Author: Katie Day
When I was growing up whenever anyone asked my dad how things were at home in Mackay he always had the same response: “You know mate, it’s just another perfect day in paradise.”
And as far as I was concerned it was paradise. Weekends were spent swimming at one of the numerous beaches, exploring the bushland that made up some of the ten acres where we lived, long drives up the Pioneer Valley into the rainforest and countless adventures that are only possible when you see the world through the wonder of a child’s eyes.
But for me the most special and most wonderful of all the great things a child could experience living in Mackay was going fishing with Dad.
The first time we went fishing I was so tiny I could hardly wind my reel and my life jacket hung off me like a saggy tent. But I still remember sitting under the Forgan Smith Bridge in Dad’s old tinnie imagining all the fish below us in the Pioneer River swimming past my line. (I was also keeping a close eye out for sharks and crocodiles, which I think Dad just told me about to scare me out of going near the edge of the boat.)
I remember every single time Dad took me out in the tinnie for a morning of fishing, and maybe it was just the excitement of the whole affair but we never went anywhere twice. We’d fish in the Pioneer River or up Constant Creek, where I actually DID see a crocodile or two. Then when Dad got sick of washing the saltwater off the boat and all the gear he would take me to Kinchant Dam, which is where I caught my very first fish, a rat catfish, but I didn’t care!
After Teemburra Dam was built and stocked with barramundi and sooties we rarely went anywhere else. Teemburra was Dad’s favourite place mainly because there were no water skiers or other noisy, water-loving enthusiasts to disturb the fish like at Kinchant. But Teemburra was also special because Dad worked so hard with the local fish stocking group, Mackay Area Fish Stocking Association (MAFSA) to put the fish there for us to catch, and nothing pleased him more than to see his kids actually catch those fish.
It took me moving halfway around the world to Denmark for a year, where it’s too cold and too miserable to catch anything that a girl from Queensland would appreciate, then moving to Brisbane and working for Fishing Monthly to truly appreciate just how special Mackay is, not just for the amazing natural surrounds, but for the gold in the local waterways as well.
Then and now
Mackay is located on the east coast fringed by the Great Barrier Reef, around 1000km north of Brisbane. The city was established around the Pioneer River, which runs from the luscious rainforest mountains of Eungella, and meanders 120km down the Pioneer Valley and into the ocean at the city.
The town’s namesake, Captain John Mackay, first settled in the region and founded Greenmount Homestead in 1862. He bought with him 1,200 head of cattle, as it was believed Mackay and the Pioneer Valley would be productive land for stock.
However it was sugar cane that boomed in the rich soils of the valley and quickly became the towns main industry. Mackay quickly became known as one of the largest sugar producing ports in Queensland and remains in that position today, producing one third of Australia’s sugar exports, with the Mackay Harbour one of the world’s largest bulk-sugar loading terminals.
In the last few decades coal has the place of sugar as the most lucrative in industry in the region. Mackay is the gateway to the Bowen Basin coalmines and the Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminals south of the city export more than 100 million tonnes of coal each year to countries all over the world.
Today with lucrative coal and sugar industries the town of Mackay is growing exponentially. Around 80,000 people call the city home, with more and more making the move to the tropical north each year. But this constantly growing metropolis still stems from the roots of a small country town where the locals are friendly, the neighbourhoods are safe and the natural environment is breathtaking.
To make the most of the beautiful beaches, rainforest and bushland there are myriad activities on offer around Mackay. For adrenaline and adventure junkies there is four-wheel driving in the tropical hinterland, plenty of water to practice your water sport of choice and fabulous walking tracks in the lush Pioneer Valley.
But possibly the best-kept secret about Mackay and its surrounds is that the region has some of the best fishing available along the east coast. Within two hours of Mackay you can catch sooty grunter and barramundi in the lakes and streams; barra, jacks, threadfin salmon, grunter, bream, flathead and more in the rivers; whiting, bream, flathead, barra, queenfish and dart along the beaches and the uncountable variety of fish found in the rich ocean waters surrounding Mackay. The diversity is staggering to say the least.
If fishing is not quite your drink of choice, the city heart has a lot to offer. Take a Heritage Walking tour around the city heart to visit the Mackay of yesteryear or experience the town’s modern influences at Artspace Mackay, the local modern art gallery.
For those who like to keep things at a slower pace, there a many different beaches on which to soak up some Queensland sun, as well as numerous beautiful islands within an hour of Mackay. Or you might like to play a round of golf, stroll through the beautiful botanic gardens, discover local art, craft and produce at the weekend markets or indulge in the city’s restaurants, cafés and bars.
The following airlines have daily flights to and from Mackay. Queensland Rail also offers frequent services to Mackay with a range of different options.
Qantas Link – www.qantas.com.au
Virgin Blue – www.virginblue.com.au
Jetstar – www.jetstar.com.au
Train Services – www.queenslandrail.com.au