There are plenty of historic anecdotes to be told in Innisfail, Queensland.
Standing inside Innisfail's historic Shire Hall, I'm haunted by two ghosts from the past - and their names are Geoff and Paul. Geoff is dressed in the outfit of a sugar cane cutter from the era when it was all done by hand: a khaki shirt, brown trousers and broad-brimmed hat. Paul, by contrast, is the epitome of a 1920s townie: striped shirt, bow-tie and rakish cap.
Members of the local historical society, they host a new walking tour which explores the history of this tropical Queensland town, including its surprising wealth of art deco architecture. As they explain, there's a reason for that glamorous heritage. In 1918 the town was knocked over by a massive cyclone, and all its timber buildings destroyed. It was then rebuilt, largely in the then-popular art deco architectural style.
Seeking to capitalise on this bonanza, in recent years Innisfail has hosted an annual art deco festival in September. Now the Art Deco Guided History Walk adds a way to enjoy the style year-round. It starts at the Shire Hall, a marvellous 1938 structure with a modernist facade. The interior is just as impressive, with a floor of hand-painted tiles (with which our guides test our observational skills, by seeing if we can spot two that don't match). From the broad first-floor balcony we have a fine view of Rankin Street's other treasures, including a 1932 bank that's now a doctor's surgery; Duffin House, with its attractive Spanish Mission-style pillars; and in the distance, the 1934 water tower.
It was really flash. Silver cutlery, flowers on tables, waitresses with starched white uniforms and bluebird pins on their lapels.
Along the street, we visit the Mother of Good Counsel Catholic church, completed in 1928. The interior has an open, airy feel, and its stained-glass windows have witnessed more than one natural disaster.
Walking back along Rankin and Edith Streets, we see several more buildings from the art deco era, including a courthouse and pubs, and hear some spicy tales connected to them. A delightful facade south of the shire hall is that of the former Blue Bird Cafe, once run by Greek migrants. "It was really flash," says Paul. "Silver cutlery, flowers on tables, waitresses with starched white uniforms and bluebird pins on their lapels."
With a cafe and ballroom, the Blue Bird was the epicentre of Innisfail's social life in the era before the mechanisation of sugar cane harvesting. The cafe, like the cane cutters, is long gone - but the glamour of its architecture remains.
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Getting there: Innisfail is an hour's drive south of Cairns, also served by the Spirit of Queensland train between Brisbane and Cairns. See queenslandrailtravel.com.au
Staying there: The Old Church offers heritage accommodation outside Innisfail, near Paronella Park. See theoldchurch.net.au
Touring there: The Art Deco Guided History Walk departs Innisfail's Shire Hall at 10am Thursdays from May to November; fee $20. See cassowarycoasttourism.com.au
The writer travelled courtesy of Queensland Rail Travel and Tourism Tropical North Queensland.