The thriving port-side city of Gladstone is not what you’d expect from a town whose economy relies heavily on the resources industry, writes Sophie Blackshaw.
Originally established as a short-lived convict settlement in 1847, Gladstone evolved into a sleepy port and fishing village and the lesser known sister of neighbouring Rockhampton, the beef capital to the north.
Fast forward to 2015, Gladstone is no longer sleepy and, thanks largely to its natural deep water harbour and proximity to the resources sector, the thriving city is giving Rockhampton a run for its money the celebrity stakes.
As of 2014, the Gladstone region’s resident population was estimated at over 65,000 people. Gladstone has all the services and amenities expected of a place with an ever-increasing population, including a university, several hospitals, cultural precincts, substantial tourist shopping facilities and an airport that was upgraded in 2012.
Popular among boat owners and fishermen is the Gladstone Marina, home to award-winning Spinnaker Park, which contains two-and-a- half kilometres of walking track. On this track, locals and visitors alike can explore Gladstone’s natural beauty, incorporating native flora, wetlands, ponds, and a beach cove. From here, it’s possible to spot the threatened snubfin dolphin in the harbour.
The main street of Gladstone, Goondoon Street, showcases the city’s rich heritage and magnificently preserved buildings, including the Gladstone Regional Art Gallery and Museum built in 1934. Here, the town echoes what we see regularly in the state’s capital of Brisbane – modern sculptures backgrounded by heritage-listed buildings, which stand as a testament to growth based on steady industry.
TONDOON BOTANIC GARDENS
Situated on 83 hectares at Mount Biondello, Gladstone’s Tondoon Botanic Gardens is home to more than 1500 species of plants from the Port Curtis region and Tropical North Queensland. Lake Tondoon is situated in the centre of the gardens and once provided the source of Gladstone’s water supply until 1945. Today, the lake’s job in retirement, is simply to provide habitat for a variety of freshwater birds.
ON GLADSTONE’S DOORSTEP
Gladstone sits on the southern edge of the world heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef. The city is known as the gateway to the Southern Great Barrier Reef, home to what are considered some of the best dive and snorkeling sites in the world, including:
Lady Musgrave Island
Lady Musgrave Island is an uninhabited coral cay, composed entirely of sand and coral fragments. The island attracts local and international divers, campers, photographers and wildlife enthusiasts, all eager to catch a glimpse of the Green and Loggerhead turtles, huge manta rays, harmless reef sharks and a huge underwater menagerie of unusual and colourful reef fish.
“The LNG plants on Curtis Island are world-firsts for converting coal seam gas to liquefied natural gas for export.”
GLADSTONE HARBOUR FESTIVAL
During Easter each year, Gladstone gears up for the highly anticipated Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht race. Given the northern seaside town has the highest percentage of boat ownership per capita, it is not surprising that the enthusiasm over the race has people – not necessarily race competitors – getting their boats out to enjoy the Gladstone Harbour Festival, which lasts a week. Attracting a total of more than 70,000 people (effectively doubling the population), the festival is one of the largest free community events in Australia. Steeped in history and tradition, the first race was held in 1949 when only seven boats took part.
From November to February, the Green and Loggerhead turtles nest on Lady Musgrave Island, prompting authorities to close the island to campers from February to March to protect turtle hatchlings.
From Gladstone, visitors can catch a day trip to the island. Cruise boats can moor alongside a floating pontoon known as ‘Reef Sanctuary’, a stone’s throw from the island.
Lady Musgrave can be enjoyed a number of ways including glass-bottom boat trips, guided walks, turtle and manta ray discovery adventures and reef fishing tours.
For scuba divers and snorkelers, Heron Island, also a coral cay, is a magnificent place to visit with over 24 square kilometres of pristine reef circling the island.
Like Lady Musgrave, Heron Island is a favourite nesting site for turtles, but it is also home to a vast array of seabirds. Visitors to the island are able to enjoy guided walking tours of the reef, view underwater life from the coral submarine, and enjoy a range of diving activities.
Heron Island differs from some of the other islands in the region in that it hosts a resort, which offers several types of accommodation.
The Port of Gladstone, situated within a natural deepwater harbour, is Australia’s fourth largest port, one of the busiest in the nation and Queensland’s largest multi-commodity port.
Each year the port facilitates the import and export of more than 83 million tonnes of cargo. Its mere existence is what makes the town of Gladstone a thriving industrial base and a place where economic competitiveness is balanced with the desire to perpetually improve environmental performance, given its proximity to the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef.
Driving the area’s sustainable growth and ability to continue attracting people is the continued investment from the resources industry, and especially of late, the LNG industry.
It’s anticipated that LNG will play a progressively more important role in the global energy market now and over coming years, and for that reason alone, Gladstone’s industrial growth appears to be locked in for the future.
While cattle farming and horticultural production have continued to underpin the region’s economy over time, the industries really giving the area a fiscal boost now include world-class engineering, construction and manufacturing sectors. Not surprisingly, the majority of job titles in Gladstone fall under the trade heading – that is, there are more tradesmen and women and technicians in the Gladstone Regional Council area than other occupations.
Of course – not to be forgotten – there is also the fishing industry, famous for producing some of Queensland’s best seafood, in particular mouth-watering mud crabs. Other popular palate-pleasers include reef fish, giant prawns, sea scallops, bugs, oysters and freshwater crayfish.
IMPORTS & EXPORTS
In unison with the Port Alma ShippingTerminal, the Port of Gladstone is Queensland’s largest multi-commodity port, housing the world’s fourth largest coal export terminal. The port precinct plays a pivotal role in delivering the Asia Pacific region’s natural resources and finished products to customers the world over.
While Port Alma Shipping Terminal controls the import and export of niche market products including ammonium nitrate, explosives, general cargo, salt, frozen beef, tallow and scrap metal, the Port of Gladstone focuses on exporting coal. Collectively, however, the two ports export over 30 products to over 30 countries each year.
Coal makes up 70 per cent of the total cargo exported through the Port of Gladstone. About 75 per cent of the coal handled at the port is coking coal exported to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, India, Italy and France for high quality steel manufacturing. Approximately 25 per cent of the coal exported via the Port of Gladstone is thermal, which is exported to fuel the boilers of power stations in Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Israel.
More than 50 million tonnes of coal goes through the Port of Gladstone each year.
While the Port of Gladstone is internationally recognised as a major bulk port, it also caters to all forms of containerised and general cargoes. Containerised cargoes are mainly sourced from local major industry and include primarily aluminium, chemicals and cement. General cargoes include break bulk cargoes like bagged products and aluminium, project cargo for new/expanding industry and heavy lifts.
The Port of Gladstone also contains within its boundaries the Gladstone Marina, featuring barbecue facilities and playgrounds, wheelchair access, boardwalk shops, a floating marina system and a fully-equipped outdoor stage. The Marina area is also home to the Gladstone campus of the Central Queensland University.
CURTIS ISLAND & LNG
Just to the north of Gladstone, across The Narrows, lies an island that has become just as important to the future of the city as its bustling port.
For the past few years Curtis Island has been a hive of construction activity as three of the world’s biggest gas company consortiums build a ground-breaking LNG precinct, set to change the fortunate of Queensland resources sector.
The LNG plants on Curtis Island are world-firsts for converting coal seam gas to liquefied natural gas for export.
The ambitious project reached a major milestone in early January when the first shipment of LNG, aboard the Methane Rita Andrea, departed for an Asian destination with about $50 million worth of the commodity.
To get to this point took years of hard work, building from the ground up. Each of the consortiums had to firstly construct 500 kilometre-plus underground gas transmission pipelines to carry coal seam gas from the gas fields of the Surat Basin to Curtis Island. Five tug boats were also built solely for the purpose of escorting the carrier ships out of the harbour.
Speaking to the ABC in early January, former Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls said the LNG project is still about two years off operating at full speed, but that the Government anticipated about $500 million in royalties annually.
“The city is known as the gateway to the Southern Great Barrier Reef, home to some of the best dive and snorkeling sites in the world…”
A little further afield (25 km south of Gladstone) is Lake Awoonga. The recreation area has free barbecues, swimming, landscaped walking trails and a caravan park. The lake has been stocked with several fish species since 1996, and over two million barramundi have been released. In addition to the fishing, Lake Awoonga has many natural attractions, especially the wildlife, with more than 225 species of birds – that’s more than 27 per cent of Australia’s bird species. Lake Awoonga is also the primary source of Gladstone’s water supply.
BOYNE ISLAND & TANNUM SANDS
Just a 15 minute drive south of Gladstone are the twin communities of Boyne Island and Tannum Sands. Both communities have grown significantly in popularity over the years due to their untainted beaches and quiet, small town feel.
Boyne Island and Tannum Sands are separated by the South Trees Inlet, which effectively cuts Boyne Island off from the mainland. Tannum Sands sits on the eastern bank.
Boyne Island was originally dedicated to agriculture and horticulture, fishing and timber, but it has become primarily a residential centre for those working in the nearby aluminium smelter and Gladstone industries.
The aluminium smelter is Australia’s largest, and is kept separate from the town by a buffer zone to the north. It has been in operation since 1982 and, over years, has undergone extensive expansion.
Boyne Island also hosts the Boyne Tannum Hookup, a popular fishing event held on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend every year. More than 3,000 entrants sign up to the fishing event each time it is held.
Tannum Sands stands out in that it boasts one of the only surf beaches to be found along the Central Queensland coastline. It even has a Surf Club, situated along the main beach.