QUELLE horreur! The first shock of my day comes when I realise I am on a flight to Cairns, not Cannes, as I had originally hoped. But I am quick to recover from this minor detail, Tropical North Queensland being, after all, one of my favourite destinations on the planet with frankly far better beaches than in France.
It does, however, take me the entire 2.5 hour flight from Brisbane to come to grips with the fact that somewhere along the line, someone at Qantas appears to have made the incredulous decision to cancel its inflight love-song dedication channel “From the Heart”. Now many people wouldn’t understand but over the years it has formed the highlight of my Qantas flights, the channel to which sad singles like me have long aspired to hear our names.
Oh yes, I’ve spent the best part of the past decade bouncing around this big brown land with the flying kangaroo hearing Peter dedicate something schmoopy to Pam, all the while fantasising that one day that girl would be me. I do note, however, that Qantas does now offer in-seat messaging and I surreptitiously turn mine on to see if anyone is interested in communicating with the girl in 11C. They aren’t. To entertain myself, I spend the rest of the flight staring at the inner thigh of the 30-something man in shorts sitting two seats over.
I’m in Cairns for business, but it never feels like work when you’re in the tropics, what with World Heritage Listed Rainforest to my left and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to my right (which frankly beats the usual clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right), as I drive north. I’ve hired a car for my brief visit and even the bloke at Europcar is so jovial when I tell him my plans that he suggests we both keep driving and head across the Nullabor, on some kind of bizarre Thelma and Louise meets Wolf Creek scenario. I reject his invitation, as lovely as that sounds, and drive along the Coral Sea, quite happily alone.
I am headed for Thala Beach Nature Reserve 15 minutes south of Port Douglas, but first I stop in Port for a pie. It’s not any pie I’m after, but a crocodile pie from Mocka’s Pies. Yes, plonk me in cane and croc country and all of a sudden I turn into Bear Grylls picturing myself all woman versus wild as I hand over my $5.80, and imagine tackling this beasty boy with my bare hands. I ask the woman with a soupy Greek accent behind the counter where the croc has come from and become excited when I think she says “the bush”. “The bush!” I squeal back. “No, the butcher,” she replies, deadpan. But it takes more than that to deflate me and fully sated I head on to Thala. Me: 1; Croc: 0.
Now, at this point, I should mention it has occurred to me that the very next day I am going to be sea kayaking in croc territory, and I wonder how long it takes for a croc pie to pass through one’s system and for no trace, no scent of this sucker to remain. I can just imagine a float of angry crocodiles splashing around my sea kayak, stalking me to the death. But when I arrive at Thala I discover my tour has been cancelled due to high winds. Me: 2; Croc 0.
I soon discover there’s plenty of other wildlife at this eco-tourism establishment to admire as I embark on a nature tour with the head gardener. One of the highlights of a nature tour is you learn about all of God’s creatures on the property. One of the lowlights is that you now know too much and I soon replace my ridiculous fear of crocs with an ill-founded worry about other things that go bump in the night. Me: 2; Other Critters: 1; Croc: 0.
But I have nothing to worry about, not even the giant carpet python I hear of lurking five doors down outside Cabin 42. For I am in the tropics, and while there is plenty of wildlife, there’s not much that is going to kill you and I’ve got more chance of dying of boredom back in Brisbane on a bad day than anything here. Me: 3; Other Critters: 1; Croc: 0.
In fact, the nature tour turns out to be the highlight of my stay, and I spend almost three hours with Head Gardener Brett Kelly as he takes me around this 58ha property pointing out spiders, butterflies, birds and plants. We end the tour at Oak Beach where Brett combines an element of one of the many other tours, the Coconut Odyssey, and husks a coconut for me to drink. Now, it’s not often a man husks a coconut just a basic spike and his bare hands and I find myself off in fantasy land again, this time picturing the man of my dreams, clad only in loin cloth, presenting me with a husked coconut. If there’s anything to get a city woman’s loins racing it’s the thought of a fella going all primal. I think Brett senses something is amiss and we end the tour shortly after the coconut husking. Me: 4; Other Critters: 1; Manly Men: 1; Croc: 0.
I head back down to the beach and sit at Herbie’s Shack, where I have ordered a picnic basket ploughman’s lunch and ice-cold beer. Fully sated, I crawl into a hammock slung between two coconut trees and listen to the waves. I can’t see him, but I just know there’s a croc out there somewhere. Waiting and watching. Me: 5: Other Critters: 1; Manly Men: 1; Croc: 1.
The Global Goddess stayed as a guest of Thala Beach Nature Reserve. To book your own stay, go to http://www.thalabeach.com.au
HERE is my confession. I have never been to an ANZAC Day dawn service. I have been to numerous war sites around the world, I’ve played two-up with Diggers in my local RSL on ANZAC Day, and watched them march on the streets of Brisbane, but I have never risen before the sun to listen to the hauntingly beautiful Last Post, which honours our soldiers who have died in global conflicts.
As a young backpacker, I followed in the footsteps of my peers and made the trek to Gallipoli to see where so many Aussie lives were lost on that impossible stretch of beach. I have stood in the trenches where they bled out and died. I remember the undeserved awe in which the Turkish regarded my pilgrimage, so astounded were they that so many young Australians would cross the oceans to honour their dead. I’ve visited the Egyptian pyramids from where the Aussies did some of their training in preparation for Turkey.
I have knelt in the gas chambers of Dachau in Germany and Auschwitz in Poland and wept at the futility of war itself. I have scanned the piles of suitcases, teeth, hair combs, reading glasses and shoes, and tried to imagine how those captured by the Nazis endured their fate. Tried to fathom the stroke of dumb luck that makes one person survive a war and another perish. I have sauntered through Switzerland and marvelled at how a country so tiny, and in the midst of all the combating countries, could remain neutral.
In London, I have stayed in the Savoy which miraculously only sustained minor damage during the bombings of World War Two, retained its stiff upper lip and kept trading, and from where Winston Churchill regularly took his Cabinet to lunch. It is believed Churchill made some of his most important decisions regarding the war from the Savoy, whose air-raid shelters were considered some of London’s toughest. And like so many Aussies, I have stood in the London Underground and tried to imagine its role as an air-raid shelter.
I have sat on the shores of Pearl Harbour and imagined the Japanese fighter planes overhead. On the other side of Oahu, I have seen the beaches from where local Hawaiian kids fled when they saw the jets overhead, before racing inside and crowding with frightened family members around a simple transistor radio to try to understand what was happening to their peaceful paradise.
In south-east Asia, I have witnessed the effects of war and the cruel regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia in the torture chambers of Phnom Penh and on the streets littered with the limbless in Siem Reap. I have visited the many war museums of Saigon in Vietnam and crawled through part of the Cu Chi Tunnels before becoming overcome with claustrophobia. In Thailand, I have visited the River Kwai many times, and walked along the railway sleepers, the construction of which claimed the lives of so many Australian soldiers. I have paused on the site of Singapore’s Changi Prison and attempted to feel what it must have been like to survive the heartless humidity and the chaos of capture.
As recently as last month, I was up in Papua New Guinea where I learned that it was actually in Rabaul that the first Australian soldier lost their life in any global conflict back in 1914. There’s war history galore there and I walked into in one of the tunnels which the Japanese forced the Aussies, along with other Allied soldiers, to build so that the enemy could store their food, weapons and themselves during air raids. I visited the Bitapaka War Cemetery, funded by AusAID, which pays homage to thousands of soldiers, many of them Australians. There’s even a remaining tree there from which the Germans are said to have climbed to shoot at the Aussies during World War One.
Thanks to the ANZACS, I’ve been granted the freedom to travel the world and to experience their stories. Because of them, I live in a free and beautiful country. On this ANZAC Day, and not just because it’s the 100th anniversary since the ANZACS tried to steal Gallipoli but because it’s high time, I intend to set my clock, rise before the kookaburras, and tip my hat in their honour and of all of those who have perished in war. Lest We Forget.
THERE were men with mops, half a dozen flaming hot firemen, a flirtatious French Canadian and even a couple of monkey masks. No, I am not talking about my latest sexual fantasy, but my “behind the seams” tour of the newest Cirque du Soleil show which opened in Brisbane on Friday night. Presented with the opportunity to witness what it takes to pull together a performance such as Totem, I leapt at the chance after all, I am a woman and a journalist, which makes me the nosiest person on the planet. And I was not disappointed with my detective work.
I arrived early, at the wrong gate, but that was just fine, as I stumbled across a couple of men with mops where it occurred to me for the first time in my circus-going history that not only could men use mops, but even the tents need to be washed. This was confirmed when I finally made it to the correct gate and saw another cleaner, abseiling down the side of the Grand Chapiteau like a Cirque du Soleil performer himself, with a hose. And I thought only elephants got washed at circuses. (Note: there are no elephants at this circus). There are also, thankfully, few clowns, as The Global Goddess has a clown phobia. I don’t like seeing them at the circus and I certainly don’t like dating them.
Fortunately, I’m met by handsome French Canadian Publicist Francis Jalbert with whom I am to spend the next hour sneaking and peeking around the tents. Unfortunately there are half a dozen other journalists also on this tour, but for this one hour I pretend it’s just me and Francis with his ooh-la-la accent, as he explains the production behind the production.
It takes 85 giant containers to move the show from one city to another, with Brisbane being the 30th destination for Totem, which has been on the road for an incredible 15 years. But there are plenty of techniques to ensure the show, and the performers, don’t go stale. The show is recorded each and every evening and watched by the performers, who hail from 16 different countries, in a bid to perfect and correct any moves. In addition 250 locals are hired to assist in the set up for a show like Totem, which takes three years in the making – two simply to bring the ideas together and the last in which the artists are trained in their acts.
“We try to keep the show young and fresh for us and also for the audience,” Francis says.
“There is a lot of technique involved even though it is a tent. We have a grey set video screen at the centre to emulate effects such as water. It is like you are travelling with us for 2.5 hours.
“It is a live performance and anything can happen, especially with a show like this. Most of the performers will tell you they like to make mistakes as it is challenge as to how they recover from it. And the audience loves that too.”
Francis tells me (I’m pretty sure he’s looking at me) that the artists are all international athletes, many with gymnastics careers, who are selected only after their competitive career is finished. “We really have to know that it’s over for them and they don’t dream about the Olympics any more,” he says.
“When you come to Cirque you have to learn how to compete in a team with gymnasts you’ve competed against before. You have to re-learn all your skills.”
In Totem, which traces the journey of the human species from its amphibian origins to flight, there are 750 costumes. The make-up of the performers takes anything from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours to complete. And in a coup for the Queensland capital, the costumes for this show have been designed by Brisbane-born Kym Barrett. It’s almost impossible to believe Cirque du Soleil has grown from 20 street performers in Quebec back in 1984 to a company of 4000 employees worldwide.
So, now that I’ve given you the low down on what happens back stage, what can you expect when the lights go up in the Big Top? I’ve been fortunate to see a number of Cirque du Soleil shows around the world, and this is one of the best yet. The first half is the most captivating in my opinion with the 45 acrobats, actors, musicians and singers, taking you on a journey of creativity and colour through ancient civilisations. Sure, there are moments when you realise you’ve seen a particular acrobatic move before in another Cirque show, but that’s when you have to remind yourself that what these performers are doing with their bodies is truly incredible. There’s plenty of heart and humour in these performances, which will have you cartwheeling through the rest of your week, and dreaming of life under the Grand Chapiteau. With a French Canadian, a few men with mops, half a dozen firemen and a couple of monkey masks.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Cirque du Soleil. For a complete performance schedule and ticket information go to http://www.ciquedusoleil.com/totem
LIKE so many of my travel tales, the adventure tends to begin before I even enter the country in which I am attempting to visit, in this case, at Nadi International Airport. It’s a Good Friday in every sense of the word when my sister and me land in Fiji, having made last-minute plans to savour a splice of this Pacific paradise. And we are in grand spirits, fuelled by the thought of hot weather, hot men, snorkelling, swimming and sunshine.
We are greeted at the Fijian Immigration counter by Fijian Indian Tish, who seems somewhat aroused at the concept that not only are we sisters, but we are travelling without our (non-existent) husbands. So excited is Tish, that he suggests we meet later at Nadi’s “Ice Bar” and even goes as far as to suggest he gives us his phone number, along with our stamp to enter his country. As tempting as Tish is, we eschew his invitation and head out to our waiting car, where we meet fellow Fijian Indian Pannu. Now, Pannu is the kind of man you want when you’re running late for the airport to catch your flight out, or potentially trying to outrun the police in a high-speed chase. For Pannu is one of life’s highways great travellers who can drive at ferocious speeds while answering any number of calls on his mobile phone. In a bid to calm my nerves I ask Pannu whether he can tune the radio into some Fijian music. He fiddles with the knobs before he settles on Olivia Newton-John. Pannu, it appears, is hopelessly devoted – to adrenalin – as he tailgates yet another car which has a bumper sticker declaring “Crazy Boy…Only 4 U…Not 4 All”.
We’re staying at the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, perched on a luscious lagoon along the Coral Coast. Regular readers will remember I was here a few years back on a work trip, and it’s the kind of place to which you vow to return some day with someone you love. While my search for the love of my life continues, my sister makes a very good substitute, such are our shared interests of good wine, fabulous food, water sports and delicious black men. And this is the perfect place in which to experience all four. Last time I was at the resort, it was still building its new Adult’s Only pool, but this time it was completed it all its child-free glory. Even the pool’s name Vahavu, which means to “chill out and relax”, sets the scene for long, languid days without having to listening to the dulcet tones of Marco/Polo being shouted across the sunscreen. And it is Fiji’s only Adult’s Only pool with swim-up pool bar, something which is not lost on the women in my family who have been known to enjoy a cold beverage.
On the first night, there’s a sharp knock on the door of our room and what turns out to be our private butler for the duration of our stay appears with two champagnes and canapés, a quaint custom which is repeated nightly at 6pm. At first we panic and think Tish has managed to track us down from our immigration forms, sending us some sexy good times in the guise of our favourite tipple (did we put that on our forms?) but we realise this is just all part of the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort service, as too is the Adult’s Only breakfast at the Sundowner Restaurant, right on the beach and the Adult’s Only five-star Ivi Restaurant.
While it would be tempting to never leave the resort (and by never I mean not to return to Australia), it’s worthwhile taking advantage of some of the community programs with which the Outrigger is associated. While we don’t have time to participate in a construction project at the Conua School in the nearby Sigatoka Valley, we do attend Sunday Easter Mass at the nearby Malevu Village. The severely lapsed Catholics in both of us are beside ourselves with excitement as we amble along the beach to church, where we are greeted by the village like long-lost cousins. The sisters from another very white mister. We sit under a simple corrugated iron roof with mat floors – the original church across the road having been destroyed in a cyclone a few years back – and resist the urge to weep at the most silky voices on the planet. There’s two gifts with which every Fijian appears to have been born, voices which sound like honey and incredibly good looks. At one stage, the pastor asks whether any of the tourists would like to address the congregation and it takes everything in my power to resist leaping to my feet and asking the handsome men in the congregation to stand up if they are single and are looking for an Australian wife.
Back to the pool bar we trot, where the cocktail list reads like the kind of exotic novels Tish has been reading. There’s the Lost Bikini (apparently two have been mysteriously misplaced at this bar), Perfect Kiss, Passionate Bellini and Bush Man. My sister and me are pontificating perfect Fijian men, wondering out loud what it would be like to lick the coconut oil off their bare chests, when we are approached by a middle-aged white man. The kind of man who is used to everyone listening to his every word. Because he is middle aged and white. He interrupts our sexual fantasies to regale us with unsolicited stories of his past glories and then, incredulously announces “That’s the funny thing about black men, they think every white woman wants to sleep with them.” We stare at him, agog. And then I choose the only option available to me at this juncture of the conversation. I swim straight up to that pool bar and order me a Bush Man.
The Global Goddess flew and stayed in Fiji at her own expense. To book your own holiday at the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort go to http://www.outrigger.com