Probably I should clean my walking shoes. But the smudges of muck and salt from Lake Eyre remind me of the wondrous journey into the South Australian Outback, of unimaginable vastness and sights, and extremely friendly – if few – people encountered along the way. Besides, I knew that snow at home, Boston, would do the cleaning job.
BARCALDINE, Queensland, Australia – If you can’t get a beer in this outback hamlet, it’s only because you’re a barefoot grammar school kid, or, as Jay says, “You ain’t having a fair go, mate.”
Beer in the outback means survival, advises Jay, a Queensland native, as we endeavor to have a fair go at surviving – in the bar of (where else?) the Globe Hotel. continue reading »
ALICE SPRINGS, Australia – The movable dinner show was lively, starring unrehearsed native dancers doing the ageless, elemental ‘Roo Hop.
“It’s the original hip-hop,” applauds my friend and spectating tablemate, Aurelio. “Pre-dating civilization by eons.”
Only in Australia. As a splendid train called The Ghan sped through the Outback and into twilight, a chorus line of kangaroos pogoed alongside, presenting their routine for the passengers. We were in the dining car, and a steward, Brian May, delivered the entrees with a cheery, “A double helping of kangaroo. On your plate and outside the window.” continue reading »
CAIRNS, Queensland, Australia – Is that Hercule Poirot, the debonair detective, seated on the observation platform, mulling over clues and sipping booze – champagne, of course – as endless green waves of sugar cane are parted by the train’s engine?
“Should be drinking rum, my dear,” he mutters to his stunning companion, who resembles Agatha Christie. “Bundaberg Rum. Superb stuff. Made from this very cane. We’ll be passing through Bundaberg in a few minutes. Not much of a town, but the rum makes it famous.” continue reading »
THURSDAY ISLAND, Queensland, Australia – A sign over the doorway of a saloon called the Torres Hotel declares modestly: THIS IS THE TOP PUB IN AUSTRALIA.
“Because I’m here,” says the barmaid named Tammy, a fetching blonde. A man quaffing a beer at the bar, Bob Gilmour, shakes his head and laughs. “With all respect to Tammy, definitely an asset, it’s geographical. This island, that we call TI, is the topmost one that has a pub. There’s another pub on the island, but this one’s farther north.” continue reading »
CAPE YORK, Australia – End of the line. Out on a limb is the feeling, although you’re really out on a rock, amid a clutter of them that seem a lineup of toast in a breakfast table rack.
One more step – it wouldn’t be wise – and you’ve plopped off the continent and into a rowdy, swirling sea where two headlong-colliding adversaries – the Indian and Pacific oceans – trade curling punches, uppercuts, as each roars: “This strait isn’t big enough for both of us!” But they roll with the punches to keep Torres Strait roiling right here, the tip of Cape York, in Queensland. continue reading »
NOOSA HEADS, Queensland, Australia – One moment you’re sauntering along Hastings Street, peering into high-fashion shop windows littered with Italian-labeled throw-me-ons of insubstantial life expectancy but substantial price. Maybe you’ve had a swim in the South Pacific, near enough to sometimes flood Hastings, the town’s main artery. And followed that by brunch on the sidewalk at mellow Cafe Kokomo (“Just a name I liked. Nothing like Kokomo, Indiana,” says proprietor Andrew Powell.)
No, certainly nothing Indianan around here. Though condos, motels and homes spill down the low hills sliding toward the sea, they are unobtrusively veiled by tropic greenery (home also to wild goats), and there isn’t much room for Noosa to expand. Ordinary-sounding Hastings – well-known to Australians who get around, as Worth Avenue in Palm Beach is to Americans – can’t reach any longer or wider. continue reading »
POETRY, AS RECITED BY BANJO BLUNT; IN THIS OUTBACK WATERING HOLE, HE REELS OFF A LIVELY TALE OF A HUNTED HORSE THIEF
LONGREACH, Queensland, Australia – Stoplights do not exist in these parts, but Longreach is justly pleased with its traffic roundabout (rotary). “First one west of the Great Dividing Range, maybe a couple of hundred miles,” says Alan “Banjo” Blunt. “And don’t miss the sign that tells where the Tropic of Capricorn runs through town.”
It’s about the only thing that runs. Pace is slow in the Outback heat. If there is a rat race in Queensland, it’s 800 miles distant in Brisbane, the gleaming, modern capital on the northeast coast. But that doesn’t mean folks aren’t lively, and more welcoming than a waterhole in the neighboring Simpson Desert. continue reading »