I’ll be honest. I was going to be unkind about Crows Nest, but that would be unfair. In the time I spent here, people gave me the sort of looks normally reserved for strangers walking into saloons in American westerns. That was just off-putting, but as I strolled around the pleasant village green, taking photos, a man without shoes walked over to me and demanded to know what I was doing.
I assured him I was a tourist, and that taking photos was the job of tourists. I’m not sure he believed me, but lacking any hard evidence of criminal intent, he just glared at me and walked off without another word. I’m from the countryside and understand the general distrust of the outsider, so I kept a low profile after that. Luckily, Crows Nest more than compensated for this unusual encounter.
I was on my way to Hervey Bay, and only stopped in the town because I’d read that it was famous for a worm racing festival. Yes, they race worms in Crows Nest. I’d missed the festival, but I still wanted to have a look around and see the place that hosts a worm racing festival. I mean, who wouldn’t?
The history of the town, is the history of the opening up and settling of the Australian hinterland by Europeans. The area was inhabited by the Dungibara Aboriginal group for millennia before the 19th century arrival of bullock teams, who camped here while hauling timber from nearby forests to the coast. The first family of settlers arrived in 1849, but their farm failed. It wasn’t until 1876 that Crows Nest officially became a town.
I say a town, in reality the 1881 census recorded only 35 inhabitants. Despite that, a decade later the railway arrived; by 1901 there were perhaps 500 people living in the area. There are only around 2,000 people today, 135 years after its founding. It’s rumoured to be the only Australian town to be named after an Aboriginal person, albeit one who was given an anglicised name: Jimmy Crow.
There’s a statue of Jimmy Crow on the village green, next to a hollowed out tree. Legend has it that Jimmy lived in the tree and offered help and information to the teamsters and settlers. It was they who named him Jimmy Crow, and he’s the reason the town is named Crows Nest. An alternative theory is that it got its name from the original Aboriginal name for the area, Tookoogandanna, or “home of crows”.
There’s a heritage trail in Crows Nest, or at least the information board on the village green said there was. The library and art gallery where I should have been able to get information and a map, were both closed. I set off and wandered around for an hour or so. As luck would have it, I happened upon the site where the bullock teams used to camp, complete with a splendid bullock team memorial.
I saw a little of the town’s pleasant streets and traditional wooden ‘Queenslander’ houses, before making my way back to the village green. After picking up a few things in the local supermarket, I headed 6km east to do a hike through the eucalypt forests in Crows Nest National Park.