Queenslander

Ask an Australian to say “Dirk Drongo is making his debut for the Maroons” and you will realise you are indeed in Australia. The fact that Dirk Drongo is making his dayboo for the Murowns will not only secretly appal the smug little English teacher lurking inside of you, but you will also wonder why this is front page news on the Courier Mail. Apparently, it’s all to do with a game of rugby or – preposterously – football as it is called. Not the FIFA type of football in which you kick a ball at an open goal only to see it diverted by a mysterious sheik into a pit of money built by exploited foreign labour. No, the rugby league type of football, in which scandals are much more unsophisticated affairs involving parties on balconies that somehow always seem to get out of hand and end up with contrite media conferences in which apologies are made for any offence caused.

Having spent a substantial amount of time in Queensland recently it was a relief to escape a few hours before the Murowns played the Blues in something called State of Origin. It was possibly the only relief, because Queensland appears to be quite beautiful this time of year, decorated with clear blue skies and radiant, twenty degree-plus warmth. As a couple of nights of minus five await, and the citizens of Canberra adorn themselves as if on an expedition to the Antarctic, my spirit is lifted by the thought of Brisbane on the horizon once again.

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qldmay03While locals will vehemently disagree, it is quite possible to live in Brisbane without a jumper. Mine came off emerging from the plane, although I did put it on again one morning, just to appear less of an outsider. Meandering around amongst the city towers and along the river, a touch of summer lingers forever: clusters of dark green foliage dwell under a weight of blooming extravagance; sweat is apparently still a thing here; and the official State costume of thongs and boardies can be easily detected in the outdoor swimming pools of Southbank.

There are of course many upsides to this, and one of them is ice cream. And flat whites that remain a pleasure to sip alfresco. Sure, some overzealous cafe owners may have blasted on the outdoor heaters so that you too can relive those heady summers of Marble Bar, but the coffee is at least of reasonable metropolitan standard. It seems to taste blander than that in Canberra, but then maybe I just don’t know the right spots…always a first world curse of first world business trips.

qldmay02A good spot with or without coffee is GOMA, the Gallery of Modern Art. Probably without coffee, because that would have been condensed into an essence of cold-dripped Columbian syrup and daubed on the walls to spell out a series of Japanese characters that make no sense whatsoever, but have deep, deep, meaning, hmmm. Still, I love the building in which such work sits, and there is something immensely satisfying in cloaking your laptop bag for an hour and transitioning to a world away from depth interviews and strategically coloured bar charts.

qldmay04Moving down now a cultural gear or ten, it is on to the Gold Coast. One could argue that the height of culture in the Gold Coast is the all-you-can-eat seafood buffet on the 71st level of a tower in Surfers Paradise. But here dwells the Australian dream on steroids, and many people lap it up like State of Origin players and…well…steroids. Here, you can live in a big white house in a gated community on a reclaimed island, be woken up at 5am by a cacophony of lorikeets and get all your tax minimisation forms done by seven. Then you can go for a power walk by the beach, enjoy a weak soy latte, and engage in a round of golf at the Princess Palmer Palace Retreat and Country Club Theme Park. Later, after listening to a radio station called Hot Tomato, it is quite possible to head out as the shadows of towers infringe upon the sand, surfing in your very own paradise.

qldmay05I have always said I don’t mind the Gold Coast and I still think that way. I’m sure my inner Brit arrives here and sees a stretch of white sand, a modern and affluent city-cum-holiday resort, with good food and reasonable coffee. I love nothing more than an all-you-can-eat challenge, a power walk up Burleigh Heads in guilt, and the pronunciation of tomato on Hot Tomato driving back. And, of course, more than anything, it really does seem to be twenty-four degrees in winter.

qldmay06Away from the surfers there is still a paradise. Towers and condos and gated communities drift away and roads rise into a hinterland. Side-stepping villages of token tweeness mixed with essential oils, Springbrook National Park stands guard over the landscape, one lofty remnant of a massive, ancient caldera. Stunning lookouts? Check. Plunging waterfalls? Check. Rainforest? Check. Bitumen? Check. Good walking trails? Check. Still with proximity to coffee, cake and ice cream? Check. Funny rat-like marsupials unlikely to cause significant damage as you drive down the hill at twilight? Check.  Springbrook is probably one of the best national parks I have ever been to, and now twice in my life.

qldmay08I would happily go back a third time, and then I would actually remember to bring my proper camera. You see, these travels in Queensland have been for business which came to be mixed – thanks to clever scheduling and a will to make up time on weekends – with pleasure. But I travelled with business in mind and today’s blog is brought to you in conjunction with the iphone 6. It has a good camera…hell…it’s a great camera considering it is one tiny little part of a slender and stylish lifestyle enhancement device ((c) Apple Marketing 101). But it cannot make waterfalls flow ghostly ribbons of white.

Neither can it do justice to the best of all lookouts, which is aptly marked on the map and road signs as Best of All Lookout. But then any camera would struggle with the scale and grandeur (not to mention the shade and light complications of 4:30 on a winter’s afternoon). I came here before in 2007, the lookout stubbornly shrouded in the clouds. Today, not one fouled the sky, allowing the late sunlight to project its glow upon Mount Warning, and a chill to emerge in the shade to prepare me for a return to Canberra.

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qldmay11The Gold Coast airport was but a twenty minute drive from where I was staying, but I detoured a few hours. With a flight later in the day there was one other branch of Springbrook to revisit. Again, part of the joy is getting there, again blessedly on bitumen, but winding around west of the escarpment and into a valley of the dinosaurs. Lush and green, it’s an alternative route across into New South Wales, the border a genuine high pass which throws you up and over into the verdant Tweed Valley. It is a landscape that, beyond cane and bamboo and no trespassing signs, one cannot help but suspect is dotted with marijuana.

qldmay12A natural high just before the border is Natural Bridge, which again is best captured with a proper camera on a slow shutter speed. Nevertheless, the walk through rainforest is of agreeable length while the falls – plunging down a hole in the rock and out through a cave – cannot fail to thrill. In the valley, in the shade, it is again quite cool and Canberra feels closer.

Over in New South Wales, Murwillumbah sits amongst the sugar cane and feels a lot less glitzy than the Gold Coast. There seems to be good coffee on offer and a fine brownie to keep me going, not laden with local produce – apart from sugar – as far as I am aware. Following the Tweed back to the coast, the tower blocks and marinas soon again emerge, and that lost world, that lost valley of earlier seem all the more remarkable in contrast. And with contrasts clear, like the light and dark from the Best of All Lookout, it is time to put the jumper back on and head south.

Australia Green Bogey Photography Uncategorized Walking

The climate changes

Little things, sometimes performed unconsciously, indicate a time of change. There is the walk for morning coffee, in which you now seek the sunny section of pavement rather than its shady, covered counterpart. At home you have to reach in the darkest depths of your wardrobe for – god forbid – a sweater; only to discover that they are musty and holey and jaded and faded but at least protect against a cooling evening. Scattered on a nearby chair are the vagaries of climate suitable attire in late March: shorts from two days back (27 degrees), and a hoodie from the night before (2 degrees). Tracksuit pants come back into fashion, at least inside the privacy of your own home. Outside, the basil flourishes, at its most bountiful before frost decimation. And, excitedly, thoughts turn to how it can be used with red meats and red wines, frequently together.

Shorts and salads were still the preferred modus operandi for most of March, and suitable for a reasonably easy-going walk on the Settler’s Track down in the remote southern tip of the ACT. A scattering of huts and pastoral remnants speak of a far challenging time, and one can only recoil in fright at the thought of icy winter winds seeping through the gaps in the wooden planks that made for walls. The comforts of a piddling new town called Canberra lay distant, across brown plains upon which a permafrost lingers, gnarly tangles of stunted gums and dense mounds of wattle lining the mud-racked excuse for a road. Today, we had a bit of a sunny picnic and returned to Canberra in air-conditioned comfort in an hour, with only a little part of the road slightly bumpy.

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The climatic downshift has produced more amenable conditions for burning some of this land, doing so in a controlled and measured manner. The intention of this – previously practiced by the original inhabitants of this continent to great success – is to reduce the fuel load for more intensive and damaging fires in the summer months. Thus it is an act of destruction that protects and regenerates, with any luck clearing out tangles of invasive weeds to open the way for more friendly natives.

The controlled burns were noticeable this year in their seeming proximity to Canberra. Partly this an illusion, a foreshortening of distance created by the lines of ranges to the west and the hidden deciduous streets of Canberra in between. It is heightened by the smell of smoke in the air but at no point was the largest ugly concrete building in Woden facing any threat, even as plumes of smoke spiralled in the hills behind like some kind of Jurassic Rotorua. Alas, while the ugly tower survives the smoke, the light, the angle of the sun upon its equinox, the time and day and place and year produce some memorable, cherished Redhillian sunsets.

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With the fiery skies appearing earlier each eve, and the increasing need for arm and leg coverings, panic can start to grip the citizens of the national capital. There is alarm that it may get down to fifteen degrees, a temperature in Australia requiring scarves and beanies and carbon intensive wood fires. Concern too that the Australian right to enter the ocean and brag about its perfection to the rest of the world is on the wane. Easter escapes may (though things seem to be changing) herald the last chance to wade in the water of the South Coast. So I thought about going down there over Easter too.

In the end, I changed my mind, and went a few days earlier because the weather was perfect, ideal for a spur of the moment day trip that is only possible with self-employment. Old favourites of Mollymook and Depot Beach, with some fish and chips in between. Shorts and sandals and, yes, gentle wading in the ocean. Something surely to brag about.

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My pre-emptive conniving worked wonders because, in the main, the long Easter weekend was one of those in which Canberra (and the region) did its best to imitate Britain. Two days of cool greyness without a break, then two days of heavy downpours, possibly followed by a debate between seven charm-filled politicians arguing about HIV-laden Europhiles stealing our tax money jobs and murdering badgers with Clarkson or something. Ideal conditions for some reading and lounging and DVD watching and baking and napping. In this context, in this climate, it seemed right that the clocks changed, and – at least from the perspective of time-fixing – winter commenced.

easter05The first morning on winter time turned out to be delightful. For a few hours the clouds went away, and the sun delivered enough radiance for a comfortable period of shorts-wearing. The morning light and air contributed to a Red Hill glow, projecting upon the grass and gum trees and ranging hills in the distance. Rather than signalling a decline, the change of clocks appeared to induce a spurt of wild industriousness. Cockatoos plentiful, screeching from tree to tree; pairs of rosellas flitting amongst branches; galahs flaming; and of course the kangaroos, forever grazing and looking all rather nonplussed about it.

Giving Red Hill the hill a run for its money was Red Hill the suburb. easter06From what seemed to be shaping up to be a relatively mundane autumn – with lots of early browns and leaf losses noticeable – a week which turned from warmth and sunniness to a condition of damp mildness appeared to have fashioned a more elaborate state of affairs. And amongst this fading technicolour the birds lingered too. Foraging and flirting and feasting, the fruitful trees bedecked with gang-gangs.

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easter09This Easter Sunday suburban sunshine was relatively short-lived. What followed, I guess you could say, were April showers. Thus a planned escapade into escarpment wilderness on Easter Monday became sedated somewhat and, instead, transformed into reasonably gentle ambles within nearby Tidbinbilla. Like suburbia, the wildlife was out in force here too. A few koalas and wallabies sheltered amongst the Peppermint Gums. Swans and pelicans and magpie geese and the duck-billed platypus and platypus-billed duck confirmed that it was nice weather for ducks. Weather that was – well – cold. Cloaked in long trousers, T-shirt, hoodie and raincoat it must have been fifteen degrees or something. And as the sun surprisingly filtered through the rising mist of cloud lifting from the mountains, there was joy in rushing out from the shade of trees and bursting towards its friendly warmth once again.

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Australia Green Bogey Photography Uncategorized Walking

Golfing

There must be an age in the life of every male in which you suddenly find it desirable to slash a thin stick of metal at a small ball in every which direction over the rambling grounds of manicured parkland. It can happen as a nipper, inspired by fantastical feats of sporting idols. It often hits in the thirties, a way to keep active in an agreeably sedate way and escape from life’s chores, e.g. wife, children, shopping, shopping with the wife and children. And then of course, it goes hand in hand with retirement, like a golden handshake of expensive Big Berthas and disastrous Pringle pullovers.

I quite like the appeal of golf right now, being in my mid thirties with a penchant for early retirement. It’s something that has been around since my teens when, like many teens, I was more active with a naive hopefulness that I may one day be the next champion striding the fairways with a fluorescent green cap and stripy pants. This activity tailed off at university and never really resurrected itself, with only sporadic bursts of wanton destruction around eighteen holes since. But I still have clubs, lots of balls and one of those Michael Jackson type gloves with grubby marks buried away at the bottom of a comedy sized golf bag.

I think I was introduced to the world of golf by my brother, as often happens when one has an older brother. Initially this was via Golfer’s Delight or some other weekly supplement that you collect the parts for and put into one big binder over 684 weeks. You know, the things usually advertised after Christmas like Diesel Tanks and Artillery Transport of Europe and Super Crotchet Life. Anyway, as well as profiles of top golfers and top courses it had tips on how to be a great swinger and expertly control your balls [1].

Other media increased exposure to golf. On the TV there was of course the joy of hearing Peter Alliss rambling on and on about old Bertie Wallopsworth of Surrey Heath Golf Club having his 120th birthday Texas Scramble [2], while somewhere in the background a golf tournament was taking place. Then there was the thrill of getting Sky Sports hooked up in some dodgy arrangement and watching the US tour on a Sunday evening, full of whoops and hollers, fluoro greens and sour old hacks commenting on the state of young people today. It often also included as accompaniment a whole bag of cheap peanuts from the corner shop and / or a genuinely king-sized Mars Bar. Then, when print and TV couldn’t fulfil this exposure there were even computer games – memories of Links 386 where a computerised ‘you’re the man’ or ‘too much club’ was a marker of progress; and some Jack Nicklaus golf course design game with the world’s most disturbing theme music.

G_golf1In the real world my first set (or mini set) of golf clubs came from Argos [3]. This allowed me, post birthday, to escape to Central Park in the long summer evenings to probably annoy my brother and his new found golfing friends, one of whom I’m sure was shaping up to be a first rate psychopath in the quality of his hissy fits and club throwing. Avoiding the ageing course attendant with his black teeth and ever-present eau de cigar, we would sneak on the course, make up our own holes by combining bits of one with the other and generally play until you couldn’t see the drug pushers hanging around the toilets anymore. It was not the fantasy plastic world of golf thrust upon me from the television [4].

Upgrades came when I got to play on a proper grown up course, with proper clubs and something called etiquette, which as far as I could tell generally meant wearing your school trousers and tucking a collared shirt into them. Perched on the southern edge of Dartmoor and more often than not sitting in the clouds, Wrangaton was a sleeping beast of a course, with sheep and rock for fairways and gorse for rough. The wind often howled, meaning while one hole could be reached with a gentle tap of the ball, another took seven days and a team of Sherpa’s to conquer. It had, in between the bogs and bracken, some stupendous views over Devon, lain out below the ninth tee in a typically creamy pattern of green hills and vales.

At the other end of the country, Scotland is reputedly the home of golf, I assume because only such a sport could be devised over several long hard nights of Glenfiddich. My own golfing development continued with a few summer holidays north across the border with my brother and Dad. This included one or two trips to watch The Open Championship, followed by some very unsuccessful attempts to emulate the professionals via ScotGolf , a competition of my brother’s devising which was devised in such a way to make my brother end up the winner every time! To be fair, he was the most accomplished golfer, clearly from his time collecting and scrutinising Golfer’s Delight or whatever it was. And it wasn’t all playing with balls and holes. There were uncharacteristically scorching days to bake on the fine sandy beaches of Ayrshire and swelter on the peaks of Arran. There were tourist days to potter about loveable Edinburgh and eat cakes of great upstanding from Fisher and Donaldson in St Andrews. And there were winding scenic drives to make my brother feel travelsick and Dad and I to feel payback for the drubbing we got in ScotGolf.

Now if I was a golfer of some note I would be able to regale and bore you with tales of my best rounds of golf, finest shots and superb holes. In truth I cannot remember so much of distinction, especially in those younger years. I do recall holing a putt approximately the length of the Great Wall of China on another uncharacteristically scorching day in Edinburgh. On the same trip I remember spraying my ball right, over some bushes and, unbeknown to me, onto the next tee where a couple of old wee lassies were hitting off. I very nearly ended up sending one of those old dears to the fairways in the sky, saved only by the rim of her vivid pink visor deflecting the ball. Back in Devon I also remember hitting a sheep on the arse at Wrangaton and pretty much doing the same on some heifer dawdling at Central Park pitch and putt. As I say, I was not a golfer of some note.

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As I have matured and my game has got even more sporadic I like to think I am less bothered about how well I play, content to be outdoors and enjoying the surroundings in the company of others [5]. I have come to realise that, on the whole, golf courses are rather beautiful things. Indeed, it is rare that you get so many acres lovingly dedicated to different types of grass and trees, shrubs and undergrowth, ponds and brooks. And they can be wild and rugged spots, your individual journey plotted purely by how wayward you hit the ball, typically finding untamed jungle with every slice and secret fairy dells with every hook. Plus, when you finally get there, the greens have those stripy patterns that every lawn yearns for, and there are even bits of beach to build sandcastles in, though I’m not sure this is in the Old Thomas Botheringirls-Willynilly handbook of golfing etiquette and manners.

In Australia I have been lucky enough to hit a little ball around a few such charming spots. In the lee of Red Hill, Federal Golf Club is truly archetypal with its graceful white gum trees and kangaroos lining the fairways. Such is the proliferation of native flora and fauna that it is not uncommon to be stared down by a mob of twenty to thirty eastern greys that have set up camp between your ball and the green. It really makes you focus on hitting the next shot in the air. On the positive side, I do have the local wildlife to thank for assistance on one occasion – petulant cockatoos ripping up the greens and nudging my ball just a little closer to the hole for a pleasing par putt.

Red Hill

Elsewhere, down on the NSW coast at Narooma I have had the thrill of playing over the sea and along the very rim of towering cliffs as a whale and its calf splash around a little out to sea. It’s that kind of memory, and a few half-decent shots mixed in with it, that draw me back to wistfully ponder that I should be doing this more often. When you are wistful and ponderous you tend to forget the rubbish, such as horizontal rain and five putt greens, uncomfortable trousers and cap hair, as well as the price you pay for the privilege. Instead you think about the regular exercise, time in the outdoors with nature, a good walk bettered with the focus of getting a little ball into an equally little hole on a not very little stretch of land; and you begin to think that you may just be following your brother to the greens not for the first time in your life.


[1] I’m sorry. Golf is like that isn’t it? You cannot write about swinging and balls and holes and wood and birdies without falling into smutty innuendo.

[2] And that doesn’t involve one old man and six curvy Texan cowgirls.

[3] Good old Argos, I really do miss its omnipresent usefulness.

[4] An early valuable lesson to never trust television. Yes, even Eastenders is make-believe.

[5] That is not to say I will play a round of golf without swearing less than 50 times.

Golfing Links (haha)

What a king sized Mars Bar used to look like: http://imghumour.com/categories/trucks/view/definitely-a-king-size-mars-bar

Pitch and putt and throw clubs in a huff: http://www.visitplymouth.co.uk/things-to-do/pitch-and-putt-central-park-p1417363

Wrangaton Golf Club: http://www.wrangatongolfclub.co.uk/pages.php/index.html

Och aye yum: http://www.fisheranddonaldson.com/Site/Welcome.html

Federal Golf Club: http://www.fgc.com.au/welcome/index.mhtml

Narooma Golf Club: http://www.naroomagolf.com.au/

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