Brizzy, Brisvegas or plain old Brisbane. Whatever you want to call it, that's what we're calling home right now. We're being hosted in a Queenslander style house owned by Simon and Leah. This kind of house, as you may have guessed from the name, is typical of the area and it's main feature in the past was its raised nature. Back before air-conditioning was invented, the folks around here built their houses off the ground, to allow air to get underneath, and keep the temperature down indoors. Nowadays, modern versions of the style keep the idea of the 'raised' house, but use the space downstair too for extra rooms. Lucky us, because it's thanks to this space and Simon and Leah's bravery/foolhardiness, that we are able to stay here for the last weeks of our time in Australia.
Simon and Leah's reckless generosity and meticulous hospitality have made our time here a delight. Leah in particular combines a Monica-like effortless efficiency with a Phoebe-like devil-may-care coolness. And while Simon exudes Chandler-like wit, as readers of this blog will already have noted, he comes from the Joey Tribbiani school of acting (though he does a better German accent than Joey).
We're spending the time here in a leisurely enough way. We've been to the city a few times - we're based in Sandgate which is a 30 min train ride to Brisbane's central station - and have just spent 5 days on the road between Brisbane and Fraser Island, but that's another story.
The city of Brisbane is experiencing something of a boom at the moment. Simon told me that there were adverts circulating London calling on emigrant Queenslanders to return: 'the shops are open longer and men can drink wine outdoors'. Sounds like Ireland about 10 years ago (though I've just been told that it's all going tits over arse at the moment).
Brisbane, and Queensland in general, has a reputation among other Australians, as being a backwater. And I get the feeling that Queensland People are doing their best to dispel the idea. Queensland went through what looks like a grim time back in the 70s and 80s under a premier called Johannes Bjelke-Petersen who aside from being uber-conservative and racist was also lucky not to be jailed for corruption. And as I'm on the subject of no-subject-at-all-just-meandering-trivia, it's worth pointing out that the current premier of Queensland is called Anna Bligh, and is the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Captain William Bligh, the unfairly maligned and mutineered commander of the Bounty who was also Sydney's fourth governor (where the poor sod once more found himself at the pointy end of a mutiny, this time leading to a two year 'rebel republic' in New South Wales). I've just finished a book called Captain Bligh's Other Mutiny, so I could go on, but that's another story.
On our first trip to the city, we got off at central, grabbed a bite to eat in a food court, before wandering down Elisabeth Street (the shopping area and Central Business District is in a little peninsular grid of its own, with female streets running east-west and male ones - George Street for example - running north-south.) This route took us through The Mall, which isn't a mall at all, but has wall-to-wall malls all around. (I'm beginning to read like Dr. Seuss - perhaps I ought to go to bed.) The CBD in Brisbane sports a few more adventurous architectural experiments some of which are pulled off nicely, but down near the Riverside ferry stop, the highrises are less imaginative and a little grim despite being evidently brand spanking new. Eventually we crossed the River Brisbane by the Victoria bridge, which leads to the Cultural Center: a riverside quarter that houses an art gallery, a science museum, library, and centre for the performing arts. The Australian skill of creating great museums, like in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra, is also well in evidence here in Brisbane.
Story Bridge with Brisbane CBD and Botanic Gardens in background.
At the time of our visit there was an Andy Warhol exhibition. I'm an ignoramus of the visual arts, (but to my credit, I'm not proud of it) and the part of the gallery that I liked the most was the children's Warhol exhibition, and not just because it was free. It was set up to make learning about the artist as effortless and interesting as possible. Both Nina and Sara are into their art, so this was a big hit with them, but bloody hell I learned a lot about the man myself. One of the cooler things to do there was create your own Warhol-esque silk-screen portraits. I've included a few at the end of this post.
An interesting moment during the main Warhol exhibition: One wall was taken up with a series of portraits of a famous former statesman. Nina and Sara recognised him at once as being Mao Zedong. I doubt very much that they would have known that face before our trip to China, and even if they had, they wouldn't really be able to place him geographically or historically. It was a little bit of clumsy but concrete evidence to support the idea that they really are learning something about the world they live in during this trip. (On matters Chinese, two readers have asked me if I have anything to say about what's going on in China and Tibet at the moment. I do. But that's another story).
I was trying to looked terrified but in the end I just look like I'm trying to impersonate a moose. A terrified moose perhaps. A moose, for example, who has just heard how much it would cost him to go to Uluru from Brisbane. But that, like much of this post, is another story.