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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

Australia: Brisbane

The Brisbane skyline
The Brisbane skyline

Brisbane is a fairly typical Australian city. It's a pleasant place that doesn't quite have the sophistication of Melbourne or the physical beauty of Sydney, but it does have better weather, and that makes a huge difference. I found Brisbane to be incredible and quite engrossing, but for different reasons; having just arrived back from Tahiti, I hadn't seen a shopping mall for so long that simply walking round the Myer Centre off Queen Street in the city centre sent me into spasms. Large Big Mac meals for just A$4.95! Endless clothes shops! Camping stores that stretched for miles! Rows and rows of current CDs in the record shops! Concert tickets! Supermarkets! Coffee-flavoured milk! People! People! People! It's no understatement to say that I spent a few days wandering around Brisbane with my mouth open, just window shopping and easing myself back into western civilisation; little things like businessmen with mobile phones, roads with three lanes and cheap, copious Coca Cola were, after four months on Zeke, mind-bogglingly amazing. I felt like Dick Whittington on his first visit to London, and it was a hoot.

Stradbroke Island

Blue Lake Beach, Stradbroke Island
Blue Lake Beach, Stradbroke Island

When they heard that I was flying back to Australia, Dave and Dorothy, our neighbours on the Papeete quay, had kindly given me the contact details of their son and daughter, Gavin and Jenine, who lived in Brisbane. So as soon as I landed, I negotiated the public transport system to arrive at Gavin and Jenine's house just in time for tea. Jenine shot through a couple of days after I arrived – she flew out to Papeete to join her parents on Kabloona for the rest of the year – which left Gavin and his two Japanese flat mates, Kumiko and Tumomi, to explore the area with. Gavin spoke fluent Japanese and was off to Japan for a year at university in September, so they were all fascinating company, but because Tumomi's English was on a par with my French, a lot of the conversations lapsed back into Japanese, a language in which I have yet to learn 'yes', 'no' and 'two beers please' (these three phrases forming the basis for the Englishman Abroad's Fluency Certificate). However, their hospitality was second to none, and the amazing Japanese cooking they produced – noodles, stir-fries, chicken dishes, the works – were up to restaurant standard, and I don't exaggerate. Gavin was the first to admit that although he had spent his first two years at the University of Queensland living off macaroni cheese and Big Macs, he was quite a convert to the healthy and absorbing range of Japanese dishes the three of them managed to rustle up. It all made pie and chips look rather primitive (although pie and chips is still a favourite... I don't see that ever changing).

Brown Lake, Stradbroke Island
Brown Lake, Stradbroke Island

Exploring Brisbane

Brisbane's botanic gardens
Brisbane's botanic gardens are in a bend in the Brisbane River, just across from the central business district

Other highlights of Brisbane included a night on the town with Gavin, where I rediscovered the delights of drinking in pubs; a visit to Indooroopilly Shoppingtown, the biggest shopping mall in Brisbane, which was a freaky experience after so long away from the worlds of affordable fashion, massive K-Marts and bargains, bargains, bargains; the purchase of a replacement for my poor old bush hat, whose shape and texture was battered so badly by the passage to Polynesia that I had to bury it at sea; a 13-cannon salute on the South Bank in the city, which I happened to be passing at the right time, receiving a free pair of ear plugs as part of the bargain; the Brisbane museum, which was being refurbished when I visited it, something that seems to happen to most museums I wander into, as if they know I'm coming; and a visit to the doctor3 to get some cream for a bout of body-wide eczema that I'd developed on the Pacific, where I discovered that the doctor was himself a yachtie, and wanted to talk about it at length while patients waited outside for their turn.

  1. Perth
  2. Christchurch
  3. Adelaide
  4. Darwin
  5. Auckland
  6. Melbourne
  7. Brisbane
  8. Wellington
  9. Sydney

Actually, there was one more thing I did in Brisbane: I discovered an HMV store and spent hours browsing. I'm totally out of touch with the music scene, as demonstrated by the number of new albums and band splits that occurred while I was pitching and rolling in Zeke. As I discovered new albums from the likes of Radiohead, Ride, Madder Rose, Erasure, U2 and countless others, I was caught in a quandary. I couldn't buy anything, due not only to budgetary restraints but also to the fact that I don't have a CD player or Walkman, but I wanted to; the temptation to jack in this travelling lark and go back to England – to my music collection, to Melody Maker and the NME, to the London music scene – came back and, although I never seriously entertain a return for just one reason, it happens every time I hit a record store. Reading some of the issues of Melody Maker that Gavin had bought over the past few weeks, I made the sad discovery that Jeff Buckley had died by walking into a river, especially sad because his album Grace was one of the soundtracks to my exploration of New Zealand. The splits of Belly and Soundgarden were equally distressing, but some things just aren't meant to last, I guess.

1 Here's a tip for visitors who want to learn how to speak Australian (or 'Strine' as the language is called). All you have to do is shorten words to one syllable, and add 'ie' to the end. Hence Straddie, Brizzie, barbie, stubbie, footie, cozzie (for swimming costume), and lots of other timeless favourites. There are exceptions, such as bottle-o for bottle shop (as in, 'I'm off dahn the bottle-o for a slab of VB') and 'snags' for 'sausages', but as a general guide, the 'ie' rule is invaluable for those wanting to blend in.

2 Of course it's the largest sand island in the world – this is Australia, after all, where everything's the biggest and best in the world. I've mentioned the Australian obsession with large-scale models before – all those big bananas, large lobsters and so on – and Queensland has, as one of its landmark tourists spots, a huge pineapple which you can climb for a view of the surrounding countryside. It's all a bit weird, really, though it's probably nothing more than good old penis envy. Bless 'em.

3 Actually, the doctor was very good, and prescribed me lots of antibiotic and dodgy-stomach pills for when I go to Asia. He also said that for stays of ten months in malaria areas, they don't recommend that you take malaria pills, because the pills are so toxic that they'll do you more harm than good over such a long time (pills are only recommended for shorter visits). His advice: avoid getting bitten by wrapping up at dawn and dusk, carrying a mosquito net, and using insect repellent.

4 Interestingly, Brisbane is the only city in Australia whose river has the same name as the city. Perth is on the Swan River, Adelaide on the Torrens River, Canberra on Lake Burley Griffin (formed by the Molonglo River), Melbourne on the Yarra River, Sydney on the Parramatta River, Hobart on the Derwent River, and Darwin is on the coast and doesn't have a river. How unusual it seems to have Brisbane on the Brisbane River, after all that variety.