Welcome to this blog, the story of a great big Australian adventure. It documents my travels, life in Australia, and a subject close to my heart – environmental conservation. 

Fast forward

So, where are all my posts in the meantime? They have been in gestation. While I've been umming and ahhing, planning a trip and then going on it, and even applying for a job. And first impressions often need modifying: they should certainly be left to slow-cook for a while.

In a nutshell, since March, I have seen the evidence for myself of Australia's exploitation of her great riches, in the form of long and frequent coal trains trundling between Emerald and Gladstone, even on Sundays; I have marvelled at yet more of this magnificent continent's landscapes and their animals, plants and crops; I witnessed dramatic political developments in the sudden coming-to-power (not the election - that'll be later in the year... maybe) of Julia Gillard, Australia's first woman prime minister; I began to care, rather bizarrely, whether or not the Maroons (pronounced Marones, as in bones) won the State of Origin (a best-of-three rugby league series); and, as I continue to delight in Australian place names, I began to wonder if 'The Sunshine State' is a bit of a misnomer.

Sunday 9 May was Mother's Day here. All the Australians were out, doing what they do best, gathering family and friends around them for a picnic in their great outdoors. You don't even have to take a portable barbie along with you on such occasions. Stainless steel electric barbecues are provided in picnic areas all over the place: just bag your spot, press a button and throw on your snags (sausages) and ribeye.

Brisbane City Council does a good job when it comes to public amenities. In parks and gardens and along the riverside there are excellent climbing frames for children, pull-up bars and sit-up benches for fitness fiends, even perches for fishermen! Since dogs must be kept on leads in all public spaces, there are fenced off-leash areas in parks where mutts can chase their mates. (In Bulimba, however, we have a 'Dog-off leash area'. Are there any proofreaders at Brisbane Square? If so, you may also like to know that playground is one word.)

And the Council is trying hard to make it a 'Clean and Green' city. New development has, for example, to respect grand old trees in long-held positions. The route of the Northern Busway, a dedicated two-way road connecting the northern suburbs to the city centre, was aligned further west than originally planned, and tunnel engineers constructing the new Airport Link (my friend works on this project) have had to dig deeper and further, in order to avoid disturbing Lutwyche Road landmark Pop's Fig (above). This 100-year-old, 20-metre-tall and 30-metre-spreading Ficus benjamina is a splendid specimen and well worth a million bucks of protective effort. It was named after one of possibly two Lutwyche residents, one of whom fended off local councillors threatening to chop the tree down in the late Forties or early Fifties. These days it appears to be thriving despite a constant flow of traffic and construction work all around it.

Our house in Bulimba overlooks a 'recreation area' rendered remarkable by the presence of 13 native Queensland bottle trees (Brachyciton rupestris). The trees were planted by the developer but became the responsibility of Brisbane City Council about five years ago. They are slow growers in the first stages of growth and don't acquire their unique bottle shape until they are a least a decade old. As I write, an Australian Magpie has just started to build a nest in one of the two just beyond our bedroom window (left in the picture, right). The maintenance of recreation areas in the suburbs is impressive, too. Immediately in front of these trees is a corner of the park that looks as if it's part of our garden but in fact belongs to Council (Australians don't put a definite article in front of the word 'council'). Their gardeners recently spent days removing dead leaves from and titivating the birds of paradise, replenishing moisture-retaining bark chippings and filling empty spaces with new plants. In summer, the grass is maintained every week. This may be further evidence to a recent immigrant that Brisbane City Council has plenty of money to spend (and, in fact, parks spending increased from $93 million in 2009-10 to $126 million for 2010-11).

So, on that particular glorious Sunday in May, we walked along the south bank of the river in very warm sunshine from our favourite Story Bridge to the Goodwill Bridge. Brisbane was looking lovely. (I originally wrote 'at its best', but I'm told the spring flowers are a sight to behold.) Below, the bridge to the right is the Captain Cook Bridge, Brisbane's busiest traffic bridge, opened in 1972. It's a motorway bridge and in fact consists of two spans, each carrying two lanes of traffic in one direction and linking the Pacific Motorway with the Riverside Expressway. In front sit Christopher Trotter's scrap-metal Pelicans on old bridge foundations. Much newer is the Goodwill Bridge, left in the picture, which is further upstream and passes beneath the north-shore end of the Captain Cook Bridge. I thought this most irregular when I first saw it. It didn't seem right that this quirky, asymmetrical structure shared by pedestrians and cyclists should have to duck down under a boring old traffic bridge. Opened in 2001, it was named after the Goodwill Games which were taking place in Brisbane at the time. Again, I was slightly disappointed, preferring its name to have reflected some philanthropic intent for its users.

We started exploring very soon after our arrival in January. To do what Australians do, we had to head for the beach. Our first proper beach (as opposed to tidal flats or mangroves, which can be lovely but aren't the beach) was at Woorim, on Bribie Island. Bribie is a large sand island in the north of Moreton Bay, just north of Brisbane. It's about an hour up the Bruce Highway, immediately before you reach the Sunshine Coast. The first great thing about it was that we found a parking place right where we wanted to be at the back of the beach... and it was in the shade. Woorim was relatively crowded by Australian beach standards but not enough to prevent a couple of hours' sunbaking. We gazed longingly from the shore at the container ships crawling into the Port of Brisbane, but we knew better than to hope. Our belongings were probably still stuck in Suez at that point.

We returned to Bribie a few months later for another Aussie initiation - outdoorsy activities: this time on the Pumicestone Channel, between the island and the mainland, at Toorbul. At the instigation of friends Jackie and Eddie, we ventured forth in their kayaks, enjoyed steak from the barbie (complete with shelter and picnic bench, by the waterside in this, a quiet spot off the beaten track to the island), and observed the locals. This quintessential Australian experience is best summed up in pictures...

Queensland – Sunshine State?

Blog beginnings...