Animals, Australia, Beach & Coastal Walking, Streams, Creeks & Rivers
Comments 13

Beyond the Smout, Where the Pelicans Play

Apologies to subscribers who received this post twice, or weren’t able to access it the first time. After publishing, I realised a random date had been added to the post. I deleted it and am trying again!

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Can we name bridges here in Brisbane or what?

The first bridge linking Greater Brisbane with Redcliffe across the mouth of the Pine River and Hay’s Inlet was the Hornibrook (“horny brook“) Highway, which opened in 1935 and at almost 1.7 miles was the second-longest bridge in the world.

After closing to cars in 1979, the structure remained as the world’s longest footbridge till 2010. Meanwhile the Houghton (“whore-tun” — that’s how I say it, anyway) Highway had been constructed and when it proved unable to cope with the increased traffic, a companion, the Ted Smout (that’s it in the featured image above), was opened in 2010 to carry Brisbane-bound traffic.


My constant companion Death Crow, shadowing me in 2010 with the Smout behind.

A clever writer of limericks or dirty verse could no doubt come up with something good involving Hornibrook, Houghton and Smout, but it’s beyond my talents after just one morning coffee. Maybe later…

Meanwhile, you’ll be relieved to learn that that’s most of my bridge history lesson over with — for now. Let’s get walking.


The Houghton, left, & the Smout, seen from the Brisbane side at low tide in 2010. The Hornibrook was to the left of both.

This was in mid-October (damn, where did those months go?). When I had a bike I used to do the trek on the Trek over to Redcliffe more often — on foot it’s an hour’s journey just to reach the Brisbane end of the Smout.

The walk across is interminable, with a wearisome soundtrack of traffic, and in safely walling off the vehicles most of the views inland up the Pine and further north to the Glass House Mountains have also gone. I used to love those vistas on the rickety old Hornibrook, but now when I make the crossing I tend to count paces between concrete cracks to mark my progress.


From the Redcliffe side, looking across Hay’s Inlet. Beyond the mangrove is the only surviving section of the Hornibrook — the fishing platform is a modern addition.

Among my many good 1970s memories are those of driving across the Hornibrook with the family on weekend outings. We had cousins in Redcliffe back then, parts of which still resembled a laidback fishing village — even compared to Brisbane, itself so sleepy you would routinely check it for a pulse.

Made of Queensland hardwood — yes, apart from the concrete piles it was mostly timber — there was only one lane in each direction. It was a notoriously bumpy ride; the planks felt like they were coming loose as we drove across. Pelicans perched on signposts. You might even see dolphins cruising under the pylons separating the Bay and the placid waters of the Pine River estuary.


Beyond the confluent mouths of Hays Inlet & the Pine River, rays of a descending sun bathe the mountains west of Brisbane.

Pelicans are still a constant presence and even symbol of the city beyond the Pine. We get them in the creek and occasionally on the waterfront but they treat the Clontarf waterfront on the northern shore like they own it.

On this trip I thought I’d try my luck with photographing a few of these charismatic birds, which have the additional attribute of being huge, very useful when you don’t have a telephoto lens and don’t fish. Pelicans can be wary of people but will make certain allowances if those people pay tribute with fresh seafood.

I was just climbing down to the mangrovey bank when a lady appeared behind me and said “What’s the best way down?”

I was already taking it, but pointed out a stairway leading to suburban streets and slower but less treacherous access. I’ll confess I was annoyed: she was carrying a tripod and like many photographers, I suppose, I enjoy the illusory feeling that I’m the first and only journeyer in whatever territory I roam.

I don’t like to share.

The low tide meant several fishers were working the bank and shallows, with one plucky pelican already hanging close:


Fishers Three.

I’d kept my shoes on, which has its pros and cons, and was already having a blast sweeping back and forth along the bank as the sun sank back across the water…


Ripples All Round.

..when I noticed that the other photographer had followed me down onto the oyster-covered rocks and across the tidal flats — and she was wearing rubber boots.


Wary of ruining her shots with my presence, I scurried about with my much-abused cameras and my tiny plastic tripod. The sunset is usually magnificent from over here and this one was almost psychedelic:


Sunset Silhouette.


The Hercules club or mud whelk (both of which would make awesome band names) are abundant on the tidal flats. “We know from shell middens that Aboriginal people once ate it and in the early days of European settlement it was evidently sold commercially in places like Sydney. The species is said to be one of the few shells brought back by James Cook from Botany Bay.” ~ Queensland Museum


Seconds before my shoes were fully immersed in mud.


Sunset clouds snared in a stingray hole.

At last we found ourselves positioned quite close to the action, or what passes for action in Redcliffe: increasingly bold pelicans cruising close near the fishers while the sky erupted in the west.

As I neared her, I noticed that she was a fellow user of Sony interchangeable mirror-less cameras — in fact, she owned and loved the brand-new a7 compact full-frame I’ve been coveting for some time:


It’s not often I suffer from photographic gear envy, but this was one occasion. All that firepower (even an iPad?) and yet relatively light & small compared to the DSLR scene. Plus: those boots.

A fevered exchange regarding our shared love affair with small Sonys ensued. Gay (really: her name) was a member of a local camera club and though our approaches to photography differed slightly (she uses a car, if you can imagine that; I’d never join any club that would have me as a member, etc), I found myself, as often happens, regretting my default-setting antipathy to other humanoids who dare to intrude on my happy hunting grounds.

But time was wasting, the Golden Hour was upon us, and we both got down to business with our photographic first cousins:


Seagulls sense an opportunity like the lazy opportunists that they are.


The riverbank rapidly turns into a David Attenborough wildlife drama: stingray holes, pelicans, gull & plover, all with a non-Photoshopped sunset backdrop.


A Pretty Pair.


Hay’s Inlet, bustling Brisbane a world away.

This masked lapwing or spur-winged plover — we just call ’em plovers — joined our happy group:


The Lonesome Plover stares into the mirror & asks some deep questions. Yet another bird that will swoop innocent humans when the chicks are young.

(As a side-note, I encourage you to listen to its call, one of the characteristic sounds of the Australian coast, especially when you’re walking in the dark and you hear that lonesome, eerie cry sweeping above you with the breeze:

For months last year I kept track of a breeding plover near Cabbage Tree Creek. Here’s its clutch of eggs…


Plover eggs. Nests are not compulsory in the bird world.

..showing the complete absence of nest.

Every time I crossed that paddock, wary of stepping on the eggs, I was swooped, but not badly. As far as I’m aware, only a single chick made it. The parents remained protective even when the infant was six inches tall.)

But back to Pelican Country. On some unspoken signal the fishers split, and so did Gay. It was just me and the pelicans, who were sorely disappointed if they thought I was worth their while. They hung about a little while…


Three Wise Birds framed by the golden glow of dusk. And a plover attempting a half-hearted photo-bomb.

..before reentering the water…


A last hopeful sweep.

..and cruising just offshore while the sun disappeared in a blaze of purple glory:


Sunset cruisin’, Hay’s Inlet.


Into the Night.

Then with a sigh I remembered I had a long haul back home. I stopped briefly at the fishing platform on the remnant span of Hornibrook…


Hornibrook piles & the Redcliffe-bound Houghton bridge.

..and rejoined the Smout for yet another solitary night-hike under the stars:


Pedestrian Roadkill.

The traffic had petered out. The sea breeze was fresh and timeless; once or twice a plover’s staccato call broke and scattered in the darkness above. Somewhere close, no doubt, those pelicans were enjoying a far more social evening than I was.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you…


See those distant lights on the far left? Once I reach them, I’m about a mile from home.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


  1. Carl says

    Perhaps she was trying to preclude any sexual advances when she said “Hi, I’m gay”

    • You know, I think you may be onto something, Carl. Out there on those romantic mudflats: anything could happen, best to keep things purely professional.

  2. Kate says

    Your photos are beautiful. Of course the mangrove is my favorite shot with the photo-bombing plover coming in at a close second! Oh and yes, I can take a hint…you want blue shiny boots. No worries I’m sure I can find them on Amazon for ya 😉

  3. These are stunning shots.
    We’ve got plovers in our street here but they never seem to be able to rear the chicks beyond fluffy stage. Too many predators and they do tend to stand on the road! I have yet to find an actual nest of eggs, so it’s nice to see one in your post.
    I think my favourite shot is “The Three Wise Birds” – pelicans in the golden frame of dusk but there are many gorgeous ones to choose from
    Bridges make great subjects too and we certainly have plenty of nice example around Brisbane. So you are back to sunrise walks again now that you have a new toy – the tripod? 🙂

    • Thanks, Jane. Well, I had the best intentions about reverting to early rising, but it’s still not working. I should use an alarm I guess. The hot weather really messes up my rhythms; I’ve been loving it when it’s raining but I’m usually disappointed.

      I love that shot as well. It was nice to have such amenable subjects for once, and it was one of those rare days where everything seems to work and mesh together.

      The tripod has added some weight to my daypack, which is already a burden most days with cameras, laptop and often a book and an iPad etc, but I justify it as extra workout, and when I need it (really just in low light) it more than pays its way!

      • Yeah, this hot weather has really played with my mind. Not being able to do my usual walks is really bad for my mental state. Bring on winter!

        Not sure I could handle carrying all that gear around. A bag, snacks a water bottle and a camera is enough for me. I’m still trying to decide which camera to buy with the Christmas money gift from family. Probably will be light though, not like your gear!

        Am still hoping for a little trip down NSW way and also probably heading to Boondall Wetlands soon as I’ve never been. I hope I don’t meet up with any creepy people… 🙂

      • If you go to Boondall, consider bringing your bike on your car if possible. The official walking route isn’t long, and while I have managed a few miles there over the years, it’s mostly off-track and technically verboten (not to mention muddy and mosquito-y). If you have your bike you can check out the visitor centre, do the official path, then bike to the old home town along the surfaced paths — and check out the bird hide if yr game!

    • I wish! I can’t turn my brain off unless it’s dulled and lulled with alcohol. My brain and my legs are constantly at war…

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