Impressions of Australia

Scarborough Marina, near Brisbane, Australia 

July 31, 2004

Dear friends and family:

We emailed our Aussie sailing friends, Chris & Margie, who are wintering in New Zealand while they plump up the cruising kitty. We asked for advice on where we ought to go and what we ought to see in the Brisbane area, with emphasis on the cultural and historical. Margie grew up in Brisbane, and they have recently spent some time here.

We've been following their suggestions (rather than the Lonely Planet Guide) and have seen some very interesting things.  We’re working our way through the suggestions, in between boat chores and planning for our return home.

Above: Craig petting a kangaroo at Alma Park Zoo.

First, we rented a car and did a road trip to the north – what the tourist brochures call the "Sunshine Coast hinterland." (The Sunshine coast is a sometimes tawdry beach bum paradise, full of Aussie vacationers on the cheap, whining children, surfers and gorgeous beaches). The hinterland includes the Glass House Mountains, and a very steep set of coastal mountains, the Blackall Range, with roads and towns perched on the edges of precipices. The Glass House Mountains were named by Captain Cook, who from the sea thought that these peaks looked like the glass foundries near his Yorkshire home. (I think he had run out of such colorful names by the time he got to the Pacific Northwest, where he named things like "Cape Foulweather.") The Glass House peaks are a series of very steep eroded volcanic cones, rising out of relatively flat plain. Most of the native forests of the plains have been cut down, and plantations of hybrid pine clones take their place. The government and the lumber companies try to make a great thing of this, but it looks for all the world like a computer generated picture of a forest – one where the artist takes a photograph of a few trees, and then repeats it in an orderly fashion, row on row, to the horizon.  
  Glass House Peaks with forest plantation
Wild Horse Mountain Lookout As we headed north on the highway, we passed the first hint of the Glass House peaks – a hill called Wild Horse mountain. There was an elaborate lookout on top of the hill, and we decided to make a slight detour for a look. It was a steep hike up, but the view from the top was magnificent. All of the Glass House Mountains were laid out in the distance, with the computer forests spread out below us. The lumber companies had thoughtfully erected maps, photographs and propaganda, telling us how wonderful the forest industry is, and by the way, here’s what you’re looking at. A wire ran down the center of the lookout. Around the outer railing, compass directions were painted. By sighting between the wire, the numbers on the railing and a distant column of smoke, you could get the compass bearing to a forest fire (the main reason for the lookout).
We drove past innumerable signs directing us to the Australia Zoo, which is owned by Steve Irwin, the TV crocodile guy ("Crikey!"). We decided to pass that up. (It wasn’t much of a decision). We wound up in Montville, which is a tourist town on a hillside. Lots of cute little shops with boomerangs and kangaroo souvenirs. We stayed in a "holiday apartment" with a gorgeous view of the valley below, but amazingly, no heat. The manager told us that 10 months of the year, the climate is extremely hot. They sell bags of firewood to burn in the woodstove, but that’s the only way to get warm. We were getting mighty cold, so we spent the extra $10. Very strange.  
The next day we hiked through native eucalyptus forest to Kondalilla Falls. As near as we can tell, the only reason there IS any native forest near the coast of Australia is that some national parks and forest reserves were established fifty or more years ago. Otherwise it would all be planted in hybrid pine clones. We hoped to see the 3 foot lace monitor lizards which live in the forest, but apparently they were hibernating (perhaps they didn’t like the cold any more than we did). We did see plenty of new and different plants, including a grass-like clump that grows on top of a long woody stem ("xanthorrhoea" or "grass tree")
Above:  Xanthorrhoea

Right:  The swimming hole at the top of Kondalilla Falls (the weather was too cold for us to want to test it)

We drove back to the marina along the Sunshine Coast, stopping to watch the surfers at Maroochy, and the kite surfers, pelicans and jellyfish at Caloundra.
 We continue to be astounded by the variety of bizarre animal life here. The pelicans are around the marina every day, looking to pick up leavings from the sport fishermen. They are like a cartoon of a pelican, with cartoon eyes (hopefully I can get a close up picture to show the eyes). Then there are the ibis and the big sandpipers that hang around looking for handouts, or pecking the ground in the dry grass between the sidewalk and the road. We visited the Alma Park Zoo, where we fed the kangaroos and emus, and petted a koala. Everywhere we have seen black turkey-like birds with red heads, which are obviously trained to look for handouts ("Australian brush-turkeys"). Clearly, if all these animals were around when the first settlers came, they couldn’t have starved.
A couple of days ago, Craig was laid up with a sore throat, and I took a trip by myself into downtown Brisbane. The transportation was an adventure, with a one hour bus trip, followed by a 30 minute train ride. Brisbane bills itself as "River City" and indeed everything is centered around the river, which bends in lazy curves through the downtown area. (Portland, which also bills itself as "River City" could learn a few things from Brisbane about how to maximize the livability potential of its river). There are wide walkways running next to the river, sometimes with exotic and magnificent landscaping, recreation facilities, a pedestrian bridge, and frequent passenger ferries that cross the river or take you as much as 35 kilometers up river. (I paid the "all day" fare of $8 AUD when I got on the bus, and the ticket was good for bus, train and all the river ferries). I walked through the botanical gardens, a wonderful park with large exotic trees, and carefully tended landscaping.

Above:  A Brisbane city ferry on the river; Goodwill pedestrian bridge and maritime museum are in the distance.  Below:  two scenes from the Brisbane City Botanical Gardens.

Everyone was dressed up in sweaters and long pants, even though it seemed like a fairly warm day. Apparently it gets beastly hot here in summer, so the locals must have little tolerance for what we consider "nice" weather. One woman in the botanical gardens remarked that I looked so comfortable in a sleeveless shirt, while she was "all rugged up."

Which brings me to some of the strange expressions here. Instead of "you’re welcome" or "fine" or "OK," people say "no worries" or "no drama." Breakfast is "brekkie," poker is "pokies," a mandarin orange is a "mandi" and a cauliflower is "cauli." Even stranger, a chicken is a "chook" and of course Australia is "Oz." If you get too much of this stuff going, it becomes fairly hard to understand what people are saying. They can always understand us, though, because the American dialect is heard all the time in the movies or on TV -- America’s best-known export.

We’ve been on sort of a movie-fest because we’ve made friends with Rich, Elaine, Jesse and Sarah on Windarra. They have a collection of about 200 DVDs. We don’t have so many, but we have quite a few they haven’t seen. So we’ve been trading books of DVDs, and have been watching a movie every night.


Michael Connolly finishing one of a pair of music sticks.

Elaine and Jesse invited me to go with them when they went to visit an aboriginal artist named Michael Connolly. He makes and sells didgeridoos, music sticks (like claves), bull roarers (a stick on a string, which makes an unearthly roar when you whirl it around), as well as paintings on bark or leaves, and boomerangs. All are painted with traditional patterns, and he’s glad to tell you the story that goes with each item. He gave Jesse a didgeridoo lesson, served us tea and cake, and managed to sell us a fair bit of his merchandise.
Our plan was to arrive in Australia just a few days before the sailing date of the Dockwise ship, Super Servant 3 ("SS3"). Craig says that SS3 really means "sinking ship," as the whole ship submerges to let the boats motor on, then lift up with hydraulic jacks under each boat. We have space booked to take Sequoia to Vancouver. We were originally told the sailing date would be July 24. Had we known that the date was going to be pushed out, repeatedly, we would have tried to spend more time in Vanuatu or New Caledonia. Now, the date is said to be August 10 or 11. There are about 15 boats here in the Scarborough marina here which are booked on SS3. According to the agent, there are about 40 altogether in the Brisbane area which are booked through to Vancouver or beyond. Those of us who are here in Scarborough pass rumors back and forth – what is the latest date, when will we be loading, where will we be loading, how should the boat be prepared, and what marinas are close to the unloading place in Vancouver, etc. etc. We hope to squeeze in an overnight excursion or two before Sequoia is loaded up, and perhaps a road trip or two.  
Best wishes to all our friends and family!

Craig & Barbara Johnston

S/V Sequoia

Opposite:  Keeper at Alma Park Zoo, holding a koala bear

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