Poll Star's Wonderings

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Tomorrow, my first day in Brisbane, I shall take the train out of the city for an hour and a half to the Australia Zoo. So, would I have visited Australia Zoo were it not for the world's most famous stingn ray? I really couldn't say. Zoos haven't really been my thing and I have seen a lot of wildlife in the wild. However, there is something intriguing about the Steve Irwin approach and I expected his personlaity to be reflected in the way the zoo presented it's 'collection'. I wasn't sure how they would reflect Steve Irwin's death in what was essentially his zoo. Shrines would seem rather maudlin for someone so full of life. If he had time after the sting ray hit, I feel sure he'd have said (or thought) 'my fault'. I noticed that the admission is now $46; it was $29 in my rough guide, which came out at the end of 2005. There's been quite a lot of inflation for tourists between that guide and my visit, but this is certainly on the high side. I hope the price hasn't risen too much in the last 6 months.

Before I get going, the DJ in the Surfers Paradise transit station is playing a song that has reminded me of the most marvellous thing that the American girls told me on Fraser. Apparently, the bars in New Jersey don't actually tell you it's time to leave; the accepted practice is that the last song played before closing is Livin' on a Prayer. How cool is that? And how much better than New York, New York, which serves a similar role in dire provincial British clubs? The Jovi, it seems, still own New Jersey. While I'm on music, has there been a global revival in the fortunes of Arrested Development, or is just an Australian aberration? If they hadn't been so appalling, I could at least have admired them for acknowledging the state of their musical ability in the band's name. I thought they and their Everyday People had been flushed away with Boyz II Men years ago. I really proper hate them-I'd forgotten how much.


As I got on the courtesy bus to take me from Beerwah train station to the zoo, I sensed Australia Zoo might not be immune to the general tone of tourism in Queensland.

It was quite different inside.

Actually it was relentlessly commercial. I know Steve was big in the US, so maybe he picked up some tricks there. There's merchandising everywhere-Steve and Terri both have their own clothing labels, and a host of add-on activities (photos with animals, feeding animals) are available at an extra cost.

I find the near cult of their daughter Bindi especially strange-she has her own clothing label, kids' fitness DVD and she's toured America, doing stuff like Letterman. She even had her own burger in the food court. She's a big star-she's to be seen on the covers of the seemingly endless racks of Aussie celebrity gossip rags. She's something like 8 years old.

The public feeding the elephants was like a production line, I left almost immediately. I then saw a Tasmanian Devil running endlessly in circles-disturbing behaviour in any captive animal, but far worse in a nocturnal one. At this stage, I was starting to get very disappointed and concerned as to just what I was supporting with my $41 entrance fee. Slowly the place started to win me over, oddly the process started at the Crocoseum.

I suppose I should have guessed they'd remember Steve by having a Crikey shouting contest between the 2 halves of the crowd. The Crocoseum seats 5,000 and hosts the twice daily main show. At this stage it still sounds horrendous. Although the show is funny and entertaining, it is not about making animals jump through hoops. Rather it seeks to educate the audience so they can understand animal behaviour (I don't think the Sea World shows Sozz and I saw had that goal). We saw elephants, snakes, birds and crocs: after each segment there was a message on how we should treat the animals and how we could help ensure their survival. It was poignant when the message was delivered by Steve on the video screen. Some of it was as simple as stop cutting down forests, but it still needs to be in people's minds.

The handling of crocs is impressive and certainly dangerous. As this emphasised

Inevitably, what won me over was the strength of the environmental message. A message that was heard by a lot of kids. I feel the influence on the thinking of so many people is the true legacy of Steve Irwin. That and the substantial number of local projects the zoo supports across the world.

The state of that Tasmanian Devil still concerns me. I do believe that in an ideal world there would be no zoos-I seem to remember one of the aims of Gerald Durrell's Jersey Zoo was to become redundant. Humans aren't much good at creating an ideal world. Captivity isn't consistent in the penalty it imposes-crocs don't move so much, so birds, fish and large mammals seem much worse off. Also the crocs have mostly been relocated-essentially they have 'troubled' humans; luckily they're protected so they don't just get shot. In order that humans can understand, care about and be sufficently engaged to protect animals, it seems a necessary evil that some animals will suffer for the greater good like that Tasmanian Devil. Another example of nature suffering for human failings.

With so many people on the site, I was surprised how easy it was to find a quiet corner to myself: I spent some reflective time with crocs, giant turtles, roos and big lizards. However, the most moving part of the place was unpublicised and tucked away under the Crocoseum.

This was the public's tribute to Steve. There were a few flags, clippings and a surf board, but overwhelmingly Steve's khaki croc hunting shirts dominated. Each one was covered in messages. It was apparent from the messages that a good proportion of the people had met him. There must have been thousands of messages. I've no idea how spontaneous or otherwise it was, but, chancing upon it as I did, it made a very powerful statement.

Crocs do appropriately dominate Australia Zoo and that in itself is important-it's much easier to get the public on side for the conservation of animals that don't scare the bejesus out of them. For my money, the Zoo is dead right in taking an approach that by getting people to understand crocs, they'll be less likely to harm crocs and and their environment. As one guy said, 'there's no excuse for being eaten by a croc' (man, I hope that's not tempting fate). Or as Steve put it-crocs rule.

The understated nature of the tributes to Steve combined with his pictures, voice and video still being in evidence throughout the zoo almost create an illusion that he's still here. The only life after death I believe in is living on in the thoughts and hearts of those you knew or inspired. There's so much affection for the man in this country that he's going to have a very full afterlife.

Few double letters there-try spelling it out loud.

After my day with the spirit of Steve, I set off on a tour of Brisbane. From the guide and talking to people, I'd worked out there wasn't an enormous amount to see, but I worked out a pretty good route, culminating with a tour of the Gabba.

St. John's cathedral was a touch underwhelming, closed and covered in scaffolding-like most of the world's cathedrals. The ensuing walk through the botanical gardens was the morning's highlight: it was beautifully cool and I followed the river so I had a breeze as I ambled through parkland, rainforest and mangrove swamp.

The walk of historic buildings was pleasant but hardly awe inspiring-in part because to a European, they're historic in the American sense. With the obvious exceptions in Sydney harbour, I haven't seen much in the way of architectural gems. Still, you can't be good at everything or there'd be no point going anywhere else.

I crossed over the river to go to the city's cultural centre-a complex including theatre, state library, museum and art gallery. Visually it reminded me of South Bank (hope I've got my London right there); I always assumed the site of the South Bank was bombed in the war-I'm not sure what the excuse is for Brisbane's cultural centre being similarly concrete and ugly.

I went to an interesting exhibition on Sport and War at the state library. This was not the first time I'd seen the hypothesis that these were the two fields where Australia had made an impact on the international arena. Maybe it's because of the musea I've visited, maybe it's because Australia has waged so many fewer wars than Britain, but I feel there's more interest and pride in the military history here. I saw photos of surf parades at Gaza, the first overseas Aussie rules game, Aussies trying baseball and basketball against the Yanks and cricket played in POW camps and to cover the Gallipoli retreat. Once again I found inspiration in Keith Miller and his attitude-'I'll tell you what pressure is. Pressure's a Messerschmitt up your arse. Cricket is not'. The Don didn't share Miller's sense of perspective; I must find a good biography.

The State museum was mostly a natural history museum and I was once again impressed with the strength of the environmental message and what YOU can do.

So to the Gabba; as Queensland failed to reach the Pura Cup Final, I had to settle for a stadium tour. As this was the fifth and final venue I was visiting where England had lost a test match in the last four months, I was a little disappointed that it was the only one where I wouldn't see any cricket. After the poor food offerings at the SCG, MCG and especially the WACA, I found this sign particularly galling.

All of the circular stadium that is the new Gabba has been built since 1990; no stand is named after a player; there are no statues. It lacks history. More accurately, it does next to nothing to honour it's history. Botham played for Queensland and, if memory serves me, caused a lot of trouble. The Gabba's most famous cricket moment was the first tied test, which was at least recognised in the members dining room. There was a big photo of the concluding run out and this photo of the skipper and chairman of selectors.

The mafia guy is Don Bradman and the young 'un is Richie Benaud. I found it interesting to reflect that there have only been 2 ties in Test history, both involving Australia; only 3 times has a side enforced the follow on and lost-all Australia. It's an odd game and you could dedicate a lifetime to documenting its peculiarities and strange occurences, as Bill Frindall has. One of the nice things about the Gabba, aside from Ken who showed us round, is that they let you out in the middle.

And if the cricket goes wrong, you could always pick up some porn as you left the ground.

I've been to something in the region of 10 wineries on this trip, but no breweries. As I had the morning before getting the bus to Surfer's Paradise, I walked up past the SunCorp stadium (where the Rugby's played) and went on the XXXX tour. Before I reached Queensland, I thought XXXX was like Foster's-heavily marketed to the UK as being true blue Aussie, but scarcely drunk in Australia. While I barely saw XXXX in the other states, they've a stranglehold on Queensland-it's everywhere and you often have the 'choice' of XXXX or VB.

I've been on a few brewery tours and this was definitely the most fun. We had a waxwork and XXXX ad with AB, a video on the history of beer (civilisation and cultivation's cornerstone apparently) and a lot of guidance from Mr XXXX, who they don't use in England.

As much of the brewing is now computer controlled, you don't see much of the actual brewing, save the size of the operation-they can store 20 million litres before bottling. What really got me was the bottling operation, especially the cans, which went at an incredible pace. There's beer flying everywhere in a production line that's a mix of Mousetrap and those crazy domino world record attempts they had every other week on Record Breakers. After the tour we had 4 included beers in the XXXX bar. How typical of our age that they make a really great beer, imaginatively named XXX, which you can only get in the brewery as it was deemed uncommercial. Sadly no photos allowed in the brewery-odd considering the makeup of the yeast is the 'secret' ingredient and I'm not aware a photo of yeast reveals a great deal.

And so to Surfers Paradise. Psychologically I think it's been a good thing for me that my last week in Oz looks so devoid of highlights-it will send me to NZ looking forward rather than back and diminish my Australian regrets: missing Kangaroo Island, Darwin & the Top End, insufficient time in Western Australia and the Ashes. You may have guessed Surfers was not a highlight.

I think I can sum up Surfers with one anecdote. Surfers Paradise was the name of a long since defunct hotel in a small coastal town. The town council met to discuss changing the town's name to make it more exciting and appealing to tourists. Pretty much by default Surfers Paradise won. Ludicrously, depressingly and predictably, the council's gambit paid off. Massively. With millions flocking in, high rises spewed up along the coast. Greedily built too high and close to the beach, they now block out much of the beach's afternoon sun.

So in an eagerness to provide for ever increasing numbers of visitors, they've messed up their main attraction.

I reckon I'm one of the few people here who thinks the place is boring and there's nothing to see or do: they've theme parks (been there, done that), shops, bars, night markets, clubs, a Ripley's Believe it or Not (always a bad sign), lots of neon and a beach. It's all so anywhere like McDonalds, multiplex cinemas, Starbucks and Cape Town's V&A Waterfront.

I've tried a day on the beach again today (my second one), but the appeal of sand and sun still fails to hold my interest for any extended period of time. I think Australia is a marvellous country, but much of the East coast and Queensland's approach to tourism just isn't very interesting. Ironic that I've enjoyed Oz so much and its no 1 tourist destination leaves me cold.

More succinct would be that I'm told the surf's not much cop-Surfers is a triumph of marketing over substance. Aside from all that, it's a shame John's not here-there's a couple of tasty looking crazy golf courses.

Oh, and after the number of Spaced references I've made, I simply must encourage you all to go to the flicks and see Hot Fuzz. Helen-I think it's set in Pulloxhill.

And I've found a Keith Miller biography; here's a bit from it that explains my interest.
"Glendinning [Miller's big wartime buddy].....was playing snooker with Miller when a ball from a table tennis match two metres away flew towards their table. Miller was lining up to pot a red. He raised the cue, and with its tip hit the flying ball back to the other table, saying: 'Would you mind keeping the ball in your area, chaps?' He then potted the red without changing his stance."

Legend. It's full of stuff like that.

Dudes and Dudetts
Byron Bay is meant to be a gem; I couldn't tell you. I arrived at 6.30 (these days it's dark by then-summertime finished at the weekend) and left at 8 the following morning-I'm out of time. I had a very pleasant dinner with Leanne, bumped into a couple of Irish guys from Krombit, listened to the band and went to bed. Sorry Byron.

I thought the next 2 days were just going to be busing it the thousand K's to Sydney, with an overnight stop at Surf Camp. I had assumed that you needed to hop off at Surf Camp to learn to surf. Learn to surf was something I had wanted to do in Oz, but, like getting my PADI, I'd abandoned the idea as time ran out. Turns out we get to Surf Camp at midday and have an afternoon lesson. As a double Brucie bonus, this is included in my ticket. Mental note-don't go booking things when hungover, you don't find out all about them.

We had a lesson on what the bits of the board are called, how to put on our leg strap (keeps the board nearby when you wipe out), how to lie on the board and paddle, how to get up and how to starfish-fall into shallow water once the wave's run its course.

Given the size of the waves and my low level of comfort in water, I had no great expectations-not drowning and avoiding concussion were my twin aims. I surprised myself by being actually quite good and not doing a Bryson on Bondi (physics defying sinking like a stone). From talking to other travellers, I understood that standing up was the difficult bit-I was mostly successful in this and did several runs where I then stayed up and even controlled the direction (this gets your instructor whooping, giving a stupid hand signal and calling you dude). Where I need to improve is getting onto the board (the lying down on your gut bit) and keeping the board facing the right way. I'd get on and could be up to 45 degrees off course as a result of my movement. This is unhelpful with a wave coming in, it can lead to dunk time. Overall, it was fun and I was very pleased with how I got on with it, despite drinking a lot of Ocean.

I'm not sure I'd ever get really into it. Firstly the process of getting through the waves and in position to catch a wave-it seemed a whole lot of effort. It made me think of sand boarding-struggle your way up a sand dune in the heat to board down: just go snowboarding for heaven's sake-they have lifts. I'm getting a touch sedantry in my adrenalin sports!

More significantly I just can't cope wih being called dude twice a minute and all the whooping and 'craziness'. I've never reacted well to 'we having a good time?' cheerleading and it seems 33 will be remembered as when I became a complete Old Fart.

For the first time I paid for the rip-off photos ($30 inc 'free' t-shirt), so as this may the only surfing by SuperPoll, I'm going to post plenty of them.

So I guess now I’ve done the surf dude thing, it’s time for a haircut. Maybe.

Ultimate Olympian-I'll coach you if surfing's crept into the games, while I wasn't looking. You'll love the getting dunked bit.

Sydney here I come.

Boomerang-back to Sydney
Finally got the Boomerang thing in.

I'm feeling quite emotional. I've just visited what will surely be my last Big Thing. (Forgot to say we did the Big Prawn yesterday, which 'British Comedian' Ross Noble had visited). Still it was the original. Dating from 1964, I give you the Big Banana.

If you look closely you'll see a second Big Banana in my hand; this one is frozen, coated in chocolate and nuts (without the nuts, it just looks like a turd on a stick). A very tasty snack, especially after another night on the Stanley wine.

Inevitably, the Big Banana is not that big. Being the first Big Thing, it started the ball rolling and the 120 or so Big Things that followed upped the ante in the size stakes.

After that excitement, we saw a candy making demonstration-rock to me and you. I could go into details, but essentially they turn this

into this

And one of the candy makers was a big trannie! Gotta love Coff's harbour.

I’m back in Sydney. As you can probably tell this post was written in a number of different sittings, and I’m uploading the pictures and checking my e-mail. It’s really very odd to be back in Sydney, I’m staying at the same hostel as 3 months ago-just booking that was freaky enough. As we drove in I remembered old haunts (even though I spent less than 2 weeks here) and remembered things I did when I was last here. It seems ages ago, I guess I have done so much since then.

I’m also finding it really emotional-a word used by a couple of people on the bus. Yes, I am an old softie, but unlike the others it wasn’t so much leaving the people behind that was affecting me. I’ve met some great people on the East Coast and it was lovely to come into Sydney with 3 particularly good folk, who will in time be in NZ, where I reckon I shall bump into them again. On Fraser it was ridiculous, I could barely stop without bumping into people I’d met and that’s always a special moment, even when the ‘Hi, how you going?’ conversation is a touch banal. The people you’ve met become a touching point, almost some kind of roots.

I’ve met a few really special people, some of whom I’m still in touch with, but I’ve become lazier with getting e-mails and numbers off people-I’ve been travelling a while and have become a touch cynical about when I think it’s worthwhile.

So, lovely as many of you have been, I’m used to leaving you behind and moving on. It’s leaving Australia that’s choking me up. I love this place.


  • sean here, I have been reading your blog albeit sporadically. Good work on the sweets! Did you also go to the great sweet shop in the Blue Mountains? I notice your hair is very much in keeping with the surfing!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:09 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home