Beach Landing

14 September 2010

Ever had one of those ‘wotindaworld’ moments? You know, when you’re quietly driving along the bitumen and suddenly you spy something right out of left field. All concentration on the road ahead is shattered as your chops involuntarily gasp “What in the world?”.


I had one of these recently. Entering the delightful seaside town of 1770 on Queensland’s South Central coast, the last thing in the world I expected to be confronted by was a pair of bright-pink army ducks. But there they were, standing proud and prominent by the waters of Round Hill Creek. Now who could resist a little further investigation?! As it turned out, these impressive ex-military amphibious vehicles are part of a very unique tourist attraction in this very unique little town.


Back in 1999, locals Des, Neil and Katherine Mergard set up 1770 Environmental Tours off the back of the purchase of two ex-US Army ducks. Also known as Lighter Amphibious Re-supply Cargovessels (LARCs), these lumbering feats of military engineering were built way back in the mid 1960s, and lived a life transporting troops and military equipment around coastal areas. More recently, upon finding their new home in 1770, they were promptly fitted out for comfortable touring purposes, slapped with a new bright-pink paint job and put into service in their new, less aggressive role.


The LARCS received names in honour of two eminent botanists who accompanied Lieutenant James Cook when he explored the east coast of Australia in 1770: Sir Joseph Banks and Dr Daniel Carl Solander. Tours run three times a week or on demand, and as you can imagine, it takes a team of mechanics quite a bit of effort to keep these aging old darlings running true!


To report on this intriguing and inventive tour, I jumped aboard the Solander for a daytrip to nearby Bustard Head. Half day and chartered LARC tours are also available, but the insider info from the locals informed me that a day tour was the way to go, if for nothing more than the fun of more creek crossings and high-end 4WD action!


Diving straight into the waters of Round Hill Creek at 1770, each LARC takes its full load of 32 sightseers and two crew roaring along the beach and across a couple more creek mouths to reach Bustard Head, about 28km north of 1770. The eventual destination is the historic lighthouse at the apex of Bustard Head, but not before a gear grating, wheel churning, 4WD ascent up the not too far off vertical hill!


Going by the odd concerned shriek and groan emanating from the day’s clientele, not all aboard were confident of the old duck’s ability to make it up such a precipitous climb. But true to form, the pretty in pink LARC lapped up the task, delivering us to the lighthouse grounds in style.




There to greet us and show us around were Warren and Marion, a couple of retirees who had taken up a voluntary seven-week post in one of the basic lighthouse cottages. This site manager role is governed by the Bustard Head Lighthouse Association. Formed in 2002 under the chief guidance of 1770 locals Stuart and Shirley Buchanan, the Bustard Head Lighthouse Association in partnership with 1770 Environmental Tours were able to secure a lease of the lighthouse grounds to commence restoration works on the rapidly deteriorating lighthouse cottages.


A $140,000 grant was provided by the commonwealth government heritage trust, backed up with a further $40,000 from 1770 Environmental Tours and $120,000 from Stuart and Shirley Buchanan.


This money was used notonly to restore the lighthouse cottages, but also to build the roadway that leads all the way up to the very top of Bustard Head. This was no mean feat, requiring a backhoe to be loaded onto and transported by a somewhat overloaded LARC before any works could commence. The pictures of this operation just have to be seen to be believed!


Today, the maintenance and preservation of the lighthouse cottages and grounds is solely conducted on a voluntary basis by members of the Bustard Head Lighthouse Association. The actual lighthouse operation has been fully automatic since 1985, so there’s no tending to the flame to keep nearby ships off the rocks. Still, you have to admire a couple such as Warren and Marion who are willing to give up their time, basically cut off from civilisation and reliant on the old army duck for supplies. They were great people, who were really enjoying their unique seaside stay and taking great care of the lighthouse cottages and grounds. And they make a mean batch of ANZAC bickies too!


Standing 16m tall, Bustard Head lighthouse was built in 1868, the first coastal lighthouse to be erected in the proclaimed state of Queensland. Since then the Bustard Head light station has endured a sinister history that has seen it dubbed ‘the lighthouse of tragedy’.


The tour of the lighthouse grounds takes you through the lighthouse cottages and nearby cemetery, all the while being told terrible tales of murder, suicide, abduction, drowning and, of course, ship wrecks that have befallen the families of Bustard Head lighthouse keepers over the decades and the seafarers navigating their way along the treacherous north Queensland coastline.


It’s hard to fathom the continuous tragedy that has, for some strange reason, plagued this lighthouse at its occupants, but does make for a fascinating yet spooky hour or so wander.


From the lighthouse it’s back to the LARC for another rock and roll back down the hill and across Jenny Lind Creek where lunch is waiting. With hunger pangs well satiated, the high-velocity part of the day’s tour begins. It’s sand boarding time!




Just inside Jenny Lind Creek, there’s a rather impressive stand of sand dunes. The larger dunes reach a good 50m high and slope down into the water at a dizzying angle. A perfect spot for a bit of high-speed belly-sliding on waxed-up body boards!


It was quite amusing to watch the transformation on the faces of the kids along for the LARC ride. Old lighthouses and headstones don’t really fire the enthusiasm of a young tacker, but when those boards come out the day is different!


With a bit of coaching from the tour guides, the kids are soon flying down the dunes much to the hands-over-the-eyes chagrin of their parents. Add the incentive of a ‘mystery prize’ for whoever can slide the greatest distance off the dune and out into the creek, plus of course the chance to get all wet and muddy, and the kids just can’t stop grinning. Most of the ‘oldies’ soon find themselves spurred-on by the young folk and whizzing down the sloping sands too.


For those not enthused by the thought of rocketing down a straightbacked sand dune, the LARC tour continues on to take in some of the natural sights of Jenny Lind Creek. This tiny little estuary system is all but untouched and is brimming with wildlife.


A pair of kites locked in a mid-air battle was a particular highlight of our tour, with both birds so intent on their death-spiral, claw to claw contest they came but metres away from thumping into the ground. The guide informed us this was not an uncommon sight, having witnessed these aggressive birds actually crash-land several times.




As our army duck day wound to a close, we zoomed along the beach back to 1770 where a last parting thrill awaited us. Our driver, clad in a knowing, evil smile, laconically asked if any of us minded getting “just a bit wet”. The deeper crossing back over Round Hill Creek at the 1770 township would see the LARC immersed up to its gunnels and with the wind side-on to the vehicle, a bit of spray might find its way aboard if we charged into the water.


It didn’t take much encouragement from the crowd to see the throttle opened up and the LARC bouncing its way into the water under a full head of steam. Before we knew it, a tsunami had lifted up in the water ahead of us and we were all thoroughly swamped in a wave of windborne spray. Great fun, although not all aboard were so enthusiastic post-soaking!


If you find yourself in 1770, a LARC tour is a great way to spend a day. Contact 1770 Environmental Tours on (07) 4974 9422, or visit for more information on tours, prices and bookings.


If you’d like to read more on the chequered yet fascinating history of the Bustard Head Lighthouse, copies of the text The Lighthouse of Tragedy authored by Stuart Buchanan can be ordered direct through the Bustard Head Lighthouse Association.




The Bustard Head Lighthouse Association is a volunteer organisation intent on preserving what is an important part of north Queensland’s coastal heritage. With just 25 permanent members, the association is always on the lookout for volunteers interested in serving a site management posting in the Bustard Head lighthouse cottages.


Anyone can volunteer for this posting, although the association generally prefers volunteers to take up a minimum seven-week stay. Most volunteers are self-funded retirees with an interest in Australian heritage and environment. The only proviso is that volunteers must be fit and able to perform maintenance duties such as lawn mowing, gardening and general grounds keeping activities, as well as help conduct tours.


For enquiries write to the Bustard Head Lighthouse Association, PO Box 90, Samford, QLD, 4520, or phone Stuart Buchanan on (07) 3289 1827.




You couldn’t ask for a nicer spot to park your van while in 1770 than the 1770 Camping Grounds Caravan Park. Situated on Captain Cook Drive on the scenic shores of Round Hill Creek right in the heart of the 1770 township, this large and popular park is one of the most well appointed and perfectly located van parks you’ll come across.


The fully equipped camp kitchen overlooks the calm water beach at the mouth of Round Hill Creek, making it a delightful spot to sit and relax with a feed every balmy, sub-tropical evening. If you book ahead, beachfront sites are available, putting the warm water right at your van door. The only suggestion I will make is to bring a can of mozzie spray as the midges can loiter of an evening.


At time of writing, powered van sites run at $30–$35 per night, while unpowered sites will cost you $26–$30 per night. For bookings contact 1770 Camping Grounds on (07) 4974 9286.




Join (non-scary) biker Rod Sheridan for a tour of 1770 on your very own chopper. No motorbike licence necessary (only your driver’s licence), and they provide the helmets. $50,
21 Bicentennial Drive, Agnes Water
(07) 4974 7697


The museum houses collections of historic photos from the area, fossils and Aboriginal artefacts, as well as an Endeavour display including James Cook’s diaries.
$3 for adults
Springs Rd, Agnes Water
(07) 4974 9511
Open Monday-Saturday (except Tuesday) 1pm-4pm and Sunday 10am-4pm.


Get the chance to see some marine creatures, including dolphins. The tour includes a late afternoon tea. 2.5 ($40) or 3.5 ($50) hour tours are available through 1770 Liquid Adventures
Site 1, Captain Cook Drive, 1770
0428 956 630




  • Drop a line into the water to see what bites. 1770 is a prime fishing spot.
  • At the end of a fun day, relax and watch the sun set across the water. It’s only one of three places on the east coast you can see it happen.
  • Take a walk to Monument Point, the second place in Australia Captain Cook set foot on. It’s on Round Hill Head at Joseph Banks Conservation Park, just off the Bruce Highway at Miriam Vale.
  • Check out the local art scene at Agnes Water Art Gallery on Round Hill Road. Phone (07) 4974 7555.
  • Visit Deepwater National Park. It’s 4WD access only and leads to a quiet beach where you can spot native wildlife including dolphins and turtles. Take Spring Road for 4km then follow an unsealed sand track.
  • Walk the Discovery Trail. Park at the Museum and take the track through the bush to find beautiful views of Agnes Water Beach.
By Ben Knaggs