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Published: October 11th 2009
Rocky and Reaching my Destination
Towards the end, I couldn't wait to get off the good ship Whitehaven. The Kiwi skipper fulfilled his job description with an awfully trite speech: "I hope you had a great time because I know we had a great time!". We all just stared at each other blankly but he kept going wihilst I wanted to jump overboard... it was excruciating... I've never wanted something so bad to end.
Escaping the boat and back on shore Heather, Anne and I were more than ready for lunch. We stopped off at the Magnum B and had, (it never ceases to amaze me here) fish and chips - yes those fish ‘n’ chips and even served by an English lad.
Anne soon left to catch her flight to New Zealand so Heather and I people-watched, and bought each other jugs of beer. Soon Heather was off too for her 'Aussie experience' three days on a farm in the outback riding horses and such.
I had quite a few hours to kill until my evening train and so I dumped my bags at the youth hostel, pretending I was staying there. But I chickened out when
I was asked by the buxom but cold English receptionist how my trip was on the Whitehaven. I'd had a good time of course!She then asked me what crew I had but I didn’t tell her with recriminations of how bored and uninterested they were in us. Good thing too, she knew the crew and thought they were a great laugh. Clearly this lot were a barrel of laughs on shore and not on board.
I scratched my befuddled head as I looked at the train timetable. It would take something like 20 hours to reach Brisbane - an intolerable amount of time sat on a train. I thought I should break the journey up and decided upon a stop at the genteel-sounding town of Rockhampton
. However, I would be arriving in ‘Rocky’ - as it’s called here at 4.50am. I called a hostel in Rocky to make a reservation because it offered a free pic-up form the stations. Or so I thought because when called they refused to honour it because of the hour I was arriving! So I called another place who were not falsely advertising and arranged to open up for me when I called
when I had arrived into town.
I caught the 8pm shuttle bus to the train station at Proserpine, checked in my luggage at the station and waited until the big ugly industrial train came slowly along the platform. I climbed into a brightly lit carriage full of passengers. To my surprise, I found a shower in the bathroom and gratefully took my ablutions where I then walked towards the restaurant car with my lap top. At about 11pm the restaurant closed and inexplicably the car as well. As there was nowhere else to go I retreated to my seat in the now lights-out carriage.
Unless I’m completely knackered (or drunk) I cannot get any sleep in an upright position be it, car, bus, plane, train. However, as it was so cosy and dark in that carriage (having first first looked under my seat for apple core or vomit) I crawled underneath onto the luxuriously soft carpet floor with my big jacket fashioned into a pillow. There I managed to get some hours of albeit disturbed sleep before we had stopped again and I instinctively looked at my watch, we were at Rocky.
I picked up my bag
that was left on the platform and went outside. There were no cabs or buses; this was clearly a small town. I then phoned the hostel who told me that it was too far to walk with bags and that I should get a taxi instead.
A grey haired man in shorts stood waiting outside the Oxford Hotel, leading me up stairs above the pub and showing me into my empty dormitory. No check in or anything, just a key and I was to settle up in the morning. I had the four-bed dorm to myself and proceeded to spread out, then promptly crash into my white clean sheets.
As I mentioned, Rocky was only meant to be a stop-over, a place to split up the enormous journey southwards to Brisbane. And it wasn’t meant to be much of a stop-over either - boasting the, wait for it, ‘beef capital of Australia’! Oh, as well as one of the few cities to be situated on the Tropic of Capricorn. However, I managed to have a really good time in Rocky. To my surprise Rockhampton has some great historic architecture laying around and in fact most of it
Botanical Gardens - Rockhampton
Those geese got a bit too close....
in one street beside the river; it includes a fabulous building that used to the Law Courts which was now the Tourist Office.
When I woke up the next morning, I walked around the hostel and couldn’t find anybody, not even a reception. So I went downstairs and into the Oxford Hotel Bar, there I spoke to the barman and then paid. A weird set-up and characteristically Aussie.
So I spent the afternoon checking out the atmospheric architecture of Rockhampton as well its art gallery. It’s meant to have a great collection of Australian modern art, but it was hard to fully appreciate the works in what felt like a dentists’ waiting room.
For lunch I stopped at a dodgy bar full of "pokies" (slot machines) and had myself a very decent steak sandwich for a very decent price (beer included).
I then hopped on a bus for a short ride to the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens. Now, normally back home these sorts of places don’t interest me - I was impressed by the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew sure, but not terribly
interested by what it offered. As in Darwin and here at Rockhampton I just
enjoyed the simplicity of walking around the differing habitats and noticing the strange looking trees and species - I had the place to myself too. There was a pretty Japanese Garden and what looked like some wetlands with a whole fleet of birds sitting upon it - that is until I turned up....then they proceeded to fly away on masse- probably to bloody Antarctica. Then there were the endless cockatoos and parrots and birds croaking and tweeting away in the trees. I even had a bunch - correction - a gang of pushy geese come follow me around for a bit looking for some food off me.
The highlight however was the small (and free) zoo that was in the gardens. Again, I was practically by myself but I got to see some pretty happy-looking kangaroos, emus, koalas, dingoes, goannas and snakes (in enclosures). The koalas - all hugging trees, looked like they were asleep or stoned. But apparently they need all the sleep because the eucalyptus tree leaves they are addicted to extremely toxic and take a long time for their bodies to digest it - thus sleepy closed eyes time.
I even got to see the
which according to the Lonely Planet is as ‘tall as a grown man, has three toes, a blue and purple head and red wattles, a helmet like horn and unusual black feathers.’ Like a punk version of the Emu, and as aggressive.
Dublin knackers wha?
That evening I hung out in the living room of the hostel, in fact it felt like a proper living room with not only a TV and couches, but even an old man sitting there and two identical twins (from Dublin); all of us watching Neighbours
on the box. Anyway, I got talking to this other Dubliner in the kitchen and they had all been staying in the hostel for nearly eight weeks. Eight weeks!? Looking for work (so they were).
We later went downstairs for a few drinks in the bar but the twins just depressing; they were electricians but nobody would take them on. They were now waiting on some guy to get back to them with an offer of a job. I never felt their troubles ever applied to me for two reasons. 1. I had some good experience and good educational qualifications. 2. These lads had such
broad Dublin accents that I doubted anybody in Australia could understand them. I don’t wish to be rude about them but they sounded like Dublin knackers
- basically chavs and even I struggled to hear ‘pint of beer’ as opposed to ‘pointa beer’.
The Donegal lad I had spoken to in the kitchen was very keen to meet some ladies that night and had made an effort with some jeans and a shirt. And without much further ado he had spied two victims on a nearby table and invited them over to ours. They were very young, about 19/18 years of age and studying at the Central Queensland University in Rockhampton. Oh and they were very pretty as well; they ignored the Irish lads and started paying more attention to me, or rather to my accent. Young and dumb Aussie girls clearly find the English accent or more specifically the southern English accent very sexy indeed. I was persuaded to buy this lass a drink, but she was getting a little too drunk for my liking and so by the time she had brazenly asked for another one before having drunk half of the first I’d told her to
drink the first one up. Cue randy early 40s Aussie couple who impose themselves onto our table and this silly bitch starts accusing me of trying to get this young girl drunk by telling her to drink up! It was pretty amusing, but then she began calling me a ‘pommy bastard’, and ‘pommy pervert’ so I couldn’t let that one go for long.
Anyway, at closing time we went on over to a nearby club together. We popped out briefly for the lads and girls to get some money out, but when me and the girl had returned they wouldn’t let me back in again because I had flip flops on. Anyway, the girl was becoming tiresome with her incessant ‘your accent is so sexy’ lark that I went home on the pretext of getting some shoes but didn’t come back. The place had become a bloke fest and it seemed the girls were getting picked up by her brother at about 1 am. Besides I had a train to catch the next morning at 7.15 am so I didn’t now want to be out to late. It was a pretty interesting night however and got an insight into
small town Australia.
Trains and prime ministers
I managed to get up the following morning and then stupidly walked a mile or so to the train station carrying my heaving back pack, tent, and bulky sleeping bag. I strained myself but thought to myself that I’d be sat on my arse for about seven and a half hours and that I probably could do with the exercise.
The train left Rocky on time (hurrah!) and was clearly more modern than previous trains I had taken. In fact this was the QR Tilt Train
but there was no need to get excited about that because due to a derailment a few years ago (sound familiar?) it's top speed was reduced to 160 km/h (99 mph). However, it did have TV screens in each carriage and I was able to plug in my headphones to watch a documentary interview with Bob Hawke
, the longest serving Australian Labor Party Prime Minister (1983-91) as well as its 23rd (who'd have known they've had so many?).
Now Bob was both popular and notorious in Australia because he liked a drink In fact, whilst a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford he set a new
world speed record for beer drinking: a yard glass (approx two and a half pints) in eleven seconds - which still stands to this day. In his memoirs he reckoned that this more than anything contributed to his popularity because it endeared him to a voting population with a strong beer culture. And historically the Aussies have a strong booze culture; I seem to recall a mild military junta in the early days of the the Colony known as the Rum Corps
for having a near monopoly on the import and pricing of rum, to which nearly everyone had a dangerous dependence.
According to the lefty Australian journalist John Pilger, Hawke was admired because he was "a larrikin
... someone who likes a beer and gets into trouble and does not mind the consequences. But most of all a larrikin is admired because he never forgets his Mates." Hawke was essentially an Aussie bloke's bloke but he was also a bit of a shit because of it too. My travel companion from Broome to Darwin was Locky who read out an hilarious and shocking anecdote from John Pilger's book, A Secret Country
Hawke was in his 100-drinks-a-day phase....
The occasion was a Parliament House reception in Canberra where the ‘putative PM was most solicitous of Lady Mary Warwick’s sexual welfare (wife of newspaper tycoon Sir Warwick Fairfax). Nodding to him, ‘I bet this old bastard doesn’t give your cunt much use.’ Conisiderable effort was then devoted to explaining in florid detail that, fortunately, a remedy was available in the form of R.L.J. Hawke himself.
Lady Mary was too much of a lady, naturally, to respond in other than the most graciously off-hand manner. The flattery was somewhat undercut, however, by Hawke’s attention being diverted intermittently to a young journalist in the group, Jo Hawke. ‘Your name’s Hawke, eh, then you’d have to be a good fuck.’
Apparently this was interrupted again by a Labor Party (sic) staffer pouring a pint of beer over Hawke's head. This from a Prime Minister of a country, hilarious to most Aussies I’m sure. Anyway, here he was on a TV screen in my train, talking about world peace, regretting how much he had drunk in the past (although not the Guinness World Record I’m sure). Only in Australia I thought, only in Australia.
Anyway, the trip was uneventful as I said but I was looking forward to hitting Brisbane, the cultural, financial and political capital of the state of Queensland. In fact, according to travel writer extraordinaire Bill Bryson: the start of ‘Civilised Australia’! Which existed from...
In a Sunburned Country, p.71
the lower right hand corner of the country, extending from Brisbane in the north to Adelaide in the south and west...cover perhaps 5 percent of the nation’s land surface but contain 80 percent of its people and nearly all its important cities (specifically Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, and Adelaide). In the whole of the vast continent this is pretty much the only part that is conventionally habitable.
I just hoped Bill was right and civilised Australia wasn’t shite.
Brissie baby Arrival Thursday 27th August 2009
I needn't have worried, any city that has clear blue skies, gleaming skyscrapers and beautiful women walking around gets my seal of approval. I loved
Brissie as soon as I got out of the Roma Street Transit Centre when I then dumped my bags off at the Tin Billy hostel
where I was to spend the next couple of weeks.
The first thing I noticed about Brisbane (The first European settlement in was a penal colony at Redcliffe, 28 kilometres (17 mi) north of the Brisbane central business district, in 1824. That settlement was soon abandoned and moved to North Quay in 1825. Free settlers were permitted from 1842. Brisbane was chosen as the capital when Queensland was proclaimed a separate colony from New South Wales in 1859.)
was that the Brisbane River wound its way through the city very much like Old Father Thames does. Moreover, London's - the South Bank not only has its name sake here but also cultural institutions such as the Queensland Modern Art Gallery, Art Gallery, State Library. It could not have escaped any self-respecting Londoner’s notice either that even the concrete block buildings and the Victoria Bridge over the river were almost identical to London’s (Waterloo Bridge ) - they even had their own smaller and faster London Eye.
I soon found out that the South Bank is a terrific place to visit along the river, with park space, cafes, restaurants, even a lagoon, all left over from the Expo ’88. I even jogged the whole length of it to the picturesque
Brisbane City Hall and clock tower
Inspired by San Marco's in Venice...seen similar inspirations in...Las Vegas, NYC, Seattle...
Story Bridge. Yes, you read right, I took up jogging at some point and with the cycle paths and many a jogger running along it I thought it was a good thing. Yes, Brisbane has a great climate and everyone seems to be doing some kind of exercise here.
The second thing I noticed about Brisbane was the cyclists, not on an Amsterdam level but purely on the 1500 quid bikes, jerseys, helmets and lycra.I also noticed how spic and span these bikes were and scoffed at the thought of any of them having to put on mud guards, clean, or even re grease their chains on a regular basis as I had to do back in London. I was bloody envious of course, what with my dear bike stored in an attic back in Golders Green.
So I had arrived in Brisbane on Thursday afternoon and by Friday I was already firmly establishing myself in the cultural life of the city. The ubiquitous free music publications that are published here I saw advertised a gig at the Queensland Art Gallery. It included a viewing of the American Impressionism & Realism exhibition, direct from The Met
in N.Y.C., in addition to a talk by the Consulate General of the U.S. Sydney.
So with eagerness I crossed the mighty Brisbane River again where I was immediately impressed by the huge spaces of the gallery. The art show itself, the talk and the music (some unknown by the name of Bob Evans) all for $20 - or ten British Pounds. ‘Bargain!’ I thought to myself and also the quiet hope that this was not merely a flash in the pan.
But before I got ahead of myself I knew I wasn't here for art, but work. There was a slog ahead of me to find a job and get out of the hostel... Reading: In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
New Aussie words/expressions I’ve learned: ‘No Worries!’ - It’s okay, no problem.
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