2004 - FCA

Foreign Correspondents' Association (Online), Sonja Goernitz, "Walking in Dingo Land", June 2004

Queensland's Premier Peter Beattie opens the first "Great Walk". On the left: The Environment Minister of the Sunshine State John Mickle


FCA member SONJA GOERNITZ is a Freelance Journalist, writing for German and Australian media. She writes a column for the NSW Writers' Centre magazine, Newswrite. Her articles are published in major German publications such as Stern, DIE ZEIT (online), Marie Claire and Hamburger Abendblatt.

On Sunday, June 27, 2004, Queensland's Premier opened the first of the six "Great Walks" in Sunshine State on Fraser Island, the world's largest sand island and a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site.

To coincide with the opening were four members of the Foreign Correspondents' Association (FCA), who were invited to take three walks of 7km each over two days and camp in the bush. We were entrusted in the capable hands of two Media Managers and four Rangers.

Teri Teramoto (Japan), Victor Musat (Rumania) and I (Germany) soon found ourselves sitting together on Qantas flight 520 from Sydney to Brisbane. Sue Fuller, PR Consultant for Queensland Tourism, shook our hands at the airport, and Sue Henley (Australian reporter to USA media) joined us from Melbourne.

A white limousine took the four of us sitting at the back to the neighbouring airport. Pilot "Stewy" lifted the one propeller plane over the rivers and Glasshouse Mountains towards Fraser Island and we landed in Hervey Bay.

Disembarking the catamaran, after the ride with two engines stronger than 400 PS each, the champagne and cheese nibbles organised by Kaye Bishop, Media Manager of the Kingfisher Bay Resort, were well received (Kaye's husband is the Media Adviser of Queensland's Premier by the way).

The sun set over the Great Sandy Strait, while young men were peacefully playing soccer on the beach. Kay handed over the first media kits and led the way to the resort. Warm lights shone in the cool night. Accommodation from tent to villa is available at the four-star resort.

In the hotel's Seabelle restaurant you may have emu, kangaroo and crocodile or a Queensland beefsteak, or both, along with some Australian wines at the bar with live guitar and bass music, which was played in the foyer, might even increase your appetite after a long day of travel.

On Sunday morning, the Premier Peter Beattie (it was his sixth anniversary as Premier on the previous day) welcomed us, but as they had started prior to the scheduled time, we missed "our welcome" bit in his speech. In a separate interview with Channel 7, he said, international media is present to relay the news into the world, pointing out, it's not just a local event and he mentioned Japan.

I told Teri about the Minister's expectations. To this, she stood quipped: "My article will be published in September." Peter Beattie said he would have liked to do the walk himself, if he had the time for it.

"This is worse than organising WWII," said Sue H. when Rangers and PR people made sure all supplies were on the right 4WDs before leaving Central Station. Three cars transported Terry Hartman (Regional Director of the Southern Region), James Purtill (Director General), Anthony Thomas (Project Officer), and Charles Hammond (Principal Conservation Officer), us four journalists and one PR Consultant to the next location.

Our luggage travelled on a different vehicle to be delivered to the camp. Anthony, wearing the green uniform with the Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum logo on the sleeve, pointed to the new map weighed with sand on its corners on the ground: Lake Boomanjin. We walked 7.2km, seeing lakes, bush lands and no other traveller on the way to Lake Benaroon, where we camped.

The olive green igloo tents were already set up and the metal containers arrived with food and drinks. Irish stew, bread, beer and wine were passed over the low wooden table with a gas lamp on it, sitting on wood chops and moving towards each other under the little red roof that looked like a horizontal sail above us, when the clouds gave way.

The rain of the night made it easier to walk the next day. "Rain is our road service," said a ranger, it levels the sandy streets in the bush (speed limit 40kmh) and on the beach, where now police patrol and take breath tests just like on normal freeways.

The night was still. In 1998, my first time on Fraser, I walked under the full moon by myself to the loo and saw a dingo in front of me when walking back. Deep breath and pretending to be courageous, I walked past him. Apparently, that's the right thing to do.

On April 30th, 2001, a nine-year-old boy had died after being attacked by a dingo. He ran away when the "dogs" started growling and their instinct was triggered. After this tragedy, 30 dingos were shot. Some argued, Fraser should be dingo free, but with new policies the icon could stay on the island. Now, 100 to 200 dingos are remaining (their number depends on the breeding season).

Queensland's Environment Minister John Mickle said, "We want people to see them, but we certainly don't want people to feed them." So, strict $3000 fine may end the journey of a traveller, if he/she is seen feeding a dingo or leaving food behind. Research showed that dingos became increasingly aggressive the more contact they had with humans.

Our rangers buried the dishwashing water (water taken from the lake) 50 meters away from the camp. "It's like soup," they said. After the so quiet night, in the morning many little birds singing softly, some larger birds made some outstanding sounds. "It's about reconnecting with nature", I remembered the words of John Mickle and, yes, I agree with him, saying, "It's a wonderful outdoor experience."

All packed up (for others to deliver back to the resort), we began the walk to Central Station (7.5km) for lunch and then to Lake McKenzie (6.6km) with the distinctive white-turquoise and dark blue waters. Back into the 4WD - where a seatbelt held one back from banging one's head against the ceiling or hitting other passengers - returning to the resort.

We took a swim in the Basin Lake, which is indeed like a large green basin surrounded by trees. After swimming, the skin didn't feel sticky, like the post-saltwater-feel, but refreshed and clean. The complete Fraser Island Great Walk is 90km long (with some 90km more of side tracks and new signs) and it takes between six and eight days to complete.

We had a radio transmitter with us (EPIRB), which the rangers recommended to travellers (A$200). "These even work in the outback", said Anthony, but the rangers warned not to misuse the device. Agreeing, Terri added: "If the EPIRB is used too often for minor problems, then the urge in a major emergency may be misjudged."

Under the stars at the lake near the tents I've told the rangers, that I felt safe with them, but how is it for other travellers, not guarded with almost one ranger per traveller? They suggested that people should not travel alone, best would be a group of at least four, so two people could leave for help while one person stays with the injured. Also, with dingoes around, it's safer to travel in a group.

Back in the resort, the triangular bathtub with bubbles felt fantastic. None of us walkers and campers stayed longer at the dinner table than 10pm. Sue H. actually took a nap in her room before dinner and joined our meal a bit later, looking relaxed.

For deadline-driven persons, the breakfast buffet before departure at 7am would be easy to enjoy, some joined the later option at the marina café in Hervey Bay. This time, travelling with two propellers, we spotted the dent of Rainbow Beach, from where Anthony commutes to the Island to work. Then from Brisbane airport onwards it took a moment to re-adjust, i.e. to carry our own luggage again and to pay for bus and train fares.

Over drinks, we had suggested to Kaye to offer the service to other travellers, as well, to transport their luggage (for a fee) to the camps. She said, she'd think about it.


Five more "Great Walks" will open in Queensland until December 2005:

Gold Coast Hinterland, Mackay Highlands, Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Wet Tropics and Whitsunday. "Great Walks" is a $10 million project over a two-year timeframe.

Arriving at the Basin Lake there are no crocodiles on Fraser Island, but dingos.

Emu, crocodile and kangaroo with bunya nut pesto, bush tomato chutney and rosella chilli plum jam (left to right) at the Seabelle restaurant

The Rangers: Charles, James, Anthony and Terry (left to right)

Many questions, many answers Charles explains Victor some of the flora and fauna on Fraser Island at Central Station.

Anthony shows Sue H. the shell of a dead turtle.

The Epirb works all over Australia, costs $200.00 and is light.

Enjoying a sunset at the jetty near Kingfisher Bay, looking at the Great Sandy Strait

Sue Fuller holds a pandanus grown on palm-trees of the Kingfisher Resort.

Trees near Central Station the further land-inwards the taller the trees