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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Postcard from Sydney

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IT’S a sultry Sydney summer afternoon and I am ambling along Oxford Street. It’s been years since I’ve trotted around this part of town, one of Australia’s most well-known streets, which in two weeks will burst into bloom with its annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. But on this languid Thursday afternoon in which I have just a couple of hours to spare, all is quiet, rainbow flags and a few saucy signs the only hint of what’s to come. Past the National School of Art bathed in warm sunlight I walk, glancing at the glorious Catholic Church before the typical terrace homes and some sassy street art catches my eye. Here’s a snapshot of Sydney I took while wandering around late last week…
The cafes were cute…
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Rainbows were awaiting their pot of gold…
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The buildings basked in the warm sunshine…
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There were signs of summer everywhere…
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Those typical terrace homes…
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And some gorgeous graffiti art…
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The Global Goddess travelled to Sydney as a guest of Travmedia – http://www.travmedia.com and stayed at the Travelodge Sydney – http://www.TFEhotels.com – within easy walking distance of Oxford Street. The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras runs until March 6.

For more photos on all the destinations to which The Global Goddess travels, please follow me on Instragram @aglobalgoddess

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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The Resurrection of Christchurch

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THERE are seven men to every woman in Christchurch. A salacious fact onto which I clutched as tightly as my passport as I flew across the Tasman at the weekend. Six years ago, I saw my first ever fortune teller who emphatically predicted that not only would I meet a man who was either younger than me or young at heart, but I would meet him in New Zealand. At the time I was ecstatic, given I was flying to Queenstown that very weekend, convinced my luck was about to change. It was my first trip across the ditch and it was incredible, but all I managed to do was meet a male editor who, like me, was stuck all alone in a luxurious alpine lodge with a bunch of honeymooners. We overcame this awkward fact by pretending we were newlyweds who didn’t spend any time together except over dinner at night, which confused the smug, happy couples, and is a story about which we still laugh to this day.
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A year or so later I won another trip to Queenstown, a jaunty journey on which I invited my sister and about which I have previously blogged the perils that awaited us at our destination. We escaped white outs, igloos, icy mountains, a narcoleptic and a randy ram just by the skin of our teeth and with the assistance of copious amounts of whiskey. The only bloke I met on that trip was on the flight home and whom I wrongly accused of sitting in my seat, which made for some rather awkward hours back to Australia. I returned to New Zealand a year or two later, this time to attend a conference in Rotorua, where I vowed I could never marry a man who smelled strongly of sulphur.
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But last weekend I went back, lured by a girl’s weekend and the firm fact that there are now seven men to every woman in Christchurch, the odds surely on my side. I should explain this mathematical impossibility by letting you know that the reason there are so many men in town these days is that they are rebuilding this pretty city after the devastating earthquake of February 2011, in which 187 people were killed, 1000 buildings destroyed, and about more of which I will write later.
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As per usual, my story begins before I even board the plane when a 60-something man at Sydney International Airport leans him arm against my body, before jumping in surprise and exclaiming: “Oh, I’m sorry, you looked like a table.” Now, I know my universal sex appeal holds no bounds, but even for me, this was a new low. A piece of furniture? A table wearing a leopard-print scarf, clasping an orange handbag and drinking a glass of red wine? Things have leapt off to their usual sterling start.
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The clock is pointing glaringly past 1am when I arrive in Christchurch with my four new female friends and when we attempt to check in, the receptionist asks whether we are “here for the wedding?”. “Well, I am looking for a husband”, I reply, before scuttling away to my room. Half an hour later, there’s a knock on my door, and just as I’m mentally praising the hotel for their prompt delivery of the man of my dreams, I open the door to find the receptionist who has decided that since one of asked for a toothbrush kit, all of us must have forgotten our toothbrushes. I ponder this logic into the wee small hours of the morning.
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Breakfast is at C1 Espresso café with owner Sam Crofskey, 37, who not only lost his original café across the road in the quake, but his house as well. Sam was working in his high street café when the earthquake hit.
“I was a little bit confused. The coffee grinders fell off and landed on my legs and the power went off and then I could hardly stand,” he says.
“We needed to get rid of the customers, the staff and then ourselves. We had more than 100 people in the café at the time.
“Out on the street everyone was distraught and I thought everyone was over-reacting. I thought we’d come back tomorrow and clean everything up. It took a lot more for me to understand the city was actually gone. When you are here with no power or phone you have no idea what’s going on.
“I was like, my business if fucked, my house is fucked…that’s annoying.”
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Sam moved C1 across the road to the old post office – the first reinforced concrete building built in Christchurch – and reopened in November 2012.
These days, the café retains the old post office vault – now used for a coffee machine; sparkling water is poured from a dentist tap; a sliding bookcase leads to the toilet; and burgers are delivered to patrons via tubes which run from the kitchen to tables.
And on the rooftop there’s a vineyard and beehives with plans to build an eight-room boutique hotel here in the near future.
“We wanted to rebuild it as a legacy. There are lots of really cool things in Christchurch. We opened the doors and people flooded in. They really wanted to connect with the central city,” Sam says.
“Christchurch was a broken city before the earthquake full of old, white people. It had no young people. But now people are doing cool stuff and are proud to be here.
“The lights are on and people are home now. The old rules are gone.”
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It’s at this early point in my trip that the story I thought I would write about Christchurch starts to change. We head over to the CTV site where 115 people – the majority of victims – were killed in the earthquake. There’s nothing there now but a simple plaque, dedicated to the dead. In the background, there’s a colourful mural of a naked woman from the Calendar Girl’s Strip Club, one of the first buildings to reopen, and presumably going great guns with so many labourers from around the world in town.
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Across the road from the CTV site sits the Cardboard Cathedral, constructed from, among things, 96 gigantic cardboard tubes, as a gathering place for the devastated community. But one of the most touching sites in Christchurch sits just across from the cathedral – 187 white chairs to commemorate every person who died in the earthquake. Visitors are invited to spend time there, reflect and even sit on a chair with the simple words: “choose one that speaks to you.”
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In the badly affected Anglican Cathedral, locals say when the quake hit, a statue of the Virgin Mary spun around and faced towards Christchurch. Outside here, there’s a pile of “sorry stones” on which visitors have penned their condolences. Colourful Buddhist prayer flags flap in the breeze nearby.
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But there’s also hope among the rubble. In the aptly-named Re:START sector, businesses are blossoming out of shipping containers. New Zealand fashion designers are peddling their wares alongside cafes and craft stores. In New Regent Street entrepreneurs such as Rekindle are turning waste wood from demolished homes into edgy jewellery, art and furniture.
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Just out of town, other businesses, such as The Tannery Boutique Retail and Arts Emporium are finding previously hard-to-secure council approval for businesses is much easier these days, as the city rebuilds. There’s even a Ministry of Awesome in Christchurch these days, where some of the city’s creatives gather to discuss ways to recreate devastated areas.
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It’s a city of gap fillers and anchor projects. Colourful graffiti art adorns massive walls, impromptu gardens are planted everywhere and street installations are a delightful discovery around every corner. The town clock, which stopped at 12.50pm – the precise moment the earthquake hit – still stands in the town.
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As for the men, to be honest, I’m so enraptured by this city’s story of resilience and resurrection, I forget to look. The earth moved for me in Christchurch, just not in the way I expected.
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The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism. To book your own escape, go to http://www.christchurchnz.com
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