“At home, I was a stranger to myself, and, on the road, a stranger to everyone else. I longed to belong, but I didn’t know where,” Irish Travel Writer Jean Butler
I AM perched in a loft bedroom overlooking Bundaberg’s Burnett River, surveying the sailing boats bobbing on the water and wondering about the stories of the sailors within. I long to know what these old salts could tell me about the horizons they have crossed. After a busy year out in the world myself, I have returned “home” but not quite. At the last minute I have accepted an invitation to return to Bundaberg, on Queensland’s Southern Great Barrier Reef, and I find myself at the Burnett Riverside Motel, sitting in the new H20 restaurant and bar, with the new general managers Ian and Karyn Wade-Parker.
I sip a Bargara Brewery Ray Xpa and chat to this charming couple who are injecting as much local flavour into this experience as possible. This dynamic duo, who have worked in tourism and hospitality for decades, had a longing to return to Queensland after a stint in drought-stricken New South Wales. It was a heart-breaking time for this pair, who despite running a successful business, witnessed first-hand the effect of the drought on their community. And for Karyn, who grew up in Charleville in Outback Queensland, it’s a special homecoming.
“We needed to get back to the water. What we are trying to create here in Bundy is something that will go well,” Ian says.
“It is needed. There is a percentage of people who are looking for quality. The opportunity that we have here is to give Bundy a bit more maturity. It is moving from a country town into the next thing.
“We are rated four-star but what we are about to deliver is a five-star hotel experience.”
And it’s evident in the menu. Sip on a Bargara Brewery beer, cradle a Bundy rum or scoff a local Kalki Moon gin and watch the river change colours in the late afternoon before you dine on a menu which shouts Bundaberg loud and proud. On this colourful card you’ll find the likes of Bundaberg Brewed Sarsaparilla Sticky Pilled Pork; Bargara Brewery Black Braised Lamb Shanks; Kalki Moon (gin) Butter Basted Salmon; and even a Bundaberg Rum Coffee brulee. The next stage for Ian and Karyn is to oversee the renovation of this 44-room motel, which boasts eight different room styles, including the four loft rooms.
“It’s about those little one per cent (changes) that turn the experience into something that’s OK into something extraordinary,” Ian says.
“We look at it from a customer’s point of view. You turn it into your home. It is an extension.”
The theme of “coming home” resonates on this trip. I have coffee down at the beach with Christine from Bargara Coastal Accommodation; drinks and dinner with Tracy whose underwater photos of the Southern Great Barrier Reef will make your toes curl; and breakfast with Katherine from Bundaberg Tourism. I enjoy a long chat with Suzie from Bundy Food Tours about her recent Queensland Tourism Awards win; and Rick from Kalki Moon Distillery tells me how his gin is winning awards in London. I drop into the new headquarters of Bundaberg Tourism, Spring Hill House, a former Queenslander home built in 1883. I catch up with this hard-working crew who treat me like family each time I return. Plonked at the back of the Bundaberg Rum Distillery, the sparkly new Visitor Information sits next door. Here visitors are treated like royalty, and encouraged to sit and stay and peruse the incredible experiences they can have on offer in the region.
Back inside Bundy Tourism’s new digs it’s all tin and timber, polished wooden floors and even a friendly resident ghost. They think it’s the oldest daughter, Mary-Ann, of the original Noakes family who inhabited this former sugar cane plantation house. It appears Mary-Ann approves of her new inhabitants. And for me, wandering the halls of this Queenslander, it reminds me of my home, back in Brisbane. The place that sustains me on those lonely days when I’m out on the road, and I dream of my fragrant frangipani tree off my big, back deck, and those summer nights punctuated by a chorus of cicadas.
And it’s from that very spot, on the back deck of my Queenslander cottage in Brisbane, that I’m penning my final travel blog of 2018. And what a year it’s been. I have trained to be a Ninja Warrior in Japan; trekked in Nepal to meet the SASANE survivors of sex trafficking; wandered the humid back alleys of Bangkok tasting street food; island-hopped in the Southern Great Barrier Reef; fine-dined in Noosa; been pampered in Abu Dhabi; discovered the secret of happiness in Bhutan; explored Sydney’s secret Tank Stream; driven up the guts of Australia from Uluru to Humpty Doo in the Northern Territory; experienced Thailand’s Koh Khood; danced till I dropped at my niece’s wedding in Emerald; met inspiring Indigenous operators in Tropical North Queensland; tasted tapas and life as it should be lived in Spain; laughed with a mate in Prague; hugged my family in Germany; snorkelled in Samoa; and hidden away in the hills of Byron Bay.
It’s been a year that has enriched me beyond belief, and refuelled this sassy story teller with a thirst for the world. A huge thank you to all of the PR people, tourism operators, and the random strangers who swept me up and took me with you on this journey. It takes intellect, courage, and above all, a generosity of spirit to take the time to tell me your stories and I can’t wait to get back out there in 2019 and do it all again.
The Global Goddess travelled to Bundaberg with the assistance of Bundaberg Tourism https://www.bundabergregion.org and Burnett Riverside Motel http://www.burnettriversidemotel.com.au
ON a sanguine Siam Sunday, in the month of monsoon madness, I am flying through a chunky carnival ride of clouds. I am travelling from Bangkok to Thailand’s Trat region, lurching through the sky and big Buddha bellies of bursting water over thirsty rice paddies below. I am enroute to Koh Khood, the Thai island which is home to Peter Pan and Tinkerbell resorts, and beaches of the same nefarious names. But up in this scatty sky, I am wondering if this is where my fairy-tale ends. After one aborted landing, we eventually reach terra firma and I rapidly swap my terror for travel writing. Silver linings? This story is full of them.
I amble through the Thai Muslim/Hindu village of Ban Nam Chiew, past vibrant blue, aqua, orange and red timber fishing boats which contrast against the angry August sky. Ban Nam Chiew means “fast current” in Thai, and it’s apt, as this is a village which is moving with the times. During the monsoon, there is little fishing to support this tiny population which has, instead, embraced tourism. For $41, visitors can buy a two day/one-night package which includes local food, a homestay with a village family, and craft making such as traditional farmer’s hats. Ban Nam Chiew is also known for its sweet crackers crafted from coconut milk or cream, mixed with rice or tapioca and topped with brown sugar, shallots, coconut-diced carrot and sea salt.
And it’s smart women such as Tourism Project leader Surattana Phumimanoch who are embracing this change.
“The purpose of the village is for tourists to have a look and see our way of living,” she says.
“Fishermen can’t work in the monsoon season so this project will make extra income.
“This village is unique in that the Muslims and Hindus have lived together for more than 200 years. A lot of the new generation live away from the village and come back and realise the potential.”
Sated from this success story and a local seafood lunch, I board the boat for Koh Khood, the last island in the Gulf of Thailand before the Cambodian border, and what the Thai’s call “paradise on earth”.
Thailand’s fourth biggest island after Phuket, Chang, and Samui, the lesser-known Khood has such high-quality pepper, it exports this spice to Europe. You’ll also find superior seafood here. On this humid hour, I scramble onto the sticky seat of a “songtaw”, a Thai truck with two long bench seats and bars, and rollick along the island.
Outside, the emerald countryside is as lush as a Sydney socialite, peppered with pointy Thai rooves, rich rice paddies, and locals in conical hats.
I am meant to be island-hopping, snorkelling what the postcards promise are pristine waters, but the weather has dampened that plan, so instead, the next day I hop back into the sweaty songtaw, and explore the island. There’s a Thai’s fisherman’s village at Yai Bay, home to giant grouper, crab, lobster and pineapples, and a glistening golden Buddha statue. I feast on barbecued prawns for lunch at another seafood village and burst into the Gulf of Thailand ocean at Tinkerbell Beach, just as the sun explodes through the clouds for a few precious minutes.
I am staying at Cham’s House, which pays homage to an ethnic group in south-east Asia which is believed to have originated in Borneo and who, during the cruel reign of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, suffered a disproportionate number of killings. Here, it’s peaceful, where only the croaky night bushes have frogs in their throat. Outside my room, the ocean gushes peaceful platitudes at me, while inside, the geckos are goading me to write. But what? I am scratching for a story and a silver lining, knowing it’s out there somewhere. But where?
It’s a smooth flight back to Bangkok where I seek refuge at the Rembrandt, a glorious hotel surrounded by serene side streets or “sois”. If you’re looking for an Australian travel writer in bustling Bangkok, chances are you’ll find them in the Rembrandt’s Executive Lounge at 5.30pm, where the drinks poured are almost as tall as the tales told here. It’s a comforting corner in this hectic city, in the tradition of foreign correspondent’s clubs all over the world. If you squint, you can almost see the ghost of the world’s great writers lurking in the corner. I repair to the hotel’s Rang Mahal restaurant where I feast on this city’s finest Indian fare. It’s washed down with Granmonte shiraz, wine made by an award-winning female Thai wine maker who studied in Australia and whose vineyard I visited on a previous trip.
On my last day, I am a lazy lizard, floating in the pool, drinking beer with pizza, stretching out those tired travel muscles in a Thai massage and even having my hair washed and blow dried, before the flight home. While the hairdresser scratches my scalp, I keep mining my mind for the story. And as a travel writer, I should have realised, it is just this. Travel doesn’t always go to plan. It will pour big Buddha bellies of rain and you’ll be gasping for a snorkel that may never come. Travel, like flying, comes with unexpected turbulence and you will feel uncomfortable, even scared. But if you wait long enough on those sticky songtaw seats, there will be a breeze. Some seafood. A simple story about a fishing village turning to tourism. And even a break in the clouds. And you’ll take your monkey mind and plunge into the ocean, and smile at that silver lining.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Thai Airways http://www.thaiairways.com; Bangkok Airways http://www.bangkokair.com; and the Tourism Authority of Thailand https://au.tourismthailand.org
CONSERVATIONIST Derek Ball is clad in a shirt the colour of the deep blue ocean he so adores, but on this particular day he’s diving into the urban jungle of a Brisbane coffee shop, in which we meet.
A khaki backpack with an eco-friendly water bottle sits to his right, and to his left, the luggage he will take the following day to New Zealand, off on his next expedition.
Derek, 51, is the CEO of Wild Mob, an Australian-based not-for-profit organisation, dedicated to long-term conservation initiatives which empower local communities.
This biologist and zoologist, along with his team of fellow scientists, ecologists, educators and adventurers, takes paying volunteers on conservation expeditions to Australian and New Zealand destinations. It works on a principle of 4 C’s: Conservation, Culture, Community and Commerce.
Graeme Wood, who founded the successful online travel company Wotif.com in 2000, and the Graeme Wood Foundation, which supports environmental sustainability, the arts and education, in 2006, conceived Wild Mob eight years ago.
Interestingly, the scientist in Derek was skeptical when first approached about the concept.
“I wasn’t quite sure it would work to be honest. But after three cups of coffee I thought ‘let’s give it a go’,” he says.
“We started out low key in our first few years. Now we are working with islands off of Queensland and in central Queensland, Tasmania, Melbourne, Norfolk Island, New Zealand and are looking to expand into Fiji and the South Pacific.”
I stumbled across Derek purely by chance a few weeks ago when I was on Norfolk Island, a place he describes as a “global biodiversity hotspot” and where he regularly takes groups.
It’s a long way from Outback Queensland’s mining town of Mount Isa where he was born, but it was a trip to the Great Barrier Reef when he was six which changed his world and saw him enamoured with the ocean and its marine inhabitants.
“That was it for me. Everyone has their place in the world and this is mine,” he says.
“It is pretty close to the best job in the world. I get to do stuff I love doing and make the world a better place and have the best time doing it.
“You don’t have to be a dyed-in-the-wool greenie, a scientist, professor or career conservationist, every single person can come out with us.
“On every single trip we do, we get to a stage where people realise what they are doing and after a couple of days they get it. People just go ‘we are out here, making the world a better place’. People go away changed.”
Derek says the beauty of Wild Mob expeditions is that they attract every demographic.
“We target school groups. In my view it is they who are teaching us. They inherit this place. Engaging with kids is absolutely critical. Younger people just get it, they’ve been exposed to far more information than the older generation,” he says.
“But we get everyone from 18 year olds to 83 year olds. There are more women. Women are more empathetic and think through the world much better than men. They tend to be more willing to give than blokes are. Women know how to pace themselves and that it’s not a competition.
“And we get all occupations and from all walks of life. Our expeditions are as much about sociology as conservation. Most of my team are introverts and they are really great project leaders because they observe.”
According to the latest annual report published by Wild Mob, in one year it attracted 333 volunteers who worked for 1843 field days and contributed $440,000 worth of their time. More than $500,000 was spent in local communities; 154 students were taught in six outdoor classrooms; and more than 1300kg of marine debris was removed from 10km of marine turtle nesting beaches.
During the same period, 9ha of bridled nail-tail wallaby nursery habitat was protected from cats; weeds were controlled in 35ha of critically-endangered littoral rainforest; and conservation and survey work completed on 50 islands along a 500km stretch of the Great Barrier Reef.
As recently as last month, Wild Mob announced through its hard work and community collaboration, it was close to establishing a second population of one of the world’s most rare birds, the Norfolk Island Green Parrot, on neighbouring Phillip Island.
But while there are many wins, work as a conservationist is not all sunshine and lollipops with Derek recently posting a scathing attack on social media in which he described leaders of Australian governments as a “dragon’s lair of personal vilification, bigotry, ignorance and greed.”
“That particular day I was frustrated as all get out. There are so many challenges in this country and so many opportunities. You can’t fix the problem without having a purpose, there is no vision in Australia.
“Where do the Australian people want to be in the year 2050? What sort of country do you want to live in?
“As a scientist you need to be objective and logical but I’m allowed to have emotions as well.”
He believes the Australian Greens are “ineffectual” and that the Australian Government “pisses a huge amount of money against the wall”, spending $6 billion a year on the environment without managing to save one endangered species.
It would be easy to assume this vocal conservationist is without fear, he loves sharks “they are perfectly adapted to their environment”; and is happy to remove a deadly taipan from a house; but he does find Australian crocodiles “challenging to work with”.
Just don’t call him a Wildlife Warrior, Conservation Crusader or, even worse, a “bloody Greenie”.
“I am nothing so melodramatic. I am very much Mr Average. One of the great things about Wild Mob is that you meet some very impressive people,” he says.
“The Greenies make our lives so much harder. I want to spend time with people who can find balance in the world.
“Being a conservationist is pretty bloody tough. I can’t think of a time in the past 30 years when it’s been so bloody hard to find money for the environment.
“But I am not going to stop. There is no retirement plan at all.”
To find out more about Wild Mob’s work, upcoming expeditions or to donate to conservation causes, go to https://wildmob.org/about/ Photos in this blog courtesy of Wild Mob
The Global Goddess travelled to Norfolk Island as a guest of Norfolk Island Tourism – http://www.norfolkisland.com.au and Air New Zealand – http://www.airnewzealand.com.au
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 weekend, I was in Sydney as a finalist for Best Travel Writer at the Australian Federation of Travel Agents’ (AFTA) National Travel Industry Awards. My piece, which first appeared in TravelBulletin Magazine late last year, examined some of the big issues which have plagued Bali for the past decade, and the future impact on Aussie travellers to this Indonesian island. Trying to convince anyone to talk about Bali was harder than you may think. No one wants to upset our Indonesia neighbours, at the same time recognising there are some serious challenges facing the tourism industry.
It was tempting to submit a delicious destination piece, waxing lyrical about sunrises and surprises, but as a travel writer who also specialises in tourism trade stories, I believe it’s equally important to tell the news of our industry. Congratulations to my long-time peer Allan Leibowitz for winning the award, you’ve been fighting the good fight of writing great tourism trade stories for years and your accolade is much deserved. Please find my award entry, below…
IS it a case of back to Bali, or have Australian travellers actually never left? Despite a turbulent few months for the Indonesian holiday haven, courtesy of its smoldering volcano, early figures suggest Australians will continue their insatiable love affair with the island destination.
Airlines travelling the lucrative Australian-Denpasar route were caught in a game of Snakes and Ladders throughout July and August when a giant ash cloud from Mount Raung forced carriers to repeatedly cancel, then resume, then again cancel services. Some holidaymakers were stranded in Bali for weeks, while others were unable to reach their desired destination.
Alison Roberts-Brown, the most recent Australian Representative of the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism (the newly elected Indonesian Government is yet to confirm any firm contracts), says Aussie tourists to the destination are far more resilient than some people believe.
“The Australian public doesn’t seem to be deterred by the volcanic activity in Indonesia and passengers continue to travel to Bali and beyond regardless,” she says.
“It has so many selling points. It is our very closest neighbour, it has a rich and exotic culture compared to ours, it has a unique price point and its proximity in terms of distance is second-to-none.
“It doesn’t matter where you go in the world there will be all sorts of dangers but the people who have been to Bali continue to return.”
Roberts-Brown says a lot of experiences such as diving, hiking and sacred Buddhist shrines remain “under marketed” in Indonesia and are waiting to be discovered.
“The Indonesian population relies heavily on tourism and they are an extremely warm and welcoming country with lots of diversity to offer,” she says.
“There are nearly 17,000 islands and Australians are now remembering there are other parts to Indonesia as well such as central Java and Lombok.
“Indonesia attracts every segment from families to students to well-heeled travellers. There is something for everybody, from high-end product as well as things for the adventure traveller.”
Roberts-Brown’s claims are supported by the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures. Outgoing Australian travellers to Bali show remarkably little difference in month-on-month visitors between January and June. In January, 93,300 Aussies departed for Bali with the number peaking, somewhat predictably around Easter to 94,200 before slightly tapering off to 93,900 in June.
While there are no figures yet available for the months affected by the volcanic ash, and beyond, there is little to suggest Mother Nature will have a long-term impact of Australian visitor numbers.
After all, Australians have been through much with this destination, including the Bali bombings in 2002. Tourism operators around the island have always been quick to praise Aussie tourists as being the first to return and start spending again. While the jailing of convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby, followed by that of the Bali 9, spooked some travellers and prompted an outcry of outrage in some quarters within Australia, Aussie tourists continued to flock to the island. Not even the April execution of Bali 9 ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, which sparked arguably the greatest pressure on Australians to boycott Bali, has had an effect.
Beanca Daluz, General Manager of Garuda Orient Holidays which is owned by the same parent company as Garuda Indonesia, says they experienced “a number” of cancellations due to the ash cloud as insurance companies did not cover disruptions after July 3.
“Garuda Indonesia, operating Airbus 330s out of Australia, were able to still fly to Bali on some days given their larger engine capacity and aircraft type, and also had the ability to reroute to neighbouring Jakarta and Surabaya airports,” Daluz says.
“We therefore did not experience as many disruptions compared to Jetstar and Virgin Australia passengers. Short-term confidence was challenged due to the ash cloud but due to school holidays as well as other holidays coming up, we anticipate a bounce back.
“Our partners on the ground (hotels and ground suppliers) have been extremely aggressive in promoting Bali and their own properties by providing numerous special offers and exclusive deals.
“We expect numbers to increase for travel during our peak season over the Christmas and New Year period.”
Recent figures reveal one Australian dies in Bali every nine days including Queenslanders Noelene Bischoff and her daughter Yvana who died last year from food poisoning and 18-year-old Jake Flannery who was electrocuted in 2011 after accidentally touching an exposed power line.
But still, Australians keep flocking to what Balinese have dubbed “the land of love”.
And from October 1, Australian visitors will be exempt from having to pay a USD35 visa on arrival, making the south-east Asian destination even more attractive, particularly to the budget-conscious holiday maker.
Despite the fact the odds seem repeatedly stacked against this Indonesian destination, it appears there is little to deter Aussie travellers from returning in the long run.
The Global Goddess stayed in Sydney as a guest of TFE Hotels in the glorious Adina Apartment Hotel Sydney Central. This historic hotel, built between 1910 and 1915, was once The Australian Post Office. A landmark restored building on the Sydney streetscape – replete with giant loft windows – it boasts 98 one and two bedroom apartment and studio rooms. And best of all, it is located right next to Central Station, and is an easy train ride to and from Sydney Airport. Check it out next time you are in town – http://www.TFEhotels.com/adina
THERE’S an amazing Australian tradition in which our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people perform a “Welcome to Country” ceremony at official openings, conferences and other important gatherings around the nation. Essentially, through dance, music and talk, it’s a message to convey that you are meeting on the sacred land of the traditional Indigenous custodians, and that you are welcome. Last night, arriving back in Australia after a work trip to Fiji, I experienced a very different welcome to country courtesy of our Customs officials.
I had spent five humbling days in Fiji reporting on voluntourism activities being spearheaded by the Outrigger group, and surveying a country still hurting in the wake of the devastation of Tropical Cyclone Winston. Every single moment of every single day, I was greeted with a hearty “Bula”. Arriving in Australia last night things rapidly went from Bula to bullshit. Australian Customs and Border Protection Service have recently been combined into one new entity: Border Force, and it appears some officials are taking this $10 million rebrand seriously.
Despite having “nothing to declare” on my Customs form, I, and several others from my flight, were taken aside for random luggage tests. I secured the grand fortune of meeting Border Force Officer Emma #39308, who, when I asked her why I was being detained, barked: “That is classified information. You are a Person of Interest. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” Emma criticised the way in which I loaded my bag onto the x-ray machine (despite her male counterpart saying it was OK). And then she pulled me aside after another officer claimed I was carrying an “orange” in my hand luggage. As she started to rifle through my luggage, Emma turned to the line of other travellers whose luggage was also being x-rayed and said: “Do you still think I’m picking on you?” To which I replied: “I don’t think you’re picking on me, I simply asked why I was being detained.”
So intent was Emma on finding the alleged “orange” in my handbag (for the record, I can’t remember the last time I ate an orange and certainly not when I saw one in the South Pacific) that she kept saying “I know there’s an orange in here somewhere.” Unfortunately, for Emma, it was my Revlon face powder that turned out to be the “orange”.
But Emma wasn’t done with me yet. During her search for the catastrophic citrus fruit, she stumbled across something so heinous, she could hardly breathe. She found…a packet of Panadol! A packet of Panadol I had bought off the Coles supermarket shelves in Australia. Emma then proceeded to read me the riot act, and told me that I needed to mark that down on the Customs form in the same area that you tick that you are carrying firearms. “Is this not a medicine?” she barked.
Still not content that she had berated me enough, Emma then went through my checked-in suitcase where she discovered, horror of horrors, half a box of Green Tea, that I had again bought off the Coles supermarket shelves. There were five tea bags in the box. Emma took great pleasure in telling me how that was “food” and that I could face serious fines or jail for this.
Curiously, when Emma stumbled across some coconut sugar scrub that I had, in fact, forgotten all about and had bought in Fiji, she simply looked at it, smirked, and said: “Oh, look, it’s spilled in your bag.” She then told me I was free to go. I resisted the urge to remind Emma that there are young Aussie kids dying from our current Ice epidemic and that she might want to focus on the drug smugglers in future.
Having spent the past 30 years travelling the globe, and returning to Australia, I have never ever faced such scrutiny. At this point let me say, I am the daughter of a grazier in the Lockyer Valley and having seen first-hand the diseases which have been brought into this country, I know the damage undeclared items can wreak on our agriculture industry. I have also spent more than 15 years reporting on the tourism industry and know the struggle that Australia has trying to convince overseas visitors to travel Down Under. Despite our reputation for being a beautiful land, repeatedly we fight the perception that Australia is “too far away” and that it’s a “some day” destination.
What Australia does have above all else, is a reputation that we are a friendly nation. If, what I experienced last night, is an indication of what’s to come under our new Border Force, then this is cause for serious concern. Welcome to Country? I need a cup of Green Tea and a Panadol.