November 30, 2010

It's just not cricket

When I was young I read a tea towel that went like this:
You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man that's in the side that's in goes out, and when he's out he comes in and the next man goes in until he's out. When they are all out, the side that's out comes in and the side that's been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out... (from Cricket explained)
I've always said I'd rather watch paint dry than cricket. But that was before I came to Brisbane, home of The Gabba (Brisbane Cricket Ground).

If you're a sports fan, there are certain stadiums that you would never pass up the opportunity to visit, especially to watch a prestigious event in the sporting calendar. I'm talking about Old Trafford, Bernabéu, The Oval, Croke Park, Emirates, Wembley, Murrayfield, Azteca, Ibrox, San Siro, Cardiff Arms Park, Stade de France, Camp Nou, San Mamés (my friend supports Athletic Bilbao), Maracanã, MCG...

In recent years, as the England cricket team has progressed from hapless to winning, I have been more entertained by The Ashes. We were therefore never going to pass up the chance to see the first of the 2010-11 Series in our new home town.

Since we've been living in south Brisbane, The Gabba's floodlights have become the landmark when trying to find our way home (Audi sat-nav is beyond budget). The ground also happens to be almost right next to Dan Murphy's (he of the lowest liquor prices possible in otherwise vastly overpriced wine country).

Off we went to the second day of the first Test. On day 1, England had won the toss, were all out for 260, and Australia were 25 for 0. It rained as we got into the taxi to take us to the Norman Hotel for breakfast. I was not confident. (And I was not happy: we were charged a 10 per cent surcharge to pay the taxi fare by card. TEN per cent. Oh land of rip-off middle men.)

'Brisbane's Worst Vegetarian Restaurant' is a bit of an institution. On Ipswich Road in Woolloongabba, it was completed in 1889 in the popular architectural style of the day. Named after Queensland's newly appointed Governor at the time, Sir Henry Norman, it has known several incarnations - including working men's pub, bikers' hangout and now muster station for yellow-clad Aussie Gabba-goers. There were droves of them. They were... not cocky exactly... but more than quietly confident. Some were not content merely with bright 'Cricket Day 2010' T-shirt and Southern Crossed sombrero but also had to drape themselves in the Australian flag – the Union flag draped over one shoulder, of course.

The Gabba seats 42,000. We were on the front row. In the next section of the stand was a battalion of the Barmy Army, who were in fine voice, much to the annoyance of the Aussie fans, until they'd drunk enough XXXX. (I've noticed at other games I've been to – rugby at the Suncorp Stadium, for instance – as well as at this one, that Australians spend just as much time socialising with their mates as watching what's going on on the pitch. Perhaps that's why the English chants irritated them.)

The first wicket of the day didn't fall until the Aussies were on 78, when Watson was caught by Strauss. After lunch, only the second ball of the session saw the Aussie captain Ponting go for 10, closely followed by Katich. 100 for 3: progress – and excitement. Soon, two more wickets saw Australia 143 for 5, which gave England an oh-so-faint hope of a first innings lead. But things slowed down considerably thereafter as Hussey and Haddin bedded in for what turned out to be an enduring partnership on day 3*.

Bad light (shortly followed by rain) ended the day's play prematurely with the Aussies on 220 for 5. We made our way home with a feeling that all was not lost. I'd learned about slips and gullies and nightwatchmen and shoulder arms, and I could nod sagely in agreement with comments such as, 'Ooh, he's bouncing Ponting (who's yet to get off the mark)'.

But – and there is a big but about this Cricket Day 2010 – the irony was not lost on me that The Gabba is the winter home of Aussie rules 'football'. There are certainly more rules at The Gabba than you can shake a cricket bat at. As you queue to get into the stadium, you are faced with this sign:

No bags? What? No bags at all? You're about to spend up to eight hours, possibly in baking hot sun, or rain. Where do you put your sunscreen, water, camera, binoculars, hat, mac? In a plastic see-through bag, apparently (I balk at the memory of all that palaver at airport security). In fact, you can take a backpack in as long as it's only got one zip. How many backpacks have only one zip? And no open plastic bottles? Presumably because you might have added alcohol; but you can take in unopened ones, which is the opposite of the case in Europe, where they're considered to be potential missiles if their tops are firmly secured.

And no umbrellas – now for all the items not on the list – although one lady told us that yesterday she was allowed to take in the umbrella that had just been refused entry. No trumpets (well, no musical instruments of any description, in fact). No cricket balls; or bats, obviously. No baseball caps with certain logos on them. So, despite the length of some lists of rules in this country, they are not exhaustive (see also, Driving me crazy, December 2010). Perhaps you're expected to visit the websites of The Gabba and Cricket Australia to check out their extensive terms and conditions of entry beforehand, but that never occurred to me.

So back we went to the cloakroom, where we had to queue again and fill in forms and sign in blood and generally get very irritated at the lack of an answer to the question, 'What's the problem with zips?'.** Of course, officials here aren't used to being questioned. Most Australians would no more ask, 'Why not' when faced with a ridiculous rule than deliberately swim with Irukandji. Then once more through security, where things moved a little more laxly because by this time it was close to the start of play and some people were pretty annoyed.

As the day wore on, large quantities of XXXX were consumed, and people became even more jovial – except the police, who became much more in evidence. An unsmiling Queensland policewoman made her bulky presence next to where I was sitting: it was intimidating. She sternly warned boisterous young men against writing rude words or drawing rude bits on their mates' T-shirts or bodies, or else they'd have to leave the ground. At the merest whiff of increased movement or noise on the terraces, police would appear, doubtless directed from their control room up by the commentary boxes.

Everything you consume within The Gabba you have to purchase in The Gabba, of course. I was unable to find a water fountain, and small bottles of water cost $4.60 (£2.88 at time of writing). Some stands were 'licenced', others were not. And just in case, as you consumed more, you forgot where you were...

* Hussey and Haddin's partnership produced 307 on day 3, a record for the Aussies at The Gabba. They were all out for 481, giving them a first innings lead of 221. England began their second innings slowly and steadily right at the end of the day. Further impressive partnerships on days 4 and 5, first by Strauss and Cook and then by Cook and Trott, meant England gradually whittled away at their deficit and built up their tally of runs, declaring at 517 for 1 after tea on the final day. The Aussies made 107 for 1 before the captains agreed that the match was a draw. Alistair Cook was Man of the Match, his 235 not out his highest Test score.
** The answer is, so that security people won't have to undo lots of compartments when checking bags on entry.

November 24, 2010

Rainbow's magic

Why Rainbow Beach?

I was looking for a place to go with my family while they were visiting from the UK and Victoria. It had to be coastal and within relatively easy striking distance north of Brisbane. Following on from a few days in Byron, it had to be similar (laid-back) but different (new things to explore). Way back, I'd had the Whitsundays in mind, if only to see Whitehaven Beach, which always features in the World's Top Ten Beaches, and because I've never been there. I'd thought perhaps we could stay in Airlie Beach and visit the islands on day trips. But I didn't particularly like Airlie when I went there in June, and flying six people to Proserpine (the airport for Airlie) would be expensive, not to mention boat trips to and/or accommodation on the Whitsundays.

So I considered Noosa. Everybody I've met in Queensland speaks very highly of Noosa. I've only been there briefly and not too successfully – my youngest ate a dodgy sausage and we all have vague recollections of a town full of young couples with buggies – when I brought my daughters to Australia years ago. I felt it deserved another chance. But I quickly drowned in a sea of choice of accommodation online.

Then there was Hervey Bay. Earlier in the year my friend and I fancied a few days' getaway at Easter, and I was on the point of booking somewhere at Hervey Bay when I read about an 'industrial jungle' and 'frenzied traffic snarl' (Lonely Planet Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef) on the outskirts of town as you approach from Maryborough. You know when a thought lodges itself inside your brain and you can't get rid of it... even though I'm sure Hervey Bay is lovely and it's a big whale-watching centre and I will visit some day. Those first impressions are so important.

And Fraser Island? Well, most of us had already been there. My friend hasn't, however, so he needs a few days there à deux so we can walk far and observe birds without our children thinking we're eccentric.

Then Rainbow came on to the radar. The right sort of distance away. Not touristy. Relaxed vibe. Good beaches, surf and interesting natural landscapes. Reasonably-priced accommodation with obliging owners. Personal recommendations and suggestions. I booked it.

We drove up from Brisbane on a hot, sunny day, nearly missing the turning for Tin Can Bay on the outskirts of Gympie. After 47 kilometres we turned off again for another 30k through the Great Sandy National Park to Rainbow Beach. The road was largely deserted, passed through some lovely country and the blue sky had that translucent quality that tells you the ocean is just up ahead. Once at Rainbow, we drove to the end of the road for that all-important first view of where land meets sea and is the ultimate reason you're there.

The Queensland coast north and east of Brisbane is distinguished by large sand masses that form mainland coastal areas as well as large islands. Over many thousands of years, marine currents and waves have carried large quantities of sand deposited by rivers on the continental shelf off northern New South Wales northwards to southern Queensland. The action of wind and water have sculpted some striking landscapes, including dunes that are more than 700,000 years old, the oldest sequence of dunes recorded and therefore of international significance.

Rainbow Beach is so named because of its multicoloured cliffs and other sand features that are part of the Cooloola sand mass, which also includes most of Fraser Island. The region is known as the Great Sandy National Park, and is a World Heritage area. The more-than-70 different hues of white, yellow, red and brown sand result from the deposition of iron-rich minerals leached from soil that once developed on top of the sand.

Probably the best-known sand feature at Rainbow is the Carlo Sandblow, named by Captain Cook after one of his crew.

The sandblow covers 37 acres and is like a giant sand dune that got a bit out of control when the removal of vegetation – either naturally or by human activity – leads to wind erosion. Onshore winds are driving it towards Tin Can Inlet, its leading edge (below) smothering woodland on the way. I've seen migrating dunes swallowing fully grown trees in Spain and in the d'Entrecasteaux National Park in Western Australia and it's eerily fascinating every time.

Carlo Sandblow is sometimes said to resemble a moonscape: it is certainly spectacular, especially early in the morning when there's no one else around. Later on in the day, large shadows may loom on the sand as hang gliders hover above you before landing. (How are you to know how skilled they are?) There's a pleasant wooded 600-metre walk to get there – with interesting inhabitants (Monitor Lizard, below but one).

The Blow was endlessly photogenic.

Teewah Beach begins around Double Island Point (typically named by Captain Cook because that's what he thought it looked like) east of Rainbow Beach and extends for over 50 kilometres south to the Noosa River (below).

This stretch of beach is wild and beautifully desolate, especially in the kind of sun-one-minute, dark-clouds-the-next weather we had. I wish the only other living souls we'd seen on it had been the serried ranks of resting crested terns...

...but unfortunately there were too many 4WDs in this wilderness, many of them driving far too fast. And we weren't even there on a weekend or during school holidays. Environmentalists are concerned about the impact of this level of 4WD use on the beach's ecosystems. But they're up against Australian off-road enthusiasts who think they to have an inalienable right to camp or fish or dirt-bike wherever their beloved vehicles can get them. We came in a 4WD, of course; it's the only way to get there. Ours was a 20-year-old workhorse, hired in Rainbow, that had seen better days. We didn't speed and we respected all restrictions: it was a privilege to be there (Brahminy Kite, below).

Teewah reminded me very much of Seventy Five Mile Beach on Fraser Island, which I suppose is not that surprising. It even has striking sandy canyons and, until 2007, had a wreck, the Cherry Venture. One local told us we needn't bother with Fraser, having been here.

Red Canyon has been formed by the erosive action of wind and water on ancient coloured sands that were once buried deep beneath sand dunes that were then eroded themselves. The elements continue to sculpt dramtic pinacles. This is a delicate, vulnerable landscape and, despite notices asking visitors not to leave their mark, it has been defaced by the names of idiots.

Having climbed up to the Double Island Point Lighthouse...

...we drove across the narrow headland of to the far end of Rainbow Beach, where there are lagoons and pristine sand – once you get beyond the evidence of others.

Finally, among Rainbow's gems, is Inskip Point, a sandy peninsula a few kilometres north of the town. From here you can make the 15-minute crossing by barge to Hook Point (below) on the southern tip of Fraser Island. On Inskip's eastern edge is the Pacific Ocean; to the west the tranquil waters of Tin Can Inlet and the Great Sandy Strait.

This so-far unspoilt stretch of the Cooloola Coast has old-established coastal forest, rare bird species and many others, precious wetlands, and visiting dolphins, turtles and dugongs. It is a very special recreational and wildlife oasis that has to date escaped development that might threaten its uniqueness. But for how much longer? Rainbow Shores Stage 2 proposes almost 500 acres of urban development along 6 kilometres of ocean, a plan that includes accommodation for 6,500 people. The state government refused permission for this scheme following huge objections in 2009, but the developer has appealed. In addition, deep within the peaceful Tin Can Inlet, there are plans for a 300-berth marina – intended for much larger boats than currently potter about these waters from the modest launching ramp at Carlo Point.

Many of Queensland's spectacular landscapes are under threat of development and subsequent ruination in the same way that large tracts of Mediterranean Europe have been damaged irrevocably. We have seen plots staked out in forests and coastal areas of this state from the Daintree to Agnes Water. Globally significant landforms, fauna and flora are at risk, not only from greedy exploiters of resources but from ordinary people who don't seem to appreciate the impact their recreational choices are having.

I have read of plans to charge for permits to access Teewah by 4WD, as on Fraser Island. Maybe that would go some way to stemming the flow. And hey, why not try walking sections of the Great Sandy Walk? That's what I intend to do next time... while it's still wild and beautiful.

November 20, 2010

Aussie rules

Many years ago, in another life, I had a couple of friends. He was English; she was Australian, from South Australia as I recall. They had a baby boy and not long after decided to return to Oz, it being the land of opportunity and a great place to rear children. During their first year, they moved from South Australia to New South Wales, and not long after that they returned to the UK, defeated by bureaucracy and the rulebook. One of the examples they gave as illustration was the fact that Australians do not have an national driver's licence but a state one. So if you move interstate, you have to get a new licence.

When you move to a different country, inevitably and unsurprisingly there are regulations about how to set up your new life. And you have to become acquainted with your host country's procedures, concerning the provision of healthcare for example, which may seem unfathomable at first, if not for longer. Basic elements of life may be accompanied by unfamiliar rulebooks and, until you know the ropes, potential pitfalls may be lurking when you try to open a bank account, buy a car, rent property, set up accounts with utility companies, choose a mobile phone network provider, insure your belongings... and so on.

Rules don't always seem to be... how can I put it... born of absolute necessity. So, why can't I have the name by which I am known, and have used for decades on my bank account in the UK, on my bank account here? Because I have to use my birth name. So every time I call my bank, they call me Judith, which I loathe. And every time I have to correct them: 'My name is Jude'. You have to use that same name on airline tickets and tenancy applications. Now Australia is a very friendly place, and lots of people use your first name as soon as they start talking to you, so now everyone – from travel agents to property managers – calls me Judith.


I have always believed that I come from a country full of signs in public places telling me what I can and cannot do. The UK has very many rules about all sorts of things: 'Don't walk on the grass'; 'No ball games'; 'Dancing is not permitted in aisles and gangways'; 'No diving or bombing'; 'Do not write anything outside the box', 'Stand to the right'; 'Glasses are not permitted in the auditorium'; 'No busking'; 'Jacket required'. (My friend despairs when signs each have their own post, rather than sharing, creating a forest of the damn things.) But when I came here, I found there were more.

When Captain Arthur Phillip founded the first penal colony in Port Jackson in 1788, he had 759 convicts under his jurisdiction. He had 211 marines and officers to keep them under control in challenging circumstances – not very productive soils, lots of pests and diseases, hostile natives and too few human resources (such as carpenters, engineers and horticulturalists). His primary concern was controlling his charges and, being a navy man, he imposed a fairly authoritarian regime that persisted after he left (in 1792) and during early colonisation, when food shortages especially posed a threat to stability within fledgling communities.

In Australians: Origins to Eureka (Vol 1), Thomas Keneally describes 'punishment field days' on the banks of the Brisbane River under the direction of 'notorious flogger' Captain Patrick Logan. '"Skulkers" and recalcitrants were selected... for ritual punishment – "fifty or a hundred lashes apiece" – in front of their fellow prisoners'. Keneally believes such a scene 'provides par excellence a tableau of the petty authoritarianism which would live on in Australian public affairs beyond convict times'.

Many systems and regulations in Australia since have been lifted directly from those in the mother country; some of them have been refined, others made more cumbersome. On occasion, we've had to remind ourselves that we're not at home; when we're in a post office, for instance.

So, some examples...

Most of us expect dress codes in certain places, but not necessarily in a not-so-posh venue in Charters Towers in northern Queensland...

...or a surf club in Rainbow Beach.

Also while on our travels, I would never have anticipated a limit on how long a break I could take during a day's drive...

...or be faced with this much reading matter when I park in order to admire Lake Wivenhoe.

Back in Brisbane, by the pool at South Bank, I wouldn't dream of running, diving or swimming in the altogether, but neither would it occur to me to brush up on 'all other state and local health codes'.

Nor would I consider having a punch-up or practicing my high kicks or Riverdance moves in a gondola on Brisbane's Wheel.

I do, however, appreciate the fact that Bribie Island council has worked out precisely how much it costs to clean up after its less-than-considerate visitors...

But I fear that the usually brilliant Brisbane City Council are getting a little too up close and personal...

I am not going to touch on rules of the road here, because driving in Australia warrants a post in its own right, but I must just briefly mention cats and dogs, all of whom have to be registered here. You must keep a dog on a lead in all public places except in dog off-leash areas – hey, I can run without fear of attack – and Brisbane Council will consider your dog a nuisance if it barks for six minutes in any hour between 7am and 10pm or for three minutes in any half-hour between 10pm and 7am (so don't forget to keep a stopwatch on your bedside table). And they recommend that you keep your cat in from 8 in the evening until 6 in the morning (to protect small wildlife). However, despite what my neighbour told me (he has a dog of the small yappy variety), there is no cat curfew in this city.

I will leave a potentially irksome subject on a humorous note, with a sign in New Farm Park, close by the dog off-leash area.

It is a joke, isn't it?

November 18, 2010

More Magpies

All is not well in Waterline Crescent Park. One of the bottle trees – the one housing the Magpie nests – has lost most of its leaves. I await a Council arborealist's diagnosis of the problem. The upside is that we are privileged to see much of what goes on in nest number two.

And there is much to report since the middle of October. Mrs Magpie was indeed sitting on eggs and at least some survived the big storm. Two hatched, and the chicks are now almost adult-sized. There's a lot a flapping but no take-off as yet. And they do a lot of grooming.

The Original Chick (OC) is still on the scene. She continues to demand food although she is perfectly capable of foraging for herself...

...and noisily follows her da around, looking bereft when he strides off, having other matters to attend to.

The OC also sits opportunistically by the new nest (on the left, below).

But her persistence pays off. Mrs M passes her the odd morsel while attending to the two newbies (below – Mrs M to the left). Is this conclusive proof therefore that Mrs M is the original? The Newbies can't be far off fledging. In the meantime, they spend a lot of time sitting and surveying, rather exposed in their denuded bottle tree.