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On to Brizbun

Before I left Hervey Bay I spent a few hours in my motel room boxing up the souvenirs and assorted junk that I'd accumulated during my two months in Australia, then I trotted down to the Post Office and mailed them to myself back in the U.S.  Each box cost about US$40 to mail, but I figured it was worth it because, frankly, it's pretty hard to find boomerangs, Lazy Harry CDs, and souvenir cans of kangaroo dung back in the States.


Above:  Updating my website in Brisbane with my handy travel guides, including my Lonely Planet "Bible."  This is how I've spent much of my time in Australia.  During the rest of the time, I get out and actually do things so I'll have something to write about!

I left Hervey Bay on Tuesday morning just as all the grocery stores in the country were opening once again, after being closed for the four-day Easter Weekend.  I continued driving south along the "Sunshine Coast," the coastal area north of Brisbane.  So far I'd been a little disappointed with the scenery during my drive down the east coast of Australia, and the Sunshine Coast was no exception.  That's largely because of the endless miles of eucalyptus trees and unvarying topography that you drive through here, which is something like driving through a solid curtain of trees.  It's no surprise that falling asleep while driving here (and elsewhere in Australia) is a big problem, illustrated by the many billboards that dot the highway, warning drivers not to doze off.   Like everywhere else in Australia, though, the friendliness of the people I met along the way more than made up for the drab scenery and I had a pleasant drive to Brisbane.


There are three things to know about Brisbane.  First, it's pronounced "Briz-bun" and not "Briz-bane," as most Americans pronounce it (including me before I came to Australia).  Second, it's Australia's largest city behind Sydney and Melbourne.  Third, it's a really, really great city.  Up to this point, and as I said in an earlier update, I thought Adelaide was the nicest city in Australia, but I changed my mind after spending an afternoon walking around Brisbane.  I've fallen in love with so many places in Australia, as I've mentioned in this website, starting in Wagga Wagga, and then Adelaide, followed by Port Douglas.  Well, just like in high school, Brisbane is my latest crush.  But this one's for real.


With a population of about a million people and located on a large river that's called, not surprisingly, the Brisbane River, Brisbane reminded me a lot of my hometown of Portland, Oregon, although it's much more tropical.  In fact, it was downright steamy when I was there.  It's also, dare I say it, a lot more interesting than Portland.  The downtown area is lively and wonderful, the bridges that cross the river are beautiful, the city has a great ferry system that shuttles people up and down the river, and there's a large and fascinating botanical park in Brisbane located just a few blocks from downtown.


After walking through the garden-jungle in the botanical park for a half-hour, I felt like I was up in the Daintree Rainforest again – it's very cool.  Well, actually it was hot and steamy, but it was also cool.  Yep, if I were ever to move to Australia, I think Brisbane would be the place.  O.K., I've already said that about Wagga Wagga, Adelaide, and Port Douglas.  But, just like in high school, this time I really mean it!



Above left:  Continuing down the coast.  This is the marina at Noosa, a pleasant coastal resort town north of Brisbane.

Above center:  A viewpoint along the Sunshine Coast.  That's one of the many Automobile Club trucks that patrol the highways of Australia looking for stranded motorists.

Above right:  Brisbane, the largest city in Queensland, and the Brisbane River.  I love this city!



Above left:  Brisbane's lively Queen Street Mall.  Brisbane is something like Portland, Oregon, but it's a lot more interesting, vibrant, and tropical.  Too bad there aren't any cities like this in the U.S.

Above right:  The Brisbane River at night.  

Crikey, Looka Those Snappers!

I spent two full days in Brisbane, exploring during the day and updating my website at night.  Well, o.k., I also caught an episode of that campy and popular "Babes-in-the-Outback" TV show, McLeod's Daughters, one evening, but I'm not proud to admit it. 


Above:  Hey, it's the Crocodile Hunter!  This is at Steve Irwin's "Australia Zoo" near Brisbane.  That's a life-sized cutout of Steve holding a friend. 

My second morning in Brisbane was gray and drippy, so I got in the Camry and drove a half-hour north to visit the Australia Zoo, figuring that the weather might be better up there.  If you've ever seen the TV show "Crocodile Hunter" hosted by the ever-cheerful and exuberant (to put it mildly) Steve Irwin, you've probably seen the Australia Zoo, because Steve is the zoo's owner and manager.  I was disappointed not to see Steve and his American wife Terri at the gate greeting visitors with a cheery "G'day," but I figured they had a good excuse, because it was absolutely pouring down cats and dogs – or maybe in this case, joeys and dingoes – when I got there.


The zoo is one of most popular tourist attractions in Australia and during my three-hour visit there, I saw some cassowaries that I'd mentioned earlier, as well as a very lively Tasmanian Devil (which is something like a wolverine) scurrying around his outdoor pen.  And yes, the koalas were really, really cute.  By the way, I would've enjoyed meeting Terri because she's from Eugene, Oregon (pop. 100,000), two hours south of Portland and, for about a year in 1989, the city that I called home.


I got a chuckle at the zoo as I watched Aussies fawn over kangaroos.  It became obvious to me that many Aussies had never seen a real, live kangaroo before.  That might sound surprising, since a lot of people around the world think that all Aussies are like "Crocodile Dundee" and eat kangaroo and crocodile meat every night while camping by a billabong out in the bush.  As I've discovered on my trip, though, most Australians living on the east coast have never been to the Outback and hardly any of them have visited Australia's west coast.



Crikey, He's Gone...

Sept. 2006 (Portland, Oregon)

     I was very saddened by the untimely death of Steve Irwin earlier this month.  Steve's irrepressible personality, his zest for life and his love of nature partly inspired my decision to visit Australia. 
     Like many others, I was stunned by his sudden passing.  There will never be anyone else quite like Steve.


During my travels down the east coast of Australia, most of the folks I talked to thought I was either very brave or very stupid to have driven the length of the Outback alone.  The attitude seemed to be, "Why would you want to go out THERE?"  I was surprised at how little-traveled most Aussies seemed to be, especially compared to highway-loving Americans.  I'm sure that's because there isn't much to SEE in the Outback, and although I found the Outback pretty interesting, I have to admit that most people probably wouldn't.


Another reason Aussies don't travel around their country as much as Americans drive around America is because of the limited road system in Australia's rural areas.  That includes the one-lane paved highways (yes, I said ONE lane; see News:  March 16, 2002) that make driving across the Outback a thrill.  There are only 19 million people in Australia compared to 280 million in the U.S., a country of about the same size, so the road network here in Oz isn't nearly as extensive.  That really hit home while I was driving on the Stuart Highway through the middle of the country and realized that I was on was the only paved road within a thousand miles on either side of it.


But getting back to the Australia Zoo, the best part of my visit there was the Crocodile Show, during which the trainer fed a chicken to a large saltwater crocodile – and, in the process, nearly lost part of his hand.  What amused me the most about the Australian Zoo, though, was that the entire staff, all 47 of them, were dressed EXACTLY like Steve and Terri Irwin.  Crikey, that's kind of creepy, mate!



Above left:  The entrance to Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo, a few miles north of Brisbane.

Above center:  Here's one of those deadly cassowaries I mentioned in a previous update.  Check out the size of his claws.  I kept a safe distance from this fearsome feathered fellow.

Above right:  I'd wanted to see a Tasmanian Devil ever since I watched the cartoon character when I was a little kid (i.e., two years ago).  It's like a balding version of an American wolverine.  You don't want to mess with this fierce little guy.



Above left:  Lunchtime in the Australia Zoo.  Every person who works here, including that guy feeding the croc, dresses exactly like Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter.  It's kind of weird.

Above right:  Don't be afraid of Charlie, mate, because he's a friendly croc.  Yeah, right.



Above left:   "Crikey, mayte, looka the size of 'im!"  At twelve feet in length, this is the biggest salty I saw in Australia.  Too bad I saw him in a zoo – or maybe it's a good thing.

Above center:  Koalas do two things:  look cute and eat eucalyptus leaves.

Above right:  Hey, it's Steve and Terri.  And they're multiplying!

My Impressions of Australian Music

I've listened to the radio just about everywhere I've traveled in Australia during these last two months.  My Toyota Camry's radio has been great company during my long, solo drives around the country.  Sometimes I listen to Australian talk radio and sometimes to the local pop or country station.  Aussies are very proud of their musicians and there's a lot of great Australian pop, country, and rock music here that you never hear in the U.S., which is a shame.


Here's my new favorite Australian singer, Kasey Chambers, singing Not Pretty Enough.


While traveling around Australia, I've gotten hooked on several Aussie singers including a young pop-folk-country artist named Kasey Chambers.  I hear Kasey's music just about everywhere I go, so yesterday I drove down to a shopping mall here in Brisbane and bought one of her CDs.  They don't play her music in the U.S., or at least they didn't when I left the U.S. four months ago, which is too bad.  Kasey is about as Aussie as they come, having grown up on the desolate Nullarbor plain (that's Null-arbor as in "no trees") of southern Australia's Outback, and she's a darn good singer.  I've posted her current hit here so Americans can get a taste of what they're missing.


Above:  Aussie singer, Kasey Chambers.

During my first few weeks in Australia, I couldn’t figure out why they played so much Bee Gees music on the radio stations.  But after hearing Jive Talkin’ and How Deep is Your Love for about the millionth time, I learned that the Brothers Gibb are from Australia.  Well, o.k., they were born in England but they moved here to Brisbane when they were young.


Another song they frequently play in Australia is the 1960s hit, Georgy Girl.  I hadn’t heard that song in 30 years but they play it everywhere here:  it’s on the radio, in grocery stores, and even in the restrooms.  I just can’t seem to get away from it.  I couldn’t figure out why Georgy Girl was so popular here until I learned that the group who sang it, The Seekers, are Australian.  It may be old music, but by God, it’s Australian music!  Of course, they play a lot of American and British music on the radio here, too.  However, unlike in New Zealand, they don’t play much from The Monkees here.  Why Kiwis love The Monkees so much is something I still haven’t figured out.


I really like country music and since there's so much "country" here, it's not surprising that country music is as popular in rural Australia as it is in rural America.  There are a lot of really good, and yet little-known, Australian country singers, though some of them are, um, a bit different.  When I was in the Outback town of Tennant Creek a few weeks ago, the country radio station there played a touching song called, She’s My Butcher and I Think I Love Her.  Yes, I’m serious.  As the guy sang it, “…she has nice thighs, firm breasts, sells me t-bones and pot roasts…”


Country music always makes me laugh, even if it has an Aussie accent.



Above left:  The resort of Surfer's Paradise, located in the heart of the Gold Coast, is a cross between Daytona Beach, Florida and Las Vegas, Nevada.  I got out of there as fast as I could – definitely not my kind of place.

Above center:  Byron Bay was named by Captain James Cook in 1770 during the first European exploration of Australia.  Now it's big with surfer dudes.

Above right:  The trail to the the easternmost point in Australia near Byron Bay. 



Above left:  And here's the easternmost point of Australia.  Next stop, South America.  As a geographer, I've always been fascinated with geographic extremes.  In the U.S., I've been to the easternmost, southernmost and westernmost points of the country (and the same with New Zealand).  I gotta break this crazy habit, huh?

Above center:  I'm sure my nephew Evan will get a kick out of this sign.   

Above right:  The marina in the town of Coffs Harbour, just down the street from where I'm writing this update.



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