A long time ago Captain James Cook dropped anchor in the shelter of a bay on the east coast of what’s now called Australia and came ashore so he and the crew of HM Bark Endeavour could eat some fresh meat.
History has it that those ancient mariners feasted on plump, roasted bustard, and Bustard Bay is named after their historic repast.
Cook made his notes of that hot meal of bush turkey while sitting on the shoreline of what’s now the small community of 1770, named in honour of his May landing in that year.
I love the idea of those hungry sailors huddled on a beach devouring what for them would have been a gourmet feast. It fits so neatly into the modern-day Australian coastal holiday menu of endless golden sands and warm evenings of fine dining.
Such are my musings as I stroll the sands of this laid-back little corner of the Queensland coast. Before me and stretching almost to the horizon is a wide and mostly deserted beach backed by low dunes, sprouting grasses and the occasional tree.
There’s not a building in sight. Even the local surf club is hidden from view. I’m blessed with the wonderful feeling of being able to enjoy relatively untouched boundless nature.
The starting point for my beach walk is the hamlet of Agnes Water which has a small cluster of shops, several holiday homes, some holiday apartments and a museum yet, at its core, remains the small scale beach-side camping and caravan haven created by local farmer Tom Jeffery in the late 1940s. The campsite is often full, even outside the holiday seasons.
On the windswept point a few kilometres north is the community of 1770, consisting of a handful of holiday homes up on Round Hill, a popular pub with restaurant overlooking Bustard Bay, a shady camping ground beside the beach and a small marina and jetty for the ferry to Lady Musgrave and other southern Barrier Reef islands. Each year in May the community of 1770 stage a re-enactment of Cook’s landing as the central focus of their annual historic festival.
The past seems to be ever present in this area and especially in the campsites of both Agnes Water and in 1770 where it feels the 1970s never really left. More than once I hear people say “this is what Byron Bay used to be like”.
But nothing ever stays the same. Holiday villages and housing estates have sprouted between the two tiny communities, heralding a gearing toward bigger things. Local activities have extended beyond fishing and diving and these days are increasingly adrenaline-powered to satisfy thrill-seeking backpackers.
While it doesn’t necessarily follow that this area will inevitably become another Byron Bay, it’s not unreasonable to consider the possibility that the timelessness of 1770 – or even 1970 for that matter – will eventually and quite sadly become a thing of the past.