WE’RE driving through remote, quintessential Queensland country with place names like Hell’s Gate, tackling one of the roughest roads in Australia and the toughest Indigenous issues. There’s five-hours to kill on this journey from Cairns and we’re facing the huge stuff head on….murder, rape, domestic violence, drugs, alcohol, unemployment…picking at Australia’s scab. The conversation is scratchy, like the scrub in which we find ourselves, as we navigate that last, scarred stretch, along the Old Maytown to Laura Coach Road. Here, 10km takes an hour.
I’m on a Jarramali Rock Art Tour through Cape York Peninsula in north Queensland with Kuku-Yalanji man Johnny Murison, who is not afraid to answer the hard questions as we gallop along in our four-wheel drive. Should I even be hurling these curly questions or should we just stick to white fella polite conversation about his tour? We both already know the answer to this. Murison believes it’s a lack of cultural knowledge in some of Australia’s Indigenous communities plagued by strife that needs to be rectified.
“They’ve got to start taking these young kids camping and fishing. One of the big key things is loss of identity,” he says.
“You’ve got to validate kids’ feelings. Tell them if they step into the ring and they’re scared, that’s OK, until you find your momentum, and if he’s a bigger fighter than you, just keep fighting.”
And Murison should know. He’s just established his rock art tour near Laura, against opposition from all sorts of warriors including some of his own people.
“It’s like a bucketful of crabs, one of you escapes and everyone wants to put you back in that bucket,” he says.
It’s a whole new direction for Murison, who was a former Seventh Day Adventist Minister. Sit in a car long enough with someone and you sand away every dusty, rusty layer.
“I was sick of the crap and sick of the church. Some of these times were the best time of my life but I just had enough and wanted to do something different,” he says.
“I was visiting people and doing Bible studies and it was just demanding and I could work 80 hours a week. I’ve got a young family and you are away from your family a lot.
“If you care for people you put your heart and soul into it. But I’m taking into tourism these organisational skills and people skills. As a Minister, I’ve been public speaking for 20 years.
“Love, support and respect…that’s my brand.”
Once we cross Rifle Creek, a site of massacres and warfare, we’re in Yalanji country, the home of Murison’s ancestors.
Murison says he can feel the ancients, ‘it’s a sense of belonging and a link to the past’, but it’s when he enters camp is where he ‘gets the tingles’. It’s here that Murison has established “comfortable camping”, three tents in the bush, with a loo with a view and a shower too overlooking a deep escarpment. Late in the afternoon, when the heat slackens off, we walk down to the rock art site and Murison interprets the stories of his ancestors. There’s Quinkan spirits, an eel tail cat fish, a widowed woman, kangaroo, snake, echidna, yams, dingo, a fertility symbol emu clutch of eggs, and ancestral guardians and heroes.
“They lived here. If you listen carefully you can hear the singing. You’ve got powerful men and women living in this gallery, everyone was here, they just did life,” he says.
And these ancient storylines run deep into the modern day. Tales of self-determination. Of Tropical North Queensland’s Indigenous people turning to tourism. And excelling.
Mid-week and I’m at the Mossman Gorge Centre Dreamtime Walk meeting with Indigenous woman and General Manager Rachael Hodge. Hodge says the centre was a dream of the community who started original tours into the Gorge in 1986.
“At that time we had 500,000 people turning up in the Gorge and there were environmental concerns and also some safety issues. Construction began in 2010 and we opened in August 2012,” she says.
“The elders were talking about how we could make opportunities for jobs and a future for the kids. We now employ 90 staff, of which 82 per cent are Indigenous.
“We’ve also got retail and the art gallery featuring the works of more than 25 local Kuku-Yalanji artists and a range of products you won’t find anywhere else.
“This is the southern-most end of Daintree National Park. It’s all about the rainforest, the boulders, the icy-cold water…it’s very enticing.”
By the end of the week I’m in Kuranda Village, meeting with Aboriginal master weaver and Djabugay woman Rhonda Brim. Five days a week you’ll find Rhonda and a small group of women in the Kuranda Amphitheatre, weaving baskets from local grass, emu feathers and giddy, giddy seeds. Rhonda, who has been weaving for 35 years, learned the skill from her grandmother.
“The thing about our culture is when your teachers passes you can still feel them in your fingers,” she says.
“You are carrying on a long line of history”.
• Pacific Hotel Cairns http://www.pacifichotelcairns.com
• Peppers Beach Club Port Douglas http://www.peppers.com.au/beach-club/
• Silky Oaks Lodge Mossman http://www.silkyoakslodge.com
• Alamanda Palm Cove by Lancemore http://www.lancemore.com.au/alamanda
• Ochre Restaurant Cairns http://www.ochrerestaurant.com.au
• Harrisons Port Douglas http://www.harrisonsrestaurant.com.au
• Nu Nu Restaurant Palm Cove http://www.nunu.com.au
• Frogs Restaurant Kuranda http://www.frogsrestaurant.com.au
• Jarramali Rock Art Tours http://www.jarramalirockarttours.com.au
• Flames of the Forest http://www.flamesoftheforest.com.au
• Janbal Gallery http://www.janbalgallery.com.au
• Mossman Gorge Centre http://www.mossmangorge.com.au
• Walkabout Cultural Adventures http://www.walkaboutadventures.com.au
• Tjapukia Aboriginal Cultural Park http://www.tjapukai.com.au
• Skyrail Rainforest Cableway http://www.skyrail.com.au
• Kuranda Village – http://www.kuranda.org
GETTING AROUND WHEN NOT ON TOUR
• Exemplar Couches and Limousines – http://www.exemplaronline.com.au
• Avis Car and Truck Rental http://www.avis.com.au
The Global Goddess was a guest of Tourism Tropical North Queensland http://www.tropicalnorthqueensland.org.au
A heartfelt thank you the Aboriginal people of Tropical North Queensland for sharing their country and culture with me.
Taking the Plunge
THIS terrific tale starts in the steamy jungles of World War Two Malaysia and ends with a teasing trickle under a sophisticated Sydney hotel. It’s a story about survival and in fact, casts even further back, right to Australia’s first settlement. I am in Sydney, wading around the Tank Stream Hotel for a yarn, built around the First Fleet and that most coveted of commodities, fresh water.
You see, the Tank Stream Hotel, opened in 2015, hovers right above the site of the life-source of the first European colony, established in Sydney Cove in 1788. And yes, the water or “tank stream” is still there, sometimes a torrent, others a trickle, depending on the rain clouds. While this underground system is opened twice a year to visitors, via a ballot undertaken by Sydney Living Museums, you can still glean a glorious sense of history by taking a self-guided tour starting at Circular Quay and ending at Hyde Park, which was a former swamp.
Wicked winter westerlies nudge me along Pitt Street, following the path of the stream and story. There’s seven significant sites to visit, starting with flirty fountains down at Circular Quay. The light is fading into the golden glow of lanterns and Sydney’s social set is streaming onto the streets of the Tank Stream Bar at one stop; and buried deep within the bowels of the sandstone GPO at another. Long drinks are being poured and the gossip is gushing. Little do they know they are perched atop a sloppy secret.
But it’s back at the Tank Stream Hotel itself where another layer of this story is unfolding. That of the owners, Malaysia’s Tan family who have transformed a tragic tale into a dynamic dynasty. It dates back to World War Two when Nam Chin Tan, and his brother Yeow Kim Tan, were forced to hide in the jungle from the invading Japanese. After the War, the two brothers sold chickens by the roadside to feed their family, before they eventually started the companies Ipoh Garden in 1964 and Tan & Tan Developments in 1971. Today, Tank Stream Sydney is run by their son and nephew, Boon Lee Tan, and the family are also the proud owners of four Melbourne Cup winners, among a large property portfolio.
In many ways, this whole travel tale is about taking the plunge. For the reason I am in Sydney is that one of my stories, about snorkelling with salmon in the ice-cold waters of Canada Snorkelling with Salmonis a finalist in the Australian Federation of Travel Agents’ NTIA awards for Best Travel Writer. And I am in grand company indeed, with my photographer on this Sydney assignment, friend and fellow finalist Jocelyn Pride, also here for her piece examining the Arctic and Antarctic poles Poles Apart
There are five finalists in total and Jocelyn, deservedly, wins. In her acceptance speech, she speaks of taking the proverbial plunge into travel writing after 40 years of teaching. And like the First Fleet, and the Tan family, it’s as simple as that. Diving off the deep end into the unknown. Hoping you discover what sustains your body, your brain and your soul along the way. Later that night, back in my Tank Stream room, I read a message from another travel writer friend: “I know you’ll have a blast in Sydney, as seizing the day is your forte”. Seize and swim. And just hope that stream carries you in the direction you wish to flow.
The Global Goddess stayed as a guest of the Tank Stream Sydney. Perched on the corner of Pitt Street and Curtin Place, opposite Australia Square, this hotel offers 280 rooms over 15 floors.
The Tank Stream Hotel is ideal for solo travellers, such as the Goddess, as it has a Go Solo program which includes a Solo Travel Microsite with local content highlighting restaurants, bars, entertainment and tours for those travelling alone.
To view more of Jocelyn Pride’s award-winning photographs, or read her award-winning words, go to http://www.jocelynpride.com.au
Top 10 things to do on Norfolk Island
PLONKED in the South Pacific Ocean, some 1000km from anywhere, it would be easy to assume there’s little to do on Norfolk Island. Don’t. While this Australian territory is relatively remote, there’s so much to experience you’ll wish you’d stayed longer. Here’s my top 10 tips for a holiday here.
1. Learn the history
To understand Norfolk Island, you should first wrap your head around its history. And it’s beautifully complicated. To assist with this journey, head straight to the Kingston area where, among the preserved ruins of prisons, stately homes and other historic buildings, you’ll find four magnificent museums containing scores of relics which tell the story of the Pitcairn Islanders, the convicts, their jailors, and the settlers.
2. Meet a Norfolk Islander
By the time you’ve left Norfolk Island, you’ll be pretty convinced you’ve met every one of its 1600 permanent residents as they pop up everywhere, often working several jobs. To glean a sense of how the locals live, join Rhonda Griffiths on her new tour “The Contemporary Islander” which showcases her 130-year-old home built during the Melanesian Mission and some traditional island food and customs as well.
3. Explore Colleen McCullough’s house
You don’t even need to have read The Thorn Birds, of any of her other 26 books, to appreciate a visit to famed Australian author Colleen McCullough’s house. Baunti Escapes will take you to this beautiful haven where you can wander through the eclectic art collection which this writer, who died in 2015, loved so much.
4. Eat Locally
There’s some great cafes and restaurants on Norfolk Island. For breakfast on the verandah, served with a smile, head to the Olive. Delicious dining can be had at Hilli Restaurant and Dino’s, both beautiful buildings with some fine fare. To truly taste the island, out at Anson Bay, Hilli Goat Farm Tour allows you to meet the island’s only goats, and even milk them, before you indulge in a feast of goat’s cheese and Norfolk Pine smoked ham, among an array of treats.
5. Visit the island’s only winery
In what is one of Australia’s most remote wineries, you’ll find the friendly faces of Two Chimneys Wines owners Rod and Noelene McAlpine who planted their first grapes in 2003 and found that chambourcin was perfect for the Norfolk climate. These days they produce four different types of wine on the island, and several others on the mainland, and bottle 1500 a year. Noelene’s antipasto platters are legendary on the island.
6. Indulge in a massage
Seeking a cliff top massage? Then head to Bedrock along the deliciously-named Bullocks Hut Road where gifted remedial massage therapist Heidi will pummel your body to perfection while the ocean smashes the cliffs below. You’ll adore the views here from the specially-designed platforms after which you can indulge in tea, coffee and light lunches.
7. Take a ghost tour
Local historian Liz McCoy reckons Norfolk Island is one of the most haunted destinations in Australia. And with such a brutal history, it’s easy to see why. Join Liz on her Twilight Tour of the Kingston area and you may just experience a spook or two. Liz also restores the magnificent headstones in the cemetery and has a tawdry tale or two about her own ghostly encounters in the area.
8. Discover nature
You don’t have to look far to experience nature on Norfolk Island, it finds you. From its glorious National Parks to its incredible surrounding ocean, there’s plenty to satisfy the wildlife warrior within. Walk the National Parks, snorkel her reef, go sea kayaking, visit Cockpit Waterfall, and witness the sea birds on nearby Phillip Island. Norfolk Island even plants 100 pine trees for every resident who lives to a century. To date, there have been three, all women.
9. See a show
If you think there’s no entertainment on Norfolk Island, think again. One of the most delightful ways to spend a Wednesday afternoon is at the Ferny Lane Theatre, an old-style theatre where you can sit on a comfy couch, drink a glass of wine, and watch the Trial of the Fifteen play which gives an entertaining and informative overview of Norfolk’s history. On weekends, you can catch a movie at this same theatre. For something more contemporary, the Jolly Roger hosts live music five nights a week with jolly good meals to match.
10. Hire a moke
Despite measuring just 8km x 5km, Norfolk Island boasts 160km of roads. And one of the best ways to explore these is with the roof down. You can hire a Moke from MOKEabout and drive the island’s rolling green hills to your heart’s content. One of the pure delights of driving on Norfolk Island is that it’s customary to wave to passing cars and pedestrians, which is bound to leave a smile on your face. Oh, and cows get right of way.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Norfolk Island Tourism – http://www.norfolkisland.com.au and Air New Zealand – http://www.airnewzealand.com; and stayed at Broad Leaf Villas – http://www.broadleafvillas.com
Beauty and the Beast
A TROPICAL low is lurking over Norfolk Island like a dark shroud, bringing squally, unpredictable weather in its wake. And I am sitting in what has become known as “Tent City”, rain licking the canvas walls, speaking with peaceful protestors about the storm which has been brewing between island residents and the Australian government.
I knew there had been some changes to this remote Australian territory but like many mainlanders, remained naïve to what, precisely, they were, and what they meant to the locals. In a nutshell, since 1979 until July 1, last year, Norfolk Island has been a self-administering territory with its own Legislative Assembly, a Chief Minister, its own health care, own GST, and Council of Elders who represent each of the eight original Pitcairn families who came to the island.
But last year, despite 68 per cent of Norfolk Islanders voting in a referendum to have their own say over their island, the Australian government appointed a regional council system, said they must now pay tax, and in return, would received mainland services such as Medicare. Which would be fine if these services were being received but locals claim they are not. Nor, do they believe they should be called Australians, given their rich history, but Norfolk Islanders.
Fly out of Australia and you’ll discover just what a confusing mess the situation is. Firstly, you fly out of an international airport, with your passport and fill out your immigration departure card. About 10 minutes into the flight, you will then be handed an immigration arrival card, asking you questions such as “how long did you spend overseas” and “in which country did you spend the most time”. Um, Australia? As for where you intend to stay, I was unclear whether they meant my Brisbane address or my Norfolk Island address, and I was told by Border Force officials that I’m not the only one confused by the changes. (For the record, Norfolk Island had its own arrivals card which worked beautifully, I am told). Now, try being a local. Drive from the airport and one of the first things you’ll encounter is a field of green hands, known as Hands Up For Democracy, which is intended as a “silent protest in the paddock”.
Down at the Kingston, on the site of the former Legislative Assembly, you’ll find Tent City. Norfolk Island Tent City resident Mary Christian-Bailey, 73, has lived on the island for 50 years and has been part of a peaceful protest since April 29 last year.
“The message is we want the right to determine our own future. It doesn’t mean we want independence but we want a choice,” she says.
“Australia has to fulfill its obligations to list us as a self-governing territory with the United Nations. Australia has tried to rewrite history and say we are just a part of the Australian story.
“We’ve got a lot of friends all over the world, including the British Parliament, working with us. I don’t think Malcolm Turnbull even thinks we exist. When the legislation when through the Australian Parliament there were about five people in the Chamber. Most of them wouldn’t know why they’ve done it or how it’s affected us in any way.”
While some back on the mainland claim Norfolk Island residents are angry about having to become taxpayers, locals say they have no issue with tax, but a lack of services. They claim the Norfolk Island Hospital has been transformed from a hospital to a GP clinic, and there is no surgeon on the island. Pregnant women are forced to leave the island at 32 weeks to live on the mainland and in the case of an emergency, injured or sick locals are medivacked off the island in an operation which can take 6 hours to mobilise. Residents claim there have been 40 medivacs since July 1, at an approximate cost of $30,000 a time. Then there’s the issue of postal delivery and rubbish collection, as well as repairs on their potholed roads.
“Most people can’t see that there have been any benefits under the Australian government. It has happened on the basis of ignorance and lies. They could have worked with us but they’ve just ignored local knowledge and expertise,” Mary says.
“Trying to transplant the island into a completely different system has been very stressful for the older people. We have no problem with the Australian people, we have a lot in common with them. But we are pretty disappointed with their government.
“They have a real colonial, imperialistic attitude. We will sit here as long as it takes. We are a strong proud people with a strong proud heritage.”
And indeed they are. Norfolk Island is a place of immense beauty born of its remote and rugged locale. You’ll feel the history in the bones of the remaining stone buildings, which once housed some of the most brutal captors and some hardcore convicts. It’s a place of a scallywags, sailors, whalers, the lost and found and those still searching for something. This isolated island, 1000km from anywhere, will snatch a piece of your spirit and make you think hard. But go there, you must. Particularly if you are Australian. Despite being a tiny 8km x 5km, there’s plenty of places in which to disappear on this destination. Space to be alone. To contemplate this former convict settlement which possesses such natural charm. Walk in nature, dine on local food, feast on history, snorkel her reef and meet her characters.
Islander and local guide Rhonda Griffiths believes Norfolk Island possesses a masculine energy.
“You will notice how few roads are named after women. It’s always been about the bounty mutineers. We’ve never had a female Chief Minister and women are paid a lot less than men,” she says.
“I feel the strength of the island more than the nurturing.”
But Tania Anderson, of Norfolk Island Tourism, believes it’s more feminine.
“People are gentle here, but inside there is a toughness to some extent. It is a country town and small community but we are isolated,” she says.
“Our heritage is from Tahitian women and English sailors. There is something about a lot of the local women which is that island beauty.
“People say ‘what do you do on Norfolk?’. We never stop. On Norfolk you just have to get on with things.”
And get on with things they will.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Norfolk Island Tourism – http://www.norfolkisland.com.au and stayed at Broad Leaf Villas – http://www.broadleafvillas.com. For more photos of her stay visit Instagram @aglobalgoddess
On the road again
How much do I love thee…PNG?
HAVING exhausted every possibility or hope of ever finding the man of my dreams in Australia, I’ve cast the net wider and my search for the love of my life last week took me to Papua New Guinea. I may have also been up there writing a series of travel stories, but never let it be said that I waste any opportunity to find love. What I really adore about my travels is that no matter in which new country I find myself, I merely need to tell a local that I’m looking for love and they are immediately on the case. In this instance, the lovely Lucy, a 50-year-old PNG woman who works at the Kokopo Beach Bungalows Resort, instantly becomes my latest wing woman, and she knows a thing or two about love.
Lucy was married for 18 years to a European man who left her for another woman, breaking Lucy’s heart, but not her spirit. Sure, she went a bit “long long” or crazy for a bit, but who can blame her? We’ve all been there, sista. Then, after six years on her own, raising two children, she met the love of her life, who treats her like she’s royalty.
“I tried to go out with the white man, but he leave me for another woman, so now I only go with the black man,” Lucy says.
“He cooks, he cleans and when I come home, everything is done for me. I love him…and sometimes I hate him.
“My first husband, he came back and asked my second husband if he could have me back. But I don’t worry about that any more. That’s why I look so good. I’m 50 and I look good.”
Every day Lucy tells me that I am beautiful and that I even look like her daughter “she has a sharp nose like you”. She says when I return to Rabaul I must come and stay with her in her village and she’ll find me a man. One night she cooks a traditional dinner in her village home for me and brings it into the hotel where I am staying. She even takes an unexpected photo of me one night while I’m working on my computer, so she can show prospective partners. “They can see that you are hard working,” she says, before scuttling away with a half startled snapshot of me on her phone.
And look, it’s not as if I’m not attracting attention up here in the tropics. Everywhere I go, men, women and children stare at me, and when I catch them staring, they flash me those megawatt smiles synonymous with the South Pacific. It’s in those moments, when the humidity is bearing down on me, that I hallucinate a little and think it’s because I’m stunning, and not simply an anomaly with my blonde hair, green eyes and fair skin, that I am attracting my fair share of stares. It’s only when the baby daughter of my friend Joel, who is showing me around Rabaul/Kokopo, begins to cry uncontrollably when she sees me, that I realise they don’t get too many white women around these parts.
Which is a great shame as this is truly a beautiful country with incredible people, stories, superstitions, customs, cuisine, tradition, adventure and history. Hendrika, 33, a tour guide at the Kokopo Beach Bungalows Resort, has six distinct dots tattooed near her right eye to signify that she is from the neighbouring island of Kimbe. Hendrika says PNG once operated on an arranged marriage system and still does in some parts. But the modern PNG woman looks for a man who is “hard working, honest, has land, is good looking and strong,” she says.
Lawrence, 29, a driver at the Kokopo Beach Bungalows Resort and a Tolai man, says a woman must be “beautiful and hard working around the house”. And “sexy”, he adds.
“In PNG we think the white lady is sexy. We’ve seen a lot of movies. A PNG man and a white lady…why not?” he says.
“PNG men like a woman to look after him. I had an Australian girlfriend once but she was here for work and left after 2 years when her contract ended. Of course I cried.”
I learn that shell money is still used widely throughout the island as a type of dowry and according to Lawrence, I would be worth lots of shells.
Ellis Waragat, a 55 year old Tolai woman, says some traditions remain.
“When there is a sing sing or traditional dance the men will sleep out in the bush, dress up, put on tribal masks and oil and look shiny and they make magic and it is powerful and they can make a woman fall in love with them,” she says.
The good news, at least for me, is women can also use this special oil to attract a mate, which Ellis says is a foolproof approach.
“You put oil on your body and you put your shell money together. When you put this oil on your face any man will fall for you. Just put it on your face and people will be calling to you and talking to you…men especially.”
My time at Rabaul/Kokopo has come to an end, and unfortunately I run out of time to find a tribal man with his magic oil, but this land in which I find myself is so alluring, I hope I’ll be back. I feel there are plenty of fish in this sea, and hopefully enough shells on the beach for someone to be able to afford me.
The Global Goddess travelled to Rabaul/Kokopo as a guest of the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority. http://www.tpa.papuanewguinea.travel A special shout out to Air Niugini for assisting her with airport lounge access. Air Niugini flys weekly directly from Cairns to Rabaul. http://www.airniugini.com.pg
River Kwai Delights
THE River Kwai is a jade jewel as late afternoon concedes languidly to dusk. The longtail boat in which I am travelling roars and sputters like an indigent politician up the infamous waterway towards the floating jungle rafts I have come to know and love so much. Travel writers don’t particularly like returning to the same place – there’s too much world to explore – but there are some destinations which become firmly etched into your psyche. And so entrenched in your soul you are unwittingly lured back. And for me, this is one of them, in part for its brutal war history involving the bravado of Australian soldiers and in part for its sheer natural beauty.
I penned these words a year ago on my fourth trip to the rustic and incredibly beautiful River Kwai region, pondering what it was that kept drawing me back to this part of the world. I still have no answers, but the pull to return there has emerged again, and this year, I’d love to take some of you with me. And so, I am delighted to announce I have launched a new tour River Kwai Travel Writing Delights with The Global Goddess. In early August, we will be meeting in Bangkok where we will spend two nights in a luxury five-star hotel, before we embark on our journey to the River Kwai. And along the way, we’ll be observing, day dreaming and writing about our travels.
If we’re lucky, we’ll bump into my good friend Sam Season, about whom I have written before. I first met Sam Season several years ago, and over the years I have been speaking with him about the most salacious of all subjects: love. Regular readers of The Global Goddess will remember this 22-year-old tour guide, a Mon man from one of the earliest tribes to live in South East Asia. Considered neither Burmese, nor Thai, the Mon exist in a small slither of land along the River Kwai, not far from the Burmese border. The Mon number some 8.14 million people but I remain captivated by this one man. This man called Sam.
At night, he paints his face in traditional Mon markings but speaks with an English accent plucked out of a south London pub, with a smattering of Aussie twang – picked up solely from the tourists with which he works every day. He moved to this particular village when he was 9, and has been studying to finish High School since, in between working 6 days a week at the River Kwai Jungle Rafts. And Sam is in love with a girl called Jaytarmon with beautiful long black hair who lives in a neighbouring village down the river. But access to this girl, like internet, electricity and hot water, are elusive in these parts. And to complicate things more, Sam is being pursued by a girl in his own village, who cooks for him and washes his clothes.
Last time we parted ways, on the banks of that beautiful river, Sam had plans to spend the year perfecting his English, so he can gain a mechanics scholarship in Australia and work towards his dream of becoming a car mechanic along the Thai/Burmese border. His plans included professing his love for Jaytarmon and asking her to wait for him and his love. Those of you who know me personally, or have met me through my words alone, know that this will be a journey of humility, heart and humour – the three cornerstones I believe make a great writer, and good human being. Please come and join me in one of the most beautiful trips I have ever done. It will change your life.
For more details on my tour River Kwai Travel Writing Delights with The Global Goddess, please click on this link: https://theglobalgoddess.com/joinmythailandtour/
I Can’t Smile Without You
I HAVE long suspected that I am a gay man trapped in a straight woman’s body. What I have never imagined is that I am a world-class gymnast. And so last night when I found myself at Glasgow’s Hydro Stadium, purpose-built for this year’s Commonwealth Games gymnastic events, it was not a half pike with a double twist which drew me there, but Brookyln crooner Barry Manilow. Yes, Baz was in town and faster than you can say Copacabana, I was there, canastas and all. (For the record if you need any more evidence I am actually a gay man – apart from the gaggle of gay men and utterly fantastic females who seem to be drawn to me and the fact most straight blokes find me utterly repulsive – I actually selected Copacabana for my “wedding waltz” ten years ago. Which probably proves that at least one, and potentially both of us in that now-defunct union, were actually gay men).
But I digress. Let me start by saying The Hydro, which was opened last August by Rod Stewart (who is definitely not gay if the parade of blondes he’s had on his arms over the years is any indication), was originally called the Scottish Hydro Arena Glasgow but when Glaswegians shortened that, the acronym spelt SHAG and even the sassy Scots baulked at that. But for the purpose of this tale let’s just say I “shagged” Barry Manilow last night and he was simply superb – suspected botox and all.
Don’t get me wrong, the Scots are sassy and sexy, all soupy accents as thick as a glorious Glaswegian winter itself. And there’s plenty of evidence of their cheeky good humour spattered around this pretty city. At Glasgow’s Cathedral, there’s a stained-glass window depicting Adam and Eve before they committed the dreaded sin of eating the apples, and as such they are without their fig leaves. Tennents Brewery is one of the oldest in the world, dating back to 1556, with one of its most famous customers Mary Queen of Scots.Nearby, St Andrews is no longer a church but a place of worship for Scottish culture…namely drinking and eating locally-sourced produce. In the Botanic Gardens you’ll find Kibble House with its nude statues, again depicting the likes of Eve. For a real taste of Scottish sass, head to the old church Oran Mor at which you can partake in a lovely lunchtime ritual of a Play, a Pie and a Pint.
And then there’s Barry. The giant stage curtains were emblazoned with a giant red love heart and about 10,000 green lights flickered in the audience like glow worms. Then, to the tunes of “It’s A Miracle”, Barry partly bounced (and partly hobbled) on to stage in a blue sequined jacket. Yes, Barry, it’s a miracle… that you’re still alive. (He’s now 70). He then played “Here I Am” describing it as an “oldie, but a goodie, just like me”. And just like your audience, Barry. I don’t want to cast any aspersions but let’s just say, if you want to feel young and sexy, get along to a Barry Manilow concert sometime soon.
At one point during his performance, Barry jumped on to the piano but despite his lean physique it’s pretty clear he won’t be back for the gymnastics in a few months time. (Nor, shall I add, will I, having been given the grand total of 0.5 out of 5 for at least attempting a cartwheel in Grade 8 before I retired from my gymnastics career). During his second clothing change (he’s no Lady Gaga), he flashed open the trench coat he was wearing to reveal a red suit jacket before he threatened to “whip it out”. Thankfully by “it” he meant the musical instrument, whose name eludes me (I will also never be a musician).
To accompany his dad jokes there was also plenty of dad dancing, and he captivated the mostly greying audience with his rendition of Mandy, leaving many of them wondering who the lucky girl was. Some (myself included) even attempted to dance to Copacabana, there were plenty of wolf whistles from some concert goers who may or may not have lost their teeth in the process, and every time I turned around in the crowd a grandmotherly type kept winking at me, making me wonder whether I reminded her of her gay grandson.
At some point during the performance Barry sang a song about the Brooklyn building in which he grew up, The Mayflower. He spoke of how he used to look up at the windows and wonder who was living next door. “You never know, you could have a doctor, a lawyer or a sex God living next to you.” I pondered his words as I drifted to sleep back in Room 415 at Glasgow’s Hotel Indigo last night after the concert. What if he was in the room next door? One thing is for certain: Glasgow, you were an absolute delight. And Barry, I just can’t smile without you.
The Global Goddess travelled to Glasgow as a guest of the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau. For further information on visiting Glasgow please visit http://www.peoplemakeglasgow.com.au
Caring About Cambodia
LONG after the humidity, dust and noise have reluctantly retired for the night – or at least taken a brief reprieve – it’s the stench of poverty in Cambodia that remains etched beneath your skin. Beneath the chorus of whirring fans and clucking geckos, images of the limbless, the orphaned and the blind coil, like an endless movie reel, around the mind.
Somewhere around the bewitching hour – about 3am when the mosquitoes chopper in – arrives the rude realisation that almost the entire Cambodian population is under the age of 30…a deep and brutal scar of the Khmer Rouge regime. And most of its people are dirt poor.
I penned these words several years ago, after my first trip to Cambodia and Siem Reap and after I had visited the Sunrise Children’s Village where beautiful orphaned children had been taken under the wing of big-hearted, flame-haired Australian Geraldine Cox. One little girl was suffering from foetal alcohol syndrome. A little boy in the orphanage had seen his father killed by a land mine, and was too frightened to even step on the ground, so had to be carried everywhere. Other little girls and boys had been sold by their starving families across the border into Thailand’s sex trade.
About a year later Cox was in Brisbane addressing a business women’s lunch, when she described one of the most horrific images I will never forget. She talked about how she was in the Siem Reap markets and there was a baby orphan boy, who kind of belonged to everyone and at the same time, no one. Cox looked into his big bright eyes and told him that when she returned from her latest trip to Australia, she would take him into the orphanage. She did return and what she found sickened her to the core. Someone had cut out the baby boy’s eyes and sold them on the black market. I defy anyone who travels to a place like Cambodia not to be moved by its story. Australian photographer Danielle Lancaster, who owns Blue Dog Photography, is another person touched by Cambodia’s soul.
Lancaster first started travelling to Cambodia about seven years ago prompted by an interest in history, Buddhism and a bewilderment at how someone like Pol Pot could kill his own people.
“How can someone walk one million of his own people out of a city in one night and horrifically torture them? Nearly every monk was killed and there were about 4000 doctors at the start of the Pol Pot regime, and only 4 left at the end,” she says.
“Friends of mine had worked as war photographers there and I started to go back every year. I met a tuk tuk driver who was a young fellow who took me to his village and I got to meet his family. We became good friends and I met more Cambodian people but at that stage you hardly saw a girl in secondary school because selling girls into prostitution was so big.
“I met a lady whose daughter was working in hospitality and she was paid $2 for her. Yes, her daughter was working in hospitality but she was not serving tables. I started to look at the high school and said ‘where are the girls?’.”
So struck was Lancaster by this beautiful country and its story she started buying basic goods such as underwear and books for the children and talking to the community about the importance of educating its children. Lancaster, who also privately sponsors two girls and works with a local orphanage, gained sponsorship in 2011 to produce a calendar, the sales of which meant they could build two new class rooms and desks with a white board. In 2012 Blue Dog Communities was formed.
“Last year I was just like ‘bring it’ and we had the school full of girls. They clasp the chalk like it’s gold. Last year I realised this is working, we are getting the girls into school and they are staying at school,” Lancaster says.
“From the sales of our 2012 calendar we are replacing the palm frond class rooms with cement so the kids don’t have to sit there with mud on their feet. It is a big project but our foundations are down.
“The community needs to be able to see the business happening. This is a population that has had a lot of promises of aid, they’ve got no natural resources. It was so torn apart by Pol Pot and the arms’ trade during the Vietnam War and everybody just has forgotten about it.”
But not the likes of Lancaster. As part of her commitment to the community, Blue Dog runs an annual 7-day Photography & Cultural Workshops journey to Siem Reap. The tour includes experiencing a Cambodian floating village; temples; Angkor Archaeological Park; schools; silk and lotus farms; a private monk and private traditional dancer photo shoot; photography workshops; and grassroots activities such as helping villagers build chicken pens and dig vegetable gardens.
Along the way, this professional and passionate photographer will critique your work and assist you in getting the best photographs possible, such as those shown in this story. At the end of the week, not only will you have done something amazing for your fellow humans, but will have some terrific pictures of your journey.
“When I go there I have this wonderful sense of calm that comes over me. It is just an extremely rewarding experience,” Lancaster says.
“In Cambodia, there is just something that got me in my heart and soul. I believe it is a life-changing experience.”
The next Blue Dog Photography & Cultural Workshop to Cambodia will be from June 30 to July 7. To book a tour or simply donate to their community work in Siem Reap, go to http://www.blue-dog.com.au