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The International Writers Magazine: Australia

A Drive to Brisbane
John Finch
We left on a typical cool, dismal Melbourne August day. The city and inner suburbs were closed in by drizzly low-lying grey Stratus clouds. We were happy to be in the warm comfortable car and heading north to escape the late Winter cold.


Lunch stop off the highway in Violet Town at Rapz Café. The street was shaded by the odd old gum and the parking was easy. I went out onto the main street and took some snaps of the old 19th Century pub and the typical streetscape – complete with Op Shop, Newsagent, Real Estate Agent, small Supermarket and Milk Bar – among the usual others.

We made it easily up to the border – over the piddling Murray – not the greatest river at the best of times – now reduced to a mud banked drain due to drought, dams and irrigation. The new highway bypass swept us through Wodonga and Albury alongside the long straight train tracks and the historic station - scene of many midnight train changes in the days before the ‘Southern Aurora’ and the ‘Spirit of Progress’ when there were different train line gauges between NSW and Victoria.

To the sounds of Jessie Norman and Paul Robeson the country changed to hills and valleys and impressive panoramas setting our thoughts to the early settlers and explorers and, of course, the dispossessed. Curves opening onto vistas spreading to impressive hill, pasture and tree-filled panoramas over and over again for the next few hundred kilometres. I could imagine the settlers seeing the area as the farming Eldorado it became – extensive, well-watered and panoramic. I surmised that the explorers – on sponsored goal-oriented or scientific expeditions – would have seen the area with less avaricious eyes and brutal eyes.

We had planned to spend the night in Canberra but decided it would be easier to find a motel in Yass. Drinks and dinner at the local Soldiers Club later we drove back to our motel through the quiet twilit main street of town. Margaret, being very susceptible to the cold, had turned her heater right up in her poorish room. I switched the television on for her, showed her the volume and channel buttons on the remote control, told her to call me if there was anything she needed and went to my room next door.

In the morning I took Margaret a cup of tea and went into town to take some photos. When I came back Margaret was bright and lively and ready to go. So we took straight off. We encountered some road-works entering Canberra, got diverted and got lost driving around the planned roundabout-filled town and around the base of Parliament House. We finally made it back to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in front of the old Parliament House for a morning coffee and some photos. Margaret has a photo of herself at a demo at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy when it was first set up in 1972. Back in the heady and progressive days of the Whitlam government when some Aboriginal land rights and free healthcare and tertiary education were achieved. As the sacred fire still smoked busloads of students and tourists arrived to tour the old Parliament House just opposite.

A sharp cold typically Canberra wind propelled us back into the warm car and we set off – map in hand – to the highway through the Great Dividing Range and down to the coast. Overshooting Braidwood we got back on track and drove slowly down the steep descents through the high eucalypt and fern-filled cool temperate forest to the beautiful coast below. Skirting pleasant and picturesque Bateman’s Bay playing Piaf we turned north onto the Princes Highway bound for Sydney - the glorious blue-grey Pacific Ocean on our right. Through long straights of thick eucalypt forest, up and down coastal hills and over grassy and sandy coastal pasturelands and plains we motored north.

After a short scenic drive around charming coastal Ulladulla we decided to investigate the hotel for a late lunch. A classic of 40s or 50s hotel architecture, the scene no doubt of many a lively, drunken, brawly, partying, romantic and mellow day and night through the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s, the hotel has settled into a tranquil and perfectly situated middle-age. Too quiet and sedate to serve late lunches. So we opted instead for a pie and a juice each which we had in the foreshore park. The sky was partly cloudy partly sunny, there was a cool breeze, the highway steadily hummed with purposeful traffic and the town went about in that pleasant busy manner of many small country and coastal towns.

We pushed on through Nowra beginning to feel the pace and intensity of the ever approaching big city of Sydney. We came to Port Kembla and were pretty much on an expressway roaring Sydney bound. Wollongong bypassed we climbed out of its coastal bowl location over the hills and into the southern suburbs of Sydney. At this time Margaret decided to drop in on her dear relation Jack Stewart in his hand-built family house in pleasant and modest Caringbah. We found Jack in a comparatively healthy and certainly happy retirement in front of the two heaters – it was an unusually cold winter all through the southern states – in his recliner chair. Margaret and him had a fond meeting, chat and reminisce and talked of the old days in Brisbane, their spouses, children and relatives, politics and all the things that relations who like each other talk of when they meet.

A cup of coffee, some cake and an offer of a bed for the night – politely declined – saw us back on the highway and on into Sydney city to the Bridge or Tunnel across the Harbour and north. Surrey Hills seemed like a good place to find a restaurant now that it was after 9pm and indeed we spotted a lively one on busy Cleveland Street. The inevitable parking search fruitless I dropped Margaret at the door and went further afield. Meeting her ten minutes later in the restaurant we had a tasty meal, a sweet desert and left – firm friends with management and staff. Back into the car and sucked into the Harbour tunnel we headed north again

It was now getting late – about 11pm – but we decided to press on up the freeway and to find a motel when one presented itself. The turn offs to Woy Woy and Gosford came and went and still no sign of a motel and the sign said Newcastle was still 68km away. So we turned back and took the dark and quiet road into Gosford. Four closed motels, a helpful petrol station attendant later and still no sign of an open motel. Cold, tired and despondent we belted along the freeway towards Newcastle again and finally made it in. The same story – all motels closed or full – so at last we had no choice but to try the Newcastle Formula 1 Motel. The credit-card check-in machine was malfunctioning but we rang the attendant who checked us into two rooms himself. Miserable, stinky unpleasant rooms we thankfully got to bed.

The morning saw us off fit and well despite the nights ordeal and the discomfort and hazard of the rooms  (the step up into the caravan-like bathroom and the lack of a rail in the shower was quite dangerous for Margaret) and the ex-Sydney/Newcastle freeway now transformed back into country highway. We got happily along until our breakfast stop at Bulahdelah.

North of Bulahdelah past the wonderful riverside country towns of Taree and Kempsey we entered into the Northern Rivers area of NSW and it was here that the weather toasty warmed and we left the cool and cold of the south behind. The grass was green and brown, the rivers broad, the sky and horizons expansive like the music we played, sub-tropical fruit stalls bobbed up on the side of the road, as we happily went along our way. The spirited and mercurial Margaret happy in the therapeutic warm donned sunglasses and a sun-hat and wondered why anyone ever wintered anywhere at all.

We motored past the Port Macquarie turn off at the Hastings River and through busy banana-adorned Coffs Harbour to the large country town of Grafton for the night. After unpacking we went into town to the old historic pub on the broad full-moon lit Clarence River for a drink and dinner. I went down to the serene river lively with plopping fish to capture a few photos of the light on the water, subsequently named Clarence Boogie Woogie.

Yamba Next morning heading happily north again we took a brief detour to the coast at Yamba sitting prettily and proto Port Douglas-like on the extensive estuary system of the Clarence River. The town beaches, extensive ocean beaches and the Caperberry Café on the main street opposite the Fisheries Coop Fish Market (specialising in prawns, oysters, flathead, blackfish and whiting fresh or freshly cooked) viewed and appreciated.

Back onto the main highway we headed north again and for the next few hours got involved in traffic due to roadworks. Surrounded by beautiful warm, fruitful, green country we past the well-known holiday resorts of Evans Heads, Byron Bay and Tweed Heads as we got onto the Gold Coast motorway that took us at expressway speed and style – behind the famous coastal beaches and strip – all the way to Nerang and our turn off to Corib. A friendly petrol stop and some directions later saw us heading up Mt Tambourine to the pleasant town of Canungra and to Corib the home of Margaret’s brother James our kind and generous host, and the base for our coming visits and frolics to Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
© john finch October 2010


Buford B., (ed.), The Best of Granta Travel, Granta, London, 1991

An anthology of travel writing including Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘Watching the Rain in Galicia’ discussed above. A good selection of destination specific, journey, personal, thematic, travel feature and other types of travel writing incorporating a wide range of styles and elements of style. Mostly from the 1980’s some seem quite dated in both psychological and cultural terms. Quite deficient in writing by non-Europeans and Americans.

Carey, John (ed.), The Faber Book of Reportage, Faber and Faber, London, 1987

A very interesting anthology of mostly European ‘Reportage’ from ancient to recent times including the travel piece discussed above ‘Crossing the Alps, November 1739’. ‘Reportage’ in this anthology includes travel, history, journalism, magazine, diary and letter pieces and excerpts. Well selected and edited its only deficiency is the lack of reportage by non-Europeans.

Craig P., (ed.) The Oxford Book of Travel Stories, OUP, Oxford, 1996

An anthology of travel writing including Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Questions of Travel’ discussed above. A good selection of destination specific, journey, personal, thematic, travel feature and other types of travel writing incorporating a wide range of styles and elements of style. Incorporating writing from a wider selection of periods than the Granta anthology this book also has quite a deficiency in writing by non-Europeans and Americans.

Hulme P. & Youngs T. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing, CUP, Cambridge, 2002

An excellent book describing the formation of the genre ‘travel writing’ articulating its definition, periods and styles. It also covers travel writings on particular places and regions considering their perspectives, emphases, styles, biases and the main themes discovered in these mostly European travel writings. The issues these raise and their interdisciplinary meanings are also examined. It is deficient, once again, in considering non-European travel writings, although this is conscious as Section One is solely concerned with the formation of the genre in writing in English.

Said, E., Orientalism, Penguin, London, 2003

This book articulates and analyses the formation of the network of institutions, imagery, discourses, scholarship and companies dealing with the ‘Orient’ from ‘Western’ perspectives and interests. Considered ground-breaking on publication it has been utilised in much subsequent social and political thinking, along with Foucault, to articulate and analyse other socio-economic formations and processes besides ‘ethnicity’ along gender, class, national, intellectual/imaginary lines. The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing is one example one of many such. Very pertinent for travel writers and readers.

Stein S., Stein on Writing, St Martin’s Press, New York, 1995

Mentioning and explaining such oft-neglected things as conflict, suspense, change through time and other ways of setting scenes, plotting and characterisation the chapters ‘Using the Techniques of Fiction to Enhance Nonfiction’ and ‘Conflict, Suspense and Tension in Nonfiction’ are useful articulations and explanations of these and other elements of style used by fiction writers that are useful for travel writers.

Swick T., ‘Roads not Taken’ in Columbia Journalism Review, Vol. 40 no. 1, May-June, 2001, pp65-67

Written by a newspaper travel section editor this article also encourages travel writers to use fiction writers’ techniques in their writings. Also briefly describing some tendencies and changes in newspaper travel writing sections this article introduces writers and students to broader ideas and themes that can be useful.

WEBSITES, HackWriters: The International Writer’s Magazine, 2010

A large website presenting an interesting and well organised collection of mostly amateur travel, lifestyle, political and social commentary, reviews and fiction writing. The large travel section has both individual travel writing pieces and thematic groups of travel writing such as the one considered here ‘Muses on Bella Italia’. The travel section is divided into geographic sections, and the writing comes from a wide range of places all over the world. The website also includes reviews of travel books and writing.

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