The International Writers Magazine: On the Road in Australia
Richard Cooper in Brisbane
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 didn't 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 atfer 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. Everyday 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.
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
Then there were
the couples always debating over where to sit on the beach. As if it
matters. Its all sand. On the beach their 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
and walking like someone who had just pooed their pants 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. The apartments I was staying
in was situated in the 'Main Beach area'. The complex consisted of 192
luxury apartments selling for in excess of three quarters of a million
dollars, each. The luxury was fantastic compared to the mundane hostels.
The indoor swimming pool and jacuzzi, the quietly used first floor gym.
The outdoor tennis courts and expansive swimming pool. All these factors
contrived to show just how out of place I probably looked. The man on
reception was obviously proud of his responsibilities. As I stood next
to the ground floor lift with my large black bag in tow he came from
nowhere and enquired "Can I help you". I brushed him off quickly
but politely. This man had marked my card. What was a backpacker doing
in my apartments? Whilst walking the length of the pool underwater on
my hands he tried to strike again. "Err yeah mate, how are you
"Fine, just walking a few lengths" I replied.
"Errrr what apartment are you staying in" he questioned. "139"
I replied quick as a flash. "Ahhh yes Mr Pat Cash's apartment".
With the defeated look of Headmaster who had just accused of the pupil
of not doing his homework only to find his book on his desk he turned
around and walked off. I would have not liked to have blagged that one.
For some reason I guessed he knew the particulars of each and everyone
that stayed in the 192 apartments. He probably knew what they ate, what
time they came in from work and the arguments Betty and John were having
about the new off colour white walls in 112. I left with the comfort
that if I ever came across three quarters of a million dollars and indeed
purchased one of the marble apartments I would be in the safe hands
of this very observant man.
And so it was time to leave. I purchased another lottery ticket and
took my place on the Greyhound bus. One number came up this time. She
was a sleeper and I had got in at 5am that morning so I was in no mood
for a polite conversation. The other five numbers failed miserably.
I was surrounded my a high school type gang of adolescent teenage girls.
Their shrieking laughter penetrated my volume level 23 setting on my
MP3 player. They must have suffered from acute rheumatism bless them
as they felt the need to jump up every ten minutes and run down the
coach. The journey was only an hour and thirty so I could absorb this
feverish excitement without too much resentment. 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.
photos, stories and diary
Sydney to Byron
Rich Cooper takes the bus
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