My work has taken me to Australia, of all places, for the past couple of weeks. As usual with these trips, I try not to talk much about where I’m going and what I’m doing, except to close friends and family, because there’s a certain amount of sensitivity and necessary security involved. It’s simply prudent to not go about broadcasting the fact that you’re working on a multinational military exercise in Country XYZ these days, at least not until it’s all over. As it turned out, this one was trumpeted across Australian mass media almost from the outset. So much for security. Ah, well…it’s the Information Age, after all.
Anyhow, this was my very first journey to The Land Down Under, so even staring down the barrel of 15 hours flight time across the Pacific, in coach, I was pumped about this trip, and Australia did not disappoint.
We stayed in Brisbane, a less-than-familiar town to your average Ugly American, who probably knows something about Sydney, what with its iconic Opera House and the 2000 Summer Olympics, and The Rescuers Down Under; might possibly recognize Melbourne, owing to another Olympic Games held there once upon a time; but Brisbane? Brisbane lands in the bucket with that other city whose name nobody can remember because they think Sydney is the capital. To the under-informed foreign tourist (and perhaps more than a few Australians, judging from the newspapers), Brisbane is Sydney’s country-bumpkin adopted sister, never quite able to escape the glare of her step-sibling’s incandescent glory.
My mind kept returning to that egregious exchange in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where King Caspian, chatting with Lucy Pevensie, tersely dismisses the Narnian market in royal consorts—and one candidate in particular:
“Squints, and has freckles.”
“Oh, poor girl,” Lucy replies in nonjudgmental empathy, rather than dealing Caspian a sharp rap to the nose for being a shallow twit.
Caspian eventually meets and weds
Sydney the incandescent daughter of a living star. Go figure.
But I found Brisbane instantly charming—a vibrant, bustling community that needs apologize for nothing. Even the downtown precincts are clean and sparkly. Citizens are friendly, courteous, optimistic, and unabashedly sports-crazy. Brisbane’s big enough to have all the attractions and conveniences of a world city but hasn’t lost the common touch.
If Brisbane squints, it’s because she’s embracing her history while steadfastly focusing her vision on the horizon. If she has freckles, it’s because her people spend so much time enjoying the southern sun’s toasty radiance. Brisbane is comfortable in her own skin, and that’s a quality surpassing any superficial measure of refinement or star-quality. I like focus and freckles.
As usual, my work schedule didn’t allow much time for touristing, but I managed to see quite a lot, I think, in what time I did have. It helped that Brisbane is very pedestrian-friendly and has an excellent public transportation network of buses, trains, and ferries. Brisbane is a river city, and the ability to travel both along and across the river, in particular, can turn a long, circuitous plod into a quick jaunt.
There’s much more to say about Brisbane, and I’ll be posting it in installments rather than one enormous bite. Most good things are best enjoyed that way.