Travelling to Brisbane was a comedy of annoyances. My flight departed and arrived on time, but from the time of arrival, things started to get amusing. We were sitting by the gate, we were largely read to alight. The captain instructed us to sit down again. The gate was jammed and could not be moved into position. They were preparing to have stairs brought in should the need arise. After 10-15 minutes, we were finally cleared to leave. When I arrived in Singapore, my suitcase had already been delivered when I got to the carousel. When I arrived in Melbourne, I only had to wait a few minutes. In Sydney, our suitcases were quickly taken off the train and delivered. In Brisbane, we had to stand around for half an hour.
The first thing that struck me about Brisbane was the heat and the humidity. It was evening, but it was still 31 degrees and very sticky. I arrived at the airport train station just in time to see the train depart. I needed to wait another 20 minutes for another train to arrive. The people working at the ticket office were nice enough and tried to be helpful, but their advice wasn’t quite as clear or helpful as they would have liked it to be. I might possibly have misunderstood them, but there was confusion as to whether I needed to change trains or not and where. As a result, the train went through my station. I alighted at the next one some 15 minutes later only to be informed that the next train wouldn’t come for another half hour due to system delays. It was getting late and I was growing slightly annoyed. What struck me was that it took less time to get from Bathurst to Sydney-Kingsford Smith than it took me to get from Brisbane Airport to South Brisbane. I made it to my hotel and… Well, it came as quite a shock.
I’m rather a polished sort. I’m exactly what you’d expect at a Dorset CofE luncheon discussing puddings and holidays. I did not know it when I made the reservation, but my hotel was above an ocker dive bar. I immediately stood out amusing and bemusing the clientele. Checking in was amusing. The ocker bar wench sent me to another wing to check in. She was polite, but understood full well that I wasn’t entirely comfortable. She was sympathetic, but it seemed as if she’d seen this situation before. Some time later, one of her co-workers came to give me my keys. It was deafening. They were having a live “music” concert. He was apologetic. I paid, took my key and went to my room. The hotel was hermetically sealed from the bar, a fact that relieved me. There were no markets in the area and very few restaurants. I was shattered so I bought some snacks at the bottle shop and locked myself in my room. It was not that easy to relax. The concert went past midnight and it was so loud that the floor shook.
The next morning, I was picked up by one of my mates. We met in Madrid where we did our teacher training together. From the start, we got on well. We both left Spain in disgust. I eventually settled in Dorset, she eventually settled in London. I was quickly absorbed into Dorset life, taking to its pleasant tedium. Dorset isn’t always very interesting, but it isn’t demanding, either. She was overwhelmed, horrified and disgusted by life in London. London has its positive sides and it has its rewards, but they come at a very high price. She left London earlier this year and returned to her native Queensland. The first thing she told me was “Get your luggage, we’re getting out of here”. I insisted that I didn’t want to waste the money, so she eventually dropped the topic. She didn’t like it any more than I did.
We drove closer to the centre of Brisbane. The weather was warm and the sun was beating down on us. We took the river ferry to the CBD. She insisted on showing me the main sites and districts that way. It was pretty, but strange. It isn’t unique to Brisbane. For some reason, warm, humid places often have a heavy, dense atmosphere. Brisbane was no exception to this. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it felt a bit surreal, as if everything was slightly suspended. I didn’t dislike Brisbane, but I didn’t immediately take to it, either.
She drove me to the Gold Coast. The beaches are, to be fair, beautiful. It reminded me a bit of Honolulu. It was beautiful, but it was also surreal. Still, I liked being by the ocean again. I liked the sound of the waves breaking on the beach, the feel of the fine sand between my toes. We kept walking, beach to beach until we stopped to watch the sun set over Burleigh Head. I hadn’t watched a proper sunset since 2017 when I could, in a bizarre twist of fate, watch the the sun go down over the Pacific on a nearly empty Coronado Beach.She drove me back to the hotel with a promise to meet Monday, the day I was to fly back to London. Bizarrely, I had to show my ID to get to my hotel room. There was a black metal performance. If I thought that the ruckus the first night was bad, the second night was even worse. I have lived through many an earthquake that shook the ground less. That was the strange thing about that hotel. The room itself was extremely spacious, clean and very comfortable. The noise was simply irksome.
I missed the train. I had to wait half an hour for the next one. Still, I made it to Brisbane Central Station. I was rushing about looking for the MacArthur Museum. I found the correct building, but the museum… Oh yes, I was standing right by it the entire time. It is no larger than a roomy flat and is attached to the former US Consulate. It was interesting to learn about Brisbane during the Second World War. It was, for a few years, the base of operations for the allies. Melbourne was initially the base, but MacArthur and the other commanders thought it foolhardy to have their command centre quite that far removed from the battle lines. MacArthur’s office, all original and kept in the condition it was in in the 1940s, was a remarkable experience. There was an air of historical significance, a weight. I could have stayed for hours… But I was running late and I needed to meet the Queen of the Iceni.
Boadicea, I am pleased to say, is just as charming, witty and engaging in real life as she is on the Chariot. I fear, however, that I may have bored her out of a few years of life. I’m terribly good at that, I fear. One wonders if, perhaps, I should sick employment with DWP to thin out the ranks of pensioners with my dullness. I was half an hour late, my time management skills would hardly count among the best, but she was patient enough.
After taking our leave, I walked around Brisbane aimlessly. I visited the Museum of Brisbane. It was free, but it wasn’t my favourite museum. Brisbane’s town hall is a wonderful building and well worth a visit, but the museum doesn’t have much to commend it outside its location. Brisbane grew on me with time. It lacked the pomposity of Melbourne and the cut-throat aggression of Sydney. It is a city that is finally coming into itself and changing quickly. When I left Melbourne, my Victorian mate asked me to report back to him if Queensland had electricity. It does, of course, but that didn’t prevent me from writing him that I was left to bending bananas by candlelight. Perhaps what would be fairest is that my visit to Queensland didn’t get off to the best start. Even though I went to the Gold Coast, I didn’t have the counter-experience to Brisbane that I had elsewhere. For example, in Victoria I had Bendigo and Ballarat to Melbourne. In New South Wales I had Bathurst and Cowrashire to Sydney. In Queensland, it was only Brisbane and the Gold Coast. What I did like best of all, however, was the airport. It was friendly and relaxed. The security agent had a friendly chat with me. He was a Londoner-turned-Aussie. This was typical of what I saw of Queensland. There wasn’t a major fuss, just a good natured, relaxed attitude toward things.
One night in Bathurst I went blank. It felt as if I had no past and no present, no future. I did not know where I was, why I was there. All I had was a very faint cognizance of who I was. A chat with an old friend managed to give me a greater sense of awareness. But… I wasn’t terrified. It felt, for the first time in years, that the worst was over. I also knew that once I arrived back in Britain nothing would be the same. By the end of my first week back in Britain, I had handed in my resignation to my part-time job in town and my landlady had given me notice that she wished to stop having a permanent lodger. The timing was awful and she agreed to give me until September to sort things out. I do not know what will come or what will become of me now. I still earn enough online to pay my bills and have a little bit left over at the end of the month. What I do know is that I have never experienced so much in such a short period of time: laughter, carelessness, passion, tragedy, exuberance.
I have been offered visa sponsorship to Australia.