“Out on the patio, we sit, and the humidity, we breathe. We watch the lightening, crack over cane fields, and laugh and think, this is Australia…” Gang Gajang
IT’S more rooftop terrace, than patio, the humidity has conceded to a ballsy bay breeze, there’s fireworks, rather than lightening, and the cane fields sit a bit further north. Australia Day, 2019, and I’m plonked on the rooftop of the sassy Sebel Margate overlooking Moreton Bay, perched on a bar stool, clutching a crisp Aussie white, and spinning a bit of bullshit with two mates. A cheeky breeze has whipped the white caps into a minor celebrity frenzy, while along the bay, Aussies have hoisted makeshift tents adorned with Southern Cross flags. One bloke has even settled in for a long day of drinking by dragging his tattered, brown leather loungeroom recliner chair, and planting it along the boardwalk. You’ve got to admire that sort of commitment.
I’m 45 minutes north-east of Brisbane, celebrating our January 26 national day in style, in this bayside suburb which harks back to a more serene Australia. One of seagulls, sand and simplicity. The prevailing hot northerly has blown in both blue bottles and bare bums, festooned with our controversial Union Jack/Southern Cross combo. Down on the street, there’s even a rare telephone booth. Out on the blustery bay itself, a fleet of sailing boats is leaning a bit too far to the right, reminding me a bit of Australia these days. Some days you just have to wait to tack.
From my lofty perch on the fourth floor, I spy a luxury cruise liner slowly stalking Moreton Island on the horizon. It’s the same bay which lured my great, great grandfather Christian to sail from Hamburg aboard the Susanne Godeffroy in 1863, in search of a better life. Five generations later, I still carry his surname, and in my wildest dreams, when I’m out in the world as a travel writer, I like to think I’ve also inherited some of his pluck. The Australia Day weekend is the unofficial marker for Aussies to seriously return to work and school, and soon enough, I too will be setting sail again in search of stories. But on this day, I’m content in my chair on the rooftop where a barbecue sizzles along with the conversation. How lucky are we to be born in Australia? Even better, in south-east Queensland, with beautiful bays and boutique hotels to boot?
The $15 million Sebel Brisbane Margate Beach, opened in May last year, is a lovely addition to this seaside scene. I am fortunate on this busy summer weekend to have secured a king-suite in this 58-room hotel, which eschews a beachy interior in favour of industrial chic with its exposed brick walls, brass, and cow hide leather couches. There’s even free retro bicycles for guests to borrow and cycle along the esplanade here. Dine at the Margate Beach House on the ground floor and you’ll experience the creativity of two-hatted chef Michael Harris, whose career launched at the flagship London hotel, the Dorchester. Overlook the bay and feast on local Queensland produce such as Smoked King Ora salmon and Fraser Island Crab cannelloni; Darling Downs Wagyu; and Mango and Passionfruit cheese cake.
Sated, plonk yourself by the rooftop pool and watch lazy bay days unfold. And that’s what this bay, and the Sebel Margate, is all about. This is no glamorous Gold Coast, nor is it the sizzling Sunshine Coast. Rather, this darling destination transports you back to an Australia you might remember, one of sandcastles and sun-kissed sleeps. Late at night I sit on my oceanfront balcony and look out at the Southern Cross sky. I don’t need these five stars tattooed on my skin, as they’re deeply etched in my soul. I had just forgotten, for a brief moment in my busy life, where to find them.
The Global Goddess stayed as a guest of The Sebel Brisbane Margate Beach. https://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-B2R3-the-sebel-brisbane-margate-beach-/index.shtml
IN the next week, in the lead up to Australia Day, debate will again rage like a summer bush fire over what it means to be Australian. This year I will be up in Bali (which some could argue is another state of Australia these days) and won’t be here to watch how the oi, oi, awful arguments unfold. But before I leave, I wanted to share a secret part of my Australia. The one that is multicultural, tolerant, colourful and compassionate.
About every six weeks, I head 20 minutes west of Brisbane to Inala, a low socio-economic suburb, which has become home to so many migrants. People just like my Great, Great Grandfather, who boarded boats on treacherous journeys simply seeking a better life. The population here is largely Vietnamese and I go there to buy the delicious Vietnamese coffee I first discovered in Saigon many years ago.
This coffee is not bitter, as the beans are roasted in butter. And every time I walk into the grocery store there, the young woman who shouts rapid-fire greetings in Vietnamese to her customers, turns to me and in the most Aussie of accents and says: “Have you found a bloke yet?”. We both laugh and shrug our shoulders and it’s as simple as that.
On my wanderings there, I also pick up a Vietnamese pork roll, simple and salacious on a white bun, topped with fresh coriander and where the shop owner smiles at me and asks every time: “You want chilli?”, seemingly trying to make sense of what I’m doing there. The men outside sip their Vietnamese coffee the traditional way, with sickly sweet condensed milk, while they play a mean game of mahjong, barely giving me a second glance.
Across the forecourt, Muslim women cradle their babies, gossip in their native tongue and smile shyly at me. I bump into a monk buying green Asian vegetables. There’s Sudanese people as dark as the blackest night. All big white smiles and colourful short-sleeved shirts. There’s not too many of us white fellas here. And certainly no tourists. Just people going about their every day business.
So when I’m there I like to pause. Look up at our big sky country, and thank the stars for my good fortune that I can call myself Australian. One day I hope all Australians can be a little like the Vietnamese coffee I so adore. Not bitter, just roasted in the buttery goodness of this land we call Down Under. That’s my secret Australia. What’s yours?
QUEENSLAND’S ICONIC REEF NO BARRIER TO GREAT SEX THIS YEAR
We’ve all heard of sex on the beach, but what about sex on the reef? Queensland’s scuba diving fraternity is poised for the raunchiest sex show on the planet as the Great Barrier Reef prepares for its annual coral spawning season. A combination of warm sea temperatures, plus a late November full moon, has scientists predicting this year’s November 22-24 spawn (or should that be porn?) spectacular will be the best in years. Two Cairns-based dive operators – Tusa Dive and Quicksilver’s Silverswitft – have packed special night diving tours specifically around this event. And if you miss that, on the Southern Great Barrier Reef at Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort, coral spawning is expected to occur between December 20 and 25. http://www.queenslandholidays.com.au
SUNSHINE COAST SET TO SIZZLE THIS SUMMER
As The Global Goddess prepares to head to Noosa this weekend (it’s all work, I swear it is), it seems timely to give you a snapshot of what you can expect on the Sunshine Coast this summer. Among a menu of tropical treats, you’ll find the Woodford Folk Festival (December 27 to January 1) about which I regularly wax lyrical; and the Ginger Flower & Food Festival (January 17 to 19) – The Global Goddess and ginger have been long-time friends when it comes to rough travel. But you’re really not Australian until you’ve attended the Australia Day Dunny Races at Ettamogah Pub on January 26. While The Global Goddess lost a considerable amount of money last Australia Day at Brisbane’s Story Bridge Hotel backing a racing cockroach she called The Global Goddess (we’re lovers, not fighters), perhaps she should consider a dunny race next time? And if I met a bloke there, imagine the toilet humour stories we could tell at our wedding. http://www.visitsunshinecoast.com.au
GIRLS LIKE TO GET DIRTY
No, I’m not talking about some kind of crazy Russian porn flick, but the Dirty Girls 4×4 Weekend on Brisbane’s Moreton Island. Following its super successful sellout first weekend this year, Global Jamboree has announced this event will be held once a month in 2014. Billed as the ideal girls’ getaway, you can spend your days 4WDing around stunning Moreton Island on its long beach tracks and beautiful bush trails, exploring its expansive national park, before returning to your luxury tent and the recently-opened Glampsites. Each tent here is furnished with a queen-size bed and private ensuite and veranda. The Global Goddess might just have to grab some of her girl gang and head over. http://www.globaljamboree.com.au
NOW YOU CAN SCOOT TO HONG KONG
Some of the best headline writers in the airline game, Scoot, is encouraging passengers on this Low Cost Carrier of the Year to “don’t be dim, save sum loot” and enjoy its new service to Hong Kong. The service, launched last week, is Scoot’s 12th city in 7 countries. Twenty years ago, when The Global Goddess was a cadet journalist in the Murdoch empire, she was sent to Hong Kong for four months to gain some valuable experience. It changed her world, from the sunny Gold Coast to the bright lights and big city of this vibrant Asian destination. You too can Scoot to Hong Kong with fares from Singapore – Scoot’s hub – starting at SGD$119, one-way, including taxes. There’s some great deals on flights out of Australia to Singapore to connect you with Scoot’s other destinations in the region. http://www.flyscoot.com
SUPPORT SASSY SURVIVORS
Those sassiest of sheilas, Gold Coast-based Sassy Survivors which supports young women with breast cancer, have published an awesome calendar for 2014. This colourful calendar, designed to show there can be a positive side to breast cancer, did so well in its first year it expected to sell 100 calendars and ended up selling 1200. The 2014 Sassy Survivors calendar is aimed at reminding people there is life after breast cancer. All money raised from calendar sales, which is just $15 plus postage, goes towards continuing to assist young women battling this disease. And, as the cover below shows, it’s fun, it’s flirty, it’s fabulous, just like this terrific organisation. And what a great Christmas present it will make! http://sassysurvivors.org/sassy-survivors-2014-calendar/
AUSTRALIA Day. Race 12. 4.45pm. And The Global Goddess is off and racing. Problem is, I can’t figure out which one she is, among the other critters on the field. I’m at my first cockroach races at Brisbane’s Story Bridge Hotel and have paid $10 to name and race a cockroach. But The Global Goddess doesn’t stand a chance against the tough boys like “Campbell’s a cock head” and “Keep your cock in your pants” and I never see her again. Just like the time I paid $60 for a lizard at the Eulo Lizard Races in the Outback. Oh, the frilly ran alright, straight out of the ring and into the Aussie desert, and like my $60, never to be seen again.
Australians love a wager and we’ll bet on anything. Some say it’s our ragged spirit, borne from living in the harshest country on earth. As I write this, a tornado rages around me. Last week it was the sickening stench of drought. I’ve spent this morning deciding in which room I might need to shelter later, and whether I need to do my hair and make-up in case a handsome emergency volunteer arrives to save me in the midst of the fury. And who said you can’t find someone while hiding under your bed?
But it’s exactly this rough and tumble of the land that I love. Whenever I’ve lived overseas, it’s the early-morning and late afternoon cackle of the kookaburra I miss the most. The punctuation mark on my day. Others hate the nagging crows. I adore them. They’re brusque and ballsy. I love how the summer rain tap dances on the hot tin roof of my timber cottage. The imperfect knots in the wood of my bare floor boards. I ache for the smell of the ocean when I’m stuck in a foreign city. Salt air you could eat sprinkled on a bucket of hot chips. Coconut sunscreen you could drink. Sticky mango fingers. Real waves that dump you, thrash you around and pick you up again. Just like this harsh land.
In her latest book Honestly, Notes on Life, novelist and columnist Nikki Gemmell writes of returning to Australia after living in England. “Life is about wringing the most happiness we can out of our time on Earth, and for me that means old mates and family and land and beauty – a spiky, prickly, ravishing Australian beauty, not that soft, benign, European one. Under a replenishing sun.” Her words make my soul do a somersault. Lost and lonely sometimes in foreign lands, I wonder if I’m the only weirdo who feels sentimental and soppy for the Southern Cross.
Knowing all this, who wouldn’t want to live here? And so this Australia Day long weekend I turn my thoughts, yet again, to boat people. I’m stunned when Australians who claim to love this country turn their backs on asylum seekers. Like they’ve forgotten how their own families arrived in the Great Southern Land. For me, it was five generations ago, via a perilous three-month boat journey from Europe. My adventurous Great, Great Grandfather Christian and his brave wife Amelia boarded the Susannah Godfrey in search of a new land and a better life for their family. I am direct descendent of a boat person. Who am I to deny any other family the same privilege of living in Australia?
And yet, somehow Aussies do. It’s what I call the ugly Australian. Devoid of compassion, insight and education. There’s a nasty rumour doing the rounds of Ipswich that the Sudanese refugee population receives $30,000 upon arrival in Australia. The ugly Australian is outraged. Frankly, if I had my way, they’d receive $100,000 to start a new life, away from the ravages of war, rape and the kind of hunger we will never imagine. Yet the ugly Australian resents these beautiful shiny black people who have suffered so much, they’ve relinquished their homeland.
So, enough. The time has come to accept we are global citizens and all the responsibilities that come with that privilege. Or before too long, Australia will not be our home of mirth by sea, but the laughing stock of the world.