Bowen has been our ‘local’ town and has served as out fortnightly grocery stop for the past four months on the farm. However, as it was a 6 hour round trip, we never spent much time there… until now. Our travel through Bowen was meant to be a just a drop off and bus change on route to Sydney, however, due to the monsoon rains and flooding we had to leave the farm early to get there before the roads closed. Bowen is a lovely-ish coastal town with about 2,000 residents, two supermarkets a couple of pubs, banks, and hostels. Nothing too exciting…. or so we thought. I still wouldn’t say ‘exciting’ was really the right word to describe Bowen but I won’t deny it’s got some hidden gems.
Bowen had a Hollywood makeover and played 1940’s Darwin in the hit film ‘Australia’ staring Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman. I thought it was pretty awesome to stand on the wharf knowing that it had once been sweated on by the lovely Hugh… maybe that’s just me. Several of the buildings had been clad with facades and the streets were covered in thousands of tons of red dirt for filming. They even constructed a cattle yards in the town centre! Hollywood’s mark has definitely been left on Bowen but it left me questioning whether this was a good thing. After filming, Hollywood paid for Bowen to be put back how it was, but added their own touch by carpeting the medians and roadside concrete in fake grass! They did add in a mini-visitors centre and info about the film at the water front, but the plot of land used remains an undeveloped, rubble covered building plot with a soggy ‘for sale’ sign in the middle. In any case, the residents of Bowen have commemorated their time in the spotlight by erecting their own version of the iconic ‘Hollywood’ sign…. well, they’ve painted ‘Bowenwood’ on the side of the town’s concrete water tank.
One clear benefactor of Hollywoods time in Bowen is The Summergarden Twin Cinema. In an effort to combat monsoon rain (Bowen) boredom, Rich and I searched out this little piece of history and ducked in for the 8:40am showing of ‘Skyfall’. While the film left us underwhelmed, the cinema it’s self and it’s long time owner more than compensated. Ben De Luca began as an usher at the cinema when he was fifteen and has now been the proud owner for an unfathomable 51 years. I know this because he introduced himself at the conclusion of our film and proceeded to take us on a guided tour of his cinema. He lovingly pointed out the art deco figureheads lining the walls and the stage that has no doubt seen more than it’s fare share of live cabaret. Understandably, the time Hollywood came to Bowen is an experience that Ben will treasure for the rest of his life and I was lead to believe that Summergarden became a second home to Jackman during filming. The whole experience was like stepping back in time, where cinemas were owned by local families, loved by local families and films were shown by popular demand. It’s so refreshing to know that people like Ben and places like Summergarden still exist and that sometimes, their wildest dreams come true.
The coastline in Bowen is beautiful. A popular spot for fishing, access to the reef and a few public BBQ areas. It’s also home to these elusive crustaceans which I have recently discovered are imaginatively named… sand crabs. I wonder who came up with that?! At low tide, while whiling away the afternoon beachside (sweating buckets on a bench opposite a family with 10 screaming kids) I spotted a sort of cloud on the sand. It looked like large dark patches but every now and again it would change shape or writhe slightly. Either somebody had dropped LSD in my coconut water or there was something really interesting at play on the sea bed. I decided on the latter (we were in Bowen after all) and took off to investigate. Hundreds of inch square, blue sand crabs scuttled in perfect synchronization. They could see or sense us coming as they never let us get to close and one by one they just disappeared into the sand. Fascinating to watch but horrible to think about when I realised there were probably millions of them beneath my feet already.
One afternoon Rich and I admired the aftermath of Ex Tropical Cyclone Oswald on the edge of the water at high tide. Debris has been washed towards the shoreline from all angles but it was a pretty spectacular sight none the less.
Over all, our time in Bowen was too long, wet and relatively uneventful but it’s hidden gems will be well remembered.