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Australia’s Most Scenic Gaol? Trial Bay.

October 25, 2014 - Macleay Valley Coast

It was hard to tear ourselves away from Netherby B & B. Yes, it was the most comfy sleep ever. And being almost 8 months regnant that’s saying a lot. And the owners Jasmine and Brendan are fascinating – and leaving soon for Switzerland . After bringing Netherby back into glory they’re selling it. Now there’s a good business op if ever I heard one!

Little did we know, however, the delights awaiting us at Gladstone. Wow, wow, wow. The Old Bank is, well, an old bank. 1910 to be exact. You won’t get run over in the main street of Gladstone, even on a Saturday morning. Even if you try. It’s the riverside equivalent of Crescent Head – antique, sleep and utterly charming.

So we were seduced before even entering the bank, loving restored over 18 years (yep, 18 years). Inside it’s authentically spit and polished, with shiny tea urns, immaculate tessellated floors, a kitchen tucked in what was the old safe and a function room with original chandeliers.

This room is gorgeous, opening to a waterfront terrace shielded by an enormous mango tree (which yielded 200 kilos of mangoes last year). When the wharf is finished, brides will be able to arrive by boat, alas, not in time for the first wedding here next month.

That’s just the inside. Outside is a riot of colours and olfactory surprises. In one nook is a herb garden; there’s a lemon tree, lemon myrtle plant, jasmine arbours and let’s not forget the mango heavy tree which resulted in a mango heavy menu. A January stand out will be the giant cassia tee with golden plumes, and the iris surrounded water fountain is a cooling tonic for hot eyes on a warm summer morning.

Munching on the daily baked butter scones, it’s easy to see why it’s buzzing. Sydney Weekend will visit next weekend, catch the episode when it airs in January 2015. But we’d like to say we were here first! Gladstone – a two-road town that packs a massive punch.

But the biggest hitter on this section of coast is without doubt the Trial Bay Gaol drawing 70,000 visitors a year. It was built in the late 1800’s to provide workers to build a breakwater, and for prisoners to learn a skill. But by 1903, ships were sturdier, the breakwater was abandoned and the prison closed. This is where things become interesting.

When WWI broke out, there were 32,000 Germans, or people of German descent, living in Australia – who immediately became ‘enemy aliens’. Some were rounded up and sent to Holsworthy Prison, while intellectuals and master craftsmen were sent to Trail Bay Goal. And so began one of the strangest prison ‘resorts’.

Inmates could leave the grounds before 6pm (as long as they promised not to escape). They established a beach café. They made an internal yoghurt factory, had a newspaper, formed an orchestra and put on 62 plays in 3 years. Even free locals came to buy their bread here. And the setting? Stunning.

BUT, and a big but, they were still prisoners. Their valuables were stolen by guards, they were imprisoned for no reason other than xenophobia (a scary shadow precedent of European WWII ghettos), they were bored beyond reason and of the 5,600 imprisoned, 5, 300 were deported post war, despite some never having previously visited Germany. Probably not Australia’s finest hour.

From the Gaol to South West Rocks itself. If you are a diver, this has one of the most famous dive sites in the world. The Bubble Cave, a 100m long underwater cave, with a 10m long chimney (2 metres wide). If you like that kind of thing (and the cool dudes at the Fish Rock Dive Centre do). If not, the area is an underwater aquarium, with grey nurse sharks, Spanish Dancers, wobbegongs, and a whole host of sub tropical fishies.

Big day. Big spaces. Big experiences. Team BabyBump can’t wait for Day 3 – following the ‘Slim Dusty Way Scenic Way’ to Bellbrook.

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