Courageous Cardwell – History by the Sea.
“Historic Cardwell by the sea,” reads the corrugated iron and mosaic sign at the entrance to the tiny town on the Cassowary coast.
For such a small settlement, Cardwell has a lot going on, and has attracted more than its fair share of the weird and wonderful over the last few years, hitting international headlines thanks to a combination of natural disasters and local hijinks.
Cardwell recovered nicely after Tropical Cyclone Yasi made landfall practically on top of the urban area in February 2011. Blowing in from the Coral Sea, Yasi spread chaos and mayhem, and threatened to turn what was a small, barely noticeable dot on the map into a nonexistent dot on the map. Power lines went down, houses disappeared, and had Roland Emmerich been on hand with a camera, Cardwell would still be reaping the financial benefits of becoming stock footage for every disaster film from now until the end of time.
Visit today and you’re unlikely to notice any sign of the devastation. Cardwell offers some of the best natural attractions Queensland has to offer. Situated within spitting distance of two world heritage areas, the town itself offers excellent fishing opportunities and a thriving social scene based around the restaurants, cafes, pubs and the marina on the extensive seafront.
Provided there are no cyclones around, Cardwell offers fantastic cruising and sailing for boat lovers, with open access, all weather boat ramps giving access to the Hinchinbrook Channel, the Coral Sea, and the Great Barrier Reef, where swimming, SCUBA diving and snorkeling allows unparalleled views of and interactions with what is arguably the largest single living organism on earth. Climate change has lead to a sharp decline in the reef’s vitality over recent years, so this might be your last chance to see the coral in its full glory.
And there’s plenty available for history and culture buffs to get their geek on to. The town was settled in 1864, when 20 people arrived on the incongruously named schooner, Policeman, and within a decade they had set up a small community, complete with all modern conveniences and a post office. That post office still exists today, albeit, now renamed as the ‘Cardwell Bush Telegraph,’ and functioning as a museum and heritage centre. The heritage centre shows how important Cardwell was in establishing communication lines along the coast, and if you’re in the mood, and can remember back to your Boy Scout training, you can even send a message along the lines in Morse code.
Cardwell library boasts an outdoor display piece of farming machinery and agricultural artefacts from days gone by, and you will also want to visit the Hinchinbrook Regional Arts Association; The Cardwell Rainforest and Reef Centre; And the Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre, where works by weavers, painters, potters, textile artists and makers of traditional objects, are available to view and buy.
The nearby Wet Tropics World Heritage Area is huge, covering an area of around 9,000 square kilometres, making it just a smidge larger than Puerto Rico. The area is renowned for its waterfalls, lush forests, and the breathtaking diversity of wildlife. Unfortunately this includes some of the largest and deadliest spiders in the world (Top tip the really poisonous ones tend to be quite small), so be careful not to touch anything.
Locals are known for their love of unusual happenings and hoaxes. In 2013, Cardwell was the subject of millions of Facebook posts, shares, likes, and buckets of misplaced outrage after it was that the town would be banning Christmas lights due to the opposition of local Muslim leaders. The only problem with the story was that it totally wasn’t true. Cardwell has a negligible Muslim population, no mosques, and the Cassowary Coast council is pretty sure there aren’t any Imams in the neighbourhood. That’s right. It was a hoax.
There has also been an abundance of UFO sightings in the neighbourhood, peaking in late 2012, when at least six Cardwell residents spotted unidentified lights hovering silently around over the town for 15 minutes. As weird as this sounds, Queensland is a notorious hotbed of UFO activity, and according to UFO Research Queensland, up to 700 people have suffered close encounters in the last 25 years, with a further 3000 people having seen strange lights and objects in the sky.
Getting to Cardwell is relatively easy, as it is served by several Queensland Rail passenger trains, including the 130 mph ’tilt train,’ a bus terminal, and lies on the Bruce Highway, halfway between Townsville and Cairns.
Accommodation options range from the relatively new Cardwell Central Backpackers and Internet Cafe to the positively antique Marine Hotel Motel, which offers spectacular views out over the Coral Sea, and has been serving food and alcohol to weary travellers since it was founded way back in 1864. The Hotel Motel is particularly worth visiting on a weekend, when it doubles as a live music venue for local acts, with the added bonus of Friday night raffles run by the Very Social Club.