Thursday, October 13, 2005


Link to Brisbane Photos
(slideshow option in upper right corner)


Going from Cairns to Brisbane was like going from wilderness to civilization, but in Australia civilization is still shot through with wilderness. Even though it's a city of about 1.5 million people, the cultural center, South Bank, featured scavenging ibises, tree possums, huge lizards, giant fruit bats, and an assortment of wading birds near the river. It is the difference between a tropical setting (Australia) and a subtropical setting (Florida).

The locals take the fauna in stride, but we were unabashed gawkers, snapping photos left and right. Even of the common lorikeet.

So much happened in Brisbane, but so much of it was also a blur, because the Brisbane Writers Festival organizers kept me (and Ann, because she helped with a lot of it) very busy. I did panels, attended the Devil in Brisbane launch, presented my Rough Guide to Ambergris presentation, had lunch with Friends of the Festival, and dinners with various members of the writing community. We met so many wonderful people that I'll let the photos do the talking in that regard rather than run the risk of leaving anyone out.

Figuring out what to write when signing...

The festival itself was great, and I enjoyed all of it. The masterclass went very well, although I kept wondering if the students' eyes were going to glaze over during the lecture component, which is the price I pay for doing this particular masterclass a lot, since the material I present becomes rather familiar—to me. The material the students give me back, though, is always a revelation, and I liked the way in which many of them produced fiction very different from their usual style. Although, as usual, they complained mightily about the part where I made them rewrite material without being able to use the letter "a". And there is an element of trust involved, because I have them do exercises that sometimes seem silly but are deadly serious—but I can't tell them why they're doing them until afterwards or they won't experience it for themselves first.

South Bank itself, and Queensland in general, showed a great commitment to the arts, although it was funny to find a Queensland literary award abandoned in the lobby of the Rydges Hotel. I had to take it to the concierge. I think it was for best first novel or best novel.

Favorite moments? It's difficult. There were too many. So many times Ann I found ourselves talking to people and it feeling like we had known them for years, more so than on any other trip to date. Lunches and dinners were a great pleasure for us, meeting so many interesting people. And even chance meetings, like encountering Candice Levett, who happened to be a bushwalker and helped us find our way to Mount Maroon.

Also, stupid things, like sitting in a café in Beaudesert, south of Brisbane, and watching as an employee from the Kentucky Fried Chicken across the street walked in, ordered a piece of fried chicken and took it back across to the KFC to eat it. (!?)

Or even just watching the Australian Rugby final on a big screen TV with Queensland and Sydney fans—such a raucous, committed group.

Or hanging out in the Belgian Beer Café, close to my idea of heaven.

Drunk But Happy

Or going to see Maximo Park at The Zoo.

A walk through the botanical gardens was pure bliss, especially after visiting the beer café.

Of course, Mount Maroon was something else and a definite highlight. A pretty steep ascent up the ridge of a mountain. Like walking for two hours up a flight of stairs. Our legs got rubbery, ropey, and we loved the burn of it. We loved every godforsaken boulder and crappy foothold, every look over the edge down the slope, and across to the crenellation of further mountain. The view from the top blew our minds.

We're Gonna Climb That?

But, there were other, less obviously spectacular moments. Like a catamaran ride from South Bank to the Power House, a cultural space for plays, readings, and concerts. We took it at dusk and sat in the front, watching the lights of the city. The spray from the river and the light breeze washing over us, as the catamaran sped silently across the water. The smell of honeysuckle or something similar creeping up from the shore. Lights to either side, some from the glass boxes of condominiums that looked fragile and vulnerable, the silhouettes of the people inside putting on a pantomime shadow puppet play. And in other places, highlighted mini-cliffs lining a public park. Or the bejeweled layer cake of a tourist boat. The playful arching red lights of a bridge passing overhead. We felt as if we were skating across the surface of the water, effortless, tinged with cold, and relented in our vigor long enough to succumb. Bats, dark warm shapes crossing the slate sky. Sometimes the call of a bird or animal unknown to us, a reminder of the shore. We both had smiles on our faces the whole way. I kept saying to Ann, "I can't believe we're in Australia." I can't believe we're gliding across the water. I can't believe the world is so big and bold and subtle and wonderful, and that I'm alive in it.


At 9:05 AM, Blogger Watchmania said...

Hi Jeff. It's good to read of your travels. My partner and I also visited Brisbane a few years ago and then Springbrook in the mountain rainforest on the Q/NSW border. We loved every single minute of our trip. Thanks for triggering some happy memories for me!

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