Time moves so fast, the years disappear; everything changes… or does it? I first came to these parts, Finch Hatton Gorge, in the autumn of 2004, and truth be told, I can’t recall all that much except I remembered I liked it… a lot.
Finch Hatton Gorge
It reminded me of my childhood growing up around Byron Bay and its hinterland, with its eclectic collection of alternative lifestylers etching out a living in the bush.
It seemed to me then, from my hazy recollections, a green little world. Surrounded by hectares of sugar cane plantations that stretched all the 65 kilometres back to Mackay, Finch Hatton was dwarfed by the spinach-coloured rainforest of the Clarke Ranges, there were green frogs (Eungella Day Frogs I was told), green snakes in the forest and green rocks in the waterholes.
And I remembered spending an entire afternoon drinking home brewed beer in the forest with a local bloke who wouldn’t let me go. He ragged on about the purest water in all the world; the reason, of course, the beer we were pouring down our throats was the best home brew on earth.
Since that time so much has happened that I find, quite alarmingly, I remember so very little.
Now, all these years on, I’m taking that same turn-off from the main road to Eungella from Mackay, 10 kilometres past Pinnacle and one kilometre before the township of Finch Hatton, travelling down Memory Lane, hoping to pick up the pieces.
Past cane farms I travel, till I reach the gravel, big blue Ulysses and Birdwing butterflies flutter by, I stop at a creek crossing to test its depth and remember this place as a mecca for platypus.
I recall the flying fox ride I took above the rainforest canopy, and a shop, a kiosk, where I bought home-made mango ice-cream.
It’s the kiosk that triggers the memories, if I find it maybe it’ll solve the puzzle and take me back in time. I see it, on the left side of the road, and it comes back to me in an instant.
This is Jack’s home, of course. I wait at the counter, no-one appears, I’m not concerned, time’s not the same round here, if you’re precious about yours, you’ll go mad eventually. “Mate,” Jack says with a laugh, recognition in his eyes. “You’re back – we’ll have to have a beer.” This is the third time I’ve been this way and Jack’s always here to welcome me back.
Years gone but some things don’t change, in a world that gets slightly madder with every year, being here again makes me feel like I’m back at my grandma’s place. I feel like hugging the old bugger. Some things have changed up here, apparently.
Some neighbours aren’t talking to each other, God knows how they avoid each other out here in paradise.
“But apart from that mate, things are pretty bloody much the same as they were,” Jack says, screwing the lid off a beer, kicking his blue heeler off a seat so I can sit down.
Sunlight filters through a rainforest, I hear a slow trickling creek, the speed of our conversation matches it for pace as we slowly sip and swap war stories.
Finch Hatton Gorge is the tonic to a hectic world, if you can’t unwind here, there’s no hope for you.
A few kilometres further up the gravel track the rock pools and waterfalls of Araluen Falls and Wheel Of Fire Falls beckon, if you can make it past Jack’s place.
The rainforest teems with Azure kingfishers, flying foxes, platypus and native water rats and the waterfalls flow all year round.
Later, I head over to Forest Flying, run by a couple who fled a suburban life in England in the ‘70s to build a mud-brick in the bush, find themselves, then utopia, then raise some kids.
They did, and built a pretty unique business in the process.
I strap myself into a harness and fly across the forest, resisting the urge for speed, nothing should move fast round here, and besides, you’ll miss the intricacies of the place; like the fruit bats, the birds and the huge Ulysses butterflies.
I stay this time round at the Platypus Bush Camp – it started as a campsite with a single hut.
There’s three timber-slat huts you can rent out now, a bigger campsite, some dorm rooms, a kitchen, dining hut, BYO bar and a nature library, and open rainforest showers – but at night there’s no mod-cons, it’s just you and the forest creatures, and a whole lot of stars.
There’s a huge rock swimming pool out here, if you come at dawn or dusk you’ll see platypus in it.
The town of Finch Hatton itself is back on the main road, the pub serves a mighty mean steak and there’s museums and an annual Valley Show, even a Country Music Festival every March, but it’s just another cute country town. Finch Hatton Gorge meanwhile, well, that’s my space, three times I’ve left it I’ve almost wondered if I dreamt the place up.
It’s an other-world haven in a mighty rainforest, underneath a huge mountain range, with far too much flowing water, it just takes a decent storm to wash the whole place away. But that’s part of it, it needs a good flush-out from time to time, just to keep the magic up. And to give ole Jack and his trusty dog a bath.