Picnic Decay

Magnetic Island

A run-down and overgrown Picnic Bay Mall

My recent blog silence has been because our family took a driving holiday to North Queensland to visit the city where I spent my teenage years, Townsville.  It was a good trip down memory lane and thoroughly enjoyed and a great opportunity to take my kids to some of my haunts (well those that are left) from when I was growing up there.

I left Townsville at the end of 1991 and it’s a vastly different place these days.  It’s almost double the size and has moved from being a backwater, and a place where a lot of us couldn’t wait to leave because of a seeming lack of opportunity, to a vibrant city with a lot going for it.  We had to make our own fun there in the 1980s, but now the place abounds with attractions and facilities that make the most of a climate that is blissfully and topically warm all year round.

Not all development there has been good though, and one of the biggest disappointments of the trip came when we boarded a ferry and crossed the 8 kilometres to Magnetic Island.  This is a magical place, and despite some of the developmental mistakes, it retains much of its charm and appeal.  It’s just a shame that the unbounded potential of the place seems to be forever held back.

Magnetic Island is an irresistible combination of soaring granite boulders tumbling down into crystal tropical waters, ringed with coral and an abundance of sea life.  It’s easily accessible from Townsville with ferries leaving almost hourly, has a resident population of 2,500 and several resorts and attractions, but most of it is given over to National Park and many of the beaches are accessible only by boat or walking trail.  It might be only 30 minutes from the mainland, but it’s a million miles from care.

Picnic Bay jetty in its heyday

Contrary to Townsville, where smart development has been a boon to the city, the track of development on Magnetic Island has been disastrous, none more so than for iconic Picnic Bay.  During my teenage years Picnic Bay was the first stop-off point, the closest Bay to Townsville and the place where all of the ferries berthed, disgorging thousands of tourists onto the Picnic Bay Jetty.  The walk up that jetty was always one of excitement and anticipation, the final step in what seemed to be a journey to another world.

At the end of the jetty was a beautiful beach and a bustling pedestrian mall, bars, cafes, souvenir shops and a rent-a-moke outlet.  From this first drop-off point the island road speared eastwards, taking tourists past Nelly Bay, Arcadia, Alma Bay and finally on to Horseshoe Bay, that largest of Magnetic Island’s beaches facing north-east and the expanses of the Coral Sea.  It meant that all of the island’s bays and attractions were traversed twice on the journey from Picnic Bay to Horseshoe Bay and back.

So it was profoundly disappointing to disembark from the ferry this time at mid-point Arcadia, at an ugly breakwater facility, and to be confronted by the generic concrete monstrosity that is an IGA grocery store, complete with blaring neon signage.  Gone was the other world feel of the jetty and palm-fringed mall, looking out on a beach, replaced with a hum drum car park.

There is a bit of history to this.  A resort was proposed for Geoffrey Bay, Arcadia in the 1980s, opposed by local residents who were eventually over ruled by the pro-development State Government of Bjelke-Petersen.  The developer started to build a breakwater, a visual monstrosity, before going broke in the recession of the early-1990s, leaving a half complete eyesore.  Presumably over the last ten years the decision was made to make something out of a bad situation, the breakwater has been finished off and ferries diverted there instead.

And this has been absolutely disastrous for Picnic Bay.  Once the starting point to the Magnetic Island, it is now a little visited spur, with the most traffic on the island now traversing between Arcadia and Horseshoe Bay only.

I last visited Magnetic Island in 1999 and Picnic Bay mall was a bustling and beautiful location, the cafes swarming with people, other outlets doing a roaring trade, the beach full and the local pub a wonderful place for a sundowner, watching the sun set over Townsville’s iconic Castle Hill.  Now to describe the mall as a backwater would be kind.  Most shops were boarded up, fencing had gone up around other derelict sites, and one or two brave shopkeepers were still hanging on, looking expectantly at the ones and twos of people drifting by observing the carnage.

Magnetic Island

Picnic Bay Jetty - closed after Cyclone Yasi

And just to make sure of the decay, the recent extreme Cyclone Yasi had trashed the heritage listed jetty, closing it even for simple pursuits such as fishing, and had also created a huge sand blow on the main part of the beach – stacking sand up against a surf lifesaving facility that will seemingly collapse from misuse given how few people now frequent it.

The economist in me could not help but notice what an excellent example this situation is of ripple effect.  Decisions made years ago, compounded by knee-jerk reactions and poorly-thought-through policy, and the severe and long-term ramifications they can have.

One senses the die has been cast with the ugly stepping off point that is Arcadia, but its going to take a lot of effort, money and encouragement to restore Picnic Bay to its former glory.  I really hope it is found, because it doesn’t deserve to be left in its current state.

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One Response to Picnic Decay

  1. Morag Roy says:

    I couldn’t put my finger on what had disappointed me so much the 2 previous times I had gone to Maggie but I think you are right. It has lost its calm, relaxed family atmosphere and nothing has replaced that. It certainly isn’t worth the high ferry/ barge fees to get over there now.

    Long live Picnic Bay

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