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Bargara, QLD

Seaside holiday town famous for where turtles lay their eggs.

Bargara is a seaside holiday resort town with a road which runs along the coast - The Esplanade, Miller Street and Woongarra Scenic Drive - and a long strip of holiday homes, flats, apartments and motels all built between the beach and the hinterland. As recently as the 1980s Bargara (pronounced b’gara) was a sleepy coastal village full of interesting historic artifacts. There was a swimming pool which had been built out of the local volcanic rocks by the Kanakas – the slave labour brought from the South Pacific – and equally the kanakas had built impressive stone walls. Today the gods of development have taken over. The main street is full of chic cafes, a huge modern pub and lots of gift shoppes. The sea front – which in the 1980s was just a collection of fibro holiday homes – is now a solid row of five storey apartment blocks with land for development selling, in 2017, for $3.5 million and apartments trading for upwards of $700,000.


Located on the coast 13 km east of Bundaberg, Bargara is 375 km north of Brisbane via National Highway 1.


Origin of Name

Although it sounds like a word taken from the local Aborigines, Bargara is actually a combination of two words - Barolin and Woongarra - which were nearby localities - thus "bar" and "garra".


Things to See and Do

Kanaka Walls and The Basin
Dry stone walls which were built by the Kanakas can be seen on the sides of Bargara Road near the western edge of town. There are also dry walls beside the road between Bargara and Mon Repos.

The Basin
Of particular interest is The Basin which is located at the very southern end of the Esplanade. It is a sheltered swimming area which was built out of local volcanic rock by Kanaka labour. The local Rotary Club of Bargara has put a brass plaque near the swimming pool which records: "The Basin - Of the South Sea islanders (kanakas) brought here, the majority were from the Melanesian/Micronesian islands. Blackbirding was rife prior to 1870 to obtain men to work in the agricultural industry. Regulations were then set for employers to pay 10 shillings for each man and 10 pounds for his return passage after 3 years. The Basin, a salt water swimming pool, was created by the islanders to protect swimmers from sharks and is just one sample of the rock formations which they built."
The Basin is also a good place to explore "the fringing coral reefs which are found from Burnett Heads all the way to Elliott Heads. The rocks provide nooks and crannies for hard and soft corals, sponges and algae. Colourful fish species can be seen such as tiny iridescent Damselfish, Butterflyfish and Blue-tailed Surgeonfish. Other marine animals which add to the diversity include starfish, sea urchins, crabs and nudibranchs."

Coral Coast Pathway
The most perfect way to explore the coast around Bargara is the 9.4 km walk from Kellys Beach (in the south) through Bargara, Nielson Park and Mon Repos to Burnett Heads near the entrance to Bundaberg Port. It is a delightful walk which incorporates the new high rise development around Bargara, the historic Kanaka-built swimming pool at The Basin and the beaches at Mon Repos.

The Kanakas
It wasn't until the 1860s that the rich volcanic soils between Bargara and Bundaberg were planted with sugar cane. At the time it was believed that Europeans were not equipped to work in such oppressive tropical conditions and this led to the arrival of indentured labour from the South Pacific Islands. For a period of over 40 years Kanakas worked on the sugar plantations and, in the case of Bargara, were employed to build dry stone walls and the huge swimming pool on the beachfront.
The original labourers, who started arriving in the area around 1863, were brought mainly from the Solomon Islands and New Hebrides (Vanuatu) with smaller numbers being taken from the Loyalty Islands, Tonga, Samoa, Kiribati and Tuvalu. Some were kidnapped ("blackbirded") or persuaded to work in long-term indentured service - a form of slavery.
More than 60,000 Islanders were recruited from 1863 but with the creation of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1900 the majority were to be "repatriated" to their countries of origin between 1906 and 1908 under the Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901. This is the legislation which is often described as the White Australia policy.


Other Attractions in the Area

The Hummock
Just off Bargara Road between Bargara and Bundaberg is a distinctive volcanic outcrop (a remnant of a volcanic cylinder cone) which Matthew Flinders named the 'Sloping Hummock'. It is now known simply as 'The Hummock'. It offers a panoramic view with the ocean and Bargara to the east and sugar cane fields and Bundaberg to the west.
The Geocaching site (https://www.geocaching.com/geocache/GC2RH6J_the-hummock?guid=ad2072c7-dcad-4774-a874-7a3424306807) explains: "Hummocks are rounded or conical mounds within a volcanic landslide or debris avalanche deposit. Hummocks contain a wide range of rock debris, reflecting the variation of deposits that previously formed the flanks of the volcano ... The Hummock for this earth cache is a low volcanic hill ... The area surrounding The Hummock has a high agricultural productivity, with sugar cane making up most of the farmland. The land on either side of the river is made up of alluvial soil. Closer to the Hummock, the fields are derived from basalt (a rock formed from cooling lava).
Past volcanic activity has left basalt rocks, rounded by wave action, scattered along much of the coastline, especially headlands. As well, the Hummock, clearly visible from sea, is the centre of an area of rich, red soil, clothed in fields of sugar cane ...
The hummock is close to the river mouth, the sugar mill is located to receive sugar cane from surrounding farm land, and to transport products out by ship ... The eruption for this hummock occurred about 1 million to 900,000 years ago. The erupted basalt lava flowed west to Bundaberg, south to the Elliot river and east to the Bargara coast then eventually flowing out to sea.
Looking out to the east the volcanic crater rim is the highest, water reservoirs and radio towers can be viewed when you look in that direction. Around the hummock area fragments of lava, which were possibly erupted bombs can be seen. These show versicles (gas bubbles) and ropy surfaces (pahoehoe lava). Pahoehoe lava is caused by partially consolidated lava on the top of a flow being dragged along by liquid lava beneath."

Great Sandy Marine Park
The area off the coast between Bundaberg Port and Point Vernon has been designated the Great Sandy Marine Park. The waters are sheltered by Fraser Island and are fringed by coral reefs, mudflats and mangroves. It is a sanctuary for the dugong, loggerhead turtle, humpback whales, grey nurse shark and water mouse. It also contains a number of Aboriginal middens, fish traps and scar trees and, during the summer months, it is home to over 30,000 birds including pied oystercatchers and greenshanks.

Mon Repos Turtle Centre and Turtle Encounters
Located north of Bargara (turn off the Bargara Road between Bundaberg and Bargara at Potters Road and then turn east at Mon Repos Road) is the Mon Repos Turtle Centre.
Mon Repos supports the largest concentration of nesting marine turtles on the eastern Australian mainland and has the most significant loggerhead turtle nesting population in the South Pacific region. The success of nesting and hatching turtles at Mon Repos is critical for the survival of precious marine turtles. At this globally-significant breeding site you can have a turtle encounter like very few others in the world.
Combining a pleasant beach with an interesting tidal lagoon and a substantial Kanaka wall it is well worth a visit.  Nesting sea turtles come ashore at night within a few hours of high tide from November through to January to lay their eggs while the hatching turtles usually leave their nests between January and March. The Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service have gone to considerable trouble to protect the environment with boardwalks to the narrow beach and special viewing locations for visitors. Visitors can go on the beach during the day but only those who have signed up for an official tour are allowed on the beach after 6.00 pm.
One of the few truisms about wild animals is that they never perform when you want them to. They are “wild” animals and they travel to the beat of a very different drum. The loggerhead turtles, which come every summer to Mon Repos to lay their eggs, are no exception. They are wild animals. Consequently it is possible to sit, along with about 70 people from all over the world, from 7.00 pm – 11.00 pm waiting for the turtles to crawl up the beach and start laying their 120 eggs or to hatch and head out to sea. On average a turtle lays 120 eggs. Each turtle will come into Mon Repos five or six times in a summer which means they lay up to 700 eggs in a season. They only start laying when they are 30 years old and, promiscuous creatures that they are, the eggs have been fertilized by the sperm of multiple males. Sadly only one in one thousand of the hatchlings will survive to adulthood and, on average, only about 350 turtles come to Mon Repos each season. There are nights, particularly at the beginning and end of the season, when no turtles arrive on the beach. You have been warned.
The excellent Mon Repos Turtle Encounters brochure (it can be downloaded at http://www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/mon-repos/pdf/turtle-encounters.pdf) explains the tours in detail: "Arriving at the Mon Repos Turtle Centre at 6.45 pm for a 7.00 pm start, you will be placed in your turtle encounter group for the night. While we search the beach for turtles, take time to enjoy the displays and browse through the shop. Ranger shows and videos are presented in the amphitheatre. Once the turtles arrive, rangers will call your group and guide you onto the beach - where the adventure truly begins.
Unfortunately turtles don’t always come on cue! Please be aware that you may need to wait for several hours before going onto the beach. Your total visit time at Mon Repos can be up to six hours." The tours can be booked at the Turtle Centre or the Bundaberg Visitor Information Centre, by phone (07) 4153 8888 or online at https://www.bundabergregion.org/turtles/book-now-mon-repos-nightly-turtle-encounter.
The French title of the area is related to the fact that it was owned by the French Government from 1890-1925 after they laid the first communication cable from Australia to New Caledonia. The name Mon Repos was given to the area by sugar pioneen Augustus Barton who built a home in the area in 1884 and called it Mon Repos meaning "my rest".



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was occupied by the Gureng Gureng Aborigines and a subgroup known as the Taribelang people.

* In 1802 Matthew Flinders sailed along the coast and named the prominent outcrop, Sloping Hummock.

* Around 1884 Augustus Barton built the Mon Repos homestead and began planting sugar cane in the rich volcanic soils behind the beachfront. He employed indentured South Pacific islanders to make  stone walls around the cane fields.

* The land was developed for settlement in the 1880s but the sand dunes were prone to drifting.

* In 1893 it became the receiving point for the intercontinental telegraphic cable from New Caledonia which linked Australia to North America.

* In 1900 Mon Repos sugar plantation was purchased by the Queensland National Bank and renamed Qunaba (after the bank).

* In 1912 Bert Hinkler successfully launched his glider from a sand dune at Mon Repos. He only lifted 10 m above the ground.

* A railway from Sandhills (the early name for Bargara) to Bundaberg was built in 1913.

* By 1920 marum grass was being planted and the sand dunes were stabilising.

* In 1921 the local surf lifesaving club was established at Nielson Park. At the time Bargara had a population of 61.

* In 1922 Nielson Park was completed. It was to attract numerous railway picnics.

* By the 1950s the town had a new golf course.

* The 1970s saw a number of new estates developed along the coast.

* In 1971 the local sewerage was completed.

* On Australia Day, 2013 the town was hit by a number of tornadoes and water spouts.


Visitor Information

The closest Visitor Information is the Bundaberg Visitor Information Centre, 271 Bourbong Street, Bundaberg, tel: (07) 4153 8888.


Useful Websites

There is a useful, detailed history of Bargara at http://queenslandplaces.com.au/bargara.

Got something to add?

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4 suggestions
  • I am looking forward to traveling to Bargara.

    Make sure you book in for the turtles. At this time of the year they can be totally booked out.

    David harris
  • In the late 1930’s the area bounded by Watson`s Rd, Hughes Rd, Durden`s Rd and Woongarra Scenic Dr was used for motor cycle racing. Later a section adjoining Hughes Road was a market garden operated by a Chinaman.
    Fertilizer being obtained from the slaughter house further along Hughes Road.
    He received letters from China and I collected them with ours at corner of Wessell`s Rd and Hughes Rd.

    I was brought up at the old farm house (still there) next to Paul Formosa house. Durden`s Road named after the Durden family whose home is next to the Council chambers in Hughes Road. Kitty Durden was my Godmother.
    Great memories

    Ray aged 88
  • Lived in Bargara from 1990 to 2014-an idyllic beachside town. Age and health issues forced my husband and I to return to Yass . , I have always promoted Bargara as we made many friendships there. .. Thank you for this very detailed history. Gwen Warmington.

    Gwen Warmington
  • My Father Brian Garson built the rock wall that extends from the end of Bauer st for the council to their design. It was designed to trap sand behind it and create a beach. He also built most of the retaining walls along Kelly’s beach to prevent the sand from being washed away so the buildings were preserved during times of rough seas. He built all of these structures with his 1967 Masterbuilt cane loader. He was also employed by builders to lift construction materials during the building of homes and units across Bargara through until 1992 when we moved to Alloway.

    Neil Garson