Travel

The Curious Case of Australia’s Teddy Bear Fences

Teddy bear fences are making Australian road trips interesting for families.

Photo: Marina Shatskikh

Embarking on a road trip in Australia can be both exciting and frightening. From its endless red dust roads on the infamous Nullarbor Plain to the ominous Giant Koala between Melbourne and Adelaide, or the myriad of other big things you will find on the side of the road in Australia—a road trip in this country sure can be an unexpected adventure.

Most of the bigger attractions are often planned and promote tourism, but every once in a while, travellers come across something unexpected. This time it’s teddy bear fences.

If you haven’t come across one yet, don’t worry, they’re not actually that easy to find. The one I stumbled across is in Brassall, a five-minute drive from Ipswich. The only way to come across it is if you know about it already, or are on the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail and see it near the Brassall Bikeway section.

Dubbed the Windle Road Fluffy Toy Fence, this under the radar attraction was created by Rob who lives on Windle Rd and wanted to lift people’s spirits during the Covid-19 lockdowns last year.

According to Rob’s wife, Carol, people had put teddy bears in windows during the lockdown, but Rob, who collected cans noticed the number of soft toys being thrown out. He then coined it, “free the fluffy toys” and the fence was born.

“People were providing soft toys, and Rob hung them on the fence. During the lockdown, a lot of families were walking by and so he put the toys there for the children, and the signs are for the adults,” said Carol.

According to Carol, the Windle Rd Fluffy Toy Fence has been a victim of theft. People have stolen around 100 toys, but they’re determined to reach the end of the fence. The family is also accepting stuffed toy donations.

Each toy ranges from teddy bears to bunny rabbits, Pepper pigs, and dinosaurs. Basically any stuffed animal toy you will find a child grasping is on this fence. Under a few of the toys are sayings. Although I couldn’t make much sense of many of them. One read “Aerial speed check pigs in space” and “BBQ cookers needed vegan’s need not apply.”

“The signs are Rob’s wit. Some are a play on words, others are sayings,” said Carol.

READ MORE: The Best Things to Do in South Australia

The Windle Road Fluffy Toy Fence isn’t the only toy fence in Australia. On the Copper Coast Highway in South Australia, travellers would have stumbled across the long fence. The fence, which became a recognisable part of the highway’s scenery was started by South Australian media personality, Andrew ‘Cosi’ Costello and his daughters while on a road trip to his hometown on the Yorke Peninsula. This was inspired by another teddy bear fence in Truro, SA a small town northeast of Adelaide.

The fence earned a world record as the longest teddy bear fence in the world, with an estimated 2000 plush children’s toys strapped to the one kilometre long stretch of fence. It was all in the name of fun, but unfortunately, not everyone saw its humour. After complaints and Councils not wanting it, the toys were taken down, although, not before dividing the community.

At first, it was a safety concern, considering it was a 100km/h road and people would stop to marvel at the sight. People asked for it to be moved, but nearby councils didn’t want it, so eventually it was decided to pull it down.

Despite not being there anymore, the memory is very much alive, with fans of the teddy bear fence reminiscing about its positive impact on travellers and families.

According to an Aussie Rambling Facebook Post, the story behind toy fences started with a microwave (at least this one did). A microwave that fell off a vehicle sat on the side of the highway until someone decided to pick it up and place it on a post. It fell off, they would appear back on the post. Eventually, it disappeared. One day a gorilla was found on the road. Someone picked it up and sat it on the post, waving at passing traffic. A man only referred to as David, noticed the gorilla being attacked by birds and even found the gorilla hanging on a barbed-wire fence on the other side of the highway. David decided the gorilla needed a friend, so every time David drove past with his two-year-old granddaughter, they added a toy.

In past years, teddy trees have popped up in small-town, such as the one that was located between Emerald and Springsure in central Queensland.

Drivers travelling between Canberra and NSW’s South Coast will find Pooh Bear’s Corner– a large rocky hole in the side of Clyde Mountain, guarded by Winnie the Pooh. The site was started in the early 1920s by local potato farmers Barbara and David Carter for their children. Visitors added more teddy bears to the collection and eventually became an attraction. Despite a few vandalism attempts and fires, travellers still leave toys and supplies for Pooh–honey and beer.

There’s something to be said about these bizarre teddy bear fences and roadside attractions. While some were started to lift spirits, and others were born from family memories, it seems no one can resist the intrigue of a stuffed toy on the side of the road, especially when there is an abundance.

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Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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