Noosa is simply lovely. It's an upmarket and fairly yuppie holiday spot, just over 100km north of Brisbane at the northern tip of the Sunshine Coast. I hadn't been expecting anything much – it has a particularly small National Park covering various picturesque spots, but not a lot else – but the atmosphere was spot on. I don't know what it was that made Noosa feel so different from the comparatively tacky Hervey Bay or the overly touristy Cairns, but it felt more like a holiday version of Cardwell than a Sunshine Coast package trap. Perhaps it was down to all the enticing restaurants, which I couldn't afford to visit, but which looked very pleasant. Or perhaps it was the incredible weather; after the unpredictable rains of Fraser Island (which is only just north of Noosa) the cloudless blue skies were paradise.
Or perhaps it was the National Park. Noosa might be small, but it's perfectly formed, and it has lots of lovely Magnetic Island-esque beaches. Most of them seem to be nude beaches, which is an interesting twist; never have I seen so many beached whales hiding up in the dunes, or nude males jogging along the waterline with a bangers-and-chips bounce that you really wouldn't want to see in slow motion. 'Noody Noosa' should be its nickname; perhaps it already is.
Noosa also has good walking tracks and wondrous headlands, though I noticed my proximity to Brisbane pretty early on. Nobody smiled or said hello on the walking tracks, so I adopted a permanent and slightly unnerving smile, and turned it on the townies. There's something disconcerting about people who smile all the time, especially when you're used to city sullenness, but I do love baiting the wilfully miserable. It was similar on Fraser Island; some 4WDs burning down the beach would react to my wave with a whole mob of hands and, on one memorable occasion, a howling of hellos and wha-heys as the whole car seemed to threw themselves out of the windows to say g'day; some would amble slowly past, waving with a peacefulness that meant they knew how I was feeling, because they were feeling the same; and then there were those who still appeared to be commuting, despite the sand, sea, surf and sun, with their dead-ahead stares, polished 4WDs and thin, unsmiling lips. I like to think that even they would eventually be charmed by their island holiday...
But whatever the reason, Noosa recharged my batteries after the exertions of k'gari, ready for the final push back to Brisbane.
Funeral for a Friend
My visit to Noosa also coincided with the media event of the decade; bigger news than the Challenger explosion, more headline-intensive than the Falklands War, more important to the masses than tragedy in Yugoslavia/East Timor/Tibet/Northern Ireland/Taiwan (delete as applicable)... yes, it was the weekend of Princess Di's funeral. Having been so cut off during the first six or so days of the whole event, I'd been lucky enough to miss a fair amount of the hysterical media saturation that ensued, but Australia's journos – with their fascinating love-hate obsession with both the royals and republicanism – managed to lose themselves in the kind of feeding frenzy that gives journalism a bad name; indeed, they almost didn't notice that Mother Theresa had died a few days later, surely an equally important event.
This made me sad. I've always worried how the Australian media emulates the British tabloid mentality, but where Britain can claim to have at least four good, quality newspapers – The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Times spring to mind – the best Australian broadsheet, The Australian, is relatively trashy. As well as the papers, the magazines like New Idea, Woman's Day and That's Life are as you might expect from their names, with an obsession with royalty that borders on the criminally intrusive (so they're not unlike publications like Take a Break in the UK).
Given this approach to journalism, I couldn't face watching the funeral and (more to the point) listening to the commentary. So I shut myself off from the television; the funeral was being shown live (6pm to midnight on Saturday night, Australian time) on four out of five channels, and instead I spent the night chatting to Richard, a fascinating Australian who had led a life of travel, getting out of a rat race that had threatened to pull him under, and avoiding the trappings of suburbia, something I found much easier to relate to than the coverage of a sad event by the very people who'd helped to fuel the tragedy in the first place.
The Noosa National Park Information Booth
It was funny, then, that as I headed off to explore the National Park on Sunday morning, the lady in the information booth, from whom I tried to get a map of the park, automatically assumed that because I was English, I would have watched the funeral from start to finish. When I tried to tell her that I'd seen plenty of pomp and circumstance before, and that watching her funeral didn't interest me half as much as watching the effect of the whole affair on the media, she couldn't understand what I was talking about. I told her that not everyone in England is obsessed by the royal family, but I think she was a little dismayed that I hadn't cried softly into my silk hankie as the procession wound its way to Westminster Abbey. (In fact, if you wanted to sign the official books to say 'goodbye' to Diana, which were set up in all the major Australian cities, then in Brisbane you had to queue for 11 hours – yes, 11 – which says a lot about how much people here liked Diana.)
All I know is that, post-Diana, when I tell people I'm a journalist, I have to tag on something like 'but I'm not a nasty one' if I'm to avoid jokes about journos and ethics. At least in Asia I will become a 'computer programmer' on all application forms. They know how to treat unannounced journalists there; they simply refuse them entry.
And, as an afterthought, it seems incredible to me that none of the papers I've read have caught onto the incredible irony in Elton John singing a modified version of 'Candle in the Wind' at the funeral. OK, so it was Diana's favourite song, but apart from the fact that it's a classic, why do you think it appealed to her? The original is a lament over the premature death of Marilyn Munroe, and the way that she was portrayed by an unsympathetic press. Check out this snippet from the original lyrics:
Loneliness is tough
The toughest role you ever played
Hollywood created a superstar
And fame was the price you paid
But even when you died
Well, the press still hounded you
All the papers had to say
Was that Marilyn was found in the nude
Now how much more relevant is that version than the rather soppy one that Elton came up with for the funeral? Perhaps it was a bit too close for comfort...