QLD5: Cruising through the jungles of QLD

North of Brisbane is the Sunshine Coast, though when I was there it was getting a reputation as the Rain Coast. It had been raining a lot in October, and the wet earth contributed to the devastating flooding a few months later.

But on the day I visited the Sunshine Coast, it was a lovely sunshiny day. My bro and I rented a car and went for an explore up the coast.

Now, that's cool

There were no specific plans, and our first stop ended up being the seaside town of Coolum. It’s a bit resorty, but Mondays in October were obviously not the busy season.

In fact, it all felt a bit like a beach that under normal circumstance would have been a lush tropical destination, but due to all the other neighbouring lush tropical beaches, it was just another nice beach, having to be content with its ordinary reputation. Well, at least they don’t have to rake the sand for needles.

Thrillingly, a sign by a car park in Coolum warned of it being “swooping bird territory” during “breeding season”, but didn’t actually say when the season was. It was like an avian form of Russian roulette – was it breeding season? Would my head get some unwanted bird love? Visitors were advised to wear a hat or umbrella to help ward off those frisky birdies.

Actually, the different fauna was really interesting. The protected but annoying ibis is the scourge of outdoor cafe seating. Walking along the riverbank I’d see exotic creatures like the Australian water dragon hanging out on the footpath, and the Sunshine Coast introduced me to bush turkey down by the beach.

Bush turkey

That bush turkey’s beach was Noosa Heads, which is a lovely tropical beach and/or a vile tourist resort. On one hand, you can enjoy an ice cream down by the beach or browse the local bookshop. On the other hand, you can go to the Hugo Boss shop and buy a suit, because obviously buying a suit is what one goes to a subtropical beach to do.

Ugh. Noosa Heads is a bit rubbish, but that’s its thing. What’s more fun is cruising down the Sunshine Motorway listening to King Kurt’s 1983 psychobilly classic “Destination Zululand“, singing along with half-remembered lyrics distorted by 25 years.

We stopped off at the Buderim Ginger Factory (after previously discovering that it’s not actually located in Buderim) and toured the ginger factory and stocked up on various ginger products (including some marmalade that ended up putting my suitcase 1kg over the weight limit, which I had to pay extra for. Boo.)

And so we returned to Brisbane, passing under Steve Irwin Way and paying respects to the Crocodile Hunter and/or stingrays.

Now, if turns out, I didn’t just have a wee Queensland holiday. I was able to experience some of the best bits of it before they were munted by the floods. The next time I return, it’s going to be to a different state.

QLD4: Shelved

So, I was halfway through posting the tales of my October visit to Queensland when it started to rain. And it rained quite a lot and started to flood all over the state. The fake beach I visited turned to mud, cars were swept down rivers, houses collapsed and people died. So it all seemed a bit weird to keep on with my tales of the fun time before the floods came; those simpler, drier times.

But slowly Queensland is recovering. In a lot of places things are back to normal; in other places things will never be the same. So I reckon now’s a good a time as any to keep on telling my Brisbane stories, looking back at how sometimes it’s the ordinary things that can seem most exotic and end up being most memorable, like going to the shops.

I was meandering around the central Brisbane shopping area and came across a Borders book store. It was a fairly ordinary Borders, only there was a big gap in the shop. The music section had recently been cleared of stock, leaving a mass of empty CD shelves.

The death of the CD

Whenever I discover the closure of a music retailer, I always feel a little conflicted. Part of me is cheering “Viva la digital revolution, bitches!” and gleefully buying digital tracks of my favourite little bands that otherwise couldn’t afford to press CDs, but another part of me is deeply sad at the loss of the ’90s-style record shops I grew up with, all those racks and racks of music.

For Borders, ditching the CDs department probably isn’t that much of a big deal, but it probably also means that elsewhere a little record shop has also closed, taking with it some of those nice record-shop experiences. Oh well.

The mall called. My bro and I ventured out to Westfield Chermside, which is pretty much like any big mall you might have been to. I was excited to visit this particular mall because it had an Apple Store. As it happened, I needed a new cable for my iPhone, so I took the opportunity to shop there.

The place was swarming with people, most of whom seemed to be cheerfully fondling iPads. I found the cable I needed and looked for a till. The long counter at the back of the store was the Genius Bar thing, but that’s not a sales area.

I couldn’t see anywhere that looked like a sales point. I wondered for a moment that if they didn’t actually have any tills, perhaps they could just, like, intuit the money from you.

But no. Eventually I stumbled across a queue of people and at the end of the queue was a staffer standing next to a piece of minimalist furniture with a Mac on it. This was the till and they were happy to take my credit card.

One of those

Across town, we also paid a visit to the IKEA, which is still a huge novelty for me in this IKEAless land in which I dwell.

Somehow we ended up entering the IKEA maze from the exit-end, and so travelled against the carefully constructed retail flow. This meant starting with the kids area and ending with tiny-apartment ideas, which actually worked better for me.

There’s one thing that I really covet at IKEA – the Billy shelf system. It’s a really simple range of bookcases, and is one of their global bestsellers. I have books – I have too many books – and I have an inadequate bookcase I bought from Freedom furniture in 2001 (ex-display model, ’90s curled metal flourishes). All I want is a simple bookshelf like the Billy. It will house all my books and some decorative items too. Oh, globalisation, why dost thou foresake me, etc?

Instead I bought some $1 picture frames and tried to block the joy and simplicity of the Billy.

Billy

Brisbane has brilliant public transport. I borrowed a spare transport pass from my bro and enjoyed easy travel on the bus, train and ferry services. Any New Zealand dickface who thinks that trains are some sort of Edwardian antiquity that has no place in modern New Zealand, should be forced to spend a week in Brisbane riding the trains. They are splendid.

There was a curious disruption to the ferry service while I was there. A troubled man (a New Zealander!!!!) had tied up his yacht to the central ferry terminal – one of the ones that was later to be munted by the flood – and threatened to blow up his yacht. “I’ve got supplies and reckon I can stay awake for two weeks,” he told the local paper.

But it ended 16 hours later with a fire, a stabbing and the police eventually subduing him. He later claimed to have been suffering from marijuana-induced paranoia. New Zealanders, don’t smoke that reefer – you’ll end up mucking things up for Brisbane commuters.

But when the ferries were running, making the short trip from the city over to Kangaroo Point was a real pleasure, especially at night. It’s all lit up, looking like a proper fancy city, making me feel like I was in Brooklyn, or Devonport.

Brisbane

QLD1: Wheel around the Brisbane

I’d been to Queensland twice before – once in 1988 as part of a family jaunt around Australia, and the second time in 1991 in one of those Gold Coast holidays people take when they’re feeling masochistic. My brother lives in Brisbane now, so I decided to pay him a visit in the spring of 2010.

My 1988 visit to Brisbane revolved around World Expo ’88, where the former dock land on the south bank of the Brisbane River had been transformed into exactly the sort of magical land that a World Expo should be. It contained an eclectic mix of buildings, showcasing what the participating countries of the world felt was important to show off.

The New Zealand pavillion at Expo ’88 was highly regarded, and featured a faux native forest, seats that looked like mini sheep, and paua-esque cladding on the outside. Yet when the pavilion was brought back to New Zealand for retirement and opened to the public out by Auckland Airport, the magic was gone. It had somehow become a tacky tourist disaster.

Expo ’88 had left me with a whole lot of memories but no way of revisiting them. Once the expo was over, the entire site was dismantled, and the area has been impressively redeveloped into South Bank Parklands.

Box of mementos

There are a couple of remnants of the expo, though – the Skyneedle was bought by a local celebrity hairdresser and moved to his HQ a few blocks away, and the Nepal Peace Pagoda still stands, complete with a mini shrine of Expo ’88 memorabilia.

But remaining as only a fuzzy memory is the Knight Rider car, the cheeky Canadian AV presentation titled “Not Another Government Movie” and the annoying guy at the Australia Post pavilion who told me I couldn’t sit down on the floor, even though I’d been on my feet all day and my legs were aching.

Wheel of Brisbane

But the South Bank site has bold new attractions to lure in the visitor. I was drawn in by the Wheel of Brisbane, like a scaled-down version of the London Eye. I figured that it would help me get oriented with the city, and its name sounded a bit like “wheel of fortune”, which gave it a slight exotic carnival (and/or TV game show) flavour. I paid the $15 admission fee and boarded.

As the wheel rotated around, a recording described sites of Brisbane. The wheel isn’t all that high and there aren’t all that many things to be seen from its location, so the choice of scenic sites were a little sparse. Oh look, another bridge.

Things got really surreal when the “Inspector Gadget” theme suddenly started to play. I tried to guess what this might signify. Could it be that a famous Australian inventor had a workshop nearby? No, the connection was that the 2003 straight-to-video film “Inspector Gadget 2” was filmed in Brisbane, including a scene on a nearby bridge. I don’t think anyone’s in a hurry to nickname the town Brizzywood.

Ignoring the commentary and looking down on the ground, I could see some drama involving an ambulance. It turned out that a toddler in a pram had rolled into the river, but fortunately had been rescued by a passerby. This was probably the most interesting thing I saw from the Wheel of Brisbane.

Faux beach

Back on flat land, I went for a wander along the river and came across the beach. Because Brisbane River isn’t really swimmable, there is a fake beach to enjoy at the river’s edge.

Lush white sands, palm trees, clear waters – it’s everything a dream beach ought to have, only with skyscrapers providing the slightly less idyllic backdrop. It feels like the sort of thing that wouldn’t be out of place in Dubai – a giant fake beach because it’s too hard making the real beach nice.

I couldn’t reconcile the 1988 South Bank of my memory with the one I experienced in October 2010. But that seems perfect – the one thing that world expos and world fairs are good at doing is creating weird memories in their young visitors. So I’ll keep my old memory of the plastic raincoats, the foot-massager machines and the nice lady in the England pavilion, and I’ll add some new memories of the Wheel of Tourism, the Little Dubai Beach and the quite nice Nutella crepes I had at a cafe along the river.

Holiday snaps

This is a photo of me in 1988, age 13, on a family holiday in Australia.

Sydney, 1988

I look miserable, like I was having the worst day, worst holiday, worst life ever. Or maybe I’m just squinting from the glare of the overcast sky. Or perhaps was I being a full-on 13-year-old girl and therefore too cool to have her photo taken by her dad and so was obliged to pull an aloof ‘wotevz’ pose.

The thing is, I can’t remember having this photo taken. I can’t remember sitting at a table outside the Sydney Opera House and sullenly looking at a camera to provide evidence of having been there. And I can’t remember the view from that table, though, having been there a few times since, I can mentally imagine what that would look like.

I can, however, remember that sweatshirt – lilac with black polka dots (it was a fave) – and I can remember when my hair was golden blonde all by itself without any chemical intervention needed.

And I do have one very specific memory of that day, but it takes place well out of range of that photo.

After arriving in Sydney, I’d had a stomach bug and had spent a day or so feeling ill and throwing up a bit and watching a weird Canadian children’s TV show called “Today’s Special“. But that day at Circular Quay was the first day where I’d been feeling well enough to get back in to the spirit of the holiday.

At Circular Quay, I’d gone to a gelato shop under the Cahill Expressway. I’d asked for a small cup of lemon sorbet, but the charming Italian bloke there had cheerfully scooped a big cup, and told me I was a beautiful girl, in that jovial Italian way.

That nice experience and the sweet sorbet cheered me up and made me feel much more energetic, and I enjoyed myself again. (Until I got sick again in Brisbane, but that’s another story.)

The whole idea of taking holiday snaps, it seems, is to record where we’ve been to help trigger happy holiday memories when we’re back home.

But even in this modern world where almost everyone has a camera on them, it’s usually not not possible to capture those lovely moments. A camera can take a photo of a cup of lemon sorbet, but does that capture the experience of a happy holiday? Would a photo of me with a mouthful of sorbet have captured my nice feeling more than I remember it?

15 years later I was in Sydney. I took the ferry over to Manly and went for a walk along Manly Beach.

I stopped at a picnic table and took this photo on auto-timer.

Robyn and the little people

I didn’t know it when I took the photo, but the camera’s position made me look like Gulliverette in Manlyput. (And I’m annoyed that the little people won’t play with me. And my hair isn’t naturally blonde any more. And a seagull pooped on the table.)

I was just mucking around with my camera. The resulting photo isn’t even something I experienced there. It’s like a special bonus experience that happened solely inside the camera.

If I’d wanted a typically Manly photo, I could have taken one by the ferry or along The Corso. Instead this almost anonymous seaside photo is my happy holiday memory snap.

Without directly showing it, the photo reminds me of my favourite thing to do when I travel – going for a bit of an explore. Jumping on a ferry, walking down a street, turning a corner and not quite knowing what will be around it.

And in turn, I think that also serves as my holiday photography manifesto. Instead of taking photos as evidence I was there or attempting to manufacture a memory, I let the photos be their own experience and form their own memories.

Sydney Ii

I’m at Sydney airport playing the fun game where I get to find out which keys on the internet kiosk’s keyboard are sticky and remember to hit them harder as I type. (At least it’s not covered in beer like the one next door).

I’m all tired and operating totally on traveller autopilot.

Earlier today I went to the Brett Whiteley Studio – yes, my new favourite artist has a gallery/museum dedicated to him. I’d still be there, if I had my way. After that I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, which I always visit when I’m in Sydney (I dunno, it just seemed to have worked out that way).

I keep forgetting to eat and will be wandering along the street, wondering why I feel all faint and funny. Yeah, so much for fulfilling any idea of a mad Sydney shopping spree when I can’t even to remember to buy food. But I do heartily recommend Red Rock Deli lime and black pepper chips. I’m sitting right next to a vending machine that sells them and I feel the love, man.

Ok, I must go and look at duty-free stuff or whatever, man.

Sydney

The Virgin Megastore on George Street had “BMX Bandits” on DVD for $15. Excellent.

I went to the Museum of Sydney this morning. It’s small but interesting and makes much of its location on the site of the first governors house. There was a special exhibit about Jorn Utzen, the fellow to designed the Sydney Opera House. In the midst of that I realised why the SOH is so excellent: it has no backside. It looks good from all angles – from streets, footpaths, highrise buildings, the harbour, the bridge, the north shore. Even the potential dead space of fire exits has been incorporated into the design.

All this put me in a Opera House mood, so I took guided tour of it. Not enough has changed since I last went there a couple of years ago. I thought about seeing a play there tonight, but the one I wanted to see was sold out.

I decided to wander over to the Sydney Art Gallery, but I somehow ended up getting lost and ended up in Wooloomooloo at the Harry’s Cafe de Wheels. I have fond memories of the Harry’s in Newcastle, so I had to partake of the Tiger, a pie (mate) with mashed potato (mate), mushy peas (mate) and gravy (mate). The only way it could have been better is if it was 2am and I was on my way home from the pub.

With my intuition refuelled, I found my way to the art gallery and moseyed around there. I discovered more paintings by my New Favourite Artist, Brett Whiteley, which made me happy.

Next I got a train to Newtown. I knew I’d got off at the right stop because a) 90% of the people walking down the street were hipsters, and b) upon leaving the train station I narrowly avoided treading in a puddle of spew. I looked around the shops and then walked back to the city, or rather, the general direction of. I managed to intuit my way back to this internet cafe. (Auckland’s lucky with the Sky Tower being such an excellent navigation beacon. Sydney Tower is dwarfed by a number of taller buildings.)

I need a few more days here, but that’ll have to wait until some other time.

Another bit of Princes Highway

After a brief visit to the Wollongong art gallery (complete with an impressive selection of indigenous art), I had to leave the ‘Gong and return my rental car to Sydney. I should note that I <3 that rental Toyota and would happily keep it and continue driving around Australia, were it not for lack of funds to do so and the need to return to Aotearoa and do that employment thing.

I didn’t know where I was headed, I didn’t have a map of Wollongong so I just intuited my way out of the city. I had two requirements: a McDonald’s to get some lunch and a route to Sydney. I found myself approaching an intersection where a sign pointed to Sydney at the left, and there was a McDonald’s at the right. Welcome relief for a weary traveller, indeed.

However, getting to Sydney proved to be another matter. I got on a motorway but missed the Sydney turn-off and ended up in a place called Figtree. I somehow ended up back in the ‘Gong and continued to, er, intuit my way around the streets until 30 minutes later I ended up back on the motorway and this time I got on the right road to Sydney.

On Triple-J, John Saffran came and introduced his song of the week, which was “Keep It In Your Pants” by Young MC. His reason for picking it was why, why, why did Young MC pick a pro-abstinence song as a follow-up single for the hot “Bust A Move”. But I didn’t care because it’s one of my favourite songs ever, so it provided my soundtrack as I toodled along the anonymous roads of Sydney, following the little aeroplane signs as I made my way to the airport.

Car was returned, train taken to my hotel here, and crikey it’s hot. I don’t know what the temperature is here, but it’s like Auckland on a really horrible summer’s day. Just walking down the street causes me to sweat. And here’s something – I brought my iPod along with me, but I’ve not listened to it once because somehow it seems more enjoyable to listen to the call of a galah (Yeah, I’m getting into birds. Shut up.) than some random music. But walking down the street in Sydney is so big city-ish, so noisy and bleak and disruptive that I really feel like listenin to my iPod. I see the white headphone cords here. Oh, I see them.

Also seen was the film “The Interpreter”. It was adequate but I don’t think it took full advantage of being able to film in the United Nations. (One of my favourite films ever (totally up there with “BMX Bandits”) is the Hitchcock film “North By Northwest” which had to sneakily film the UN after being denied permission.)

Tomorrow I will attempt to move about Sydney solely through air-conditioned shops, subways and public transport.

Kiama

On Tuesday morning I went to this place whose name I can nae remember, but it’s the national film and sound archive [i.e. The National Film and Sound Archive – how hard was that to remember? – Future Robyn]. There were two exhibition halls. One had a history of Australian film/radio/music/television. My personal highlight was Scott and Charlene’s wedding from “Neighbours”. I heard a lady shriek, “I didn’t know Jason had a mullet.” Because back in ’87 it wasn’t a mullet; it was cool haircut. The other exhibition hall had a special 1984 exhibit, to commemorate 20 years of the archive. There’s only one Australian film from 1984 that I care about: “BMX Bandits”. When I was nine it was my favourite film, ever. It doesn’t matter that it was Nicole Kidman’s first film (I didn’t even care about her cos she was a freaky ginge). It had cool kids doing cool BMX tricks around Sydney. Tragically, it appears not to be deemed worthy enough to have been given a DVD release.

Next I acquired a rental car. Hey, you know that thing when you’re driving on the motorway in Auckland and you miss the Nelson Street off-ramp because it’s on the right-hand side and so you end up going all the way over to the North Shore? Well, I did a similar thing in Canberra twice as I was attempting to get back to my hotel. It had been six months since I’d last driven, so I was in this pedestrian frame of mind.

So after having got out of Canberra, I headed over to the coast. It was a really nice duel carriageway which made me weep bitter tears as I thought of the state of State Highway One in Aotearoa. Along the highway there were those kangaroo warning signs. It seems that if a kangaroo came leaping out across the highway and your car hit it you’d both be completely rooted, but at least the complete rooting wouldn’t come as a surprise, thanks to the signs.

The road eventually lead me to the town of Kiama, which is famous for its blowhole. Though it should be noted that it never did the blowhole thing while I was there.

Yesterday I went to a nearby rainforest and walked around it and then did the steep detour walk to see a waterfall. Thankfully the waterfall was all nice and scenic and stuff, so it made the walk worth it. There was also a lyrebird that was walkin’ around like Mike Jagger, scratching the ground and making these noises.

In the afternoon I went for a hoon up the coast and around Jervis Bay. That was also nice and scenic and stuff. I finally managed to tune in Triple-J, so I had that keeping me company. Radio without ads is so good. I might start listening to National Radio when I return to NZ. I accidentally drove to another national park, complete with another $10 entry fee. I wasn’t sure what to do there, so I just drove around a bit. I found a botanic garden, so I went for a walk around there. Um, yeah, there were trees.

This morning I drove to Wollongong. I’m not actually sure where in Wollongong I am or, indeed, what the lovely city of Wollongong offers. There appears to be some sort of teen beauty competition at the nearby mall.

This morning on the news I noticed that on average New Zealand’s main city temperatures were about 10 degrees lower than the temps around here. With that in mind, I shall go outside and get my money’s worth.

Canberra Ii

Yesterday I went to the Australian Museum. It’s a lot like Te Papa in that rather than just displaying items, it attempts to tell stories. It also reminded me of Te Papa because it seems that finally New Zealand and Australia have been around long enough to have some history and stories to tell of their own, instead of having to cling to British history.

There was plenty of Aboriginal history, including one section about a group of women who decided to resurrect an almost lost skill make a possum-fur cloak. Possums are a protected animal in Australia, so they had to get the skins from New Zealand. Well, it’s a more worthy use than those pseudo nipple warmers.

Next I walked around the lake and across the bridge to the National Gallery. This might sound like a quick stroll, but it was actually several kilometres. Canberra a very spread-out city. I was going to complain about it being more an automobile city (and indeed it does seem to have very car-friendly streets), but its spread-out design is a lot like parts of Paris and London (and probably Washington DC too) – it’s very regal and very capital city. The squat, compactness of Wellington seems like an anomaly in contrast.

The National Gallery was good. It’s an interesting building and has a good selection of art. Arrgh, see my complete lack of ability to describe art? Yes. I never studied art history at school or nothing, ow. There was one painting up in the Australian section that got me. I stood there looking at it, knowing that this painting had to be part of my life from now on. I didn’t want to take a photo because that didn’t seem adequate. I bought a print of it in the gift shop, but that’s not really adequate either.

I discovered the TV in my hotel room had captions, so I watched the live elimination of X-Factor with captions. It looked like it was done through respeaking with voice-recognition software, but they had song lyrics prepared. I wasn’t sure whether to feel trashy for watching X-Factor or nerdy for doing something kind of work-related on holiday.

Ok, today I’m going to steal a car and hit the highway.

Canberra

Canberra is interesting, it’s unusual, it’s different.

100 years ago Canberra didn’t exist. It was sheep farms. Then, to stop bickering between Sydney and Melbourne over who was cool enough to be the capital city, the government decided to pick this spot of land about equidistant between the two and declared the sheep farms to be the site of Australia’s new capital.

The city streets were designed by and American landscape designer. He lined up stuff with mountains, so there’s this very pleasing perfection in the city. The city didn’t really start being built until after WWII, so there’s a lot of modernist and brutalist architecture, which happen to be two of my favourite styles. Canberra feels like a good city.

Yesterday I went to Parliament. It lives on top of Capital Hill (which lines up with mountains and stuff). Actually, it’s not so much on top of the hill as in the top of the hill. I mean, when you’re living in a democracy, you don’t go putting a giant palatial parliament on top of a hill for the plebs to look up to. No, instead you put it inside the hill and the plebs can go walking up the hill and below their feet are the upper and lower houses. It reminds me a bit of New Grange in Ireland. I’d link to it, but I can’t seem to be able to open any more brower windows.

The Australian Parliament buildings are so big that it’s about a 2km walk all the way around. I discovered this the hard way, yes, I did. But it’s that big because it’s designed to house everything and everyone for the next 200 years.

It makes the New Zealand Parliament’s mishmash of buildings seem very inadequate. Hey, can’t we make a new capital city in the middle of the Manawatu?

I also visited the Old Parliament. It’s just down the hill from the new one, all lined as up and stuff. It’s probably not the oldest building in Canberra, but it’s one of them. My favourite parts weren’t the older bits of the building, but the newer wings built in the 1970s. I especially liked the Prime Minister’s office, which last housed Bob Hawke, and its Bob-and-Karen-style wood-panelling.

My favourite room was the one dedicated to the 1975 Fraser/Whitlam hoo-ha. Using all the dramatic TV footage of the day (complete with ads from the era – “One day you’re gonna get caught with your pants down”) it relives the events that lead to the Governor General firing Prime Minister WHITLAM.

Y’know, somewhere in the New Zealand Parliament there is an upper house. It’s an empty room used for functions, but I like that it’s there and maybe one day New Zealand will have an upper house that will cause trouble. Yeah.

It’s nice and hot here. Like Sydney was, it’s like New Zealand on a really nice summer day (as opposed to those summer days that are freakishly cold, which seem to happen a lot lately). There are heaps of trees around here with heaps of naughty, noisy birds.

Last night I caught a bit of “The X Factor”, which is like an Idol show but includes oldies and groups and the judges mentor the performers as well as judging them. It was good, but it still had that kind of emptiness that Idol has at its heart.

Today there shall be museums and art galleries and I shall also wonder why there appear to be no convenience stores in downtown Canberra.