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The International Writers Magazine
: On the Road in Australia

Richard Cooper in Brisbane

Long blonde hair, gold hot pants, a cowboy hat and a red piece of satin over her shoulder. They were twins. They walked along the streets, heads were turned. The young men stared, the women glared but the girls just didn't seem to care. I hate starers. I must hate myself. I had realised that I had stopped in my tracks and I was staring. They were young enough to be my girlfriends.

The brains behind Surfers introduced gold bikini clad girls in 1965 to soften the amonosity of the newly introduced parking meters. The 'meter maids' would walk around the resort and insert change into expired meters to save the motorist from the impending fine. So that is all they do. They get paid to walk around, stop meters, stop traffic and generally create havoc amongst the local male population. A tourist attraction that has remained for four centuries. Who said Surfers was tacky?

In an attempt to uncover the 'real' surfers we attended the first bar we came to. It was called Shooters. To my horror thirty minutes after our entry the music stopped and the 'Miss Bikini Contest' started. Incredible. For some strange reason I cannot remember much atfer that. I tried to retrace my steps.
In the afternoon I had met James and Fred after saying our goodbyes in New Zealand nearly two months previously. They had purchased a red Holden estate and they pulled up outside McDonalds. I opened the door and commented on their air freshener. It certainly was a distinct smell. They had just arrived from Nimbin. They looked surprisingly laid back after such a long journey. Must be the comfortable Holden I thought. Then I remembered why the air freshener was distinctive. Back in 2000 I had visited Amsterdam. I had walked into a coffee shop to get a Latte. It was early in the morning and the place smelt funny. I think due to extreme tiredness I came over all funny and had to go outside for some air. So that was it. Fred and James's car smelt like that coffee shop on the canal. I was going to share this remarkable coincidence with the boys but they probably would not believe me.

Later that night I visited their 519 room at the Nomads backpackers. We were planning to go out that night. Fred was very generous. He must have known I looked hungry as he offered me a piece of cake that he had purchased earlier in the day. It was wrapped in foil, I guess to keep it safe from the flies. I ate a sizeable chunk of this cake. It had a distinctive taste that I could not quite put my finger on. I finished the cake without delay whilst commentating on the after taste. Different I thought, not like the cakes mum makes. We finally made it out and were directed by Gavin who suggested we should try out a bar called 'Shooters', it had a theme night on that night apparently. After only six beers and two 'cock sucking cowboy' cocktails my night turned into that of a distant memory.

My two weeks in Surfers had enabled me to make some observations on the local culture. Much of my time was spent on the beach. I sat in the same spot everyday. Everyday an over exercised curly haired mullet of a man in black speedos would parade along the beach with his hands behind his back. I think he must have lost his watch....everyday. He always asked people for the time. I think he must have thought that only women wear watches these days. He had this amazing ability to find single women on the beach and would just canter up and start a conversation.

His routine was well... routine. First he would point over to the waves. He would probably start with the line "You see those crashing waves, I wrestled a shark with my bare hands after it chased me on the surf". They would always laugh. He would then crouch. There would be a few smiles from his victim then he would depart five minutes after inception. With the subtlety of Prince Phillip he would then go to the next single woman hardly twenty feet away. He would point at the sea and the process would begin again with the exact same results five minutes later. I admired his courage but felt the speedos were seriously harming his otherwise distant chances.

Then there were the couples always debating over where to sit on the beach. As if it matters. Its all sand. On the beach their were sleepers, talkers, stalkers, the white Scots and the deeply tanned frogs. Of course there were groups of twenty Japanese tourists. A video of the entire coastline and Joshi with a surfboard under his arm would be deeply appreciated back home. And finally the sight of half the beach moving at three o'clock as the high rise buildings cast a huge cold shadow over half the beach. It was if someone had just passed a considerable amount of wind.

I would walk back from the beach along the coastal road. On one occasion I got overtaken by two power walking pram pushing women. Then I realised that everyone was power walking. Subconsciously I started to power walk in a competitive nature. Instead of pushing my hands in front of me and walking like someone who had just pooed their pants I reshaped the walk so that my hands could still be kept in my pockets. I think it will catch on. Every so often one of the power walkers in front of me would stop and use the metal bars provided by the council to do their daily presses. I think I will just stick to my version of power walking for now. One step at a time.
Everywhere I looked it was like a different world. Literally. There was 'Water World', 'Movie World', 'Snow World', 'Wax World', 'Shark World' and so the list continued. For fifty-eight dollars you could get into 'Movie World'.

Amazingly I resisted the temptation and went to the free 'Beach World' instead. The streets were filled back to back with high rise apartments. When is anyone going to realise that pink and brown just don't go? Most of these structures were pink or beige with a splash of some other colour. The resorts around Surfers were much better designed, a series of waterways with moorings for expensive yachts. The Main Beach strip was lined with impressive restaurants. There air was filled with delightful cuisine smells, merry conversation and lots of money. The apartments I was staying in was situated in the 'Main Beach area'. The complex consisted of 192 luxury apartments selling for in excess of three quarters of a million dollars, each. The luxury was fantastic compared to the mundane hostels. The indoor swimming pool and jacuzzi, the quietly used first floor gym. The outdoor tennis courts and expansive swimming pool. All these factors contrived to show just how out of place I probably looked. The man on reception was obviously proud of his responsibilities. As I stood next to the ground floor lift with my large black bag in tow he came from nowhere and enquired "Can I help you". I brushed him off quickly but politely. This man had marked my card. What was a backpacker doing in my apartments? Whilst walking the length of the pool underwater on my hands he tried to strike again. "Err yeah mate, how are you doing?".
"Fine, just walking a few lengths" I replied.
"Errrr what apartment are you staying in" he questioned. "139" I replied quick as a flash. "Ahhh yes Mr Pat Cash's apartment". With the defeated look of Headmaster who had just accused of the pupil of not doing his homework only to find his book on his desk he turned around and walked off. I would have not liked to have blagged that one. For some reason I guessed he knew the particulars of each and everyone that stayed in the 192 apartments. He probably knew what they ate, what time they came in from work and the arguments Betty and John were having about the new off colour white walls in 112. I left with the comfort that if I ever came across three quarters of a million dollars and indeed purchased one of the marble apartments I would be in the safe hands of this very observant man.

And so it was time to leave. I purchased another lottery ticket and took my place on the Greyhound bus. One number came up this time. She was a sleeper and I had got in at 5am that morning so I was in no mood for a polite conversation. The other five numbers failed miserably. I was surrounded my a high school type gang of adolescent teenage girls. Their shrieking laughter penetrated my volume level 23 setting on my MP3 player. They must have suffered from acute rheumatism bless them as they felt the need to jump up every ten minutes and run down the coach. The journey was only an hour and thirty so I could absorb this feverish excitement without too much resentment. I stepped off the coach.

Welcome to Brisbane I thought - this place is deader than a rotting possum on the coastal highway. I picked up a leaflet and headed for the nearest backpackers. I knew this part of the world is meant to be laid back but this was laughable. "Errr yeah you'll all have to come back in ten minutes as we have got a bit of a queue situation going on" claimed the sole person behind the desk at Tin Billy backpackers. Queue? There were two people filling out two forms. It soon became apparent that not only was his job to check people in but also multi-talented at serving the internet queue, answering phone calls from people who could not speak English, chatting with Jane about the 'blast' they had the night before, describing the travel packages they had available to Fraser Island whilst also cleaning the desk. I also admired the level of detail he went into with every one of the three people he was dealing with. Without a doubt he was the slowest hostel receptionist I have ever come across. By the time he had booked people in, explained the hostel culture and explained how he was learning German after his European adventures it was Eight thirty. I had arrived at eight. When I finally reached my room I was ready for sleep and even more intrigued at discovering just how Brisbane had got a boring name.
photos, stories and diary
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From Sydney to Byron
Rich Cooper takes the bus

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