A Look Back at Australia-Part 3

Hi everyone,

Welcome back to the third and final reminiscence on my Fall 2019 trip to Australia. For me it’s fun and refreshing to take another look at the many photos I took during this three-and-a-half week adventure. I’ve also reread the daily journal entries I made during this junket. It reminds me of the many places I saw and the interesting people I met. This is especially important during this time of the virus. A blogger I follow calls this “the before times.” Me thinks this a very apropos label!

When I ended last week, we completed our week-long stay with the Central Coast Friendship Force Club. On a sunny, pleasant Sunday morning, our hosts took us to the Wyong train station where we said our last goodbyes.

We (eleven members of the Friendship Force of Wisconsin-Madison) backtracked to Sydney for a flight to the Gold Coast Airport. There we would spend the week with the Tweed Valley Friendship Force Club. As I mentioned in last week’s post, I wrote detailed posts about my trip to Australia. If you’d like to reread the Tweed Valley post, here are the links: The Trail to Tweed Valley-Part 1, The Trail to Tweed Valley Australia – Part 2, The Trail to Tweed Valley Australia – Part 3,  The Trail to Tweed Valley Australia – Part 4, and The Trail Home from Australia.

We chose this route of transportation because riding the train and/or bus from Central Coast to the Gold Coast would take about fifteen hours. By flying we traveled the 500 miles in about five hours. The train ride was pleasant as the tracks follow the coast with the Coral Sea often within sight. Once on the train, I found a comfortable seat to enjoy the ride. At one of our stops, this woman boarded the train. There were other passengers seated nearby and soon a conversation started, she joined in. As elegant as she looks, she swore like a sailor as she described some of her life’s misadventures. It was very strange but entertaining chat. 

At the Sydney airport, we boarded a regional jet for the ride north to the Gold Coast airport. As would soon learn, traveling north in Australia took us closer to the equator where the weather was warmer.

The Gold Coast airport straddles the border between the states of New South Wales and Queensland. The terminal is in Queensland, this state doesn’t subscribe to daylight savings time. Almost all our hosts lived in New South Wales so we departed Sydney in daylight saving time, landed in Gold Coast in standard time, and when we left the airport we were back in daylight savings time. Confused? We were and kept asking the time. Every activity on our program that week was clear about the time!

Meet my host for the week, Fay Rigby. Fay is retired from a career as a librarian. She could recite poetry from memory and led an active social life. Fay did double duty as a host, another member of our club also stayed with her.

That evening, Fay took us to the nearby Fingal Head Lighthouse where we saw the beautiful rocks and beaches from a high vantage point. Off to the north, we could see the tall buildings of the Gold Coast. This area reminds me a lot of Florida with the long sandy beaches, surfing, fishing, hotels, restaurants, theme parks, and the traffic. Further inland are several national parks with hiking, camping, birdwatching, and beautiful scenery.  

On our first full day, our host’s took us to meet the Mayor of Tweed Shire, Katie Milne. In the photo below, she’s holding a proclamation from the Governor of Wisconsin, Tony Evers. She welcomed us to the Tweed and shared with us some of the history of the area and the importance of the Tweed River. The main economic drivers in the Tweed are tourism, retail, manufacturing, health care, and agriculture. 

One of the main crops grown in the area is sugarcane. Below is a photo of a recently planted cane field. When the sugarcane is mature, it’s cut usually after a controlled burn to rid the plant of excess leaves and tops, leaving just the stalks. You’ll note the haze in the air, it’s either smoke from the many nearby bush fires or from burning cane fields. Some days during our stay the air was heavy with smoke.

The host Friendship Force clubs usually organize cultural activities for visitors to experience in their area. One of the places we visited was a sugarcane processing plant. It was a pretty warm day, even warmer as we toured the interior of the cane plant. It was interesting to learn that the residue from the squeezing process is used to generate electricity. 

Despite the pandemic the 2020 Melbourne Cup will be held the second Tuesday of November, the same day as our national election here in the United States. This horse race has been held every year since 1875. It’s not a national holiday but I doubt much work gets done that day when nearly every eyeball in Australia is glued to the race. In 2019 our hosts organized a Melbourne Cup party that can’t be beat, at least in my book. We gathered at Loreen’s ranch at the end of a dirt road in the mountains.

We made hats (a tradition) out of newspaper and then competed in races on stick horses. We placed bets with a bookie and cheered on our “horse” and “jockey.”

At 3 PM in the afternoon, we crowded around the tv to watch the actual race. Earlier, for a $2 AUD bet, we drew the number of a horse out of hat. So we had something to cheer for. Originally, my horse came in 4th, just out the money. But because of a challenge, it moved put to 3rd place and I won $6 AUD! What a grand time we had with a truly Australian tradition.

One day we visited one of the local tourist attractions, Tropical Fruit World. They grow many types and varieties of fruit from all over the world. We had an entertaining presentation by the fellow in the photo below. This was followed by a sampling and a tour of the large orchard.

Another day, we took in the Currumbin Wildlife Park and Sanctuary. This is another popular attraction, located just south of the Gold Coast in Queensland. We saw a variety of animals such as koalas, ring-tail lemurs, and a variety of lizards and snakes.

The admission fee to the park includes several shows. I took in a very fun birds of prey show followed by a sheep shearing demonstration. I really enjoyed listening to the lingo of toothless shearer, he had a gift of gab and was a great showman.

The final show of the day was the feeding of the lorikeets. At feeding time, the colorful birds flock to the dishes of nectar often fighting for a place to perch while sipping away. A fun site to see and photograph!

Way too soon it was time to say good to our hosts and new friends. A few of us took about an one-and-a-half hour bus ride to Brisbane where we’d catch our flight back to the U. S. We arrived in the city about noon and had several hours before our late evening flight. Brisbane is the third largest city in Australia with about 3.6 million people in the greater metro area. The Brisbane River bisects the city and serves as the main tourist area with shopping, parks, and other attractions. After stashing our luggage, we wandered Queen Street, the main shopping area, down to the waterfront. We caught a free water taxi and rode the whole route that allowed us to see much of the modern city.

After lunch and a leisurely walk around the busy downtown, we headed to the airport. At check in, we found out our flight to LA was only about 1/3 full. The helpful gate agents reseated us so we would have a row of seats to stretch out and sleep. I’m so used to full and cramped quarters on airplanes, it was refreshing to rest on the long ride home. After a few hours at LAX, we were on an overnight flight to Detroit. In Detroit we were greeted with a few inches of snow, a shock after the beautiful spring days in Australia. After a few delays, we were on our way back to Madison.

We left Brisbane on Sunday night and arrived back in Madison on Tuesday morning. It was Veteran’s Day here in the U. S., also known as Remembrance Day in Australia.

While it was good be home and reunited with my Traveling Partner, I have fond memories of this unforgettable trip to the “Land Down Under.” Thanks for joining me on this three part reminiscence. Join me next week for another episode of Traveling With Tom.

Until then, happy virtual travels!