A Travellerspoint blog

Australia Day 15

Sydney

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We wake to a light drizzle. The storm of the night before has cleared the air but it's cloudy and damp. Because it's wet we decide to spend the day Christmas shopping and sightseeing. At breakfast we meet a Canadian couple, Diane and Doug, from the Vancouver area. They're on their way to Perth to visit their daughter. We empathise with each other - far-flung daughters are a shared experience. They're leaving today and kindly give us their Multi Weekly Travel passes which have some days still on them. These entitle one to travel anywhere on the City Rail Network including all the ferries. The kindness of strangers. They also give us a large umbrella they don't wish to take to Perth (it never rains there).

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We spend most of the morning recreating the 19th Century shopping experience, at 21st Century prices. First we visit the Queen Victoria Building in George Street. This was described by Pierre Cardin, no less, as "the most beautiful Shopping Centre in the world". It was built in 1898 as a produce market but restored beautifully in 1986 and is now a very grand shopping mall. It has two amazing clocks suspended from the glass roof. One is based on Balmoral Castle with a copy of the four dials of Big Ben. The other depicts scenes from the discovery of Australia, and its early history. It shows hours, minutes, days and calendar in a system of rotating metal bands. (I couldn't work out the time). On the top floor, children are being introduced to Santa for the first time. It's a terrifying experience. One starts screaming which sets the others off. Harassed elves and anxious mothers attempt to pacify their charges so that they look cheerful in the souvenir photo. There's something unnatural about Christmas in a hot climate.

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Of course, there is an Irish connection. When they had refurbished the building, the owners were casting around for a statue of Queen Victoria to set the scene outside. Where could they get one? Ireland, that's where. A worldwide search ended in 1983 when the statue was found in a small Irish village. It had lain there neglected and forgotten since being removed from the front of Leinster House, home of the Dáil (Irish parliament) in 1947.

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We cross the road to the Strand Arcade, a similar vintage, and even grander: built 1892, restored 1976. I know I mentioned Christmas presents above, but those of you expecting something, don't get your hopes raised. We spent more time admiring the architecture than buying things. Some of the shop displays were themselves works of art. There was one shop selling bottles of herbal remedies. It had a display reminiscent of a Damien Hirst piece.

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After lunch we return to The Rocks for a conducted tour of Susannah Place, just below the hostel. This terrace of (Irish built) four brick houses dates back to 1844, and was continuously occupied from that date until 1991. The guide shows us the various rooms and tells us about the inhabitants. What is surprising and shocking for younger vistors: outside toilets, primitive cooking facitities, is déjà vu for me. In the 1950s my grandmother lived in a terrace like this, and many of the artifacts and wall decorations could have been hers. It is strange that my childhood recollections are someone else's history. I must be getting old. Below is a life-sized mural of how The Rocks used to look. It's a bit fancier these days.

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In the evening we walk across the Harbour Bridge. There are a few joggers and tourists but it's mostly empty. There are several overweight security guards positioned along the path to discourage any illegal activity. Monica makes a good stab, given the camera, at photographing the Opera House from the bridge. Judge for yourselves.

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Posted by mikemonica 16:07 Comments (0)

Australia Day 14

Sydney

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We fly to Sydney, arriving in the late afternoon. We're staying in the Rocks area, not far from the Harbour Bridge. The Rocks is the historic heart of Sydney, close to Circular Quay from where the ferries depart. It was the first part of Sydney occupied by Europeans and consequently, has a number of historic buildings. It features a variety of souvenir and craft shops and some themed and historic pubs. The Rocks Market operates each weekend, with around 100 stalls. At this time of the year they run Friday evening markets too which feature street food and entertainment.

Our temporary home is the new Youth Hostel here, built just a couple of years ago and according to our younger daughter - too expensive for her to stay in when she was in Sydney. We leave our baggage and head downhill to the harbour which is on our doorstep.

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We take a variety of shots in front of the Opera House, trying to capture the essence of the place in a single frame. None do justice to the architecture, so we settle for a few cheesy poses that make the simple statement: we're here. We capture the Manley Ferry as it passes in front of the Harbour Bridge. These boats are double fronted - both ends are 'the sharp end'. They don't need to turn: they simply sail the way they're pointing. This is of interest to us as we plan to take the Ferry to Manley Beach later in the week.

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It seems like a good idea to take in a show since we've come all this way but there is nothing on that takes our fancy. Last week, yes. Next week, sure. But this week nothing we'd pay to see. Let's take a tour of the interior instead, Monica suggests. We find they run every half hour and cost seventy dollars - each! Even by Australian standards, this is somewhat extreme. As we stand in the foyer, in our shorts and sandals, we are passed by the local gentry in dress suits and cocktail dresses, on their way to a concert. We settle instead for a stroll around the waterfront, photographing any historic buildings that catch our fancy, just like good tourists should.

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It is a hot and humid evening. About 11:00 pm, there is a powerful thunder storm with lightening and very heavy rain. I know it's insensitive to say this, given the weather you in the UK and Ireland have been experiencing but this is the first rain we have seen since we came to Australia. Virtually every day has been sunny with blue skies - look back at the photos. Is this a sign of things to come now we are in the big city?

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Australia Day 13

The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

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We catch the bus in Adelaide Street for the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Established in 1927, it is the oldest and largest koala haven in the world. It is notable as one of the few to let people handle the creatures, though no koala is handled for more than 30 minutes a day. This is an opportunity for us to get up close and personal with some of the indigenous species: principally koalas, but also wallabies, kangaroos, platypuses, emus, dingoes and lizards. Actually, lizards appear to have the run of the place, it's difficult to take more than a few steps without stepping on one. They're not captive. They just like living there.

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The day is punctuated with short displays of the birds and animals when the keepers put their charges through their paces and then offer visitors a chance to be photographed with (say) a python, or a sea eagle. The highlight is the koala show. Koalas do nothing but look cute. But it's enough. They're the biggest draw. We have lunch in the Koala Centre and admire the photographs of celebrities covering the the walls, each captured holding a Koala: Michael Johnson, Carey Mulligan, Pope John Paul II, Michael Jackson, etc. They all smile for the birdie. The Queen is there too - in 1954, but she didn't hold one and avoided looking ridiculous.

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There are about one hundred and forty koalas in the reserve. There are different enclosures for different age groups: mothers and babies, young males, retired koalas, etc. They all look cute but identical. A keeper informs us that they all have names and it is possible to distinguish them by their ears and, failing that, the mottled markings on their behinds. Many of them are asleep. This is because their diet of eucalyptus leaves is not very nourishing, and sleeping helps conserve their energy.

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We watch Tasmanian Devils being fed: they look rather like possums, and are so named because of their fierce cry. The species is being decimated in the wild by a contageous cancer, so breeding them in captivity is now viewed as a means of saving the animals from extinction. I say to a keeper that I had thought they were already extinct. No, she says, that is the Tasmanian Tiger. It's difficult keeping up with Australian wildlife.

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After looking at the dingo, which stands still to be photographed, and the hyperactive duck-billed platypus which doesn't, we go into the kangaroo park to feed the animals. Now, what little I know about kangaroos was learned from a late 60's TV series called "Skippy the Bush Kangaroo". This animal was perpetually young and, in every episode, saved some child who had fallen down a well. It seems to me that the park was either filled with a host of Skippy 'wannabees', or that these were wallabies. (See what I did there?). We feed them, anyway: those that were interested. They get fed by everybody, and so are accustomed to people and a bit bored with the diet. 'Real' kangaroos, Big Reds, are in another park not open to the public and refuse to approach the fence.

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We've run out of pellets by the time we meet the emu. We've seen how these creatures behave on the Michael Parkinson Show - I'm sure you can stll catch the Rod Hull & Emu incident on Youtube. Anyway, without food, the wisest policy seems to be to give them a wide berth, which I do. Monica, however, throws caution to the wind and pretends to have food - a sure way to infuriate the giant birds. We escape with our lives.

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Finally, we see the fabled cassowary. These are a prettier version of the emu with a blue neck and fancy head cone. They are treasured in Daintree, where we started our journey: they are essential to the health of the rain forest. There were signs everywhere exhorting drivers to avoid killing the birds. We never saw one. Now we have the chance, and the bird won't come anywhere near us. We leave with a fuzzy photograph. It's the best Monica can do without a zoom, and better than her efforts with the platypus, which are unprintable. Who knew they could swim so fast and with their eyes closed?

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We end the day with a demonstration of sheepdog work and shearing. I know we could probably see sort of thing this back in Wales but here we have Dave: a proper Australian shearer of thirty years experience, in a proper shearer's hat, with two eager Australian dogs: Ringo and Rusty. The former is a short-haired collie and the latter a Kelpie which is a dingo/collie cross used for mustering (don't ask). After the dogs do their thing with the sheep, which involves Rusty running about on the backs of the penned sheep (something to do with mustering). Dave shears a sheep before our very eyes - this takes less than three minutes. In his heyday, Dave would shear 200 sheep a day, every day during the season.

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In the evening, we dine at a riverside restaurant, totally flooded in 2011. The flood waters reached the ceiling and the place was filled with mud and debris when the waters receded. It was back in business after six weeks. Nearby, the Story Bridge is lit up as are the skyscrapers that surround the riverside complex. It is our last night in Brisbane. Tomorrow we catch a flight to Sydney.

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Australia Day 12

Brisbane

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This is our first full day in an Australian city. Does Cairns count? For the purposes of the blog, let's assume it doesn't, even though it sprawls over a huge chunk of Northern Queensland. It's funny how many resonances there are when you wander around an Australian city. Let me generalise from a sample of one. I'm not just talking about the architecture or the street names, which often have Engish and Scottish equivalents - Welsh, sadly, not so much. Brisbane's central river area is strongly reminiscent of London: both cities have arts complexes on their South Bank; similarly, both were revitalised by city exhibitions - the Festival of Britain and Brisbane's Expo 88, respectively. On Brisbane's South Bank there is a giant Ferris wheel - deemed temporary, just like the London Eye. Like Cardiff, a pedestrianised Queen Street is the main shopping thoroughfare. Like Cardiff, Brisbane retains its Victorian arcades. I could come up with a few more convoluted examples but I think I've made my point. Brisbane is the love child of London and Cardiff, but much sunnier.

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The plan for the day is simple: explore the riverside; take a tour of the historic buildings; and finally, stroll through the Botanical Gardens. It's a hot day, and there's going to be a lot of walking. At breakfast, the owner of our B&B tells us that there is a Market on the South Bank. There always is on a Sunday, he says. We never find it: not that it matters. This is not a day for haggling over boomerangs or ethnic jewellery. We're here to see and record the sights of Brisbane on Monica's Box Brownie. It's too hot for anything else - including wandering around a large city centre. Even to buy hats.

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The South Bank Parklands is described as "42 acres of culture, entertainment, and recreation". It includes the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, State Library and Museum and two major art galleries. It also provides an excellent vantage point for viewing the skyscrapers of the commercial heart of Brisbane. Along the river, as we head North, we find uniquely, a mini-rainforest and close by, a carved,wooden Nepalese temple dedicated to Peace, left over from the Expo. Naturally, there is also a man-made lagoon, complete with a sandy beach, highly popular on a Sunday morning.

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We leave the South Bank by a "City Hopper". This is a free ferry service. These small red boats sail up and down the Brisbane River, crossing alternatively from bank to bank. We travel on the boat beyond the steel cantilever Story Bridge constructed as a public works programme during the Great Depression. The bridge is lit at night.

On our return journey, we disembark at the Riverside Centre, a collection of modern restaurants on the north bank. Here there are modern riverside restaurants that were flooded to the roof in 2011 - Brisbane sits in a flood plain. There is no residual evidence of this disaster. Everything looks gleaming and new. There a a couple of paddle steamers parked here. We take the river path though the Botanical Gardens before ending up in Queen Street for lunch.

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There is an outdoor concert, so we rest for a while and listen to "Adam and Dusty" play Country Rock to a receptive audience of Sunday shoppers. The lead singer, a red haired girl, has a voice well suited to the genre. The lead guitarist, also red haired, looks like a refrugee from ZZ Top. Periodically, they plug their latest CD, which is on sale at a table to the side of the stage. Of course, we buy the album (in a hand-made, cloth sleeve): it's a souvenir and it'll probably get more plays than the record of Gregorian Chants we bought off a monk in St Petersburg. Monica engages one of the band in conversation. Which one is Adam and which Dusty, she asks? Disappointingly, none of them is. They just thought it would be a cool name for a band.

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Time for a bit of culture. We take a version of the Heritage Trail recommended by our guidebook. This takes us past a selection of Gothic churches and Government buildings, mostly put up in the 1880s and 90s. As true tourists, we photograph every one and instantly forget its significance. We end up with a photographic collection of anonymous Nineteenth Century buildings that we would probably ignore if we saw them in Manchester or Birmingham.

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Our route takes us back to the Botanical Gardens, cooler and more restful than the city tour. With its trees and ponds, this is a haven for an exotic collection of wild birds. It's also the site of the old Government House, a beautiful building donated to the University of Brisbane in 1909.

We eat at a Thai restaurant in an empty China Town - the weekend revellers have departed.

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Posted by mikemonica 05:06 Comments (2)

Australia Day 11

Noosa

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We're leaving today at 15:30, so must make the most of our few hours here. With the approach of Christmas, Monica decides that Hastings Street would be a good place to buy a few festive presents. I point out that this is the most expensive thoroughfare in the most expensive town in Queensland and remind her that the British ecomomy needs a boost. We pass a shop which has a 'closing down' sale. Racks of summer dresses extend into the street. There is a buzz of women seeking bargains. "Is there a bookshop near here you could go to?" Monica asks. "I may be some time." I sit on one of the fancy benches that are placed on the pavement for the comfort of the beautiful people. Opposite, on display in a shop window is a tea towel decorated with my new nemesis: the Noosa Bush Turkey.

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I strike up a conversation with an old guy (about my age) who is also waiting for his wife. He is from Taiwan, reired after a career in pharmacuticals and academia. When I tell him I'm Irish, he is surprised. He's had difficulty with Irish accents in the past. With mine, he has no problem. Australian accents, on the other hand, he finds hard: "When I watch television here, I only get 30% of what they say." I say, "That's very good - better than my average". We exchange travel stories until Monica returns holding a bag containing her bargain dress. He laughs. "Just wait until you see what your family has bought", she says. On cue, his wife and two daughters appear, laden with shopping bags. He stops laughing.

Monica tells me a story illustrating Noosa sales techniques. One of the larger customers in the shop approached the assistant, dress in hand. "Do you have a bigger size in this?" she asked. "You don't need a bigger size. The one you're wearing is too big for you". The affronted woman went outside to inform her sister of this judgement. Noosa must be the only place in the world where 'size 6' and 'XX small' are the norm.

We hire bikes for a couple of hours and cycle around the river and channels that provide Noosa with such an enormous water frontage. This has enabled countless rich Australians to realise the dream of having an architect-designed house with an attached yacht-mooring. On a park footbridge, we encounter some kids fishing and jumping into the water below, not normally complementary activities. The adults are sailing in the lagoon or travelling along its length by water taxi.

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Waiting for our Greyhound at the bus depot, we are approached by a young French backpacker as forlorn as a Dingo puppy. He asks us if we've seen a large blue rucksack. He'd left it on the bus platform: someone told him it would be okay there. A couple of bus drivers, having a a cigarette break, tell him it's either been stolen or loaded onto another bus. When we leave, he's on the bus with us without his bag, ear to his mobile phone.

The journey to Brisbane takes us through the heart of the Sunshine Coast. Naturally, the sun shines all the way though this time the air conditioning is working. We reach Brisbane Bus Terminus at 17:30. We're staying in Spring Hill in a listed Queensland-style house built in 1886. The area is close to the city centre, the river and China Town. We elect to eat in China Town. It is Saturday night. We learn this is where all the young people in Brisbane go for a good night out. Tonight, we are the oldest diners in China Town. Plus ca change.

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Posted by mikemonica 03:36 Comments (2)

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