Of Laksa and Kangaroos IV

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.

Author: Christopher-Dorset

A Bloody Kangaroo

8 thoughts on “Of Laksa and Kangaroos IV”

  1. Mmmm.

    I offer you an analogy.
    Wandering aimlessly from continent to continent strikes me as akin to scum on boiling strawberry jam, it meanders across the surface coalescing uselessness. Finally, exasperating its human supervisor into spooning it out straight into the sink. Rejected.
    A more cautious strawberry holds itself intact, in one place and useful. It gets potted up and survives to grace the toast.
    We all get consumed in due course, just a lot more comfortable to go via a nice clean comfortable pot rather than the drain!

  2. CO: I didn’t say that I accepted the offer or that a visa had been offered, only that an offer of sponsorship exists. In a small way, in a small town on a small island I’ve become useful, indispensable, even. I’ve established myself as a regular, predictable, dependable presence that can be counted on in most instances. As a result, I’m not committed to leaving Blighty. Were this 2015 or 2016, I’d have jumped on the offer — I still had some fire in my belly then. Now, I’m far too settled, far too comfortable in my patterns and routines. I lack for little here. Some things could, of course, be improved but my position is far from impossible. I like Australia. I like spending time in Australia and, if things hold up, I will be able to visit Australia for a few weeks every other year. Maybe, perhaps, once most years depending on the circumstances. But I’m far too attached to Britain, especially to Dorset, to leave that easily. I have this nagging suspicion that my life would probably be pleasant enough in Australia, but that it wouldn’t be so much better as to warrant another intercontinental move. One thing that I know has hurt me is that I moved too often, sometimes just when things had started to settle down. I would have done reasonably well had I stayed in Minnesota. Had I the desire to, I could have done okay in Spain if only I had held on for another half year. Spain was just too rubbish. If I had been willing to utterly obliterate myself, I could have done relatively well in Hunland — even China. I’ve developed a nice little social circle, a nice little life in England and I’m not keen on losing that!

  3. Good, glad to hear it.
    Not that I am a very good example either. Been here 15 years now in WA, the longest I have ever been anywhere!

  4. CO: I simply like to have options. I’m convinced that things can always go seriously tits up with little notice. I’ve established a reputation for baking good cakes. There is a contingent of people here who put their names on a list for whatever I bake. I like the summers and autumns because I can bake a lot of cakes using fresh, local fruits and vegetables. I know that courgettes are technically fruits, but oh well!

  5. Oh dear. It seems you didn’t enjoy my favourite city as much as I would have hoped, but all things to all men, as they say. It’s a pity you suffered the open mike nights at your hotel rather than enjoying the World Cockroach Racing Championships (I kid you not) at the Story Bridge Hotel. Now THAT’S a night out not to be missed I can assure you.

    As regards your timing issues, you obviously forgot to turn your watch back one hour and twenty five years when you left Sydney. 🙄


  6. OZ: I didn’t dislike Brisbane necessarily, it just got off to a rocky start. I warmed to Brisbane because it does have more than its share of charm. Its negatives were also not as bad as those of Melbourne or Sydney. Brisbane lacks the pretensions of Melbourne and the brutal, cut-throat aggression of Sydney. It’s a bit backwards, perhaps, but it’s far more relaxed, open and homely. I agree with Boadicea. To this point, my favourite Australian city would have to be Adelaide. I like the museums, architecture, pace of life and climate. I also like that Adelaide has a relaxed, down-to-earth charm.

    As for the cockroach racing… I have to see that!

  7. Sorry that it has taken some time to respond to this post… sometimes one just has too much to say without the time to say it!

    Having lived in Darwin, Canberra, Sydney, Adelaide and now in Brisbane – I have much sympathy with your less than happy feelings about arriving in Brisbane. One is warned that Adelaide is some 20 years behind the rest of Oz – but not that Queensland is also a ‘bit behind the times’ too! Especially about getting from A-B via public transport.

    Your comment about your digs amused me – and confirmed one of my big fears of booking into places unknown! Was it the Pineapple – my daughter, who knows Brisbane far better than I, seemed to think it might be from your description.

    One of the things I loved about Oz when I first came were the beaches in Darwin – they reminded me of isolated beaches in Cornwall in the 1960s – sand, silence and solitude. The Gold Coast is not a place to find any of those. Nor did I find them in my few visits to the Sunshine Coast.

    As for our meeting – no you did not bore me one bit – and I hope that, should you visit Brisbane again, I will find a few more interesting places to visit than a museum that I couldn’t find either!

    One of the big problems that I have with Brisbane is the emphasis on the very recent past. I’m sure you are aware Queensland’s history in the 1980s was not salubrious and Queensland is still trying to cover it up.

    One of the things I loved about Adelaide was the various places within driving distance of the city. They were all so very distinctly different. I haven’t found that anywhere else.

    Brisbane has its own charms – I finally found a restaurant that can cook eye-fillet steak the way I like it; it’s warm, and as someone who did not come to Oz to be cold, that’s a major plus; it’s not frenetically fast – like Sydney or socially prescriptive like Canberra. But for me, Darwin, with its acceptance of the non-conformist and Adelaide will always be my favourite places here in Oz.

  8. The term is drawing to a close so I’ve been a bit distract for the last week or so. After this week, things will be quiet for a month — yay! Well, in a way… In just over two weeks I will need to go back to London. On 8 June, I will fly to California for my annual business trip/ambulatory through memories. The V&A is celebrating 200 years since the birth of Queen Victoria and some of her jewellery, including her famous diadem, will be on display.

    I’ve been back in Britain for nearly two months now. Things still feel surreal. I know that I will return to Australia again and again. The more I see it, the more it pulls me in. Brisbane grew on me. Queensland, it seems, will be a place that grows on me. I am planning on going back to Australia in March/April 2021. My mother and I are discussing travelling together. If she comes, I will probably go to Victoria, Tasmania, Adelaide and Perth. She wants to see Adelaide because of the German influences and she’s always been fascinated by Perth. There’s a train that goes from Adelaide to Melbourne and back. She’s interested in it. If I go alone, I would like to go to Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland. I’d like to visit Tootoomba and some of the inland areas as well. I’m too big a Malouf fan to not want to see some of the places he described. I will let you know once I have my plans together.

    Getting from Adelaide’s airport to the city centre required a taxi. I tried taking the airport coach but managed to get horribly lost instead. Coaches hate me and I hate coaches. Next time hiring a car would be the best idea.

    The hotel was at Chardon’s Corner. The neighbourhood wasn’t great, the bar was horrible. It has quite the appalling reputation. I know that now — and I know Brisbane better, next time, a better hotel in a better place!

    Brisbane had it worst under the Bjelke Petersen years. He was able to cling onto power by effectively disenfranchising Brisbane and give more and more seats to ever more isolated regions, regions that certainly had a right to be heard, but not at the expense of people living in south-eastern Queensland. I suspect that the regional tensions he fostered might well help lead to Capricornia being more than just the name of Xavier Herbert’s magnum opus.

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