Is this Queensland city turning into a mini Melbourne?

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THE chill wind is slapping my face like a jilted lover and the crisp air is transforming my breath into dragon smoke. It’s a grey, old mid-winter day in Toowoomba, where the mercury is fumbling to reach double digits and failing miserably. In fact, if I combine the weather, graffiti art, and cacophony of cool coffee shops I might just be in Melbourne. But I’m not; I’m 90 minutes west of Brisbane, visiting the darling of the Darling Downs.
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I should be hating on this day. I despise bleak, cold days made even worse if you have to be out in the elements. But I am having a ball in spite of myself. I’m on foot, exploring Toowoomba’s street art scene, and every few metres am torn in a different direction as my eye catches a splash of colour down a hidden alley way. It is said that Rome is one of the best cities in the world to become lost. Toowoomba is another.
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This is a tale of art deco delights. Of a city brimming with hole-in-the wall coffee nooks, great cafes, ambitious chefs, organic food and an equally organic evolution. There’s still the odd haberdashery shop and ancient facades redolent of the Toowoomba of old, including at the Quest Apartments in which I am staying, and whose reception area is in a charming old church. It’s a very Toowoomba thing, to combine old with new and Quest offers six levels of modern, fully equipped serviced apartment accommodation right in the heart of this city. And what a beating heart this is.
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I meet First Coat Festival Director Grace Dewar in The Firefly café, a converted warehouse and art space. The third First Coast Festival has just been staged and there’s now more than 80 urban artworks within a 2km radius of Toowoomba’s CBD. Grace says graffiti art has strong links with Toowoomba, as this was where the coal trains rattled through the city, inspiring the tags of some of Queensland’s early graffiti vandals.
“Toowoomba has been well known for that. We are fostering that energy to provide a home for that culture,” Grace says.
“The whole street art culture is well documented with graffiti writers coming out of the 80s. It was that whole idea of putting your name of things and having that peer respect.
“The word graffiti has a lot of negative stigma. But we are sitting in a new place, we are in the thick of a movement.”

First Coat Festival Director Grace Dewar

First Coat Festival Director Grace Dewar


And the First Coat Festival is at the forefront of that change. During the event, the city transforms into an outdoor art gallery with works by overseas, national and local artists. Visitors can view artists live at work during the festival, and when it’s over can download an App (First Coat) or a self-guided map (www. firstcoat.com.au) and experience the city’s artwork bursting out of walls or hidden in secret lane ways. Grace believes unlike Melbourne, whose urban art grew around the Victorian capital, Toowoomba is actually evolving around its graffiti art.
“You don’t have to seek it out, you stumble upon it. It’s a really easy belief because it is coming from a real place. It is not a ‘wank fest’ which I really like. It is a public gallery that’s available 24/7,” she says.
“It’s that idea that people can experience a country town that offers so much culture, not just in public art but coffee culture and the restaurants and bars that are opening up. We’ve got a pretty great scene.
“It’s a different look community and a smaller version of Melbourne. It’s interesting that it’s referred to as a little slice of Melbourne or Melbourne’s little sister.”
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It’s lunchtime by the time I reach The Finch and meet owner Dan Farquahar. This modern Australian eatery, opened a year ago, is in a former bakery with restored pressed metal ceilings and exposed brick walls. A bench at the front is made from recycled wood from the Bundaberg Distillery.
“A lot of people come in and say ‘it’s very Melbourne’ but this is typical Toowoomba with the high ceilings and original floor and walls. It is quite beautiful, we’ve tried to keep the integrity of the building,” Dan says.
“Toowoomba has seen a few waves. For a long time from a food perspective Toowoomba has been a fast food town. But now people expect and are looking for better quality products and ingredients.
“I like to think we are serving good quality locally-sourced food with our own slant.”
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I pause for coffee at Ground Up Espresso, a laneway cafe consistently voted one of Toowoomba’s best, browse through Bunker Records & Espresso, and check out Toowoomba Regional Gallery before dinner at Kajoku Korean and Japanese Restaurant where I meet Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers Event Manager Mel Kite. Mel says even the festival, which started in 1949 and is Australia’s longest running, has evolved with the city.
The event now embraces “earth-art” projects and this year’s festival, to be held from September 16-25, will focus on bamboo and orchids. Celebrity chef Miguel Maestre will stage a paella kitchen and there’s a food and wine event within the festival.
“There will be several sustainable gardens and other things on trend. This year there will be a smoked barbecue pit and a barbecue competition,” Mel says.
“At night time we will have a concert series that showcases a lot of female artists who are dynamic and front row at the moment.
“It is a true celebration of spring and there is something for every age group.
We are constantly looking for ways to reinvigorate and create interesting things.”
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There’s a Jack the Ripper fog the next morning when I drive down the Great Dividing Range back to Brisbane. I monitor the mercury as it rises every few minutes, climbing from 12 degrees to 23 degrees by the time I’m back in the Queensland capital. But things are hotting up in Toowoomba, and Melbourne, well, watch this space.
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The Global Goddess travelled to Toowoomba as a guest of Southern Queensland Country Tourism. http://www.southernqueenslandcountry.com
• Check out First Coat Festival artworks at http://www.firstcoat.com.au; Quest Toowoomba at http://www.questapartments.com.au/Accommodation/478/Australia/Queensland_Regional/Quest_Toowoomba/Welcome.aspx
• The Finch at http://www.thefinch.com.au
• The Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers at http://tcof.com.au

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Naked Noosa

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BECAUSE there is nothing more on this planet that a lonely, single, travel writer with a rotten head cold loves more than listening to the couple in the room next door having crazy, monkey sex, I spend my first night in Noosa rummaging through my luggage for ear plugs and with the pillow over my head. The thing we love second best is not being able to locate the off switch for the room light (in this case, it’s in the kitchen which glows like a full moon), so I also grasp for my eye mask. Looking and feeling like Uncle Fester, I head to bed, strangely aroused and annoyed in equal measure, but resolve that tomorrow will be a better day.
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And it is. It’s mid winter in Noosa and I’m on a story researching her hidden secrets, or Naked Noosa if you will. It’s also 27 degrees and while the cold and flu tablets I have taken initially prevent my foggy head from finding the Noosa River along which I have happily driven for the past 20 years, I eventually locate this major waterway and my first appointment of the day. I’m on a stand-up paddle board/yoga lesson with Kelly Carthy from Luxe Fitness Escapes who leads me into the mangroves where I lay on the board, sun on my face, birds in my ear, and perform some basic yoga moves, mindful not to roll over and into the river, which is exactly the kind of thing I’d do. Kelly has just launched the business aimed at making fitness fun in some of Noosa’s secret spots.
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“As a trainer I’ve always used the outdoors to my advantage. I only train clients near water and places with a great view and it’s about how can I take their mind of it,” Kelly says.
“On the board or on the sand you are having to stabilise and are using all of your muscles and are more aware of what you are doing. I’m huge about empowering women to be in their own body and not be looking at someone else and to be more mindful about what they can do.
“I want them to feel strong and confident and I think there is lots of space to really empower women to feel strong in their bodies and focus on what they can do rather than how they look.”
Kelly tells me I have great core strength which I attribute to the fact I do yoga, and not all the crazy, monkey sex I’m not having, and I spend the rest of the day strutting around like I’m a super model.
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I spend the afternoon with award-winning barista Al Claridge from Clandestino Roasters along Hastings Street, learning how to make the perfect drop. Well, I think I’m here to make coffee, but as is so often the case in my job, it’s the person with whom I’m speaking that turns out to be the story. “Kiwi Al” was one of New Zealand’s top 10 surfers but, more interestingly, was involved in a car accident which left him a tetraplegic – unable to use his limbs or torso. Against all odds it took him more than two years to learn to walk again and these days he lives on the Sunshine Coast, happily surfing and making “ethical, sustainable and environmental” coffee.
“I don’t chase the big money, I chase the waves and lifestyle,” Al says.
“If we’ve got a skill we’re not sharing in life, well then that’s selfish. It’s about raising people’s awareness of being.
“A good barista is like a counselor. Life is 100 percent about choice. Now everything I do is done with the fullest and life is a beautiful thing.”
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The next day, I go in search of a bloke called Bear. I heard about Bear a few months back and was utterly fascinated by his name, picturing a large knife-wielding hippie who may or may not kill me. I’m totally unprepared for the 69-year-old who turns up in his 4WD and tells me to jump in his truck as we ride the Noosa Ferry to the Noosa North Shore. Bear, as it turns out, is a big teddy bear, who these days spends his time living with his wife Pam on their oceanfront land and searching for a good spot to fish. We explore this quiet side of Noosa and chat about life and love. I ask Bear the secret to his 48 year marriage.
“You need someone who likes the same things. She was a city girl and I brought her out of Brisbane and had to train her my way,” he says.
“You’ve got to deal with the problems as they come up and just be there for each other.
“I haven’t worked out women, I only had to train one. I don’t worry about the rest of them.”
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I return to Hastings Street, convinced I am the only person who has ever gone to Noosa and not had a drink, but spent their entire time in the chemist begging for more cold and flu drugs. At one stage, I’m speeding so much on Sudafed that I actually park my car over an entire resort driveway, thus blocking the ability for anyone to enter or exit the resort. But the show must go on and I spend the next few days on a walking tour of the secret side of Noosa National park (where I may or may not have been looking for the nudist beach), learning to sail the Noosa River, watching a Queensland Ballet Performance, talking about Eumundi Body Art and soaking up the sun. Yes, if you’re going to feel rotten, Noosa is the best antidote to any head cold. I drive back to Brisbane on late Sunday, the stories and characters swirling around in my head like latte art, grappling with how to sum up this naked side of Noosa. And, just when I want to give up, worried I can’t find a way to deliver justice to this divine destination, the words of Bear pop into my head: “When all else fails, just keep fishing.”
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The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Tourism Noosa – http://www.visitnoosa.com.au
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4 Seasons and 5 Great Reasons To Visit Melbourne

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MELBOURNE. Too cold in winter, too hot in summer. Right? Wrong. Don’t be fooled – despite its reputation for having Goldilocks weather I present to you 4 seasons (in one day) and 5 great reasons to visit the Victorian capital, any time of the year.
1.The Colours
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2.The Coffee
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3.The Multiculturalism
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4.The Signs
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5.The Faces
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The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Fraser Place Melbourne http://melbourne.frasershospitality.com and the Jasper Hotel Melbourne http://www.jasperhotel.com.au
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This is Australia

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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?
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