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June 19, 2004

Frasier Island

Chaz and Dave, Robson and Jerome, Lennox and Stewart, Frasier and Whitsunday. No not a list of my favourite CD's but a list of duos that the last two belong. Simply because they just go together. Like the music equivalent everyone has their favourite for different reasons. It is the main thing to do on the East Coast, it is what anybody talks around in these parts but they never go into too much detail. "You get this jeep and drive around in sand" followed by "ah yeah you get on a boat and sunbathe". Enthralling. But it sounded a little more tempting than my previous stop.
I spent four hours wondering the streets of Brisbane. It should have been two but the film did not start until four thirty. In those two hours I was left wondering just what Brisbane was all about. It was remarkably unremarkable. The main high street was pleasant enough and had a wide range of shops but the area lacked any kind of atmosphere. The music being played over the loud speakers in the centre helped but nothing could revive this flagging feeling. Even the State Museum carried this theme throughout. The exhibits were fake and lacked any kind of substance, the Chinese Dinosaur exhibition was as outdated as the creatures themselves. I followed in two large groups. We all spent precisely fourteen minutes hovering around the the sparse offerings and left. The state library. This will kill a few hours. This building was one small storey in size and had about as many books as a waiting room for the specialist Dyslectic unit in Bournemouth general . The Arts Museum was no better. So for the first time in my life I decided to watch a film in the afternoon and sacrifice the daylight hours. I was leaving the next day and already my relationship with Brisbane was strained. Don't get me wrong speak to people who have stayed in Brisbane for a length of time and they like it. It was just getting me to stay here a length of time that was the problem.
It was a bright red 1987 Ford Falcon estate complete with red wheels and a black 'go faster stripe' across the bonnet. It was a beast. I had decided to take time out from the Greyhound. Sure there were good and bad points about that method of travelling. You get to sit next to incredibly strange people, your bottom hardens after twenty minutes causing you to sit at an angle for the next twenty minutes, you have to lug your bag around in a lost tourist manner and you get to meet the most job hating coach drivers in the world. And then there were the bad points. The big red beast bumped it's way to out first destination. Noosa.
As we drove into the outskirts of the town I could smell the money falling from the trees. The houses were neatly parked side by side and the streets were filled by happy people doing happy things. They washed their happy cars in their happy driveways and spoke happily to their happy neighbour. The high street had a number of designer stores and the pace of life was slow. I could have spent longer here but we needed to reach Harvey Bay that night and so that night it was. Harvey Bay is the gateway to Frasier Island. There seems no reason to go to Harvey Bay unless you need to go to the island itself. Even the 'Mega' cinema closed at eight. There is no town centre just a long possession of warehouse stores flanked by smaller discount stores. We were only there for a night and had to think about how to get around Frasier Island.
We choose Aussie tracks for our vehicle hire. Being with country boys there seemed only one choice for transport. An ex-army 1979 eight cylinder Land Rover. Others would choose comfort ahead of three days of driving. The boys choose the vehicle more for sentimental reasons ahead of practical reasons. The thirty minute car journey across to Frasier confirmed my suspicious that our vehicle was a little different. The boat decking was awash with white off road vehicles packed to the brim with backpackers. How they managed to squeeze in the back was a engineering feat. The roar of thirteen off roaders screaming off the ferry was impressive. It was boys and their toys and a moment the drivers cherished as they all went skidding along the sand tracks towards Lake McKensie. It was then that I realised being a back seat passenger in an ex army Land Rover was all thrills, lots of spills and back breaking hills. This vehicle did not have any suspension and the seats were padded by a thin strip of cushion. The slightest bump would send me into the air and back down again with two choices. James or my left derriere cheek.
The one way sand track road provided an interesting challenge for speeding drivers. There were no black and white corner signs warning to slow, no mirrors projecting on coming traffic, in fact there were no signs at all. The regular off roaders seemed to take a particular disliking to the 'novice' tourist driver. They did not even raise as smile as we squeezed past them. They did not even laugh when we all shouted "Cheer up you miserable bastards". Some people. The winding and bumpy off road track meandered for ever until you reached the beach motorway. It was a motorway that streched for over eighty kilometers and was unofficially closed at high tide and in darkness. The rules of this motorway were simple. Avoid the planes using the beach motorway as a runway, the invisible ditches and, oh yes the other on coming drivers. There are no lanes, there are no signals. It was a case of driving head on playing chicken until one driver moved left or right.
This island was a big and beautiful adventure playground for drivers and their toys. As a result of the uncontrolled environment there were dangers. We encountered a a large 4x4 full of drunken bikini clad girls as we came round a blind corner. They were driving too fast. We both slammed on our brakes and stopped just in time. Stopping a heavy pre historic Land Rover in sand is about as ineffective as it sounds. We were angry right? They nearly killed us? So we had a go at them? "Hello, ohh that was close, this Island is great is'nt it girls?' was the actual response. Women can get away with with so much. A sole male voice appeared from the steering wheel. He was seriously out numbered by women. "You guys enjoying Frasier" he quipped. Somehow we all knew he was.
This was a beautiful Island. The stars shone brilliantly at dark, the moon covered the beach with a constant glow and you could smell marsh mellows being toasted at the isolated camp sites along the beach. Perfect. Well actually we got a hotel apartment. The gas supply was better, you could turn on and off the moonlight and it had a bubbling bath. Home comforts. For thirty dollars each we obtained a two bedroom apartment with balcony on the beach resort Eurong. It had a local pub (with fluorescent lights!) a general store and a bakery. What else could you want? Actually the local pub was full of local island inbreeds. They wore the full gangster gear whilst jigging (on their own) to Eminem. They glared at us as we entered. I expected them to say "Hey guys, no non inbreds allowed". They were trouble. They even started on Fred as he twirled a Hippy girls hippy thing later on (well maybe I can excuse them for that). The pub clearly took advantage of it's monopolistic position on the island. The pool tables were missing half their balls, the game machines were the ones that I played in the forth year at school on Southend Sea front and the party games were, well, strange. We entered the pub when fifteen American girls were dressed in bin bags. They were having a great time. They were drunk. We were sober. They found it highly amusing. We found it highly bemusing.
The three 'S's were a clear rule of Frasier Island. Driver Sober, Don't drive in Salt water and no driving after Sunset. These rules clearly did not apply to the local Rangers. They were huddled over a camp fire at 1am and were absolutely hammered. Sure they are enjoying themselves. But they broke the three 'S's. They stumbled into their vehicle, managed to start it after finding the ignition and pegged it zig zagged along the beach. No worries mate. It was like the other Aussie we encountered. There was a queue of traffic. His 4x4 was wedged deep in the sand. It was like a small child had buried his small toy. "Just need a push and this thing will be out, no worries" No worries? It was dug half deep in the sand. "Just a little push guys and it will be out in no time". Eight us us pushed. Eight of us moved the metal trap two centimeters. Being a truly proud Aussie he did not want any help. What a wuss hey? Being British we said we would go to the next ranger (who was not drunk) and ask for assistance. We were no angels ourselves. We had a knack of leaving things late. We arrived back in darkness after driving at full throttle and lost track of the time on the way back to our ferry. Just as we were contemplating an extra day hire we made it to the ferry in time. The speed induced journey left me with three blue and green bruises on my back side. Nice.
So was it a "You get this jeep and drive around in sand" sort of place? Well you do lots of driving in the sand but there is so much more. The sand dunes, the helicopter rides, the blue lagoons, the beaches, the inbreds, it has it all. It leaves you with a feeling that the regular three days is just not enough.

June 06, 2004

Leaving Surfers

Long blonde hair, gold hot pants, a cowboy hat and a red piece of satin over her shoulder. They were twins. They walked along the streets, heads were turned. The young men stared, the women glared but the girls just did'nt seem to care. I hate starers. I must hate myself. I had realised that I had stopped in my tracks and I was staring. They were young enough to be my girlfriends. The brains behind Surfers introduced gold bikini clad girls in 1965 to soften the amonosity of the newly introduced parking meters. The 'meter maids' would walk around the resort and insert change into expired meters to save the motorist from the impending fine. So that is all they do. They get paid to walk around, stop meters, stop traffic and generally create havoc amongst the local male population. A tourist attraction that has remained for four centuries. Who said Surfers was tacky?
In an attempt to uncover the 'real' surfers we attended the first bar we came to. It was called Shooters. To my horror thirty minutes after our entry the music stopped and the 'Miss Bikini Contest' started. Incredible. For some strange reason I cannot remember much after that. I tried to retrace my steps. In the afternoon I had met James and Fred after saying our goodbyes in New Zealand nearly two months previously. They had purchased a red Holden estate and they pulled up outside McDonalds. I opened the door and commented on their air freshener. It certainly was a distinct smell. They had just arrived from Nimbin. They looked surprisingly laid back after such a long journey. Must be the comfortable Holden I thought.
Then I remembered why the air freshener was distinctive. Back in 2000 I had visited Amsterdam. I had walked into a coffee shop to get a Latte. It was early in the morning and the place smelt funny. I think due to extreme tiredness I came over all funny and had to go outside for some air. So that was it. Fred and James's car smelt like that coffee shop on the canal. I was going to share this remarkable coincidence with the boys but they probably would not believe me.
Later that night I visited their 519 room at the Nomads backpackers. We were planning to go out that night. Fred was very generous. He must have known I looked hungry as he offered me a piece of cake that he had purchased earlier in the day. It was wrapped in foil, I guess to keep it safe from the flies. I ate a sizeable chunk of this cake. It had a distinctive taste that I could not quite put my finger on. I finished the cake without delay whilst commentating on the after taste. Different I thought, not like the cakes mum makes. We finally made it out and were directed by Gavin who suggested we should try out a bar called 'Shooters', it had a theme night on that night apparently. After only six beers and two 'cock sucking cowboy' cocktails my night turned into that of a distant memory.
My two weeks in Surfers had enabled me to make some observations on the local culture. Much of my time was spent on the beach. I sat in the same spot everyday. Every day an over exercised curly haired mullet of a man in black Speedos would parade along the beach with his hands behind his back. I think he must have lost his watch....everyday. He always asked people for the time. I think he must have thought that only women wear watches these days. He had this amazing ability to find single women on the beach and would just canter up and start a conversation. His routine was well... routine. First he would point over to the waves. He would probably start with the line "You see those crashing waves, I wrestled a shark with my bare hands after it chased me on the surf". They would always laugh. He would then crouch. There would be a few smiles from his victim then he would depart five minutes after inception. With the subtlety of Prince Phillip he would then go to the next single woman hardly twenty feet away. He would point at the sea and the process would begin again with the exact same results five minutes later. I admired his courage but felt the Speedos were seriously harming his otherwise distant chances.
Then there were the couples always debating over where to sit on the beach. As if it matters. Its all sand. On the beach there were sleepers, talkers, stalkers, the white Scots and the deeply tanned frogs. Of course there were groups of twenty Japanese tourists. A video of the entire coastline and Joshi with a surfboard under his arm would be deeply appreciated back home. And finally the sight of half the beach moving at three o'clock as the high rise buildings cast a huge cold shadow over half the beach. It was if someone had just passed a considerable amount of wind.
I would walk back from the beach along the coastal road. On one occasion I got overtaken by two power walking pram pushing women. Then I realised that everyone was power walking. Subconsciously I started to power walk in a competitive nature. Instead of pushing my hands in front of me I reshaped the walk so that my hands could still be kept in my pockets. I think it will catch on. Every so often one of the power walkers in front of me would stop and use the metal bars provided by the council to do their daily presses. I think I will just stick to my version of power walking for now. One step at a time.
Everywhere I looked it was like a different world. Literally. There was 'Water World', 'Movie World', 'Snow World', 'Wax World', 'Shark World' and so the list continued. For fifty eight dollars you could get into 'Movie World'. Amazingly I resisted the temptation and went to the free 'Beach World' instead. The streets were filled back to back with high rise apartments. When is anyone going to realise that pink and brown just don't go? Most of these structures were pink or beige with a splash of some other colour. The resorts around Surfers were much better designed, a series of waterways with moorings for expensive yachts. The Main Beach strip was lined with impressive restaurants. There air was filled with delightful cuisine smells, merry conversation and lots of money.

I stepped off the coach. Welcome to Brisbane I thought - this place is deader than a rotting possum on the coastal highway. I picked up a leaflet and headed for the nearest backpackers. I knew this part of the world is meant to be laid back but this was laughable. "Errr yeah you'll all have to come back in ten minutes as we have got a bit of a queue situation going on" claimed the sole person behind the desk at Tin Billy backpackers. Queue? There were two people filling out two forms. It soon became apparent that not only was his job to check people in but also multi talented at serving the internet queue, answering phone calls from people who could not speak English, chatting with Jane about the 'blast' they had the night before, describing the travel packages they had available to Fraser Island whilst also cleaning the desk. I also admired the level of detail he went into with every one of the three people he was dealing with. Without a doubt he was the slowest hostel receptionist I have ever come across. By the time he had booked people in, explained the hostel culture and explained how he was learning German after his European adventures it was Eight thirty. I had arrived at eight. When I finally reached my room I was ready for sleep and even more intrigued at discovering just how Brisbane had got a boring name.


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