To Boldly Go

Wed. 3rd July 2019

A slice of the Brisbane WheelWe had a bit of a quandary as to how to spend our second (and last) day in Brisbane and specifically as to whether to stay in town or whether to hop on a train to the beaches of the Gold Coast or even, once there, to get on a ferry and cross over to “Straddie” (North Stradbroke Island). I could say that we chose to stay in “Brissie” because you actually need a couple of days to see Straddie properly; or that since it is the middle of winter here, it isn’t quite warm enough to be on the beach. But actually a) I’m not one to lounge on a beach; b) there are no quokkas on Straddie; and c) actually, we have seen and done so much on this trip, we don’t have the heart or the energy to go on a big day trip.

He's calling to 11 year old DaveSo, we choose to explore Brisbane’s South Bank today. We saw it from the river yesterday and know that it has a little of the feel and character as its namesake in London, with a riverbank promenade, performance halls, art galleries and (unlike London) a science museum. As we get to the Brisbane River, disappointingly, there are no Croc Safety notices (missing those already!) and so we walk on across the Victoria Bridge. There is a giant inflatable astronaut waving to me from the roof of the science museum, but before we get there, we are distracted by a large arch.

All that's left of the previous Victoria bridgesThe arch turns out to be the abutment (on the South Bank) of the third bridge (but the second to be named after Queen Victoria) across the river. A placard by its side tells a Monty Pythonesque story of the bridges joining the two halves of Brisbane together – we built a bridge, but it was eaten by pests; so we built another which was washed away in the flood of 1893; the third lasted until 1969 and the opening of the current bland but efficient edifice.

The Airfix Saturn V model that I had......and the one that I now want!Enough history and into the Science Museum which is currently hosting a NASA exhibition around humans in space and is tied in to the rapidly approaching 50th anniversary of the moon landing. I was 11 back in July ’69 and amongst my most treasured memories are those of being woken in the middle of the night and being brought downstairs to watch Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. As with the exhibition back in Carnarvon there was no way that I was going to miss this – especially as it was a zillion times larger and more professional than that in Carnarvon. Lots of artefacts from that golden age of space travel (perhaps another on its way though?) including some relics that have been into space. The highlights for me though, was a model of a Saturn V rocket just like the one I had as a boy – and a much larger 1:10 model that I wish I had had then!

Ben Quilty's Fairy Bower - a dark placeNear the museum is the Gallery of Modern Art. Feeling brave, and liking the entrance cost (free) we head in. The feature display is by the contemporary Australian artist Ben Quilty. An easy viewing it certainly wasn’t – some of the pieces seemed to fit into the category of “I’ve suffered for my art, and now it’s your turn” – but you have to admire the variety of work, the breadth of subjects and styles and the sheer scale of some of the images. The largest were Rorschach works where an original painted image is pressed one panel at a time onto another similar sized panel while the paint is still wet, such as ‘The Fairy Bower’ shown here.

Wooden carvings on the Nepalese pagodaBy now we were in need of something lighter in mood and less intellectual in nature, so we walk past the Wheel and through into the Parklands set up on the site of the World Expo held in Brisbane in 1988. For the locals, the highlight here is the lagoon with a man-made beach, complete with (real) seagulls. For us, the highlight is the Nepalese pagoda that was so popular during the Expo that it was left on site. Against all the modern and colonial-era architecture it looks out of place, but you just have to admire the carving on the woodwork. (It is only when processing the photo that I noticed that the one of the wooden door pillars is supported by a lion and the other by a naked woman. Not quite sure what that says about anything!)

Old Government HouseReturning across the river on the pedestrian Goodwill Bridge, we pass the Maritime Museum which is no more appealing than it was yesterday – too contrived and we’ve already clocked up too many steps. The other side of the bridge ends in the Botanic Gardens which are of more interest. We spend a little time walking around the Old Government House wondering if there is a way to take a decent photo of it (not really) and then on up through the gardens with their lily pond lake (not the same as a billabong) and the wedding party having their photos taken nearby.

Fountains in lily pond in the Botanic GardensAnd so, our time in Brisbane and Australia comes to an end. Brisbane has been OK. We’ve learned a little of the history of the city and the sights have been interesting enough but the city hasn’t excited or energised us. Whether that’s because it’s just another city, or whether it is more that we are tired after some long days in WA and NT or that we have so enjoyed the sights we’ve seen all through the West of Australia its hard to know. What we are sure of though, is that we should mark the end of our time in Australia with a cocktail and so take advantage of the comforts of the city.

Thank you, Australia - we've had an amazing timeThe next day (Thursday), we fly on to Hong Kong and it is all pretty uneventful. It is only when we get to Hong Kong and catch the bus into town that we realise that we’d been judging cities by the wrong scale. Just as Katherine is dwarfed by Darwin, which in turn is dwarfed by Brisbane, so Brisbane is dwarfed by Hong Kong. The route in takes us past never-ending clusters of high-rise apartment blocks and shopping malls and so many bright lights. The road from the airport has bridges to hop between islands to Kowloon on the mainland and, as we cross over one of these, we can see Hong Kong port off to one side. Oh my, it is massive (the largest container port in the world, it turns out) completely dwarfing Port Hedland. Now, how are we going to get pictures of that??

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