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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Fish in the Bush?

As I walked down the sandy path, a black lizard slithered into the spiked grass and under the leaves. Birds flew between the canopies of nearby trees and called out in musical tones. The huge jagged gashes of tree branches torn from their trunks suggested a recent storm had damaged the area.

Beneath one of the shattered trees, was a large square concrete tub on legs, split into two pieces. More concrete shapes hulked nearby and a metal rail surrounded it all.


A sign told me what I wanted to know. Fifty years ago it was an aquarium.

The concrete tanks used to have glass fronts and they held seawater piped in from the local bay. Wooden huts sheltered the tanks from the sometimes fierce sun and tidy paths led from one building to another.

In 1962, Bill Stewart obviously thought it was an attraction that Bribie Island needed. The government was offering incentives to local businesses in anticipation of the new bridge to be built the next year. He decided to set up the aquarium using the latest technology from a Sydney based research group.

Bill collected the fish himself. The sign says he spent all his time diving for fish to fill the tanks. Perhaps he should have spent more time on marketing and promotion. His aquarium closed less than a year after it opened and has sat quietly disintegrating ever since.

Fifty years later, people like me occasionally come to gawk. It is not Macchu Picchu but I like it all the same. It is a charming ruin of broken concrete, squares, and chunks, collapsed into messy piles. It tells a story of creativity unrewarded and hopes dashed. It is not that old, but it is history, and unlike the more popular South American ruins, I can have it all to myself. There are no crowds here.

I followed the track around to another ruin looking much like the first and then past it through a strangely quiet section of closed in forest.

It just needed a low grey mist swirling across the ground to make it the stuff of horror movies. Instead the sun spread heat and light across the tops of the remaining trees, where it filtered down into quite an acceptable morning walk.

After the second structure, the path continued on to grassy sand dunes and then a deserted stretch of beach, but I didn’t go that far. I was in unsuitable shoes and an orange boat racing across the near horizon felt like an intrusion into my peace. In any case the ruins were more interesting.

I love something unusual and unexpected. A dilapidated aquarium in a remote piece of bush is certainly that. Add to that an island setting, and one that, thanks to the bridge built in 1963, I can drive to, and I am very happy indeed.

I was surprised that there was nothing to advertise the spot until I reached it. The road was unsealed and the car park was churned up with mud. Further back along the road there was another car park, and as I left I noticed there were two dogs and their owners starting off for walks of a second track.

I thought it odd, given that there were at least three signs requesting no dogs be walked in the area.

I wondered if they had plans to disregard the other prominent signs too. Signs that said “No Nude bathing.”

I decided it was time I left.

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