Horizon at Sandy Point

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Look a mas!

It's Carnival Tuesday. I am in my hill home. The bush is green and cool - that February warm dry breezy slanting southern light makes being away from the heat and dust worthwhile. Early pouis ablaze in the hills. Immortelle flowers float off the branch, and parrots are squawking as they fly. Like a whisper, soca rises from the village, reminder that there is a Carnival and gatherings amid noise and heat and dust of the roads in town. Sometimes, a wave of memory rises.

It's 2006. The headpiece - a wizard's cone of flat galvanize - is light, but tall and unwieldy. The leggings force us to walk with our feet apart, like horse riders who just dismounted. And the length of red fabric - where was that supposed to go? - starts off draped around the neck but alternates as a headtie to keep sweat out of our eyes and cushion the high headpiece. We look like an old army, with hardware glinting in the sun - a Byzantine glory in the age of sequins and beads. Minshall's Sacred Heart -  a tribute to the fast beating slow expiration of an era that began decades ago.

The Black army of M2K masses on the north side of the Savannah battleground.

Reel back to the first mas of the new century.  M2K is a black and white Minshall mock battle. There is a costume waiting in a car on a side street to the Savannah early Tuesday morning. The jumpsuit slips easily over street clothes and I join the Whites with a squeezy bottle full of black paint. As participant I give myself over to the childish fun of squirt and run. But most of me - then as now - is observer. As the band blends and pours from Savannah to the streets, we channel River and Callaloo and The Golden Calabash,  Minshall's magic Trinity (1983-1985) with costumes as canvas. Pagwah, Jackson Pollock, a paint-in, a Minshall mas distilled by the artist to an elemental interaction. Shades of Red Army, Sailors Ashore, khakis in the jungle, infantry and artillerymen crawling on their bellies of other Carnival stages. Toobesides, this was jouvay freeing up in Mardi Gras.

The White army musters and marches towards the Black.
Go further back, the year is 1974. Traditions of mas are relearned by the newly returned university graduate. The Savannah stage still marks the centre. And there is only one takeaway from that Carnival. A child's mas, From the Land of the Hummingbird cuts sharply through all confusion. It is a single statement, a high point that sets the tone for 1976 - Paradise Lost, the Stephen Lee Heung presentation designed by Minshall from the poem by John Milton. The rest as they say is memory.

Battle done, and white shall be black and black white, and "all ah we is one..."

(Photos of M2K by Ranji Ganase)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Eumundi on Wednesday

Little girls' fairy fantasies are alive and well in south Queensland Australia. Among the wild and often weird styles, we sometimes spotted a tiny tutu-ed tot skipping alongside mother or big sister. And there was a whole tent full of tutus in the Eumundi market. Started some 30+ years ago with a few stalls and half a dozen shoppers, it has grown to over 300 shops with sellers and visitors from Noosa and as far as Brisbane. The market is open on Saturday and Wednesday every week.
Where are all the little dancers?

Entrance to a second tier of shops

Birds for sale

We were specifically in search of things "made in Australia." There was a definite leaning towards clothing with labels that fudged "designed in Australia" and "made in China" among a wide variety of casual or cotton clothing. We found a Trini who has been living in Oz for 44 years whose daughter sells Parisian street fashion. And there was a fair trade shop selling craft from Africa, India and tribal peoples.

We did find some excellent authentic Australian products: a delicious ginger beer; scrumptious brownies with homegrown Macadamias (do you know that Macadamias originated in Oz?) which were also available roasted, salted, sugared, seasoned and in fudge; and a Powerlance kitchen gadget for peeling, shredding, slicing vegetables and cheese.

The glass bead jeweller started making Murano glass beads just a few years ago. He went to Italy to learn glass blowing techniques and now includes a line of hollow decorated beads. His Kin Kin beads ( are named for the nearby town where he lives.
Bigger beads are hollow.

Rob Fleming, Kin Kin Beads
Kin Kin glass heart

The potter from whom we bought a pot spoon holder and egg cup is also a bee-keeper. He told us that Australian bees are now under threat from an imported beetle that lives in the flowers and which are now widespread in many areas (a live reason for restrictions against any food or produce brought intentionally or accidentally into the country).
Egg cup

Potspoon holder

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Rambling home

One of the miracles of modern aviation must be the ability to spend twelve hours flying from the east coast of Australia to land on the west coast of America five hours earlier. You arrive so early that you have to catch your breath. But it seems that you can spend the same day twice simply by crossing the Pacific east to west.

In crossing the Pacific in the other direction - from America's west coast to east Australia - you lose more than 24 hours!

It's just as dizzying going across continents from London to Brisbane, and back. The additional shock to the system is leaving in the grip of an Arctic chill to be sunburned in the southern hemisphere. But circum-aviating the globe - like talking via the internet - is just one of those things we now take for granted in the 21st century.

These were just some of the thoughts playing in the back of my head, behind the back to back movies (Dr Zhivago because it was the longest one I could find on the play list, followed by The Dolphin Tale and Red Dog and In Time - all of which I recommend even though I couldn't hear the sound very well in those flimsy earphones constantly slipping below my ear lobes - seems the circumference from ear to ear is less than the circumference of the headpiece) and the toogey-ness of trying to sleep in a sitting position crunched next to a window looking down seven miles to the ocean and pressed on by someone making whiffling noises under a too-small airplane blanket.
Seeing the curve of the earth!

It's ironic that the movie In Time (with Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried) leaves the central question "if you had only a day, a minute, a second to live, how would you spend it?" unsatisfactorily answered by all the protagonists. The plot becomes a chase after time as wealth. The lead characters become Robin Hoods - stealing from the rich to extend the lives of the poor, with the key comment left hanging, "giving it all away won't change the system..." 

In time, as in life, are these long days' journeys worth something to us? Do we need to see how others live far away on the other side of the world to appreciate our own existences? Do we find ourselves home only from far away?

Heading east to go west, and into night...

Stephan Pastis riddle: What goes around the world and stays in a corner? A stamp.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Where we stayed in Oz

The bed and breakfast cottage on Vulture Street in Brisbane sits in an old residential area. The house is about 100 years old. The wooden stilts raise it high enough to fit future rooms on a ground floor. The entire structure is wood with galvanised roof, and ceilings at least 12 feet high. Angled galvanised awnings hang over the high sash windows. The front staircase leads to a shady porch from which french doors open into a large room. Through the formal front door you enter a central hallway which runs the length of the house. Efficient guest bathrooms are modern additions. At the back of the house, the kitchen opens to the dining room and a partially shaded back porch.
Entry to Vulture Street B&B

Wooden dining deck at the back

B&B dining room with kitchen 

This Australian cottage is surprisingly similar to the Ajoupa Pottery house that was recently added to the list of Trinidad and Tobago heritage houses. Home to Rory and Bunty O'Connor, the Ajoupa house was built about 140 years ago. It was constructed entirely in wood under a galvanised roof. The ground floor was enclosed during the O'Connor's tenure. At the end of 2011, Ajoupa was certified and registered as a small house of significance to Trinidad and Tobago's natural and architectural heritage.

The "beach house" outside Noosa is a complex of 30 efficiency (self-contained with full kitchen facilities) apartments surrounded by tropical gardens that might be anywhere in Trinidad or Tobago or Florida. Across the road, a walkway leads to the middle of Sunrise Beach which runs into Sunshine Beach at the base of the outcrop that comprises the Noosa Heads national park. The Sunshine Coast includes other fine bathing, surfing or rocky beaches that wrap around the district called Noosa - thought to have derived from aboriginal words meaning shady.
Pool and tennis courts at Beach Breakers, Noosa

Tropical gardens

Walkway to the beach shaded by tropical pines

For the more sophisticated vacation, Brisbane's many attractions include the cultural centre (performing arts centre, museum, library and modern art galleries) and the Southbank run of parks, piazza, running and cycling paths. With limited real estate, the only way is up, and Brisbane's centre is a shining city of very tall buildings and interlocking roads, bypasses, bridges and malls. In the middle, the botanic gardens on a bend in the river is an oasis. Plant beds bordering the Southbank are now bearing seasonings  - basil, mint,  rosemary and peppers - that were put in since the 2011 flood. The Mayor has declared the intention to make Brisbane a garden city through private and public effort, and with sustainable gardens.

Art feature in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens

Shining towers of Brisbane city framed by the botanic gardens
A convenient self-service apartment in the heart of Brisbane 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Kookie kookaburra

Crows (ravens?) followed us all around Santa Monica.
Their raucous “caw caw caw” was a continuous conversation carried on overhead. Imagine our surprise to hear crows calls in Brisbane, just out of sight.
Crow caught in mid flight

One of the first birds to greet us in the Brisbane mall was the ibis. Some of these birds have migrated from the marshlands to the streets of Brisbane to forage for food, mainly scraps from visitors who haven’t yet read the cautions about feeding the birds and affecting their ability to survive in the wild. Well, the streets are so much richer for birds willing to brave the throngs of people.
Kookie as we named him snatched at our bread

On our trek to JC Slaughter Falls in the Mt Coot-tha Park, we paused for lunch in the deserted picnic park. Before we unpacked sandwiches, the park residents joined us, jostling each other for prime perches from which to eye our bread. From an overhead branch, the kookaburra (Australian national bird with the most ridiculous rising laugh) swooped down. His beak is large and hard, but he didn’t get away with more than a piece of the bread. The wild turkeys got crumbs.

Ibis in the mall

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree!

Wild turkey foraging for crumbs

Waiting for the Koala to wake

These bundles of cuddly fur were asleep all over the Lone Pine Kaola Sanctuary. If one did awake, it was to move ever so slowly for a eucalyptus leaf or to grab another sleeper.

Koalas sleep 20 hours a day we were told. What do they do in the other four?

The fund-raising tourist attraction is to have your photo taken while you cuddle a koala. You could also opt for a photo-less cuddle. We decided we just wanted the cuddle, without the photo. Each cuddler was instructed to hold the hands in a particular position, fingers intertwined to form a cradle at belly level. So we wouldn’t exactly snuggle the cute creature at neck and cheek. We also noted the long slothlike claws on the koala.

The line snaked around the enclosure where the cuddle-trained koalas were kept. One hundred and thirty koalas live in this sanctuary as well as kangaroos, a platypus, cassowary, twenty or so snakes, eagles, wombats and a golden haired possum that stretched two metres with tail extended. There’s a “retirement home” for the older koalas.
If he can sleep anywhere... 
About five from the front, we heard the trainer announce that she had to change the koala. A greeny yellow ooze was spreading along the arm under the koala which was curling down for a nap.

Well, we had time to consider, was this pc – koalas working for their keep? Were we willing to risk a cuddle for a poo? We left the line, content to be clean and carry away lots of our own photos. Look at them carefully – sure you can see similarities with other sleepers you know.

On another day, we walked under eucalyptus trees in the Noosa National Park. We were fortunate to see a koala high up over the path. That night on the news, park officers and residents lamented the loss of koalas in the wild. We are told that only three koalas still live in Noosa; and count ourselves lucky to have seen one of these.

One more thing to remember about the koala - it cares for its young in a pouch. It is a marsupial. It feeds exclusively on eucalyptus leaves - but even with the abundance of eucalyptus trees around, the dwindling numbers suggest that something else is missing. The name koala - "no water" - is supposed to refer to the fact that these animals do not seem to need water beyond what they get from the leaves.



... he must be a koala!

Just leave me alone nuh! And remember, I am not a bear - just koala.

On the beach

Neville Shute wrote a book in 1957 about the war to end all war. As radiation in the northern hemisphere was carried around the world on wind and wave, the last survivors arrived on a southern beach in Australia to wait for the end.  “On the Beach” took its name from a line in the poem by T. S. Eliot (The Hollow Men): “Gathered on this beach of the tumid river." Some editions of Shute’s novel now include these lines of the poem:
“This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”
So this was one of my earliest imaginings of Australia – a long and lovely beach waiting to decide how to die. This is the Pacific coast. This is the edge of the water world.

Sunrise Beach faces east on the eastern shore of Australia, north of Brisbane, near a seaside town called Noosa. It is part of the Sunshine Coast. The waves roll in to the long shore, criss-crossing each other as they tumble towards the dunes. The near-shore is shallow with pools created by the sand shifting from one tide to the next. From sunrise and throughout the day - but especially as the sun goes down - surfers, sunbathers, dog-walkers, strollers and especially children go down to the beach.

It’s a long beach, with fierce breaking waves at times; almost calm at others. The son went surfing on a rented board. So different from surfing the Caribbean he reported. A woman drifted on a riptide in water that you can stand in; other bathers guided her out of the current. When the weather changed, the sea turned cold and grey. But for the most part, it remained green-blue, constant in its rolling in and running out.

Walking the long beach

Sunrise surfer

River riding

Queenslanders are a resilient people. As I write, some 2000+ residents of St George a tiny town quite far from the coast have been evacuated, waiting for floodwaters to peak at 15 metres.

This Sunday in early February, the river in Brisbane is placid as a lake. Its green-brown water is salty with the sea tide. Upriver, it grows brackish. Natural growths of mangrove intersperse the ritzy riverside residences. These are now protected to secure the stability of the riverbank. A colony of fruit bats, known as flying foxes, hangs off some of these mangrove trees, looking in the noon light like heavy black fruit - then one drops and flies off mid tumble.

Under this clear blue sky it’s hard to imagine a flood coming a day away. But that’s what the people in St George are waiting for, waters running off higher ground, running together over a large floodplain.
Cruises on the river

Award-winning architecture 1990-something

A traditional Queenslander mansion


Brisbane library

To people who live on the river in Brisbane the memory of flooding is as recent as one year ago. Early in January 2011, the rising river dislodged some 500 pontoons (mooring jetties). But riverside homes and gardens have already recovered. In the Botanic Gardens, the high water mark of the 1873 flood landed ocean-going steamers on the flower beds - a few weeks later, a typhoon made it possible to float them back into the river.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Southbank in Brisbane

The Southbank in Brisbane is a two kilometre run from the Gallery of Modern Art to the Kangaroo Cliffs. We entered at Victoria Bridge and went past the Performing Arts centre. An arbor of bougainvillea trained on steel girders led us - like the yellow brick road - along a man-made beach and play pools, through the main piazza with eateries and souvenir shops, past the Maritime museum and the Memorial to soldiers fallen in WWI and WWII, to the Kangaroo Cliffs.
Follow the arbor along Southbank for 1.2 km

Girders assume organic shapes under vining bougainvillea

The Southbank pathway

Paths diverged and returned to the bougainvillea walkway through rainforest, a formal garden with a statue of Confucius, a peace pavilion - handcarved by Nepalese artists for the 1988 Brisbane expo and acquired by the Queensland government to be kept as a meditation centre - and places to sit and watch the river. One has the impression that people who live in this city enjoy being outdoors and active. We were frequently passed by cyclists and joggers and bands of school kids prodded by their coaches in gym training. It is summer in the south but schools are still in session.
Nepalese Peace Pavilion

Play dates for young mothers at the water park and man-made beach

At Kangaroo Cliff, the vertical rock walls - just about 25 metres high - challenge mountain climbers. We watched one young man reach three metres from the top on several attempts before dropping back to the ground.

Anchor at the Marine Museum

Propeller at the Marine Museum

The river itself is a lively scene, with inlets serving as marinas for yachts, and water taxis crossing under the spans of highway bridges.
See if you can spot the climber at Kangaroo Cliff

Looking at the climbers at Kangaroo Cliff

"Pelicans" mounted on an old structure

There's public art everywhere too - giant olympic pieces, two bio-mechanical pelicans, bits and pieces in odd corners. The Queensland Museum features impressive natural history exhibits on sea turtles, and native birds and butterflies. The history of the area tells of the Torres Straits islanders who settled in areas of Queensland. And of course, there's information about shark sightings on the Great Barrier Reef which parallels most of the Queensland coast.

Last stop on our Southbank tour is the Museum of Modern Art where Yayoi Kusama, the Japanese artist who has painted polka dots on tree trunks. Kusama's exhibit in Queensland includes installations in several rooms. A videotape of the artist reciting (in Japanese with English subtitles) her song of the suicide is reflected in parallel mirrors. A more optimistic experience is the room of dots where visitors are invited to add new dots to remaining white space, mainly the ceiling now!
Yayoi Kusama's "white room" with dots applied by visitors

One very poignant piece in this museum is the photographic journal of a young Chinese-Australian artist memorialising his mother. He recounts a Chinese (in the diaspora) experience, and some universal truths about child-mother relationships.

Lots of places to sit along the south bank in Brisbane!