We arrived in Brisbane early on a Saturday and were met by the aunt and uncle of the young appendage. They had moved with their 2 sons to QLD at about the time I had last been there. I had not known them at the time, but have since become very good friends despite the distances that separate. It was an emotional moment, especially for the girl child and her aunt.
We were driven across town in the direction of a place called Figtree Pocket. Along the way we passed some quaintly named suburbs such as Toowong, which inevitably gave rise to the old joke about Chinese couples having white children. And then there was Indooroopilly. While in Sydney, I had taught the girl a rhyme passed down by my father from his Book for Kids by C. J. Dennis.
Here’s a ridiculous riddle for you:
How many o’s are there in Woolloomooloo?
Two for the W, two for the m,
Four for the l’s, and that’s plenty for them.
Having arrived at our destination we were installed in great comfort and settled down to a couple of beers on the veranda. The sons arrived, much to the excitement of their young cousin and we were informed that we would be going out for a meal later that evening. And what a meal it was. Oysters to start and some splendid steaks accompanied by excellent wine. I recounted the time back in 2003 when I had visited a family on their sheep farm in Wagga Wagga. I had discovered that there was a winery there and asked the vintner whether he had been encouraged by Eric Idle’s endorsement of Australian wines. Unsurprisingly he had become somewhat tight lipped especially when I reminded him of the line pertaining to his own terroir, to wit:
“Real emetic fans will also go for a ‘Hobart Muddy’, and a prize winning ‘Cuiver Reserve Chateau Bottled Nuit San Wogga Wogga’, which has a bouquet like an aborigine’s armpit.” http://www.montypython.net/scripts/austwine.php
It should be pointed out that much of my heretofore ‘anti-Aus sparring’ had involved the child’s aunt who since her arrival in that country had become as staunch a Digger as Bearsy. Of course, as her guest I had wisely ceased all hostilities and had enthusiastically, and, strictly entre nous, sincerely, expressed my enthusiasm for all things ‘Blue’. Unlike those raised with the Outback dust in their blood, I am a quitter and it was not a difficult decision to chuck in the towel when it became clear that my Australian experience was only going to ‘get better’ as our holiday progressed. Unlike Blair’s government, that was indeed the case.
It is not often that one is glad of being old, but as we left the restaurant/bar, I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw swarms of beautiful people arriving for a night out on the town. It was getting on for 11.00 and I was looking forward to bed; in the words of Maurice Chevalier, I remarked, ‘thank God, I am not young anymore’.
Our hosts had snagged a holiday home up in Noosa, to some extent a reciprocation for a visit, by the owners’ offspring to Zimbabwe some years earlier. We left early on Sunday afternoon for the 2-3 hour drive there. En route we were introduced to the delights of Costco. A shopping experience not for the faint-hearted.
The house was spectacular as was Noosa generally. Sunrise beach was long, empty and pristine. The only downside really was that it was a bit too chilly and windy for swimming or sunbathing, not that I am much of a practitioner of the latter. There is a tropical forest with designated walks, right next to the town, which itself is on the water’s edge. Very pretty and terribly convenient; ideal for a bit of post prandial exercise. One evening we went to a much touted restaurant called Sum Yung Guys. The food was excellent, though the atmosphere was perhaps a touch pretentious. Maybe that was not surprising as it was run by a ‘celebrity chef’ who had achieved acclaim on a TV show called Master Chef, or something.
I took the opportunity to visit some friends, former farmers who had been evicted by so called ‘war vets’, back in the day. They had settled into a pretty rural area about 30 mins from Noosa. I say rural, but Aussies insist on calling it the hinterland. Australia is the only country I know that has a hinterland. I have to say how impressed I was by the way so many of my former compatriots have managed to reinvent themselves in their new countries. Not just Australia, but all over the world. Having lost so much financially and emotionally and at a time of their lives when they would have been looking forward to golden years of prosperity and peace, it shows remarkable fortitude. Of course not everybody succeeded. There have been cases of destitution and despair. In some cases marriages have fallen apart while though it must be said that many others have grown stronger. But there has been a fair amount of attrition in the form of stress related suicides, substance abuse and disease. In fact, as my friends said, it must have been like that for the early settlers in Australia. Not easy for those pioneers to move so far from what was familiar and to carve out a new life in an inhospitable environment. But I believe those sad cases are the exception. Every one of my relocated friends has been glad that they moved, despite the initial hardships and the lingering love for their home county. What they went through and what we continue to go through here, makes me realise just how resilient human nature is, which is why I have no sympathy for Remainers who harp on about a how their standard of living will decline after Brexit. In pure financial terms that may well be the case, temporarily, but the satisfaction of overcoming a few hardships and gaining a sense of self respect as individuals and as a nation, far outweighs the trivial privations they might suffer along the way.
Another friend came down from Toowoomba (what is it with the os?). He had moved their 18 years earlier and set up a hydroponics business which had done very well. He had since sold it and was living in semi-retirement. We recognise each other because we know to look for each other’s fathers, which is what we have become. He belongs to our school alumni network. There are 41 of us, all from the same year, who remain in touch more than 40 years after having left. The list includes people living in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Canada, United States, Ireland, Italy, UK, Switzerland, Mauritius, Zambia and of course Zimbabwe. It is a funny thing how the years slip away when you are with your school mates. These are chaps who I have known since I was 10, but in some cases have not seen for decades and yet no matter what they have done in their lives, and some have been very successful, when we meet, they go back to being the same kids I used to know.
Back to Brisbane where I began, somewhat nervously it must be said, preparing myself for my meeting with the Chariot’s proprietress. And what a pleasant meeting it was too. I think we hit it off very well and I certainly enjoyed the encounter and I hope Boadicea did too.
Also on my list of people to see was a nephew who had married a local girl and had two young kids. He is a ‘fixer upper’ of houses and a very solid worker. She comes from a well established family and they have lovely home with a few acres on the outskirts of the city, not quite hinterland!
Of all the cities I have been to in Australia, I think Brisbane is unquestionably the one I would choose to live in. There was certainly an air of familiarity in terms of the nature of the people, the climate and the general environment. Perth is too remote, Melbourne too reminiscent of English towns, no offence to the poms, but cold weather and terraced houses are not my cup of tea, while Sydney, as pretty as it is, is just to chichi. Brisbane struck me as being down to earth with all the benefits of living in a civilized part of the world. As the saying goes, beautiful one day, perfect the next.
Just a word about our hosts. The two sons had arrived in Brisbane when they were 15 and 13 respectively. Both were bright, hardworking and excellent sportsmen. You can imagine that being wrenched from your home and a school where you are a rising star and have lots of friends, must be difficult for anybody, let alone an adolescent. They were sent to a reasonably prestigious school where they integrated well. But what impressed me was how they did it. For example, being a newby, the older boy was put into the D team for cricket. Without complaining, he played his best and was soon moved through the ranks up to the A team and then the First XI. Far sooner than is usual, he was offered the captaincy, but turned it down on the basis that other boys had been there longer than he and were more deserving of the honour. It is seems clear that the sense of maturity and sensitivity stood him in good stead. He and his brother as well as the parents continue to be loyal supporters of the school. They now run a successful business and make a habit of employing alumni, wherever possible. The older brother has just won a Queensland Young Entrepreneur award, a testament to his and his family’s efforts to make the most of their new home.
On our final afternoon in Brisbane, we managed a short visit, too short, to the Botanical Gardens. To my mind they were easily the most interesting and enjoyable of the three we had been to. I wish we had gone sooner and spent more time there.
In short, we had a great holiday, but you know, at the end of the day, it was great to be home. I will try and explain why in another post, though I do not expect many to understand, given the sense of chaos that prevails.