Saturday, December 02, 2006

Time Runs Out

Left: A Saturday night in Fortitude Valley

Last walking tour of downtown Brisbane and the Fortitude Valley neighborhood. Sitting here in Global Gossip Internet Shoppe, watching the Saturday night partiers stroll by, and thinking about last-minute things. I'll miss this strange place. I'll miss Tappy's wake-up call every morning, the kookaburra's laugh, and parrots in the trees. Now I'll have to learn to drive on the right hand side of the road again. I'm not ambidextrous yet, so watch out Sacramento!

Pacific ho!
Gala Reopening

Left: Newly-reopened State Library of Queensland

The State Library of Queensland and the Gallery Of Modern Art (GOMA) reopened tonight after a two-year closure for massive reconstruction. Featured at the festivities was the James Morrison Jazz group, one of Australia's premier jazz groups (related article). Large numbers of people (~800 to 1000, or more) came to hear the group.

James Morrison produced the strangest thing from a travelling case - a digital trumpet. He proceeded to play a Herbie Hancock composition with it. Because it is digital, the trumpet can be made to sound like just about anything - a flute, or a cello, or even a trumpet.

We live in strange times....

Friday, December 01, 2006

Final Saturday

Woke up to smoke. Too much smoke in the air! It's a constant here! Where is it coming from? Australia is on fire!

Yesterday, when I awoke, a bird was flinging itself against the window on Mt. Glorious, but it wasn't Tappy. Instead, it appeared to be a female bird of the same species. Oh horrors! This is disturbing! Did Tappy get married? Will their babies fling themselves against the windows too? Will Andrew have to flee Mt. Glorious, in order to find the relative calm of a door stoop in Fortitude Valley on a Friday night?

Did housecleaning this Saturday and have sleepily returned to the Fortitude Valley area. Tomorrow, I leave for America! Still haven't done many things. Never went to Lone Pine or rode the City Cat. Never got a good look at the sulfur-crested cockatoos. But I did relax and have fun, and that, after all, was the point of the trip!
Trash Australian Animals

(Left) Common pigeons and glamorous Australian White Ibises prowl for peanuts near ANZAC square in downtown Brisbane.

(Left) Ibises and dumpsters go together.

Left: Look who was at the bottom of the Mt. Nebo trash dumpster! A three-feet long Gould's Goanna!
Fortitude Valley Friday

Left: Lobby of the Globe Theatre

The "Showgirl" cinema tribute to Kylie Minogue at the Globe Theatre was sparsely attended: a matter of bad timing, I think, since her shows have already come and gone in Brisbane. The movie was wonderful, of course, and showed how "Showgirl" was originally conceived to be, before Kylie's illness, and the reworking of the current "Showgirl Homecoming" tour. Nevertheless, poor turnout meant greater intimacy among the people there, as we danced and gabbed in the lobby.

The manager of the Globe Theatre described how the theater is an all-volunteer, non-profit arts organization. Wait....that sounds a lot like DMTC! Turns out, both organizations, thousands of miles apart, are eerily similar in important managerial respects, and so we began comparing notes.

The manager described the local scene as 'stifled', which I found surprising given the vibrant youth culture here. There are growing redevelopment pressures in the Fortitude Valley area, which are culminating in ballot measures to lift height restrictions on buildings and raze old structures so as to build high-rise housing. Various local performance venues have been closed recently, not only because of redevelopment, but because of noise complaints.

What has saved the Globe so far is that the venue is partly underground, which helps control noise. So, like DMTC has done, the Globe is resisting outside pressures to close its doors. The Globe uses income from emerging artist performances to subsidize its cinema, much as DMTC is trying to use income from folk artist performances to subsidize its musical theater ventures. The Globe sells liquor (but not food for some reason), just as DMTC sells cookies, T-Shirts, and other items (but not liquor). Some volunteers here get a free drink for their efforts, just as some DMTC volunteers (orchestra) get free cookies.

Also present was Sue, a die-hard Kylie fan (from 1996!) She's met Kylie several times, and recounted how she once followed Kylie on foot on the streets of downtown Brisbane and observed people's dismissive treatment of the star. Kylie at first ignored her trailing fan club, thinking they might be abusive too, but relented at last, and signed autographs before stepping into a limousine.

Most enjoyable to talk to and dance with was Ann Hutchinson, who was something of a natural leader: a fine dancer, a longtime surf instructor, and a grass roots environmental and antiwar activist. She was there because her mates were Kylie fans.

Youth everywhere face the powerlessness of penury and inexperience, which is exacerbated in Australia, a nation with a large area but a small population, far from many of the world's power centers. How people deal with powerlessness is important. One of Ann's mates wants to emigrate to the U.S., which is one way to deal with the problem - join the powerful! Still, joining a powerful nation like the U.S. doesn't make one personally powerful. Organizing, like Ann does, alone is ultimately effective in making one powerful. Fiery Ann offered to teach me surfing at Noosa Beach, and apprehensive as I am about water, I'd love to take her up on the offer someday.

After the show, I wandered the mall on Brunswick St. and watched the out-of-control antics of youth in the hectic night-club scene. What a place! How the homeless folks slumped in noisy doorways could manage sleep baffled me. At one time, I had planned to find a room in this neighborhood, because it had the highest number of discos per acre in the entire city, but seeing the resultant effect on peace and quiet in the neighborhood, I'm glad I'm staying in the quiet mountain fastness of Mt. Glorious.

I wandered into a burlesque house, hoping to see exotic Goths do *something* on stage, but instead arrived just in time to catch the live band on break. I waited, and fidgeted, and eventually they returned. 'Small Sensations' described their music as 'new wave indie electro pop trash', but 'New Wave' seemed good enough.

New Wave songs always seem so similar to each other. The lead singer crowed, "we are playing to fifteen people here tonight!" He continued, "how many 'Devo' fans are there here?" Then the band launched into a Devo cover tune, which they treated in orthodox New Wave fashion, meaning it didn't sound like Devo at all, but rather exactly similar to the previous four songs in their set.

After the show, I headed back to Mt. Glorious, and upon arriving, encountered what looked like a dread Cane Toad, that destructive alien import from South America. With ecological zeal, I had intended on killing any Cane Toad I encountered, but I couldn't be completely sure it was a Cane Toad. The guidebooks say, don't worry, the dread Cane Toad looks unlike any Australian Toad you'll ever see, but that doesn't help me, because I don't know what Australian Toads look like either. So, I spared the dread Cane Toad.
Quiet Friday - (So Far)

Spent the pleasant (but smoky) day clearing brush and cleaning windows at the manse on Mt. Glorious....

Decided in midafternoon to come into Brisbane (lots of windows on Mt. Glorious). Picked up a local magazine called City News (one of several produced by Quest News) and noted they are screening Kylie's "Showgirl" at a Fortitude Valley theater called The Globe. I want to go, and I wondered how I would explain myself to the mothers of all the little girl Kylie fans. But I checked out the location of the theater, across the street from a strip tease cabaret and two adult book shoppes, and now I'm wondering how I would instead explain myself to the crossdressers.....

But we'll see......
Out Of The Internet

Multimedia Art Asia Pacific (MAAP) hosted an opening for its new art show "Out Of The Internet." The avant-garde of Brisbane was out in force, particularly the Asian wing.

One nice thing about an art show on the Internet is that if you miss the physical show, you can still see everything in the show via the Internet.

There was a Candy Factory film called "G'day G'day", which kinda looked like an out-of-control Australian version of Max Headroom.

Pressed for time, I quickly scanned the monitors, looking for a hook, which, for me, was people. Among the artwork featuring people, there seemed to be a theme of frustration and debility. Three films caught my attention:
  • a man explained about a proposal for an art work that was never funded;
  • a woman placed a large block of styrofoam over her head and flailed away at the styrofoam with a knife, attempting to carve something, but making little progress (Hyunjoo Kim - Korea, Styrofoam Head - here is a related Japanese review); and most interesting of all,
  • a man attempted to eat a bowl of noodles with cutlery, and prepare tea, all the while wearing boxing gloves (Takayuki Hino, Japan, Boxing Man - here is a related Japanese review).
There was also something called Manhua Wonderlands, which also looks interesting:
Incarcerated in their own karaoke ward room, Karaoke Bedlam presents the work of a series of artists exploring karaoke and music video clip culture as it can be channelled through the lens of hallucination and surrealism, chaos and nihilism, subconscious and the unconscious, sanity and schizophrenia. From delusions of grandeur that surround the cult of the pop-idol celebrity, to booty RnB strip-tease role-playing, to fantastical visions of mermen singing sea shanties, Karaoke Bedlam invites audiences to enter the Karaoke Bedlam wards and become voyeurs into claustrophic worlds of audio-visual madness and karaoke induced psychoses.
I hope to return to this and see more of what they have there.....But if I fail, there's always our friend, the Internet.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

"We Love Our Queen!" - QPAC's "The Pirates of Penzance."

(Left) Queen Victoria: 1837 - 1901. Queen Gardens, The Treasury, downtown Brisbane, Queensland.

Queensland Performing Arts Center (QPAC), in conjunction with Opera Australia, staged "The Pirates of Penzance" in Brisbane.

A flyer indicated that Opera Australia, which has a demanding touring and performance schedule, has not played in Brisbane in 18 years. How could that be? Brisbane is Australia's 3rd-largest city! There are only six large cities on the entire continent! Was it - ARTISTIC DIFFERENCES? Or was it (in keeping with the paradoxical nature of the show) just four and a half leap years?

Anthony Warlow, who played the Pirate King, entirely adopted Johnny Depp's manner and dress from "Pirates of the Caribbean."

At intermission, I overheard a patron say, referring to Taryn Fiebig's (Mabel's) voice, "what coloratura!" I agree!

Three encores of that big rousing number in Act II, "With Cat Like Tread, Upon Our Prey We Steal"!

Very interesting use of light bulbs for the title and end title of the show. Setting the stage for Act 2 got big applause for the physical comedy.

The Constable had an amazing voice. And everyone had nothing but the highest praise for John Bolton Wood's "I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major General."

After the show, I stumbled across one of Australia's own common ringtail possums. The shy possum (looks less alien than the common Sacramento possum) was mistaken in thinking all the people had disappeared from the pedestrian areas....
Down The Rabbit Hole

Left: The City, and Brisbane's Victoria Bridge, from the South Bank's Melbourne Street.

I spent Thursday wandering around The City - the financial district of downtown Brisbane. Interesting....interesting - the place is a pedestrian madhouse. Nice big buildings, and disciplined, harried, young office workers cadging smokes on the sidewalk (newly-restrictive smoking laws are causing grief). Wandered over by Parliament House and saw the Falun Gong protestors with their signs.

Spent the afternoon shopping at the downtown five-level mall, Myer Plaza. I had been told to look for a shopping mall called Maya Plaza, which I thought would be SO exotic, but I forgot about the Aussie accent - nevertheless, it's exotic enough in its own way, and full of young shoppers. Bought some kangaroo-lined dress shoes.

Got a haircut by a young English woman who relocated here just this October. She had travelled through the U.S. just recently, as part of her world wide tour, and despite the assistance of strategically-located U.S. relatives, she lamented how the absence of youth hostels in the U.S. made it the most expensive country for her to travel through. She said the prime backpacking traffic was going to South America instead, as a direct result of the cost.

I'm very impressed by the willingness of the people I've been seeing here to just drop everything and travel around the world. It's an amazing thing that air travel has wrought. Every shop clerk I've talked to has visited relatives fairly-recently in California.

Walked back to the South Bank. Saw a youth talent group singing Christmas carols, but it wasn't clear whether it was a very-poorly attended concert, or a microphone check. The kids and their stage moms were surrounded by an ugly chain link fence in the middle of a beautiful mall. Weird what places stage business gets you into.

On a whim, decided to see Queensland Performing Arts Center's (QPAC's) "The Pirates of Penzance." What could be more fun than seeing Gilbert and Sullivan at their silliest in a nation of the British Commonwealth?

Since I had some time before showtime, I wandered across Melbourne Street and through the vast cultural center on the south bank. They had life size humpback whale models singing whale songs along a long breezeway. But the time was late and the place was basically empty....

Then, in the side of the State Library of Queensland, there was an open door, like a modernistic rabbit hole, and a friendly bearded man was passing out programs.... Like Alice in Wonderland, I went through the rabbit hole, and suddenly I was in an entirely-different world.....


Multimedia Art Asia Pacific (MAAP) was hosting its new art show "Out Of The Internet." The Asian avant-garde of Brisbane had all turned out for the opening, and the place virtually roared with conversation. Really weird and interesting stuff!

Had to leave for 'Pirates' just as the festivities were getting underway, but I got a taste....

As an aside, and speaking of rabbits, when passing through, I saw a sign at the New South Wales border at Woongarra stating that if you raise rabbits in Queensland, the authorities will fine you $30,000 AU. Watch out, Cloudy!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Left To My Own Devices

Left: Conrad's Casino, Queensland Treasury Building at night

Today, Andrew has left to travel to the USA, so I'm now alone for a few days, the Mad Master of Mt. Glorious.

After dropping Andrew off at the airport, I briefly toured Brisbane's northern suburbs, but decided to leave the vehicle at the end of the Ferny Grove train line rather than continue random driving experiments. A vehicle is great to have if you know where you are going, but they are an accident waiting to happen if you are clueless in an urban setting. Instead, I've taken the train into downtown Brisbane, to blog and to sightsee on the southern and northern banks of the Brisbane River.

I ate breakfast at Conrad's Treasury, the former Queensland Treasury turned into a casino. I had some toast, hash browns, sausage, and eggs (and fried tomato too, because that's what they do here), when I saw - it. The Vegemite. A packet of Kraft Food's Vegemite. Vegemite is supposed to be best on toast. Toast, meet Vegemite; Vegemite, toast.

So, I smeared the car grease on the toast and tasted it. Well, it's not the worst thing I've ever eaten, but it's far from the best either. Very salty. The smell is - indescribable. It smells like Vegemite. The taste makes me shiver.

I told the waitress about the experiment, and she laughed. "I LOVE Vegemite!", she said, but then upon looking at the smothered toast, added "but you must use it SPARINGLY!"
If There Is No Smoke, Is There No Fire?

Left: Police halt traffic in order to quickly evacuate a mob of schoolies from a Gold Coast high-rise hotel. A fire alarm was ringing and emergency personnel were responding.

According to the news agency clerk, the schoolies here this week are from New South Wales. Last week, they were from Queensland. Schoolies hit these prime beaches for massive, all-night beachtime bacchanalias when summer vacation arrives every year.

So, to review:
  • Fire alarm;
  • big response;
  • mobs of young teenagers; yet,
  • no smoke, and apparently no fire.
Somewhere, I smell a rat.....
Render Unto Mammon That Which Is Mammon's

Strange socioreligiocultural signs......

Various Queensland Cemeteries

Left: Miles' Pioneer cemetery.

A theme I like in gravestones here is the broken pillar: lives come to ruin.....

Left: Jondaryan cemetery (not far from the Jondaryan Woolshed, a notable Australian museum devoted to the history of sheep ranching on the Darling Downs).

Left: Gatton cemetery, recording a trace of the soldiers who left Australia long ago in service to the British Empire around the world.
Closing The Southern Loop

Left: Gold Coast skyline from the Gold Coast Turf Club.

On Wednesday, after checking out of Conrad Jupiters, I encountered two musicians, a violinist and a guitarist, strolling through the hotel. Turns out , they were contractors, paid to play mood music on Wednesdays & Saturdays. I said "it's Tchaikovsky's 'Swan Lake'!", but they said no, it was the swan theme from Sansonnes (sp?) 'Carnival of the Animals.' Apparently Tchaikovsky lifted the theme for Swan Lake. Figures: a 19th-century Andrew Lloyd Webber!

I checked the canal outside Conrad Jupiters for sharks. Gold Coast canals are renowned for their unusual number of predators. Saw many small fish, but no sharks, and, oddly, almost no birds, not even my favorite showboat dumpster divers, those Australian White Ibises.

Stopped briefly to watch a fire alarm evacuation and to scan the beaches of the Gold Coast. Beautiful beaches!

Tension-filled, crowded urban traffic. Got distracted looking for a Greek Orthodox Church - what is such a thing doing in a place like this? - and nearly collided with a car in a traffic circle. Had to squeal to an embarrassing stop, but, most importantly, no contact was made. Never found the Church either, but found the Gold Coast Turf Club instead.

Didn't want to go to Chevron Island - went to Chevron Island. Wandered hither and yon (Beauwon? Beendall?), but finally broke clear, crossed the Nerang River, picked up the Pacific Highway at Nerang (smoke in the hills) and ate at Coomera (they have a 'McOz' sandwich at McDonalds here - they also include beetroot on their various sandwiches). Took the Logan Expressway (and its damned insidious tolls), skirted the Brisbane metropolitan area, met up with the Warrego Highway, headed west, and detoured for a few more photos in Gatton before returning Andrew his precious Subaru Forester at the UQ Gatton campus.

On the way back to Mt. Glorious, we ran into a big, noisy thunderstorm that pelted the Lowood and Fernvale area with rain and hail. Some rain - intense but unfortunately short-lived - fell on Mt. Glorious.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

'Tempo Rouge' at Conrad Jupiters

A rapid-fire stage extravaganza, as conceived mostly by ballroom dancers and jugglers. The cost was surprisingly-low, less than half the rate of a Las Vegas show.

The house seated about 800 people. It was half full on a slow Tuesday night. I grabbed a Bundaberg rum-and-cola in a bottle, some popcorn, and sat amongst a group of folks from the remote northwestern Queensland mining town of Mt. Isa. The fellow next to me seemed surprised to see an American here, but in truth, there may have been many foreigners here. Like in an American casino, there were many Asians here, some of whom may have been from overseas on holidays.

As in American casinos, this was a tough crowd for the performers: undemonstrative Asians, and local clods. Why are casino audiences the worst? Come on, don't be bitter, it's just money! Clap your hands, hoot and holler - I can't do it all alone, dammit!

The ballroom dancing was straight-ahead ballroom, like in 'Dancing With The Stars', featuring Latin rhythms, starting with Salsa, and extending to Samba and International Rumba. There were also Tango and Jive segments.

Australia has excellent opportunities to learn ballroom dancing, and likely far more excellent ballroom dancers per capita than you could ever imagine. I remember when we hosted Australians Roy Mavor, and his daughter Natalie, at UNM's Ballroom Dance Club in the late 70's. Legends all!

This show must be an important stepping-stone for young Australian professional ballroom dancers. For a top-tier dancer, the ensemble work is likely pretty easy to learn, so it would be fairly-easy to drop out of the show, to head to Malaysia, or New Zealand, or wherever, for professional or pro-am tournaments, and then drop back into it again. Dance, earn some money, stay sharp! Fun!

Features include:
  • bright colors, flouncy arm ruffles, headdresses, angel wings, and high heels;
  • pyrotechnics;
  • a mistress of hoops and skeletal structures, from Florida, USA;
  • a ring, rod and ball juggler from Las Vegas, USA;
  • an older, but flexible, contortionist (let's hear it for the older blokes!), who was brought on stage in a small box, and who climbed into and out of a slightly-oversized plexiglass water cooler jug equipped with a door;
  • African tumblers;
  • entrances and exits via cable from the highest point of the proscenium arch;
  • Latin juggling and comedy duo;
  • a grandiose tribute to Bollywood;
  • tributes to zoot suiters and 50's doo-wop; and,
  • excellent lead male & female singers.
As good as the leads were, I fell in love instead with a young blonde ballroom dancer named Prue, who had the most expressive hands - better than anyone else's!

An excellent show!
Conrad Jupiters - Premier Hotel/Casino On The Gold Coast

Travelled from Byron Bay to the Gold Coast as Tuesday's sunset came. The main Pacific Highway was awkward: heavy traffic, but in places, the multi-lane coastal freeway was incomplete, forcing delays and detours. This prime conduit for Australia's N-S traffic reminded me of California freeways in the 1950's or 1960's - still incomplete, and subject to snarls.

Nevertheless, still managed to find Conrad Jupiters in the endless, high-rise commercial strip known as Surfer's Paradise. Arrived at 7:30 p.m. (saved because I was now back in Queensland, and standard time, so I had an extra hour to make the trip). Hurtled through check-in, a quick shower, and then down to the theater by 8 p.m. showtime, helped by pleasant, random strangers who pointed me in the right direction.

Came to see 'Tempo Rouge', the big stage spectacular here.

After the show, I wanted to gamble, but discovered I had little money to play with, either in my packet or in my checking account (I wrote out a bunch of checks before I left California, and surprise! surprise! they had already cleared the account).

No problem, I thought, I'll just put it all on a credit card. Well, I forgot my PIN, so I can't use an ATM machine for the credit card. So, I'll just use their credit-card-based cheque-cashing service, like I would do in the U.S. Turns out, that's illegal, according to prudent Queensland law designed in order to limit problem gambling. There was one last route I didn't try: using an internal paper credit card handed to me at check-in. I surrendered: I was out of luck (or, as some would have it, very much in luck). This problemo gambler was foiled by the authorities - the federal or the Queensland legislatures!

Often, Australia seems over-regulated: a nanny state run amok. For example, speed limits are enforced not so much by policemen, but by randomly-placed roadside cameras. You never, ever know if you've been spotted doing 110 km/hr in a 100 km/hr zone. There are warning signs everywhere: watch your step, watch your head, don't step off the trail, no skateboarding, no cell phones while driving, no photos by strangers of underage children at schools, no support for terrorist organizations, etc., etc., etc. It's enough to make even milquetoasts rebel. But then, in the middle of it all, a really-sensible regulation is found, like a gem, like these credit limitations!

Thank you, Australia nanny state!

Of course, these restrictions mean this hotel/casino makes less money than similar-sized compatriots in Las Vegas, but c'est la vie. The Tuesday-night pace seemed slow - slower than Vegas on a Tuesday night. The slot machines looked different than up north - a sleek, sci-fi look that I envied. As I've noted before in another blog post, most slot machines these days are made in Australia, so hopefully they'll introduce this look up north sometime soon.

The women here dress well - many young women look great, but as in America, their boyfriends looked like slobs. There was no discotheque Tuesday night, just the noisy Prince Albert club, with a live band and big-screen cricket. Do young women here dress well because the standard of beauty is so high, fed as it is by sleek fashion magazines and music videos, or is it because young women have few opportunities, in general, in rough-and-ready Australia to do so? This place is a land of extremes, in some ways!

Nice place, this Conrad Jupiters!
Cape Byron - Easternmost Place In Australia

Left: Cape Byron Lighthouse

Left: Looking NE from the bluffs

Left: Here I am, second easternmost man in Australia

Left: This fisherman on the rocks is the easternmost man in Australia

What a drop! Very windy and very exposed and very beautiful. Ideal for humpback whale watching (May-August). What would this place be like on a bad day, in a storm? I'm having trouble holding onto my camera!

After doing the walk, it was time to quickly head north.
Drive To The Coast

Left: One-lane wooden bridge (on a "major" highway, no less!) across the Clarence River.

After returning to New South Wales (NSW) and Tenterfield, I headed east on the big highway to the coast indicated on the map, which, as often happens in Australia, was actually a small, winding, mostly two-lane road.

Once I reached Drake Village, the road plummeted into valleys and temperatures climbed uncomfortably. The two-lane road even reduced to one lane, in order to cross the surprisingly-large Clarence River on a wooden bridge. Soon, towns were encountered and the traffic level increased.

Groggy with fatigue at the town of Casino. Confused by a succession of traffic circles (Australians prefer to avoid installing traffic lights, and install traffic circles instead). Stopped at a small park and annoyed people because I parked wrong - 90 degrees to the proper direction. Misread a traffic island and momentarily turned onto the right hand side of a street: I quickly parked, but traffic was light and no problem resulted. Went through a McDonald's drive through window & got a McFlurry.

Passed through the town of Lismore. Annoyed at the map again. At 145,000 people, Lismore is 50% larger than Toowoomba's 100,000, but because it's in the populated eastern coastal strip, Lismore's name gets little letters on the map but inland Toowoomba's name gets big, big letters - utterly misleading!

After passing through Lismore, the road climbed unexpectedly as it got closer to the coast - one last extravagance of the easternmost extent of the Australian land mass before it fell into the Pacific. The land was increasingly-beautiful and lush - even the grazing cattle looked lush. There were some strange pine tree farms: what looked like Bunya Pines in exacting rows and columns on the hillside slopes. But the road wasn't falling even close to sea level as it approached the coast. Somewhere ahead must lay one dizzying drop! But where? Evening was approaching, and the map said I was near the coast, but still, I was far from sea level.

Suddenly ahead appeared Byron Bay, with its counterculture friendly town and its singular white lighthouse.
A Wet Eucalyptus Forest Is A Happy Eucalyptus Forest - Girraween National Park

Left: Balancing Rock, Girraween National Park

Checked out of the motel and talked to the manager of the motel about how VOIP and other Internet technologies will change telecommunications in Australia. Right now, he wants to rip out his land line phones - they cost him an arm and a leg.

Drove back over the border, to Queensland's Girraween National Park. Nice place, with rounded granitic boulders. The place has a fine eucalyptus forest, with some rare species of eucalyptus, and it reminded me of similarly pleasant places in the States - the back sides of the Sandia and Manzano Mts. in NM, or Mt. Lemmon near Tucson, AZ.

Climbed the Pyramid at Girraween, a small pyramidal peak, as the cicadas in the newly-wet forest thundered across the granitic hills. The granite wasn't rotten in any place - fine friction climbing everywhere.

Upon return, I found six kangaroos near the Visitor's Center. The big kangaroo (five feet tall, about 150 lbs.) was wary, but the rest seemed people-friendly. I'm sure I'm not the only one ever to make the observation, but kangaroo seem to fill the same ecological niche that deer do in the Northern Hemisphere. They even look like deer (well, from the neck up).
Rainy Night In Tenterfield

Stayed at the Jumbuck Motel, adjacent to downtown Tenterfield (population about 3,500). I was hungry, but just then, a very powerful thunderstorm chockers full of lightning struck the town - just about the only place in Australia experiencing rain at the instant. An hour later, after repeated power failures, I finally walked to a sopping and quiet downtown area.

It was 9:15 p.m., after closing time for the Chinese restaurant, but, unaccountably, it was still open (tourists travelling the New England Highway were changing a flat tire right in front of the place, so closing time may have been delayed). The Chinese manager was sullen and abrupt, barking commands at me, but he did sell me some chicken chow mein for take out. Crap service, and the noodles were those awful supermarket hard things, but the sauce was good, and there was way too much of it. Without cutlery, I scooped the stuff up in a drinking glass and made do.
Fortunate Plateaus

Monday, after lunch, I left Gatton and headed SW and approached the area known as the New England Tablelands, passing through the Ma Ma and Heifer Creek areas, through Warwick and around Stanthorpe, before crossing the border into New South Wales at Wallangara (and advancing an hour because NSW is on daylight savings time), and finally stopping for the night at Testerfield.

These plateaus, or tablelands as they call them, are privileged landscapes: they get more rain than most areas in the vicinity. I've even noticed this phenomenon looking at the FNMOC computer weather forecasts for Australia back in Sacramento. Storms linger here when they disappear elsewhere.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Heading South

This afternoon, I'll drive to the Stanthorpe area, and Girraween National Park, before heading towards O'Reilley's, and Lamington National Park, then towards the Gold Coast and perhaps Byron Bay, seeing 'Tempo Rouge', the big nightly show at Conrad Jupiter's.

Left: Noosa Beach

The beaches at Noosa were gorgeous. It's a classic, high-end resort community, like La Jolla or Malibu, with crashing waves on headland rocks, long stretches of beach where beautiful people lay in the sun, and hiking trails in the adjacent national parks. In addition, there's a downtown area where one can shop for fashionable clothes, buy real estate at insane prices from ReMax or Century 21, or eat in a sidewalk cafe. And there's a Sheraton, if one wants to stay.

Left: The walk along the coast, Noosa Headlands

We walked along the coast throught the teatree trees, and through the coastal wallum. At park headquarters, there were reports of koalas in the trees along this trail, but I was too distracted by the bizarre plant community, including a deciduous tree of some sort sporting cones, to look upwards that much. The forest on the east side of the Noosa Headlands was really novel: low-growing, unfamiliar shrubs, but dry, sandy soil, and bird-poor. On the west side of the headlands, the forest was much more familiar, even featuring a few of the fig trees seen on Mt. Glorious, and there were many more birds. Apparently the east coast of Australia features many diverse natural communities, and the number of species are great, but because the coastal strip is so narrow, and crowded with people, so many of the communities are under stress, and endangered.

Temperatures were about 29 deg C, which was quite comfortable with the sea breeze. It was humid, but only because the ocean was right there. It's been so dry lately everywhere, despite the supposed start of the rainy season, that there were no mosquitoes. In general, it's been much, much more pleasant than I expected a semi-tropical location like this could be at this time of year.

Left: Alexandria Beach

We hiked to beautiful Alexandria Beach, and I reluctantly stopped taking pictures when Andrew said he would disown me if I continued. Alexandria Beach is clothing-optional, and indeed, several couples frolicked in the surf sans clothing. One woman posed for cheesecake photos with nothing on but a thong, as her boyfriend snapped away, but mostly, it was hairy guys walking to-and-fro. I stood out because I was the only one wearing sweatpants (I should go shopping). We ate lunch and gazed east, seeing a boat in the distance, but otherwise, nothing else, all the way to the eastern horizon.

We walked back over the headlands, cruised downtown, drove along the beachfront road to Coolum Beach, then headed back for Mt. Glorious.
Return Of The Turtle

(Left) Loggerhead turtle lays her eggs as children watch in fascination.

We went to Mon Repos Conservation Area, near Bargara, on the beach near Bundaberg, to watch returning loggerhead turtles lay their eggs at the beach. The annual spectacle is popular, as is the hatching of the eggs, which starts in January, after 6 weeks gestation on the beach. The staff at Mon Repos take reservations, log people in, and divide them into groups of about 70 people each, taking each group to a turtle as radio reports come in about turtles arriving. Some nights, especially when the hatchlings appear, as many as 1000 come out to watch (not that busy tonight).

Years ago, I remember seeing a National Geographic or Jacques Cousteau television special about these exact same turtles. Loggerhead Turtles are large and long-lived, taking 30 years to reach maturity. After the baby turtles hatch, they scramble for the surf in a mad rush, and disappear for 17 years into the vast South Pacific, before settling into more-shallow areas. They wander far - tagged Australian loggerhead turtles have been logged as far away as Peru. Only one in a thousand hatchlings reach maturity. Numbers have been declining, reaching a low of only 100 nesting females at this beach in the mid-1990's.

Since the 1970's, a variety of preservation methods, including the trapping of predatory foxes and changed fishing practices have helped - last year, about 300 nesting females were observed here. Still, given their long life spans, it can be decades before changes in practices have their effect on turtle numbers. Their efforts have definitely boosted the survival rate on land, however, always among the most-dangerous place for turtles in the natural world.

Sand temperature determines sex: above 28.7 deg C, eggs produce females: below, males. On darker, warmer beaches like Mon Repos, females predominate. Over roughly a month-long period, females lay several clutches of eggs, roughly two weeks apart per clutch, fertlizing each clutch with stored sprem.

Saturday night, 200 of us assembled at Mon Repos, and we were divided into three groups. We were in Group 1, and we waited for our turtle. We ate a snack, but had to hastily finish when reports came at 7:30 p.m. of a turtle on the beach. Occasionally stumbling over grass and rocks, we were hastily marched eastwards along the beautiful, pleasant, breezy beach in the dark. I was towards the back, and like the Sermon on the Mount scene in Monty Python's 'Life of Brian' I frequently couldn't eaxctly hear our guide against the sound of the crashing waves.

Turtles guide themselves by light, and we were warned not to take flash photos until given permission. City and seaside lights can confuse them. Once the turtle had laid 20 eggs or so, and had gone into a kind of trance, we could take photos as we pleased, until it was time for the turtle to return to the sea. Turtles navigate by dark horizon (land) and bright horizon (surf).

Suddenly, our guide said stop. Based on radio reports, she said the turtle was on the beach directly above us, and facing our way. Since she could see us quite well in the light of the crescent moon, in order to avoid making her panic, it was imperative we remain still and act like a rock. So, we 70 strangers stopped and awkwardly tried to pretend we were a rock. To pass the time, the guide asked us to find the constellation of the Turtle in the beautiful northeastern sky. In the northeast, Orion was rising from the sea. The beak of the Turtle seemed to be in-between the left flipper (the Pleiades) and the right flipper (near Orion), with the bottom of the turtle still in the water (not sure I have this right, but it's easy to see what you want sometimes among the connect-a-dot stars).

Then we were given the go-ahead: the turtle was now facing west and laying eggs. The 12-to-15 kids were allowed to approach first. The turtle was laying her eggs in a chamber she had dug deep in the sand. They had placed a small light at the chamber's mouth so we could see the eggs falling into the chamber (the eggs are leathery and resist fracture). Then we were given permission to take photos, and it was as if a celebrity had arrived, all the flashes going off at once. Mon Repos staff measured her size and took notes. A cheer went up among the staff when her tags matched their records - this turtle had laid eggs previously here in 2002 and was about 40 years old. A woman next to me looked at the spectacle and remarked "can I get a job?" I laughed, then agreed with her that this would be an excellent job indeed.

After Mama Loggerhead had finished laying eggs, she buried the chamber with her back flippers at seemed to almost bury herself at first. Then, following the guide's light as a lure, she slowly made her way back to the bright surf as we eagerly followed behind.

Meanwhile, Mon Repos staff had determined the egg chamber was too low on the beach to avoid the egg-damaging water of high tide (same as had happened with two turtles last night at this beach). The staff had already dug their own chambers in the sand higher up the beach, so they excavated the egg chamber, counted the eggs (137), and utilized our group to help transport the eggs.

As we cupped our hands together and lined up to take turns carrying eggs, Andrew remarked "it looks like Holy Communion!" It was a little scary, as I first carried one egg, then three, stumbling in the dark over pits in the sand, and hummocky grass, knowing that all of us, kids included, carried The Future of the Species with us.

As we walked back along the beach, The Turtle Constellation had fully risen from the surf in the velvety-black southern night sky. Gorgeous!

The Spirit of the Turtle reigned triumphant tonight!
Steve Irwin's 'Australia Zoo', at Beerwah

Wonderful place! Not a huge zoo yet, but they are expanding. The emphasis here is on kids, kids, kids, and conservation education. The bigger, brasher, and bolder, the better!

Left: When we entered, a staff member (beautiful!) approached carrying an American Alligator baby (also beautiful!) for us to pet. The theme here is CROCODILE!

Shortly after we arrived, it was showtime at the Crocoseum, the specially-built set of grandstands used for public crocodile spectacles (and which I had seen before on Internet video, where Bindi Irwin, Steve's daughter, had given her eulogy for her father during Australia's recent special day of remembrance, and which was televised all around the world).

Showtime included snakes, birds, and Murray the Crocodile.

Four large snakes (pythons) were featured, including the world's longest, Australia's own Reticulated Python, which I believe he said grew to weigh 280 kg - enough to kill people and livestock by constriction, if given a chance. An actor, playing a stereotyped Australian Boor, entered and acted the part. He started beating a rubber snake, all the while yelling 'you're a quitter, just like that Ian Thorpe!' (Australia's pre-eminent 2000 & 2004 Olympic Gold Medal champion swimmer, who had just announced his retirement several days before). The audience gasped and loudly booed the Boor. Then the rubber snake struck the Boor, and he fell over dead. The audience cheered. Then the staff called in the medics, who came with a stretcher and carried the rubber snake away. The audience cheered again. All very funny, and very effective education, on how Australian kids should not treat snakes!

The first birds released were a set of homing pigeons, who then swooped around the Crocoseum, and flew far, far away. Periodically thereafter, the staff member who released them was seen running panicked around the Crocoseum, trying to catch his birds again. Very funny! Then they released a number of parrots, who swooped around the Crocoseum and landed on the arms of volunteers chosen for the task from the audience. These birds were free to fly away if they chose, but they nevertheless stayed in the grandstands (the only exception being a somewhat-unhappy macaw, who clung to a fence, and whom staff had to fetch when he refused to return). Both native parrots (black & brilliant cockatoos) and South American macaws were featured.

Murray the Crocodile was one scary dude, and the staff treated him ginger respect. They lured him on with food as he swam around the Crocoseum's pool, and his chomping jaws echoed with power. Crikey!

After the show, we looked at the rest of the zoo. All kinds of creatures were there, including cassowaries, koalas, wombats, Galapagos Tortoises, Tasmanian devils, Asian elephants, and tigers.

People from around the world had also signed a number of Australia Zoo khaki shirts, and fashioned the shirts into a makeshift Wall of Remembrance for that inspirational advocate of conservation, the Crocodile Hunter himself, Steve Irwin.

Asian Elephants




Galapagos Tortoise
Glass House Mountains

Named by Captain James Cook, these extinct volcanic plugs look very striking.

Left: Mt. Coonawrin (377 m)

Left: Mt. Tibrogargan (364 m)

Left: Tunbubudula (or The Twins), with Mt. Miketee (338 m/294 m, and 199 m)

Left: Mt. Beerwah (556 m)
Weekend Overview

On Saturday, we drove north, to Bundaberg, and returned on Sunday.

On Saturday, we stopped to look at the Glass House Mountains, and the Australia Zoo, the place made famous by Steve Irwin on the television show 'Animal Planet.'

We stopped and ate fish and chips at Neptune's Restaurant, in Gympie. We passed through Maryborough and Childers, passing sugar cane and pineapple fields, before arriving late at Bundaberg. We had no time, so we went straight away to watch the nesting loggerhead turtles at Mon Repos Conservation Area near Bargara, on the beach.

Despite the fact our turtle was polite enough to stay on our timetable, we barely made it back in time to Bundaberg in time to check in. Andrew used fuzzy recollections, dead reckoning and deductive insight to find our hotel, the Quality Inn, arriving exactly at 10 p.m., the hotel's closing time. (Australia, in general, doesn't allow late check-ins, so if you are too late in arriving, you get to sleep in the car instead).

The Quality Inn (same motel chain I had stayed in in Roma) was situated on the mangrove-lined banks of the Burnett River - really a fine view! In the morning, we watched Bronze Man, and other colorful locals, preparing their boats for cruises on the sea, as the Bundaberg foundry across the river made incredibly loud scraping noises, for a quiet Sunday morning.

On Sunday, we drove back, stopping again at the same place in Gympie for lunch.

We stopped at the fashionable beach community of Noosa, and took a hike around the Noosa Headlands. Beautiful spot! We also went and looked at the shops in trendy, fashionable Noosa.

After driving down the beach to Coolum Beach, we headed inland and drove back to Mt. Glorious.
Household Spiders

(Left) Australia's Brown Huntsman Spider

There are several common household spiders here, including the Brown and Grey Huntsman spiders. Both kinds of spiders are harmless, but quite large.

This Brown Huntsman (left) is as large as a Tarantula. It was running around the dining room like a crazed lizard. We couldn't ignore it. When it sought refuge under a stuffed chair, we had to take the chair outside in order to flush the monster out.

Meanwhile, there was a civil, smaller (about the size of a 50-cent piece) Grey Huntsman Spider sitting quietly in the kitchen sink. Leave that baby alone!