Gordonvale

Gordonvale for grey nomads

The north Queensland town of Gordonvale is where cane toads were famously first introduced into Australia, but it’s best known in grey nomad circles for far more positive reasons.

The sugar milling town, located just off the Bruce Highway 24 kilometres south of Cairns, boasts an attractive streetscape lined with older buildings, a fascinating history, great camping options, and a good old-fashioned country welcome.

The first sugar mill was built here in 1882 and many others soon followed as plantations were rapidly established. The town – which was initially known as Mulgrave, before becoming Nelson, and finally Gordonvale in 1914 – grew quickly.

Schools, churches, businesses were soon established … and, a very early cinema opened in 1914. Despite everything that happened in and around the area though, it is the events of June, 1935, that will forever shape the legacy of this quintessential Australian country town.

That is the date when the ill-fated decision was made to release 101 cane toads here in the belief that the toads would eat cane beetles, a pest in the sugarcane industry. Two years later, an estimated 62,000 toadlets had been bred and distributed into sugar cane fields along the Queensland coast … and the rest, as they say, is history!

A good way to quickly get to grips with the story of Australia’s most infamous feral pest is to check out the mosaic mural on a wall opposite the town’s post office which tells the story, in a light-hearted way, of the amphibious ‘invasion’. Other notable street works of art include a Cane Farmer statue on the side of Norman Park.

The park itself is the centrepiece, literally, of the town. It acts as a sort of ‘village green’ and is ringed with historic buildings including the Mulgrave sugar mill, which began operating in 1896. A visit to the Mulgrave Settlers Museum is a must for any grey nomad who wants to understand how this town and this area developed. It boasts a wide collection of memorabilia, photographs and documents that tell the story of – among other things – the cedar cutters who worked in the area from 1878- 1880, the early Chinese arrivals, the original indigenous inhabitants, the gold miners, and the settlers.

Gordonvale also had quite an interesting time of it during the Second World War. Some 3,000 US paratroopers were stationed here as they trained for missions in New Guinea, and an air raid shelter remains as a reminder of just how seriously the threat of a Japanese attack was taken at that time. The shelter was built in February 1942 and is maintained by the local RSL and Historical Society.

Gordonvale, of course, is situated in a wonderful part of the world, offering access to the Atherton Tablelands via the Gillies Highway, while the Great Green Way extends south to Mission Beach. The most famous local landmark is Walsh’s Pyramid. Located a little to the south of Gordonvale, the ‘pyramid’ is 922 metres high and is the location of the annual Great Pyramid Race, a 12-kilometre run to the top and back.

As if to emphasise just how welcoming the town is to grey nomads, the popular 72-hour free camp at Greenpatch Reserve has just re-opened after flooding. Local authorities hope that the 42-site facility, which was given a $2.4 million upgrade in 2019, will soon be linked by a new heritage walk to the RV parking area in the heart of Gordonvale.

There are also a couple of great caravan parks within easy striking distance of the town.

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