Season 1, Episode 1

Undara Experience

Host Benjamin Starr continues driving his own adventure through the beautiful city of Cairns in northern Queensland. Talking to Bram Collins from Undara Experience. 

Bram shares his fascinating family history of early pioneers and how they came across the Lava tube system that are now acclaimed as one of the longest lava tube systems in the world.

Hosts & Guests

Benjamin Starr

Bram Collins

Links

Undara

Read the transcript

Ben: Okay we’re out on the road today and we’re having some interesting conversations. We’re having a chat to Bram Collins from Undara. The experience all about this, Australia’s accessible outback and he’s in the studio today with us Bram, welcome.

Bram: Thank you very much Ben.

Ben: What an interesting story – your family how it all started into this outback adventure, can you take us through a little bit of that?

Bram: My great great grandfather arrived in the pastoral districts of Cook and Kennedy in eighteen sixties in the early eighteen sixties. About the time the explorers were Burke and Wills were their rescue parties were out looking for them so.

Ben: It sort of puts it in perspective doesn’t it?

Bram: Yeah it does – it was a long time ago and we originally came into this northern country looking for grazing land. They had growing cattle heard from northern New South Wales and they’ve basically been here since eighteen sixty-two, and so I’m fifth generation still loading the same cattle property still grazing cattle.

Ben: What when you think about your forbearers, it wasn’t about creating a resort – it was about survival wasn’t it?

Bram: Yeah absolutely and the lava tubes thankfully were on some land that the family acquired in the late eighteen nineties. So you know we’ve been been looking after the lava tubes for over hundred years as well

Ben: Now there’s a story about a bell, and it’s not a dance song but and it involves some bullocks, and how the family sort of discovered where they were going to start this whole operation from.

Bram: My great great grandfather, Thomas Collins and his brother Charles were coming up following the trail of an explorer named Leichhardt – and he came up into north Queensland in eighteen forty-five. He recorded every of all his experiences in a series of journals, and the two brothers were using the journals as a guide as they went along. Anyway, they spent two nights in waterless country, with no water. They had a bullock train and had a lead bullock out the front with a bell around his neck his name was Nobby. And at night they would unyoke the the bullocks from the from the bullock yoke. And they would hobble them out and put a bell on Nobby’s neck, just so they could keep track of him in the dark and every morning and they would go and bring Nobby in. Take the bell off and take the hobbles off and yoke them back up. But this night he smelt water on the wind and broke his hobble strap and headed out looking for water, and so Thomas tracked him next morning and found him – he was to have a drink at a spring a natural spring bubbling up out of the ground and Thomas could hear the bell ringing in the in the scrub. So he went in and got him, and took him back to where the mob were and brought them all over and watered their animals and this was how they found the country that they were gonna settle in. And that bell is still in the family today – it actually sits on my dad’s office desk at home so.

Ben: What a great reminder to what was, well, probably an act of survival and really in a way that beast sort of laid foundations for you.

Bram: Absolutely and we’ve been eating cattle ever since.

Ben: Yeah now we’re gonna talk about mobs in a minute. The Aboriginals because there’s a lot to talk about with there, the land itself. And we’re talking about the fact that we’re living in a world where we always have to constantly adjust – and your family have obviously survived the test of time. But surviving the test of time, was that it in terms of an inside to your family? Were they very good at it and embracing change do you think?

Bram: I think necessity is the mother of invention and when you’re in a remote, and you know you live remotely you do whatever you have to do to survive. I think we’re probably resilient and I think that we’ve, we’ve been very good at living with very little – and anyone who’s started a business and has had to create a business knows exactly what I’m talking about. Because you give far more than you receive when you run your own business, and I really believe that intergenerational businesses are people who who first they have a very clear dream. They’ve got a lot of drive and ambition, but they can they can just continue to give they just never give up basically.

Ben: Yeah they never give up and and I suppose we we’re going to talk about the whole thing of tourism. Because a man originally settled out of necessity, so it was all about cattle. How did the tourism side come to life, and why is it important in today’s world?

Bram: Well we were very fortunate that my great great grandfather, Thomas, in the late eighteen hundreds he bought the neighboring cattle property to the north of where he settled in eighteen sixty two, and this property was about twice the size of Spring Creek which was the place he settled with his brother. And it just fitted our model for cattle property, and so he acquired it and on this property or under this property was the Undara lava tubes.

Ben: And what are they? Are you gonna explain those?

Bram: Yeah I will but this is this this very special cave system. That you know was created two hundred thousand years ago give or take a few years, and high on the Great Dividing Range – and there was no water in this area. As we know from the story of Nobby, and you know him going out to find water. And it’s high in the dry country and when you ride a horse, particularly through this this country you’ll come on to the lava tubes. And the lava tubes sections where the roof is collapsed and fallen in and you’ve got what appears to be rainforests growing from down inside the roof collapse. If you’re out there and you’re a pioneer, you’re a first settler, you’re looking for water and you ride on to a patch of dark green rainforest. What are gonna think?

Ben: Heaven.

Bram: Water. Finally so you go down in there there’s no water – there’s a really impressive cave system but it serves you no benefit. It gives it doesn’t give you a solution to your problem. So you’re still thirsty and you can’t graze cattle down there, so they will perceive to be useless and it was this perception that ultimately was their protection over time.

Ben: It didn’t have a worth at the time?

Bram: It was worthless. It was special, but it was worthless. So when we acquired the cattle property, we knew they were there, but they served us no purpose. You know we would take friends out there and show them our caves, and little did we know these were the oldest standing lava tubes on planet earth today.

Ben: Why are they important now in today’s world?

Bram: Personally I love nature and for some people the lava tubes won’t be important because they just have a different set of priorities. Our priorities is such though that we have been custodians for over a hundred years of this incredible natural wonder – and they’re important because there’s nowhere else on earth that you can where there is lava tubes of this age. You go to Hawaii for example, there’s lava tubes being created on a daily basis

Ben: Now explain how a lava tube is created because and these tubes that you’re talking aren’t little holes.

Bram: No, no, these are average about eighteen meters high – so about sixty feet. Twenty five meters wide on average, they do they are bit smaller and they are a bit larger than that as well.

Ben: So two hundred thousand years ago.

Bram: Yes. So two hundred thousand years ago we had three natural elements in our region that were in almost perfect balance. We had a volcano with a huge amount of lava, we had an ancient landscape which had river systems in it, and we had a gently sloping landscape – and these three elements are really important. So, when our volcano erupted, over fifteen hundred square kilometres of country was covered by the lava from this volcano. The main volume of lava channeled in the ancient riverbeds and as it started to cool and harden in the rivers it did so from the outside in. So, where it touched the ground, on the walls and floor, of the river bed, that lava tube started to form. The air started to cool the top of the lava flowing, and a crust or skin forms on the top and as that skin gets thicker and thicker the heat underneath supports the skin. And the skin becomes solid the walls and floor become solid – and the thicker the outside of the lava tube gets, the more it locks the heat inside the tube and that keeps the liquid inside very fluid. And because of the gently undulating country, it allows it to gravity feed through this pipe it’s created until the volcano stops erupting and it just drains at the end leaving a hollow pipe behind under the ground.

Ben: For you going out to the property and doing what you do now it must give you a wonderful sense of satisfaction. Are you called to do this? Do you think is it a calling?

Bram: I really enjoy working with people I’m somebody who enjoys people. I enjoy entertaining, I enjoyed telling the story, and I enjoy creating it is as life like as I can for people to experience. And when you come to Undara you, the first thing you’ll notice is just how natural everything is. It’s not it’s not a Hollywood production of what we think the outback is. It’s just the bushes naturally as possible and it’s so simple and for a lot of people who grow up in the city you never experience stuff like that in. So many internationals come to Undara and have their first genuine wild life experience. Because there is kangaroos, wallabies, and wallaroos and kookaburras and and bird life that they don’t see. Normally it’s because we’ve kept the bushes natural as we possibly can. And life is as simple as it was on the station where we do a bush breakfast, for example, and you cook your own toast over the fire, and the billy tea and your brewed coffee on the fire.

Ben: I love that

Bram: It is outstanding.

Ben: But do you find that people from the city – the simple things in life, do you think when they come up here do they find it hard to adjust? Does it take them a few days?

Bram: Yeah well you get somebody from the big city, the first thing they do is walk around with their hand up in the air trying to get a mobile signal. We don’t know whether they’re they would need help or they’re after mobile signal – but if you spend time in outback Australia and particular outback Queensland, you’re outside of cell phone range. All of a sudden there is this reality that there is a whole new world out there that you don’t know about. And I love it when we get school groups that come up and they go, “hang on what are we gonna do without technology for four days?” and you actually you actually teach these kids; now that’s a wallaby, and that’s different to a kangaroo, and that’s different to a wallaroo and here’s why and then three days in they’re coming to you saying “I saw a wallaby” “how do you know it was a wallaby?” “Because of this this this” and all of a sudden, they’re super enthusiastic about something they’ve never experienced before. Because they have been forced to turn the phone off so many people grow up in the city and they never see the stars and.

Ben: Isn’t that sad?

Bram: And we sit around a campfire, where there’s not light pollution so you’re in the dark – you’re around a campfire you’re under a million stars above. And we’ve had kids from Europe at Undara that say “What are they?” – you know I’ve got this experience where we take kids out to a big flat rock area and they don’t look up, it’s just not in their DNA to look up. They look down at their phones normally, so we walk down they got torches. And they’re following the torch light, and then we get on to this big rock and I say “now I want you all to find your own space, I want you all to sit down and still don’t look up. Now close your eyes and lie down” and when they’re all laying down, they’re all quiet we say, “now open your eye”s and these kids are going “oh my god what is that?” well.

Ben: That’s the universe

Bram: Right there, that’s the southern sky.

Ben: It’s Dreamtime.

Bram: Yeah and this is what people in the bush grow up with – and we’re almost oblivious to it because we see it all the time so.

Ben: Now tell me; Cairns is not far away people listening into this podcast today are thinking “gosh this is sounding too good to be true, we’ve got to go out here”. So Cairns is not far away, so for folks that are that are coming in to Cairns, what what’s your advice to them? You know there’s lots to see and do down there I mean you’ve got everything up here.

Bram: Absolutely there is I’d like to say there’s only two things you can’t do in this destination; snow ski and surf, but we do everything else really well so there are some fantastic experiences in north Queensland and great places to stay like Cairns Coconut Caravan Resort. It’s just one of the greatest in the country, we’re very proud long-term supporters and we have worked very closely with them over the years. The beautiful thing about north Queensland is that everything is easily accessed by conventional vehicles and so you can pick up a car – whether you fly in or you drive in yourself and you can do one day adventures, you can do multiple day adventures and keep coming back to Cairns. Because there’s so many great regions, of course we’ve got; Cape York Peninsula, we’ve got Cairns in the northern beaches, we’ve got Port Douglas Daintree region, the Atherton tablelands, the tropical coast south of Cairns, and of course the Savannah Way. Which is the Gulf Savannah from basically the edge of the Atherton tablelands, to the Northern Territory border which is another spectacular natural region. And you can develop these, your own self-drive itineraries, to take in all of these natural experiences out of Cairns. And I would strongly recommend if you’re coming to Cairns make sure you allow yourself a time budget – so don’t just come in and fly and flop. What you need to do is you need to so say “right we want to see the Atherton tablelands, we want to go to the Gulf Savannah, we want to go to Mission Beach, see cassowaries”. Whatever it is, I guarantee we have a natural experience here that you will remember for the rest of your life.

Ben: So, you can book these trips through Ingenia

Bram: Absolutely.

Ben: Once you get there but your ultimate trip, tell us how do we get to Undara? What we gonna see along the way?

Bram: Well if you come into the Gulf Savannah, we’ve got an incredible little area – the Etheridge Shire and we’ve got a tourism brand out there called Unearth the Etheridge. And it is a geological connection through our region, and we’ve got the world’s oldest lava tubes, we’ve got a beautiful sandstone gorge down in near Forsayth called Cobbold Gorge. And we just have this we’ve got our region is lava tubes, gems, and gorges. We’ve got gem fossicking regions, we’ve got a historical gold mine. In the summertime all of the lava tubes – there’s always little microbats that live in the lava tubes but in summer they breed.

Ben: Oh really?

Bram: And when we have our sort of annual monsoon and we get our rain, that triggers an explosion of the insect population and our bats feed upon insects, they insectivorous. Now the bats are mammals just like us, so when they breed, they give birth to live young. Now these are microbats, so the body the bats about the size of your thumb. so tiny little bats, some of these lava tubes become maternity caves and so the numbers of bats in winter this time of the year can go from a thousand bats to several hundreds of thousands of bats in the breeding season and at night time particularly.

Ben: That’d drive you batty.

Bram: Boom boom. Particularly in the summer, we will go to the entrance of these lava tubes – these maternity caves just as the bats are swarming out to go and feed at night time, there are so many bats that the trees get full of pythons and snakes that hang from the trees.

Ben: Are you serious?

Bram: As bats fly out they catch them from out of the air – and we stand underneath the trees and we watch this happen. If you have a look at the Undara website, you’ll see videos and particularly on the social media as well. You’ll see videos of us on tour, watching snakes catching bats out of the air and it’s I don’t know of too many places in the world where you can see this.

Ben: Well no, and we were talking before about how everything’s changing in terms of the environment and how things learn to survive, like we were talking about cane toads before.

Bram: Correct.

Ben: Saying that the animals have learnt to do what?

Bram: Yeah okay. So when I was a child we used to get big sand goannas, the big lizards and snakes and they would dig underneath the chicken wire to get in to the chicken coop to eat the eggs that would be in the laying boxes. And it was our job as children, to grab hold of the goanna by the tail, drag them out of the chicken coop, and bury the wire back down and cover it over so they wouldn’t eat the eggs. And almost overnight, all of the goannas disappeared, and we hardly saw snakes. There were no frill necked lizards, left but there was a new arrival and it was a cane toad – and this was about forty-five years ago. So, the toads turned up on what happened was everything that used to pray upon frogs saw this big frog and the ate them. Now because cane toads are highly toxic, so eating the toad meant that it killed the animal – and so it’s only in the last probably ten or fifteen years that we’ve started to see frill necked lizards. And these things that disappeared from our environment and now starting to make a resurgence. All of these critters that used to pray upon the cane toad and die, have learnt now that you don’t eat the whole toad. You flip the toad over and you just eat the stomach and the inside of the toad and leave the caucus behind. And multiple species now do this – I’ve seen you know kookaburras, birds of prey, feral cats, dingoes so multiple different species have evolved to now live with the toads, so the toad has become a part of our bio diversity. It’s a critter that lives within our natural balance and mother nature has made the necessary changes that now the toad is part of the ballot.

Ben: I had an experience recently where we took this radio truck that we’re sitting in today. Chris is probably gonna get a photo and put it up on the website, so we people can see it and everyone said don’t built it don’t build it don’t build it it’s a waste of money and probably was a hair brained idea. But we ended up in a little town called Uki at a post office and my best friend who used to work in television, left Sydney, left the whole industry and bought a post office and everyone said he’s mad. No, not really, he’s changed the whole town. But what was interesting was I bought the truck up one afternoon and he and I were just sitting there having a beer and I said “why don’t we do a podcast series and just talk to some of the locals?” It was unbelievable what I suddenly realised was all these people had never had a voice right, everyone had a story, everyone everyone had a story and everyone was a star. And it what I found in these little country towns is people do in embrace who they are.

Bram: Sure, and you know it’s very hard to it’s very hard to live remotely, without some sort of self-confidence. You you’ve got it if if you want to disappear – go to a big city.

Ben: Well I think that is the message today, when you drive your own adventure from the city you’re gonna come to these communities, you’re actually going to experience for the first time a sense of community.

Bram: Yeah well, I’ll give you a little example right, we my family were a founding family of a bush race meeting that is held once a year up here in north Queensland called the Oak Park Races. And it’s four hundred kilometres west of Townsville on a cattle station, so it’s way out in the middle of nowhere. Founded in 1904, we have run a camp for our visitors at Oak Park Races since 1904. Now this year I turned fifty-three at the races and this was my fiftieth Oak Park – so I’ve missed three in my lifetime. We get people who come from the city that come to the Oak Park Races. There is not mobile signal so and we’re there for ten days, because we set the camp up, the races are only over two days, there’s about five days of social events, and then everyone goes home. And we pack the camp up so all up we’re up there for ten days. When kids arrive from the city who have never been in this environment before there’s this immediate “oh my god technology detox” force technology detox, but after a few days the kids are actually sitting playing cards, they’re normal. When did you last see kids play cards? When did you see families actually spend time together with their kids together? Talking and walking and actually appreciating the beauty of where you are. What we need to do is every single person has a story, every community has got these incredible experiences, which you’re not going to find unless you actually get out of the cities and start to try and find the pulse. Listen to the heartbeat of a community and the only way you’re going to do that is by talking to people, slowing down, spending time and start to pay attention.

Ben: Thanks for being such an interesting interviewee today. I mean I love your passion, I love the fact that you are so passionate about what you talk about, and that’s what makes it so interesting and I only hope that your kids find that passion that you’ve got maybe one day take over from your I mean it’s about the next generation as well isn’t it?

Bram: I hope so.

Ben: Chatting to Bram Collins today and we’ve just been chatting about Undara – lots to see and do here in Cairns so you can drive your own adventure.

Thank you very much Ben.

Ben: What an interesting story – your family how it all started into this outback adventure, can you take us through a little bit of that?

Bram: My great great grandfather arrived in the pastoral districts of Cook and Kennedy in eighteen sixties in the early eighteen sixties. About the time the explorers were Burke and Wills were their rescue parties were out looking for them so.

Ben: It sort of puts it in perspective doesn’t it?

Bram: Yeah it does – it was a long time ago and we originally came into this northern country looking for grazing land. They had growing cattle heard from northern New South Wales and they’ve basically been here since eighteen sixty-two, and so I’m fifth generation still loading the same cattle property still grazing cattle.

Ben: What when you think about your forbearers, it wasn’t about creating a resort – it was about survival wasn’t it?

Bram: Yeah absolutely and the lava tubes thankfully were on some land that the family acquired in the late eighteen nineties. So you know we’ve been been looking after the lava tubes for over hundred years as well

Ben: Now there’s a story about a bell, and it’s not a dance song but and it involves some bullocks, and how the family sort of discovered where they were going to start this whole operation from.

Bram: My great great grandfather, Thomas Collins and his brother Charles were coming up following the trail of an explorer named Leichhardt – and he came up into north Queensland in eighteen forty-five. He recorded every of all his experiences in a series of journals, and the two brothers were using the journals as a guide as they went along. Anyway, they spent two nights in waterless country, with no water. They had a bullock train and had a lead bullock out the front with a bell around his neck his name was Nobby. And at night they would unyoke the the bullocks from the from the bullock yoke. And they would hobble them out and put a bell on Nobby’s neck, just so they could keep track of him in the dark and every morning and they would go and bring Nobby in. Take the bell off and take the hobbles off and yoke them back up. But this night he smelt water on the wind and broke his hobble strap and headed out looking for water, and so Thomas tracked him next morning and found him – he was to have a drink at a spring a natural spring bubbling up out of the ground and Thomas could hear the bell ringing in the in the scrub. So he went in and got him, and took him back to where the mob were and brought them all over and watered their animals and this was how they found the country that they were gonna settle in. And that bell is still in the family today – it actually sits on my dad’s office desk at home so.

Ben: What a great reminder to what was, well, probably an act of survival and really in a way that beast sort of laid foundations for you.

Bram: Absolutely and we’ve been eating cattle ever since.

Ben: Yeah now we’re gonna talk about mobs in a minute. The Aboriginals because there’s a lot to talk about with there, the land itself. And we’re talking about the fact that we’re living in a world where we always have to constantly adjust – and your family have obviously survived the test of time. But surviving the test of time, was that it in terms of an inside to your family? Were they very good at it and embracing change do you think?

Bram: I think necessity is the mother of invention and when you’re in a remote, and you know you live remotely you do whatever you have to do to survive. I think we’re probably resilient and I think that we’ve, we’ve been very good at living with very little – and anyone who’s started a business and has had to create a business knows exactly what I’m talking about. Because you give far more than you receive when you run your own business, and I really believe that intergenerational businesses are people who who first they have a very clear dream. They’ve got a lot of drive and ambition, but they can they can just continue to give they just never give up basically.

Ben: Yeah they never give up and and I suppose we we’re going to talk about the whole thing of tourism. Because a man originally settled out of necessity, so it was all about cattle. How did the tourism side come to life, and why is it important in today’s world?

Bram: Well we were very fortunate that my great great grandfather, Thomas, in the late eighteen hundreds he bought the neighboring cattle property to the north of where he settled in eighteen sixty two, and this property was about twice the size of Spring Creek which was the place he settled with his brother. And it just fitted our model for cattle property, and so he acquired it and on this property or under this property was the Undara lava tubes.

Ben: And what are they? Are you gonna explain those?

Bram: Yeah I will but this is this this very special cave system. That you know was created two hundred thousand years ago give or take a few years, and high on the Great Dividing Range – and there was no water in this area. As we know from the story of Nobby, and you know him going out to find water. And it’s high in the dry country and when you ride a horse, particularly through this this country you’ll come on to the lava tubes. And the lava tubes sections where the roof is collapsed and fallen in and you’ve got what appears to be rainforests growing from down inside the roof collapse. If you’re out there and you’re a pioneer, you’re a first settler, you’re looking for water and you ride on to a patch of dark green rainforest. What are gonna think?

Ben: Heaven.

Bram: Water. Finally so you go down in there there’s no water – there’s a really impressive cave system but it serves you no benefit. It gives it doesn’t give you a solution to your problem. So you’re still thirsty and you can’t graze cattle down there, so they will perceive to be useless and it was this perception that ultimately was their protection over time.

Ben: It didn’t have a worth at the time?

Bram: It was worthless. It was special, but it was worthless. So when we acquired the cattle property, we knew they were there, but they served us no purpose. You know we would take friends out there and show them our caves, and little did we know these were the oldest standing lava tubes on planet earth today.

Ben: Why are they important now in today’s world?

Bram: Personally I love nature and for some people the lava tubes won’t be important because they just have a different set of priorities. Our priorities is such though that we have been custodians for over a hundred years of this incredible natural wonder – and they’re important because there’s nowhere else on earth that you can where there is lava tubes of this age. You go to Hawaii for example, there’s lava tubes being created on a daily basis

Ben: Now explain how a lava tube is created because and these tubes that you’re talking aren’t little holes.

Bram: No, no, these are average about eighteen meters high – so about sixty feet. Twenty five meters wide on average, they do they are bit smaller and they are a bit larger than that as well.

Ben: So two hundred thousand years ago.

Bram: Yes. So two hundred thousand years ago we had three natural elements in our region that were in almost perfect balance. We had a volcano with a huge amount of lava, we had an ancient landscape which had river systems in it, and we had a gently sloping landscape – and these three elements are really important. So, when our volcano erupted, over fifteen hundred square kilometres of country was covered by the lava from this volcano. The main volume of lava channeled in the ancient riverbeds and as it started to cool and harden in the rivers it did so from the outside in. So, where it touched the ground, on the walls and floor, of the river bed, that lava tube started to form. The air started to cool the top of the lava flowing, and a crust or skin forms on the top and as that skin gets thicker and thicker the heat underneath supports the skin. And the skin becomes solid the walls and floor become solid – and the thicker the outside of the lava tube gets, the more it locks the heat inside the tube and that keeps the liquid inside very fluid. And because of the gently undulating country, it allows it to gravity feed through this pipe it’s created until the volcano stops erupting and it just drains at the end leaving a hollow pipe behind under the ground.

Ben: For you going out to the property and doing what you do now it must give you a wonderful sense of satisfaction. Are you called to do this? Do you think is it a calling?

Bram: I really enjoy working with people I’m somebody who enjoys people. I enjoy entertaining, I enjoyed telling the story, and I enjoy creating it is as life like as I can for people to experience. And when you come to Undara you, the first thing you’ll notice is just how natural everything is. It’s not it’s not a Hollywood production of what we think the outback is. It’s just the bushes naturally as possible and it’s so simple and for a lot of people who grow up in the city you never experience stuff like that in. So many internationals come to Undara and have their first genuine wild life experience. Because there is kangaroos, wallabies, and wallaroos and kookaburras and and bird life that they don’t see. Normally it’s because we’ve kept the bushes natural as we possibly can. And life is as simple as it was on the station where we do a bush breakfast, for example, and you cook your own toast over the fire, and the billy tea and your brewed coffee on the fire.

Ben: I love that

Bram: It is outstanding.

Ben: But do you find that people from the city – the simple things in life, do you think when they come up here do they find it hard to adjust? Does it take them a few days?

Bram: Yeah well you get somebody from the big city, the first thing they do is walk around with their hand up in the air trying to get a mobile signal. We don’t know whether they’re they would need help or they’re after mobile signal – but if you spend time in outback Australia and particular outback Queensland, you’re outside of cell phone range. All of a sudden there is this reality that there is a whole new world out there that you don’t know about. And I love it when we get school groups that come up and they go, “hang on what are we gonna do without technology for four days?” and you actually you actually teach these kids; now that’s a wallaby, and that’s different to a kangaroo, and that’s different to a wallaroo and here’s why and then three days in they’re coming to you saying “I saw a wallaby” “how do you know it was a wallaby?” “Because of this this this” and all of a sudden, they’re super enthusiastic about something they’ve never experienced before. Because they have been forced to turn the phone off so many people grow up in the city and they never see the stars and.

Ben: Isn’t that sad?

Bram: And we sit around a campfire, where there’s not light pollution so you’re in the dark – you’re around a campfire you’re under a million stars above. And we’ve had kids from Europe at Undara that say “What are they?” – you know I’ve got this experience where we take kids out to a big flat rock area and they don’t look up, it’s just not in their DNA to look up. They look down at their phones normally, so we walk down they got torches. And they’re following the torch light, and then we get on to this big rock and I say “now I want you all to find your own space, I want you all to sit down and still don’t look up. Now close your eyes and lie down” and when they’re all laying down, they’re all quiet we say, “now open your eye”s and these kids are going “oh my god what is that?” well.

Ben: That’s the universe

Bram: Right there, that’s the southern sky.

Ben: It’s Dreamtime.

Bram: Yeah and this is what people in the bush grow up with – and we’re almost oblivious to it because we see it all the time so.

Ben: Now tell me; Cairns is not far away people listening into this podcast today are thinking “gosh this is sounding too good to be true, we’ve got to go out here”. So Cairns is not far away, so for folks that are that are coming in to Cairns, what what’s your advice to them? You know there’s lots to see and do down there I mean you’ve got everything up here.

Bram: Absolutely there is I’d like to say there’s only two things you can’t do in this destination; snow ski and surf, but we do everything else really well so there are some fantastic experiences in north Queensland and great places to stay like Cairns Coconut Caravan Resort. It’s just one of the greatest in the country, we’re very proud long-term supporters and we have worked very closely with them over the years. The beautiful thing about north Queensland is that everything is easily accessed by conventional vehicles and so you can pick up a car – whether you fly in or you drive in yourself and you can do one day adventures, you can do multiple day adventures and keep coming back to Cairns. Because there’s so many great regions, of course we’ve got; Cape York Peninsula, we’ve got Cairns in the northern beaches, we’ve got Port Douglas Daintree region, the Atherton tablelands, the tropical coast south of Cairns, and of course the Savannah Way. Which is the Gulf Savannah from basically the edge of the Atherton tablelands, to the Northern Territory border which is another spectacular natural region. And you can develop these, your own self-drive itineraries, to take in all of these natural experiences out of Cairns. And I would strongly recommend if you’re coming to Cairns make sure you allow yourself a time budget – so don’t just come in and fly and flop. What you need to do is you need to so say “right we want to see the Atherton tablelands, we want to go to the Gulf Savannah, we want to go to Mission Beach, see cassowaries”. Whatever it is, I guarantee we have a natural experience here that you will remember for the rest of your life.

Ben: So, you can book these trips through Ingenia

Bram: Absolutely.

Ben: Once you get there but your ultimate trip, tell us how do we get to Undara? What we gonna see along the way?

Bram: Well if you come into the Gulf Savannah, we’ve got an incredible little area – the Etheridge Shire and we’ve got a tourism brand out there called Unearth the Etheridge. And it is a geological connection through our region, and we’ve got the world’s oldest lava tubes, we’ve got a beautiful sandstone gorge down in near Forsayth called Cobbold Gorge. And we just have this we’ve got our region is lava tubes, gems, and gorges. We’ve got gem fossicking regions, we’ve got a historical gold mine. In the summertime all of the lava tubes – there’s always little microbats that live in the lava tubes but in summer they breed.

Ben: Oh really?

Bram: And when we have our sort of annual monsoon and we get our rain, that triggers an explosion of the insect population and our bats feed upon insects, they insectivorous. Now the bats are mammals just like us, so when they breed, they give birth to live young. Now these are microbats, so the body the bats about the size of your thumb. so tiny little bats, some of these lava tubes become maternity caves and so the numbers of bats in winter this time of the year can go from a thousand bats to several hundreds of thousands of bats in the breeding season and at night time particularly.

Ben: That’d drive you batty.

Bram: Boom boom. Particularly in the summer, we will go to the entrance of these lava tubes – these maternity caves just as the bats are swarming out to go and feed at night time, there are so many bats that the trees get full of pythons and snakes that hang from the trees.

Ben: Are you serious?

Bram: As bats fly out they catch them from out of the air – and we stand underneath the trees and we watch this happen. If you have a look at the Undara website, you’ll see videos and particularly on the social media as well. You’ll see videos of us on tour, watching snakes catching bats out of the air and it’s I don’t know of too many places in the world where you can see this.

Ben: Well no, and we were talking before about how everything’s changing in terms of the environment and how things learn to survive, like we were talking about cane toads before.

Bram: Correct.

Ben: Saying that the animals have learnt to do what?

Bram: Yeah okay. So when I was a child we used to get big sand goannas, the big lizards and snakes and they would dig underneath the chicken wire to get in to the chicken coop to eat the eggs that would be in the laying boxes. And it was our job as children, to grab hold of the goanna by the tail, drag them out of the chicken coop, and bury the wire back down and cover it over so they wouldn’t eat the eggs. And almost overnight, all of the goannas disappeared, and we hardly saw snakes. There were no frill necked lizards, left but there was a new arrival and it was a cane toad – and this was about forty-five years ago. So, the toads turned up on what happened was everything that used to pray upon frogs saw this big frog and the ate them. Now because cane toads are highly toxic, so eating the toad meant that it killed the animal – and so it’s only in the last probably ten or fifteen years that we’ve started to see frill necked lizards. And these things that disappeared from our environment and now starting to make a resurgence. All of these critters that used to pray upon the cane toad and die, have learnt now that you don’t eat the whole toad. You flip the toad over and you just eat the stomach and the inside of the toad and leave the caucus behind. And multiple species now do this – I’ve seen you know kookaburras, birds of prey, feral cats, dingoes so multiple different species have evolved to now live with the toads, so the toad has become a part of our bio diversity. It’s a critter that lives within our natural balance and mother nature has made the necessary changes that now the toad is part of the ballot.

Ben: I had an experience recently where we took this radio truck that we’re sitting in today. Chris is probably gonna get a photo and put it up on the website, so we people can see it and everyone said don’t built it don’t build it don’t build it it’s a waste of money and probably was a hair brained idea. But we ended up in a little town called Uki at a post office and my best friend who used to work in television, left Sydney, left the whole industry and bought a post office and everyone said he’s mad. No, not really, he’s changed the whole town. But what was interesting was I bought the truck up one afternoon and he and I were just sitting there having a beer and I said “why don’t we do a podcast series and just talk to some of the locals?” It was unbelievable what I suddenly realised was all these people had never had a voice right, everyone had a story, everyone everyone had a story and everyone was a star. And it what I found in these little country towns is people do in embrace who they are.

Bram: Sure, and you know it’s very hard to it’s very hard to live remotely, without some sort of self-confidence. You you’ve got it if if you want to disappear – go to a big city.

Ben: Well I think that is the message today, when you drive your own adventure from the city you’re gonna come to these communities, you’re actually going to experience for the first time a sense of community.

Bram: Yeah well, I’ll give you a little example right, we my family were a founding family of a bush race meeting that is held once a year up here in north Queensland called the Oak Park Races. And it’s four hundred kilometres west of Townsville on a cattle station, so it’s way out in the middle of nowhere. Founded in 1904, we have run a camp for our visitors at Oak Park Races since 1904. Now this year I turned fifty-three at the races and this was my fiftieth Oak Park – so I’ve missed three in my lifetime. We get people who come from the city that come to the Oak Park Races. There is not mobile signal so and we’re there for ten days, because we set the camp up, the races are only over two days, there’s about five days of social events, and then everyone goes home. And we pack the camp up so all up we’re up there for ten days. When kids arrive from the city who have never been in this environment before there’s this immediate “oh my god technology detox” force technology detox, but after a few days the kids are actually sitting playing cards, they’re normal. When did you last see kids play cards? When did you see families actually spend time together with their kids together? Talking and walking and actually appreciating the beauty of where you are. What we need to do is every single person has a story, every community has got these incredible experiences, which you’re not going to find unless you actually get out of the cities and start to try and find the pulse. Listen to the heartbeat of a community and the only way you’re going to do that is by talking to people, slowing down, spending time and start to pay attention.

Ben: Thanks for being such an interesting interviewee today. I mean I love your passion, I love the fact that you are so passionate about what you talk about, and that’s what makes it so interesting and I only hope that your kids find that passion that you’ve got maybe one day take over from your I mean it’s about the next generation as well isn’t it?

Bram: I hope so.

Ben: Chatting to Bram Collins today and we’ve just been chatting about Undara – lots to see and do here in Cairns so you can drive your own adventure.

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