Friday, 13 November 2015

Suburb Guide: Dunwich

Australian pelicans (Pelecanus conspicillatus) are a common sight off the coast of Dunwich.

When people head to North Stradbroke Island, they often take the ferry to Dunwich and then immediately head on over to Point Lookout, on the eastern side of the island. It's a shame, because Dunwich is an incredibly beautiful place in it's own right, and if your interest lies in wildlife and nature, a visit may very well be essential.

Featured areas: (1) Dunwich shoreline, (2) Town centre,
(3) Cemetery, and (4) Council Depot. Image courtesy of Google Maps.
The town has a long history, going back at least 25,000 years in fact, as the home of the Quandamooka indigenous Australians. Made up of the Nunukul, Gorenpul and Nughi clans, these three communities knew Stradbroke Island as Minjerribah. Their association with the place is so long that they would have witnessed its very creation in some aspects, as Moreton Bay and its islands in their latest incarnation are thought to have formed 6,000 years ago, when distant glacial melting flooded the coastline

European use of the land on which Dunwich sits has been very strange. Despite being an absolute paradise, rich in sea-life, game and rainforest timber when first encountered, the area was first used as a penal colony in 1827, and later as a leper colony and then asylum. Today it is a very pleasant, small seaside town with a population of just under 1,000 people. Most activity seems to occur where the ferries come in to dock, and then on the busy main roads that lead to elsewhere on the island. The Quandamooka people still live on North Stradbroke (holding Native Title claim to much of it), and maintain an art gallery and cultural centre in the centre of Dunwich.

The foreshores of Dunwich have a mix of rocky and sandy areas that are home to a vast array of wildlife.

1. Foreshore
North Stradbroke Island is the second-largest sand island in the world, and the subtropical climate ensures that the stunning coastline and beaches draw the majority of attention there. The western side of the island where Dunwich is situated borders the magnificent Moreton Bay, home to a diverse collection of marine life that includes dolphins, turtles and dugongs (Dugong dugon). All of these can be seen relatively close to shore at Dunwich, but you're more likely to observe these creatures on the ferry ride over.

The southernmost stretch of coastline along Dunwich is known as Adams Beach, where a west-facing campground allows you to watch the sun set into the bay as you enjoy a drink and BBQ dinner. Just north of that is the main ship terminal at Dunwich, a bustling hive of activity as ferries, taxis, coaches and island vehicles come and go. The bathing reserve adjacent to this (in front of the Dunwich Oval) is peaceful in comparison, and even just laying quietly on a beach towel in the shade here may lead to sightings of white-bellied sea-eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster) and flocks of both Australian oystercatcher (Haemotopus) species.

Bradbury's Beach
Accessing the shoreline that runs parallel to Oxley Parade is tricky, as there is a steep embankment to make your way down first, but it's definitely worth it. The beach, shaded by forest red gums (Eucalyptus tereticornis) and coast cypress pines (Callitris columellaris), turns partially rocky, sloping down into a reef offshore. Popular with fisherman, wading through the shallows will reveal yellowfin bream (Acanthopagrus australis), bengal sergeants (Abudefduf bengalensis), and moses snapper (Lutjanus russellii). If you do explore this area however, please be extremely careful of estuarine stonefish (Synanceia horrida) - wearing shoes in the rocky and weedy sections of water is essential!

Further north of this rocky point is Bradbury's Beach, a quiet sandy stretch of coastline that is often used as a high-tide roost by migratory wading birds like the Vulnerable eastern curlew (Numenius madagascariensis). On the hill overlooking this beach is the Moreton Bay Research Station, a facility run by the University of Queensland which provides a variety of educational camps and conference settings also.

Mudflats to the north of the Little Ship Club perhaps offer the most spectacular birdwatching opportunities in Dunwich, as both migratory species and year-round residents like the brahminy kite (Haliastur indus) and beach stone-curlew (Esacus magnirostris) can be seen with the aid of a telescope

Pied oystercatchers (Haematopus longirostris) are more common in Dunwich than their
jet-black sooty (H. fuliginosus) relatives.

Eastern great egret
2. Suburban Dunwich
Being a township that has developed organically over the past century and a half, Dunwich has been rather immune to the modern suburban landscaping trends that have negatively impacted wildlife on the mainland. Gardens tend to be large, lush and overgrown as opposed to small and neatly manicured, and native trees like brush box (Lophostemon confertus) and pandanus (Pandanus tectorius) fight it out in the subtropical sunshine alongside pretty ornamental exotics like the red passion flower (Passiflora manicata). On the corner of Rous Street and Shepherd Lane, I enjoyed the sight of a large eastern great egret (Ardea modesta) hunting skinks along the roadside and in gardens. Dunwich is also one of the few places in South-east Queensland where house sparrows (Passer domesticus) remain common.

Bush stone-curlews avoid detection by remaining motionless and lying flat, like a stick on the ground.

3. Dunwich Cemetery 
Cemeteries are usually quiet, well-watered green spaces, and as such, are pretty good places to find wildlife. Dunwich Cemetery is one of Queensland's oldest remaining cemeteries, with the first burial taking place as early as 1847, so the trees at this heritage-listed location have had plenty of time to mature. Closest to the bay are old, gnarled broad-leaved paperbarks (Melaleuca quinquenervia) that are home to breeding flocks of rainbow lorikeets (Trichoglossus moluccanus) and occasionally nankeen night-herons (Nycticorax caledonicus). Higher up the slope, however, are tall forest red gums (Eucalyptus tereticornis) where koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) can be seen fairly easily. When searching for them up in the tree canopy, remember to glance at the ground occasionally too, as the cemetery also provides breeding habitat for ground-nesting birds like masked lapwings (Vanellus miles) and bush stone-curlews (Burhinus grallarius).

Mother and baby koala asleep in a forest red gum.

4. Dunwich Council Depot
Arrowhead vine infestation
Along Mitchell Crescent, there is a dense section of riparian rainforest growing on the land surrounding the Council Depot. The forest floor and mid-canopy is being engulfed by a severe infestation of exotic arrowhead vine (Syngonium species), although shelter-seeking creatures like the brown huntsman (Heteropoda species) don't seem to mind. The tree layer also features invasive species such the strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum), as well as natives like the cheese tree (Glochidion ferdinandi). This dense vegetation offers shelter for rainforest-dwelling birds like the Pacific koel (Eudynamys orientalis), as well as a colony of the three local flying-fox (Pteropus) species. Where the latter are concerned, the black (P. alecto) flying-fox is a year-round resident, whereas the grey-headed (P. poliocephalus) and little red (P. scapulatus) species are more common in winter and summer, respectively.

Brown huntsmans don't build a web, and are instead athletic, roving hunters of insect prey.


  1. It's been too long since we've been to Stradbroke and yes we did drive right on by Dunwich but now we know better, thank you!

    1. My pleasure, it's one of my favourite spots in the Redlands :)