We did not have good luck with beaches in Australia. In Sydney and Melbourne, weather prevented us getting at them; in Brisbane it was geography. Brisbane is the gateway to the Gold Coast, the famous 30-mile strip of beach resorts along the Queensland/New South Wales border, but it’s not on it – in fact, it’s two hours away by train.
I have to say, my impressions of Brisbane were characterised by a sense of… grey. Possibly this was because we were staying in the CBD, which had a marked greyness to its towers and was somewhat underpopulated at night; possibly it’s because I spent some of the time there feeling a bit grey. For this reason, this entry will be somewhat shorter than usual.
We took a break from Airbnb to stay in a self-catering room in Brisbane, and it was a very comfortable room with a serviceable minikitchen so we could keep cooking for ourselves. Our first day in the city was New Year’s Eve, and we spent it taking in the art museums of the city. My favourite, as always, was the Museum of Modern Art, and I had two particular favourite pieces. One was a kind of fantasy forest made entirely from white fur. It gave off a palpable chill – the air conditioning seemed suddenly to have been lowered several degrees – and although it was eerie, it had almost a comforting dreaminess to it. The other was a short film looking at the links between three groups currently at work in Chile’s Atacama Desert: the astronomers studying the stars, the archaeologists looking for relics of previous civilisations, and the dogged groups of women searching for the bodies of lovers, husbands, and family members murdered and buried there by Pinochet’s government. Some of them have found fragments; a husband’s jaw, a brother’s foot. One wiry, tough woman of seventy was interviewed. “People don’t understand why we want bones and corpses,” she said, starting to cry, “but I want them, I want them so much. I am getting old – I can’t do this much longer. I don’t want to die, but if I found my brother’s body today, I could die tomorrow happy.” After the museum, we walked along the South Bank amongst the people camped out awaiting New Year’s, and by the crowded artificial beach. After a quiet dinner in our room (we have always concurred in finding New Year’s out both highly overprices and overrated), we saw in the New Year swinging each other around madly in ‘Auld Lang Syne’.
On the first day of the New Year, we headed out to North Stradwick Island, or “Straddie” – a beautiful spot where you can often see whales passing by. However, after a three-hour trip that included a train to the coast, a bus to the water-taxi terminal, a water-taxi, and another bus to the northern tip of the island, we were tired, a little discouraged, and had only an hour or so to spend around stunning Frenchman’s Beach before we had to head back. (Not helping; the BBC News article about how deadly Australia’s beaches are, which has made me pretty cautious about swimming anywhere there isn’t a lifeguard. The article singles out Tamarana Beach, where we had lunch during the Bondi to Coogee walk in Sydney, as one of the most dangerous. Eek!)
On our third day, we hit the Brisbane Planetarium, located some way out of the city centre in some beautiful botanic gardens, but I had started to come down with a nasty feverish cold and my splitting headache rather got in the way of my appreciation of the planetarium show. I was gratified, though, to see the Southern Cross for the first time on the display of the evening’s stars, as well as some of the familiar constellations upside-down. I ended up retiring to bed early and stayed there until the next evening, when we met my little sister Rachel, who lives outside Brisbane, for a Japanese/Aussie fusion dinner. The next day saw us prep for our late-ish flight to Cairns for some tropical fun.