gold. Hells Gate became part of the mythology of the gold rush, but its precise location was forgotten by the early 1900s.

In 1969, Percy, Dick and Raye set out to find Hells Gate – it was the start of a long creative friendship, an exploration of indigenous and European Cape York history, and the creation of some tremendous art.

LISTEN to Percy Trezise and curator Justin Bishop. :



Searching For Hells Gate runs from 29 August – 9 November 2014 at the Cairns Regional Gallery.




Posted by on August 25, 2014 in Cairns Queensland, Cape York Peninsula, EFFINCUE, far north Queensland


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Fire as an environmental remedy for bushland? At first look, it seems a counter-intuitive notion, especially in a land so determined, for good reasons, to prevent fire in its cities and countryside. But the idea that the right kind of fire at the right time might help rehabilitate “sick” country, get rid of weed pests and promote healthy growth of vegetation – well, it’s catching on. Traditional indigenous use of fire as a land management tool – looking after country – is increasingly informing land management practices by governments, farmers and environmentalists.

But it hasn’t been an easy journey. A decade or so ago, suggestions that indigenous Australians might be on to something were met with indifference, even open hostility. But indigenous fire practitioners were making a persuasive, some say, a compelling case. Fire, they say, is an essential ingredient in the health of the Australian bush – but that’s not a one size fits all prescription. If you’re going to burn a bit of country, you have to use the right kind of fire at the right time, and have a very clear goal in mind.

dd wshopToday, the sixth Indigenous Fire Workshop gets underway on Cape York Peninsula. People have come from all over Australia to walk the country- it’s Taepithiggi country – and learn from traditional owners and fire practitioners. How to read the land, the animals, trees, the seasons, and talk about the cultural responsibility of looking after country for future generations.

Victor Steffensen is an indigenous fire practitioner based in Cairns, and a director of Mulong, the company supporting the fire workshop. Victor talks about the many ways indigenous people use fire, and how their traditional knowledge increasingly informs non-indigenous land management.




Posted by on July 14, 2014 in Aboriginal, Cape York Peninsula, EFFINCUE, far north Queensland, indigenous, rd on the road


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We’ve had a few cold nights in far north Queensland recently. That’s what happens when we get these lovely fine dry season days – created by cooler dry air from the south. That sends the night time minimums down to the low teens in Cairns, and single figures on the high country west of us, on the lovely Atherton Tablelands.

Those cool nights won’t be worrying Lara Hudson – if anything, it’s probably helping her prepare for sub zero temperatures she will experience in northern Scandinavia later this year. Lara worked in the fashion industy for 13 years. but found herself wondering about things she had not yet experienced. That led her to a dog sledding trip in Sweden – and now Lara is heading to Norway to work as a sledding guide. Lara will live in a remote wilderness camp a couple of hours from Tromso, with no electricity or running water – but there will be plenty of huskies.

 LISTEN to my interview with Lara Hudson here.

Lara’s blog is at


Posted by on July 11, 2014 in Cairns Queensland, EFFINCUE, far north Queensland, rd on the road


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jigurruI’ve just seen an advance copy of a beautiful new book about one of our far north Queensland rainforests. It’s called Jigurru – Storm Season. It takes you inside the rainforest during November and December, the build-up to the tropical wet season, when the temperature starts to climb, storms rumble across the region, and we all start to look forward to the relief and renewal the monsoon will bring.

At first glance, it’s a book for kids. But turn the pages, follow the two youngsters as they wander through a Cassowary Coast rainforest, and you’ll find yourself drawn into their journey, their story, no matter how old you are. You’ll learn about rainforest plants and creatures, pick up some indigenous language, and experience what it’s like to be in such a spectaular place in such a dramatic season – what they call the “nose of the wet season”.

Jigurru is a collaboration between local authors and artists and the Mandubarra rainforest Aboriginal people who were nurtured by these forests. One of the authors is Yvonne Cunningham, who has lived at the mouth of the Johnstone River in Innisfail for 45 years, where she runs a plant nursery

LISTEN to my interview with Yvonne

More about Yvonne and Jigurru at her website

Jigurru will be launched at a NAIDOC week function at the Johnstone Shire hall at Innisfail from 10am on July 8th





Posted by on July 2, 2014 in EFFINCUE, environment, far north Queensland, indigenous, tropical weather & climate


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