Finding unlikely spirit and care in Bundaberg

Rick Prosser of Kalki Moon … ecstatic with Melbourne win in Premium London Dry Gin section.
Rick Prosser of Kalki Moon … ecstatic with Melbourne win in Premium London Dry Gin section.

How do you pick someone from Bundaberg, apart from a predilection for a certain spirit?

Firstly, they acknowledge the rare cold day by wearing ugg boots — but still retain their usual garb of singlet and shorts.

Secondly, they go soft and gooey around the edges when you mention turtles, especially baby loggerheads.

After all, Mon Repos Beach, on the northern city’s outskirts, sports the most significant loggerhead nesting population in the South Pacific.

Each spring and summer thousands of locals and visitors flock to the beach to watch the huge, cumbersome — on land anyway — loggerheads come ashore to lay their eggs, and some 6-8 weeks later to see the eggs hatch and the baby turtles make the perilous journey into the ocean.

Jess McKenzie, a ranger with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, tells me that their estimate of the survival rate is about one in a thousand. No wonder that the species is endangered.

Showing its graceful side … a mature loggerhead turtle takes to the water.

Showing its graceful side … a mature loggerhead turtle takes to the water.

You only have to talk for a few minutes with someone such as Jess, who is based at the Mon Repos Turtle Centre, to appreciate the zealous passion associated with the work.

Bookings for next season’s laying and hatching open on September 1 and are priced at a ridiculously low $12.80 for adults ($6.65 for children aged 5-14 years and just $2.80 per head for primary and secondary school groups).

Only those holding Turtle Encounter tickets are allowed on the beach after 6pm.

Jess stresses that the turtles are wild animals and that their participation, in both laying and hatching, can never be guaranteed — and that observers occasionally are disappointed.

She also stresses the importance of maintaining and hopefully increasing the number of eggs successfully hatched on Mon Repos.

Jess McKenzie … obviously passionate about her work at Mon Repos Turtle Centre.

Jess McKenzie … obviously passionate about her work at Mon Repos Turtle Centre.

As adults, the loggerheads invariably return to their birthplace to lay their eggs.

The residents of Bundaberg take their responsibilities seriously and have initiated a widespread program of minimising surrounding light which may interfere with the turtles.

It’s virtually impossible to visit Bundaberg with getting the ‘Cut the Glow to Help Turtles Go’ message.

It has been 50 years since Dr Col Limpus started studying the loggerheads on Mon Repos Beach — a study that continues today and that Col admits has gotten a bit out of hand.

He grew up with the turtles on the beach and would love to see his grandchildren and their children to enjoy the same experiences.

It’s an ambitious task, but I’m sure that the citizens of Bundaberg, especially its children, will ensure that it’s fulfilled.

A baby loggerhead at the start of a perilous journey … just a one-in-a-thousand chance of survival.

A baby loggerhead at the start of a perilous journey … just a one-in-a-thousand chance of survival.

The spirit I mentioned at the beginning of the story is, of course, Bundaberg Rum, better known simply as Bundy.

But it’s certainly not the only spirit produced in the city, as we found out attending ‘Let the Night Be Gin’, a highly delectable component of Bundaberg’s annual Winterfeast.

It was organised by Rick Prosser, of Kalki Moon, which he reckons set a Queensland first by taking out the Premium London Dry Gin section at this year’s Australian Distilled Spirits Competition in Melbourne.

The evening had its educational side, with groups challenged to blend their own gin using botanicals as diverse as elderflower, angelica and lavender, as well, of course, as the obligatory juniper berries.

I’m still waiting for my bottle to arrive and to test out our skills at blending.

Regardless, though, it was an entertaining evening that heralded, for our group, a fabulous Winterfeast which showed just why the Bundaberg district is recognised as one of Australia’s major food baskets.

John Rozentals was a guest of Bundaberg North Burnett Tourism.