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

QLD3: The World of Dreams

I like a good theme park, as testified by the notorious time when I toodled off to Disneyland Paris while my brother stayed in Paris and visited Notre Dame.

But this time, the advantage was mine. Not only had I scored tickets to Dreamworld, but being a resident of the Sunshine State, my bro had already seen the sights of Brisbane so had no excuse for not jumping on the Gold Coast train and going to Dreamworld.

Dreamworld is very much inspired by Disneyland, with its “main street” entrance and themed areas. But while Disneyland gets to have classic weenies – tall, iconic structures that catch the eye and the imagination – such as the Sleeping Beauty Castle and the Matterhorn, Dreamworld’s towering landmark is the Dreamworld Tower. It’s a tall shaft that offers guests an OMG-fast-fall experience.

Oh, before I go any further, I should state that I did not go on the Giant Drop. Nor did I experience the Tower of Terror II, The Claw, the Cyclone or anything else that sounds like a horror movie and/or something that would require a Civil Defence crisis management plan.

The Claw

But I did start with the Thunder River Rapid Ride. It’s a water ride where one sits in a round boat which then goes for a hoon down a water run. It was fun and had just enough OMG thrills to keep me pleased. But – crap – some water splashed over the side and I got a little bit wet.

Next was the Rocky Hollow Log Ride. It’s a classic log flume ride (New Zealanders: it’s like the one in Rainbow’s End!!!) with a ye old tin shed design and… Oh, ok – I got soaked.

The log came barrelling down the flume, plunged into the water at the bottom and a couple of giant waves flopped over the side and got me all wet. And I’d even set in the back especially to avoid the worst of the water. Dryness fail.

“Take a photo of me looking all pissed off at getting wet,” I demanded of my bro. He obliged, yet somehow I don’t quite look consumed with rage.

Post log ride

It was time for something less aqueous, so off we went to the Vintage Cars ride, comedy replicas of old cars that you drive around a track.

At first this seemed like a challenge (I… I have trouble with the motor vehicles), until I realised that the steering wheel wasn’t actually connected to anything.

So I just sat back, rested my foot on the accelerator, waved my hands in the air like I just didn’t care, and the car merrily self-directed itself around the guide rail.

The Vintage Cars area is one of the oldest rides at Dreamworld and it feels like it belongs to a different time. In fact, it reminds me of the old Footrot Flats theme park in Te Atatu – a bit grunty and run down, but still enjoyable for a while.

Wedged around the back of Dreamworld is the Australian Wildlife Experience, which is indeed full of Australian wildlife such as koalas, kangaroos, emus and the daddy crocodile who was giving a special hug to the mummy crocodile.

The Australian Wildlife Experience feels a bit out of place. In a park full of roller coasters and costumed characters, it’s strange to come across actual real animals. And even stranger to consider that the park is effectively build on the natural habitat of these animals.

Fingers

Suddenly I turned a corner and there I was in a land I had only dreamed of – Wiggles World. Yes, this was the mythical homeland of Anthony, Murray, Jeff and The New One Who Isn’t Greg.

Me: “Let’s go on the Big Red Car ride!!!!”
Bro: “No. You can, but I’m not.”
Me: “Oh, come on. It’s not like there’s anyone cool here who’ll see you.”

My bro relented, and as you can see by this photo, he was happily toot-toot chugga-chugga-ing along with me and not at all appalled by the experience:

Big Red Car

At one point on the ride, I was singing the “Hot Potato” song and a small girl in the driver’s seat turned around and looked at me in bewilderment.

Wot, child? You’ve never seen someone enjoy the musical oeuvre of the Wiggles? Do I shock you with my unbridled enthusiasm for the most successful entertainers in Australian music ever (probably), surpassing Savage Garden, INXS and even the Hoodoo Gurus? Yeah, think about that, little ‘un.

The Motocoaster beckoned. It’s a roller coaster with the seats in the form of a motorbike, so one must sit crouched over. There was a long-arse wait for the ride. The line slowly crawled along, as bogan rock blasted out.

There were a lot of bogans at Dreamworld. There seems to be a whole bogan class in Queensland that you don’t get in New Zealand. Flabby dads with ’90s tribal arm-band tattoos, and bleachy-haired mums with their Chinese “girl power” tats and knock-off Gucci sunnies.

There are also plenty of New Zealanders at Dreamworld. It was the Sunday of New Zealand Labour weekend, so the place was crawling with sunburnt Aotearoans, off for some Gold Coast fun.

Finally I made it to the front of the Motocoaster. As soon as the ride started, I was hit with a wave of nausea from motion sickness. It reminded me of the 110 Upper Hutt bus – the new one with the overly sensitive brakes that makes every set of traffic lights, roundabout or bus stop an extreme and joyless experience.

For a break from the hoop-de-doo, we went on the train that circuits the park. The highlight of this, for sure, was passing by the Dreamworld TV studio. It’s not even named on the map, like an unglamorous secret.

See, the Dreamworld studio is where Big Brother Australia was filmed. The tropical Queensland climate provided just the right temperature to ensure that the housemates never needed to wear many clothes.

Between seasons, the Big Brother House was open for tours, but since it ended in 2008, the tours have stopped and it’s now used for storage. But for me, it’s a sacred televisual taonga.

Big Brother House

The day was getting on, so I took one final ride – this time on the Rugrats Runaway Reptar. It’s what’s known in the biz as a suspended family coaster, which means the seats dangle from below and – for the “family” component – it doesn’t go upside down. Because if you are part of a family, you don’t like upside-downness.

In other words, it’s a lite coaster. It’s a lovely ride without any resemblance to the Upper Hutt #110. It doesn’t plunge you backwards into darkness at 160 km/h or put you into freefall. It’s just a nice, fun roller coaster.

With theme parks having rides with movie tie-ins, I reckon Dreamworld should have an Inception-themed ride that travels through worlds of dreams. It could be a roller coaster with van-shaped cars that travel through the Inception levels, finally gliding off a bridge really really, really, slowly before splashing down into Dreamworld’s Murrissippi River.

And with that, the Dreamworld dream was over, with Queenland’s superb public transport bringing us back to Brisbane.

QLD2: Some culture

The Queensland Cultural Centre is a cluster of cultural institutions housed in hulking concrete behemoths. I like a good solid concrete building, so I was delighted to explore these structures.

I first paid a brief visit to the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, and saw an exhibition of ballet costumes. Expertly crafted costumes, that are designed to both look amazing on stage as well as last the wear and tear of daily performances, are a treat to see up close, but there was one thing I wasn’t quite expecting to see in detail. I gazed up at some Swan Lake tutus suspended from the ceiling and came face to face with a sea of beige gussets.

Gusset

The Queensland Museum had a very strong emphasis on natural history, including a long tableau of taxidermied animals. This seems to be the challenge of modern museums – what to do with all those stuffed animals, without looking like a weird Victorian-era cabinet of colonial oppression.

It was an adequate museum, but it seemed like they were desperate for some more space to really bust out and expand beyond the olden times collection.

Next door is the Queensland Art Gallery, which was just grand. It’s a really big ol’ concrete building with high ceilings and they allowed photography in most areas, which is really pleasing. My fave was stumbling across a dark alcove playing Martha Rosler’s uber cool domestic performance videos “Semiotics of the Kitchen” and “The East is Red, the West is Bending”.

And the QAG has a really enjoyable expansiveness to it. It involves a lot of walking around, but there’s the sense the the art is allowed to just hang out and be itself without any obligation to necessarily be fun or educational.

Queensland Art Gallery

A little further along the river is the Gallery of Modern Art, which is the largest contemporary art gallery in Australia. Yes, even bigger than the actually-not-all-that-big-when-you-come-to-think-of-it Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.

The GOMA was in the midst of a retrospective exhibition of Valentino, so the place was swarming with ladies who lunch, and there was a huge queue for tickets. I couldn’t be bothered queuing, so I went off to look at all the free bits.

I stumbled across the finalists in the Premier of Queensland’s National New Media Art Award, a competition for art that uses “video, digital animation and gaming, robotics, sound and interactive technologies”. #nerdgasm. These included a series of clever mash-ups of hip hop culture with B-grade sci-fi movies (this is known in the biz as Afrofuturism); a robot that spookily danced around a dimly-lit room; and a fruity woodland animated adventure that uses the viewer’s face as the main character.

By the time I’d finished with the free part of the gallery, the epic Valentino queue had shrunk to a lone dude, so I bought a ticket.

The centrepiece of the exhibition was a room full of frocks, and all around the room, ladies were buggin’ out over the dresses. It was amazing to feel the buzz of excitement in that room. Now, I appreciate that Mr Valentino has an eye for design and has designed many fine feathered frocks, but while I was all #nerdgasm at the new media art, I wasn’t quite feeling it for the gowns.

The exhibition was a carefully designed labyrinth of commerce, with an exhibtion-access-only restaurant halfway along, and an exit through a massive giftshop, with all sorts of lovely frock-related souvenirs. And I’m just going to confess this: I bought a Moleskine notebook. Ok.

V is for Valentino

Finally down this end of the river was the State Library of Queensland. I tried to do some sightseeing, but it’s a really serious proper research library. It was really quiet and I even felt that the simple act of walking around was grossly instrusive. Not wanting to disturb anyone’s serious study, I left.

But there is a library that welcomes mucking around. Across the river in the CBD, Brisbane Square Library is the central branch of the city library. It’s a bright, bold new building that’s really fun to be in.

If you’re returning a book, you can follow its progress via conveyor belt to the sorting room, with the help from mirrors and CCTV. The building is full of fabulous mood lighting, and there’s free wifi for all members. It just feels like a good place to be, but despite all the attractions, at its core is books, books, books.

Book belt

It’s really tempting to compare the fine cultural institutions of Brisbane with those of New Zealand cities, but it’s hard to fairly compare them. For a start, Brisbane has money. It’s a boomtown with that little bit extra to add the final polish. A library doesn’t need to have a fun CCTV and conveyor belt. A performing arts centre doesn’t need to have a museum. It’s nice when they do, but it’s more important that a library has books and that a performing arts centre has good performance spaces.