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Noosa River seethes with life

Autumn 11

  
 
AS I STAND WITH MY FEET in Noosaville’s sandy shoreline – tiny breathless waves lapping at my ankles and above, dove-white clouds puffing nonchalantly across the sky – it is clear I am far from alone. It’s still early in the morning but Gympie Terrace riverfront esplanade is already humming with gentle activity.  

A carnival-like scene, minus the fairy floss and ferris wheels, plays out before me. Families tumble out of cars, laden with towels, fishing rods, picnic baskets and umbrellas. Children zip back and forth between the riverfront beaches, parks and playground equipment, squealing with delight at all the options – it is kiddie paradise here. 

Cyclists whiz past and joggers pound the pavement, some with panting dogs on leads following faithfully at their feet. The smell of bacon sizzling on an outdoor barbecue competes with the exhilarating scent of salty breezes sliding off the river.

Professional and amateur boaties and fishermen take to the river on catamarans, canoes, runabouts, cruisers, jet skis and gondolas; some hire their watercraft from the handful of boat hire companies perched on the riverbanks while others launch from boat ramps or their private jetties. Across the road a steady stream of cafés, restaurants, fashion boutiques, gelatarias and holiday apartments are doing a roaring trade.

All these signs remind me that while Noosaville may have once been considered a pit stop on the way to Noosa Heads’ Hastings Street, these days it is a destination in its own right. It’s also known as the safest and most accessible launch pad to explore the Noosa River and its riverfront suburbs like Tewantin, Noosa Sound and Noosa Heads, as well as upstream to the wetlands and lakes, and downstream to the canals and river mouth at Laguna Bay.

A holiday vibe sustains itself throughout the year, not just because Noosaville is a tourist mecca but also because local residents approach the outdoors with the childlike excitement of those on holidays. 

Local Sunshine Beach family the Watsons moor their barbecue pontoon at Massoud’s Jetty on Gympie Terrace, named after the Massoud family who arrived in the area in the early 1900s and worked as fishermen and businessmen. Michael Massoud was born in the area and has lived here for sixty years. He continues his pioneering family’s fishing heritage to this day, fishing the river and ocean daily from his jetty. 

Melinda Watson explains her family has lived in Noosa for thirty-eight years and three years ago bought a barbecue pontoon that carries up to ten people. Melinda and her husband share the boat with their daughter, her husband and two young sons. It’s given them all a fresh perspective of their home turf.

“We love being on the river now,” Melinda says. “We are on the water most weeks and often meet up with our friends who also have boats. We’ll all park at one of the sandbanks downstream and spend the day picnicking, playing cricket on the sand, and swimming as the dogs run around. It’s so much fun. Our grandsons love to fish off the boat too; sometimes the river is so clear you can see right to the bottom.”   

When I speak to the Noosa Ferry’s skipper of seven years, Arthur Waye, it’s clear he and his wife Jan also feel the magnetic pull of the river and find it easy to enjoy the simple life here. “We live on Gympie Terrace and we have our own boat so we’re always on the river. We throw out crab pots, we fish; it’s a wonderful life,” Arthur says. 

Arthur says he has a passion for skippering the ferry, which runs daily from morning until evening. He delivers passengers to four stops between the Sheraton at Noosa Heads and the Noosa Marina at Tewantin – a two-minute drive west from Noosaville and home to an eclectic mix of restaurants, fashion boutiques, day spas and homeware boutiques, as well as a Sunday morning outdoor market and the Noosa Regional Gallery nearby. 

“The most precious time of day is dusk when the birds go crazy,” Arthur says. 

The bird life is extraordinary on the Noosa River and if you keep your eyes peeled you can spot black cormorants, white-faced herons, white-winged terns and other exotic native species. Arthur’s favourite weekly ritual is to be a passenger for a change on the Friday sunset ferry and share champagne and snacks with his wife as they watch the sun go down.  

One of the ferry stops is at Quamby Place at Noosa Sound, a hidden pocket of the coast where leafy Sound Park is perched on the riverbank beside shops and award-winning restaurants. The complex enjoys a peaceful, village vibe every day but locals and visitors find Sunday afternoons particularly relaxing as live music floats up into the trees while diners enjoy their meals on the outdoor terrace and kids entertain themselves on the park’s impressive playground equipment.  

Another local with a passion for the Noosa River is tour operator Wade Batty. His company takes eco boat and canoe tours daily from Noosaville upstream to the wetlands, known as the Everglades,  which are a nature lover’s paradise. 

“It’s magnificent; one of the world’s most pristine river systems. Believe it or not there are more bird species up there than Kakadu,” Wade says proudly of the river’s environmental value.

Reading historical accounts of Noosa’s early settler days, I wonder if much has changed in the way locals and visitors relish Noosa River and its surrounds. While the area was settled in the 1870s as the timber felling and saw milling industry gathered pace, Noosaville’s population began to grow from the early 1900s when gold miners and timber-getters flocked to “set up stumps” or holiday here. 

Historians tell of residents sitting peacefully on their verandas at sunset, watching the passing parade of boats. Many would cast crab pots in the morning and fish from their private jetties. Most Noosaville residents owned boats because the only access was by water until connecting roads were built to Tewantin and Noosa Heads in 1929. 

The Massouds built the first café in the district and the building still stands today as Maisie’s restaurant. Michael Massoud tells me to visit the quaint white and pea-green weatherboard cottage at 247 Gympie Terrace, named after his aunt Maisie, who helped her parents run the café in those early days. Maisie passed away in 2005 but her warm spirit is said to live on at this hearty eatery. 

I peer into the front window of Maisie’s restaurant, where a display of old photos and stories tells of the early days. It notes the café was known as “The Favourite” and operated throughout the Depression and World War II, never suffering from war rationing because troops in the area would source what stocks the Massouds’ needed. In return, the Massoud family would spontaneously roll the pianola out onto the dirt track that was Gympie Terrace and entertain the troops. 

I’m told Gympie Terrace will again come alive with music when the Noosa River Fest Regatta and Boat Show is held at Noosaville on June 4 and 5. Event organiser Brendan Weatherill explains the free festival will bring together charities and people of all ages and interests to celebrate on the streets and along the riverbanks.

Organisers are aiming for a record crowd of 14,000. 

Just another reason to make Noosaville your destination. 

GEOGRAPHY

Noosa River covers 784 square kilometres of catchment and its northern borders are protected by the Great Sandy National Park. The river begins in the Como Escarpment and meets Teewah Creek, then flows south across the Noosa Plain between Lakes Como and Cooloola before entering Lake Fig Tree and Lake Cootharaba with its popular camp grounds at Boreen Point and Elanda Point. The river continues to Lake Cooroibah and Lake Weyba before it meets the sea at Laguna Bay, just north of Noosa’s Main Beach. 

The river’s upper reach is home to an important ecological area of wetlands, known as the Everglades. It is part of Cooloola National Park, which is encompassed by the Great Sandy National Park, home to the largest tract (56,600 hectares) of natural land on Queensland’s southern coast. Much like swampland, water flows constantly yet slowly through the wetlands’ partially forested marshes of sea grasses and mangroves as fish, frogs, birdlife and goannas patrol the riverbanks and water for food.
 
Known as the ‘river of mirrors’, the Everglades’ still surface is a photographer’s dream as it is almost black from tree bark deposits and reflects the sky and tall grasses, twisted tea trees and lush palms that line its banks. The Noosa River sustains more than 44 percent of Australia’s bird species so you can expect to see some impressive winged wonders, including several kinds of kite, herons, lorikeets, kingfishers, ospreys, egrets, darters and black swans. 

HISTORY OF MAKEPEACE ISLAND

Makepeace Island is set in the middle of the Noosa River just upstream from Tewantin and is only accessible by boat or, if you’re Richard Branson, by helicopter. Its namesake, Hannah Makepeace, lived there from 1924 until 1973 when she died soon after her eighty-ninth birthday. Known as quite the character with a youthful spirit well into her eighties, Miss Makepeace would row her boat almost daily to the mainland to collect her mail and pick up groceries, apparently carting her goods back in a suitcase. 

Makepeace Island’s first recorded owners were Mr and Mrs Charles Nicholas, colonial settlers from Hobart. In 1911, the Nicholas’ built a unique classic Queenslander style home with open verandahs to take advantage of the Noosa River views. At the time the heart-shaped isle was less romantically known as Pig Island, as it was used as a quarantine station for pigs. 

Hannah Makepeace moved from Ipswich to the island in 1924 to work as housekeeper for the Nicholases. She later inherited the island from her long-term employer, apparently as a thank you for her hard work. In 2001, author Sally De Dear published a fictional story for young adults, ‘The House on Pig Island’, using Miss Makepeace’ name and character. 

In the front of her book De Dear notes, “I never met her but her name was often mentioned by school friends and I remember how fascinated I was that such an old lady could live by herself on an island and row her boat to Tewantin every day. I remember kids telling me that her house was like a museum and thus the seed of a story was germinated.” 

Miss Makepeace died in 1973 and is honoured with a display at Noosa Museum in Pomona. Having no children, her island went to the State. It was bought in the early 1980s by internationally-acclaimed artist Brian Spencer who lived there with his wife Beverley for 17 years, capturing the natural beauty of his surrounds – dawns, sunsets, pelicans, kookaburras and lorikeets – in his dynamic, spirited paintings.     

In 2003 the 23-acre island was purchased by Virgin tycoon Richard Branson and co-owners as a luxury eco-tourism retreat for Virgin staff and select guests. The island is off-limits to the public, which only adds to its mystique as it enjoys yet another life. 
 
 

words frances frangenheim photos anastasia kariofyllidis
 

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