On 26 January 1788, the first convict-laden fleet landed in Sydney Cove.
I've been told that the weather is always good on Australia Day: the sun shines on Australia fair. Last year, we used the national holiday to go exploring for the first time. We headed down the Cunningham Highway to Lake Moogerah in what is known as Greater Brisbane South. This year we decided to continue the tradition – if indeed a tradition can be established in two years – and chose the Pine Rivers drive in Greater Brisbane North. Having first entered into the spirit of this special day in our host country (above).
Our route took us up the Gympie Road through the northern suburbs. We turned off on to route 58 for Strathpine and Petrie. Ahead of us were tumpy, purple hills.
We have remarked before when leaving Brisbane how quickly you leave urban world behind. This is particularly marked at the moment because all vegetation is so green and lush after months of rain. The road was virtually deserted, something that never fails to impress us after life in the overpopulated southeast of England.
Our first stop was the charming little town of Dayboro, on the wonderfully named Terrors Creek.
We were rather surprised to see this sign sitting boldly on the pavement on today of all days.
Dayboro is well-kempt, and the inhabitants are obviously concerned that visitors find their way around easily.
We stopped for a drink on the lower verandah of the Crown Hotel in the shade of giant figs. Almost 100 years old, the hotel's bar is clearly the centre of town. There were bikers and families and large groups of friends having lunch, all to the accompaniment of a would-be Dolly Parton. She sang Jolene beautifully and not too loudly – and without the appendages.
From Dayboro we climbed steadily towards Mount Mee in the D'Aguilar Range, looking back over a stunningly beautiful, rich-pastured valley. There was even the odd winery dotted about. The hills are about 500 metres above the plains below. The name Mee is believed to have derived from the Aboriginal word for a view or lookout, mia mia. Everywhere there were signs of landslip and rockfall during the recent big rains. Many had been cleared up already but in places the road sides had given way.
Soon Sellin Road turned off the Mount Mee Tourist Drive and, after following a ridge through meadows of brown cows, plunged into the Mount Mee State Forest, which has rainforest and eucalypt forest as well as pine plantations. The roads were still quiet: the Gantry Day-Use area anything but. The Aussies had most probably been there for hours, with all their picnic paraphernalia arrayed, and were having good times.
The shorter Piccabeen Walk (1km) and longer Somerset Trail (13km) leave from there, and if we'd left home as early as an Australian and not dallied in Chermside shopping mall en route, we might have had time for a wander. Another day. We parked a little way off, and ate our less than ambitious lunch while admiring slender Mountain White Gums and the tiniest darting birds. Could the path-crossers up ahead possibly have been elusive whipbirds? We believe that while my friend was observing, a leech got into his shoe.
As we left the forest, I spotted, and emergency-stopped to photograph, a rather large lizard. My close approach led him to take refuge where I wouldn't have expected him to go. He became a tree hugger in the sun.
On the way back across the ridge to rejoin the Mount Mee Tourist Drive, the ranges and valleys to the north were irresistible but difficult to photograph, the furthest hills looking more like an apparition in the image below. To the south, my friend identified the equally ghostly spires of Brisbane's CBD. They seemed much further away than 50km.
As Mount Mee Road began its descent to D'Aguilar, the Glass House Mountains popped up in all their glory, and the Dahmongah Park Lookout provided a great opportunity to stand and stare.
The whole of Mount Mee was once forested. Europeans first came to the area known as Dahmongah (meaning flying squirrel or flying possum) in the 1870s, and, having been shown the fine Red Cedar stands by the Aborigines, proceeded to cut them down. They also helped themselves to White Beech and later Hooped Pine and Eucalyptus. Bullock teams hauled the giant logs off the mountainside. In 1909 a railway was built linking Caboolture to Woodford and a sawmill was constructed in D'Aguilar. The destruction of the native flora was well underway.
We drove the last stretch of the Mount Mee Tourist Drive to Woodford, famous for its December folk festival, which a few weeks ago became 'Mudford'. We were hoping to find somewhere for tea along the wide, wide Archer Street, but very little was open by then.
Then it was down the D'Aguilar Highway to Caboolture where we joined the Bruce Highway back to Brisbane. We were home in ample time to relax and then get ready to go out for supper – at Ahmet's on Oxford. There is a lot of lovely scenery within an easy day's drive of Brisbane, and loads of information available about what to see once you get there – from arts and crafts markets to waterfalls.
Bulimba's normally-buzzing main drag was quieter than usual. It seems that Aussies do Australia Day during the day much more than in the evening. We found that last year, too. It is a huge event in their calendar. A couple of days beforehand, an eminent person is invited to give the Australia Day Address, which 'taps into the essence of what 26 January is all about – celebrating and reflecting on our national spirit' (australiaday.com.au). This year, for the first time since its inception in 1997, a non-Australian – Michael Parkinson – was invited to speak 'on issues such as Australia's identity and the challenges that confront our society'. Parkie spends a lot of time in Oz and dearly loves the place, so he didn't upset any pineapple carts.
And the leech? Only when my friend took his shoes off at home did he realise he'd been carrying one around with him. What a bloody mess. It is said that a leech can suck up to ten times its body weight. And look grossly unpleasant into the bargain.
Australia and Southeast Asia are the only places where leeches live on land, usually in damp forests; in Oz, east of the Great Dividing Range. So, our first up-close-and-too-personal encounter with an Australian beastie wasn't with a spider, or a snake, or a stinger, but a leech. I've never seen one before and didn't know where in the world they lived. Having found out, I won't be walking into Australia's eastern forests in sandals any more.