Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Bumper mid-year edition

It's been a busy week-and-a-bit. So I'll get straight into it...

As the end of our time in Queensland drew nearer, we turned our attentions to the rainforest. After a twisty mountain drive, we arrived at Binna Burra (inland from the Gold Coast) only to be greeted by the sombre news another walker had died of a heart attack just minutes earlier. We took a different track, clambering downwards through the dense darkness of the forest.

What greeted us when we emerged into the light was a breath-taking scene. The valley behind us plunged suddenly downwards, the tops of the highest trees were shrouded in cloud and the silence of the panorama was immense. Looking out onto the ocean can both inspire and overwhelm, just as Australia's vast rainforest did at that moment.

Part of our last day in Brisbane was spent at Walkabout Creek in D'Aguilar National Park. There was a wedding in progress and someone remarked "it would be like getting married in a badger sanctuary". This little quoll is native to south-east Queensland.

There was loads of weird stuff in there: two birds that looked like owls but weren't, an ugly fish that spent the whole time treading water, a miniature frog that squished itself flat against the glass, pademelons (like tiny kangaroos) and a sleeping wombat with a head almost as big as its torso. This girl gave a really good talk on some of the animals including the python in the picture. She offered us the chance to touch it. Absolutely no way.

Rachel's cousin Sammy celebrated his birthday while we were in Brisbane. On the way home from the animal sanctuary we stopped at the Cheesecake Shop to buy him a cake. You could get a name iced on the cake for an extra $5. We asked the girl behind the counter how long it would take to ice 'happy birthday Sammy'. She said "about three days". We decided to make do with some candles.

The second State of Origin game was played after we arrived back in Albury. It was a classic, riddled with intriguing sub-plots and dramatic talking points. Sydney's ANZ Stadium cranked the atmosphere up to 11 and a narrow win for New South Wales leaves the series level ahead of the decider at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium on July 4. Can't wait.

Before Dad flew home from Melbourne, I drew up a tour of the city which started with a tram ride to the Docklands. On the quayside stood this odd sculpture, handily named 'Cow Up A Tree'. Dad read the accompanying plaque with interest, but my attention was caught by Etihad Stadium and the Channel 7 building over the road.

And here they are... You can just see the giant '7' peeking round the corner of our tram. It probably stood five metres tall.

I loved the trams. The 'City Circle' route was free and it took us to the beating heart of Melbourne's working day. Two things Melburnians love - seemingly above anything else - are coffee and football. We sampled the former at regular intervals. The latter was yet to come.

The view from the 88th floor of the Eureka Tower gave a great illustration of Melbourne at night. Trams have retained their place in the city's infrastructure because the initial design of the roads was so strong. Follow the trails of lights and you can see how the city is one great grid (offset against the central business district). If London's straggling sprawl represents the artistry of history, then Melbourne is the product of meticulous mathematics.

Day Two of dad's Victorian adventure brought us to Puffing Billy, an old steam train which runs between Belgrave and Gembrook in the Dandenong Mountain Ranges. Our companions were the incomparable Rob & Jan Bell, whose warm hospitality and wonderful local knowledge met their regular high standards. If life in Australia was measured by our time in their company, I would emigrate.

To get the full Puffing Billy experience, ride with your legs hanging out of the carriage. This photo doesn't actually prove Rob and I were doing this (we were) but glance down the train and you can see how it's done.

Obviously, I couldn't let Dad leave Australia without setting foot inside the MCG. The weather may have been grim but it didn't detract from the experience. Hawthorn eased to a handsome win over Brisbane Lions, with Lance 'Buddy' Franklin producing a few moments of magic on his way to a five-goal haul.

The sun did peek through at intervals. Sitting up in the top tier, we were largely protected from the driving rain in any case. Dad left with a greater knowledge of the AFL, a real feel for Melbourne's two great loves (coffee and football) - and a Hawthorn t-shirt. Good on ya, mate.

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