18 January 2024

Unofficial caretaker concerned about the future of CREB Track

| Matt Nicholls
Join the conversation

Peter ‘PJ’ Wallace at his remote outpost on top of a hill on the CREB Track, south of Wujal Wujal. Picture courtesy of Brett Hemmings

When Cyclone Jasper came and went, leaving more than two metres of rainfall in its wake, one of my immediate concerns was the welfare of “PJ”, a bloke I’d never even met before.

In fact, we’d never even spoken on the phone, but I knew enough about him to know that he was right in the firing line.

You see, PJ, or Peter Wallace as his birth certificate says, is the founder of a Facebook page called Local CREB Track conditions, providing first-hand information on the iconic bush track from the Daintree to Wujal Wujal.

It’s been a game-changer for the tourism industry as it provides real-time information about the track, which can change condition in the space of a few hours, depending on local rainfall.

We’ll get back to the Facebook page in a bit, but that’s how I knew PJ could have been in some strife, based on what we saw in Wujal, Degarra, Bloomfield and Ayton.

So it was my relief when PJ put up a post on the morning of December 18 – the same morning when people were stuck on their roofs – to say that he was OK.

We’ve since spoken on the phone and PJ says he’s never seen such devastating environmental damage to the region.

“I got hammered here,” he said of Cyclone Jasper’s crossing.

“We were right on the edge of the eye and I would have preferred it came over the top of us, to be honest.

“It pushed a wall in on one side of the house but the place stood up pretty well, considering.”

Hundreds of landslides have scarred the landscape in Far North Queensland, closing roads.

However, it was the rain bomb in the days afterwards that caused hundreds of landslides across the Daintree Rainforest and surrounding landscapes.

“I measured 2.2 metres but that does not account for any overflows. So it would be a lot more rain than that,” PJ said.

When the rain finally stopped, a helicopter turned up to check on him and some of his other isolated neighbours.

“I live right at the top of a hill near China Camp. I’m right on the CREB Track,” he said.

“I told the guys in the helicopter that I was OK but I probably wasn’t as prepared as I normally would be.

“We get a big wet season every year and I’m usually prepared for cyclones but this was earlier than what we would normally get.”

Luckily, one thing PJ is always well prepared for is downed trees.

Once the sun came out, he was straight onto the chainsaw so he could carve a track down his driveway and into Bloomfield.

In Ayton, he was able to get some additional supplies.

“It was hard work,” he said of getting in and out by road.

“I had to winch out in one place.

“The road to Cooktown was barely open so it’s going to be a long time before that coast road (Bloomfield Track) is opened, let alone the CREB.”

The CREB Track is one of three iconic 4WD tracks for Cape York adventurers. Picture: Hema Maps

And that’s PJ’s big concern. Not only is he the CREB Track’s unofficial caretaker, but he knows the economic benefit the four-wheel drive track brings to Cape York.

“It’s a bigger money spinner than what people think,” he said.

“Some days you might see 30 four-wheel drives at the start of the track in the morning.

“All those people come through Wujal and into Bloomfield and Cooktown.”

As the name suggests, the CREB Track was built for the Cairns Regional Electricity Board to service the power network to Cooktown.

The network now runs further inland, putting pressure on the future of the track.

“People have been calling for its closure in the past but I’d be devastated to see that happen,” he said.

“It’s hard to assess how badly damaged it is but once the dry season comes along I reckon we’ll have plenty of people coming up with chainsaws keen to open it back up.

“Cape York needs its four-wheel drive tracks. The CREB is one of the iconic tracks, along with the Old Coach Road and the Telegraph Track.”

PJ’s property is right on top of a hill above China Camp on the CREB Track. Picture courtesy of Brett Hemmings

You’ll be able to keep up to date on the progress of the CREB on PJ’s Facebook page, which has proven invaluable since its creation.

“It’s saved me a lot of recoveries. People don’t realise that once you get a small amount of rain on the track it becomes almost impossible to use,” he said.

“When it’s dry, it’s a really easy track, but it might have rained here overnight and been sunny in Cairns or Mossman when they left.

“The page was just about keeping people informed about the latest conditions.”

PJ is legendary for being able to cut his way through the rainforest to keep the CREB Track open. Picture courtesy of Brett Hemmings

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Cape York Weekly

Subscribe to get the latest edition of Cape York Weekly in your inbox each Monday.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Cape York Weekly's terms and conditions and privacy policy.